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Cumberland BC is a true gem, a haven for artists and the perfect base for people who love outdoor activities. This photogenic little town looks like something dreamt up in a Hollywood studio to represent an eccentric rural village. With cute, colourful wooden buildings, unique and unusual cedar-shingled houses, historic mansions and a picturesque heritage museum, Vancouver Island’s Cumberland is a nice place to stroll around for an afternoon. There are also plenty of fascinating shops, enticing restaurants and even a couple local pubs, not to mention a handy public goodwill box filled with empty egg cartons if you find yourself running low.
As nice as the town is, however, Cumberland’s real claim to fame is its close proximity to outstanding wilderness pursuits. Considered one of the best mountain biking destinations in British Columbia, there are also dozens of good hiking trails, water sports on Comox Lake and even skiing and snowboarding on nearby Mount Washington.
Located in the popular Comox Valley about halfway up the eastern side of Vancouver Island, Cumberland is about a 10-minute drive in from the shores of the Georgia Strait. By far the smallest of the three main Comox Valley population centres (the others being Comox and Courtenay), it has a population of less than 4,000 people. It got its start as a coal mining town called Union (named after the Union Coal Company) in the late 19th century, eventually transitioned to logging and now has reinvented itself as a top tourist destination (although logging is still an important industry in the area).
It is a noticeably friendly town, filled with artists, quirky shops and an entire fence made of skis, just in case. Cumberland plays host to many festivals throughout the year, including the raucous Cumberland Winterfaire in Nov/Dec and Empire Days in May. The scenery is terrific from any angle, as it sits tucked away below the impressive Comox Glacier in the expansive Beaufort Mountain range.
The list of things to do in Cumberland is long and varied, offering a little something for every type of traveller.
Cumberland Highlights Map
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A true mountain biking mecca, with trails in use year-round, Cumberland has gone to great lengths to cater to bikers and make it as easy as possible to enjoy the myriad trails in the area. There are dozens of trails right on the edge of town in the Cumberland Community Forest, a protected area of rain shadow forest within walking distance of the centre of town.
The Cumberland Community Forest Society was created in 2000 with the goal of purchasing and protecting local forest to make it available for recreation and the enjoyment of nature rather than succumbing to logging concerns. Funded by donors both local and from outside the community, the protected forest falls within the K’omoks First Nations land. Including the 225 acres recently purchased as part of Project Perseverance, it now encompasses over 500 total acres. It serves as an important wildlife corridor and is a habitat for many endangered species and threatened plant types.
You can plan out your routes online with the interactive Community Forest Trail Map or stop in at Dodge City Cycles to rent bikes, pick up an official trail map and maybe get some advice from a local expert.
Cumberland Community Forest
The Cumberland Forest is not just for mountain bikers, though, as it is also popular with hikers, joggers, families, artists and naturalists. One of the best hiking areas in the Comox Valley, it offers options of all levels of difficulty, from short riverside strolls to strenuous adventures up into the hills.
Most of the trails in this vast network are open to both bikers and hikers. If you are on foot, just be alert to approaching bikes. Most trails are quite short and together form a complex maze, allowing for practically endless opportunities of combining them into your ideal length and difficulty.
Over our time in Cumberland we hiked about half a dozen different variations and all were good, but if we had to rank them I would say our favourites were The Crafty Butcher (Lower, Mid and Upper) to stunning Allen Lake, That Dam Trail in the hills to the west of the lake, and the Buggered Pig, running back to the parking lot from the China Bowls. We were warned to watch for “tiny toads” on the trail but, unfortunately, completed our day toad-free. Maybe you’ll have better luck.
You can either use the Community Forest trail map linked above to plan your route in advance, follow one of the AllTrails routes links, or simply wander where the day takes you. You can either park on the corner of Royston Road (also known as Dunsmuir Avenue, or simply main street) and Sutton Road near the recreation centre and bike washing station or a few blocks south right at the trailhead where Sutton Road changes to Comox Lake Road.
If you are visiting in the summer (slightly drier season) the China Bowls are a must see. These smooth, intricate pools shaped by millions of years of water pressure are a scenic delight. To the bowls and back is roughly 5 km and will take around 1.5 hours. When we were there, the water was higher so the bowls were covered but the extra water made for a nice waterfall.
South Wellington Colliery Railway Trail
Starting between Second and Sixth Streets, this nice, easy trail connects the town with the Cumberland Community Forest trail system and Coal Creek Historic Park.
This terrific set of waterfalls can be found at the end of a short hike (3 km return). While the hike is easy, however, you could easily spend an hour or more exploring all the different areas of the falls, some of which are tricky to reach. Some spots are a bit treacherous so take care, especially when the rocks are wet and slippery.
Check out: 9 Stunning Waterfalls on Vancouver Island
Trent River Falls
This phenomenal 10-metre waterfall crashes down with impressive force and is a big favourite of nature photographers. With a tall cliff protecting one side and a calm, deep area following the falls, this is a great place to swim in summer (or any time of year if you can handle the cold).
There are several different viewpoints to check out, some of which are easy to reach and others that involve steep, muddy slopes and climbing with the aid of the secured ropes. It is a very atmospheric area deep in the highly varied forest even though it is just a short walk from the Inland Highway.
How to Get to Trent River Falls
Access to the trailhead is from the northbound lane of the Inland Island Highway on the north side of the Trent River Bridge. There is a small parking area, or you can just park on the side of the highway. You can either cut straight across the road (be sure to look both ways!) or you can follow the slightly longer trail down and under the highway. While this route takes a little longer, it also passes by another series of small falls that you will miss if you take the shortcut.
Comox Lake is the most popular summer recreation area in the entire Comox Valley and offers a wide variety of scenery and hiking options. As usual, there are a number of different routes that can be combined however you choose.
We would recommend heading up along the west side of the lovely Puntledge River to start, then cutting west up and over the hills (with some great views of the lake and surrounding mountains), before heading down to Comox Lake and following the shore back to the start. This side of Comox Lake is littered with fascinating driftwood in all shapes and sizes, as well as the stumps remaining from the creation of the lake (back when the dam was built). The unique photo ops are endless, especially if you visit on a calm day.
Strathcona Provincial Park
Cumberland is also close to outstanding Strathcona Provincial Park, a hiking wonderland in spring, fall and summer, and a paradise for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. You can also mountain bike, fish, rock climb and camp, or enjoy some downhill fun on Mount Washington, one of only two downhill ski hills on Vancouver Island (along with Mount Cain up north of Campbell River).
One of the best hikes in the area is the Lake Helen Mackenzie/Battleship Lake loop, which follows trails and boardwalks through the forest with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
There are also some more excellent hiking options a short drive from Cumberland:
Ripple Rock (Campbell River) – Undulating trail through old-growth forest ending at a spectacular viewpoint over the sea.
Seal Bay Beach Loop (Comox) – A popular, easy walk through giant trees down to the evocative rocky shores of the Georgia Strait.
Cumberland Brewing Company
Often referred to simply as “CBC” and set in a very cool historic building, this addition to the town’s drinking scene has recently been included as part of the Vancouver Island Ale Trail. They feature 5 core beers and then rotate different specialty choices and collaborations on a weekly basis.
Although they do not can or bottle their trademark brews, you can take some home in a refillable growler. They also serve the same pizza as their sister restaurant, Rider’s Pizza, the perfect complement to your refreshments.
Cumberland’s past is rich and varied, making a wander through the town museum an essential activity for history buffs. It was established in 1888 as a coal-mining town it featured Chinese, Japanese, Jewish and Italian communities of immigrant workers. There are also many fascinating stories illustrated about Ginger Goodwin, a union agitator who battled to protect those risking their lives in the mines. Along with numerous historical exhibits, the museum also offers both guided and self-guided walking tours of the area.
Coal Creek Historic Park
A fascinating historic site, this 100-acre park (which includes a disc golf course) is located just west of Cumberland on Comox Lake Road. It can also be reached on foot by following the South Wellington Colliery Railway trail or from some of the trails within the Cumberland Community Forest. You can explore historic Chinatown, No. 1 Japanese Town site and the No. 1 and No. 2 coal mine sites. These former communities housed the Chinese and Japanese workers who came to the area to work in the mines and provide a fascinating look at this unique period of Vancouver Island history.
In the summer it is possible to join an informative walking tour of the town, learning all the background info on this wonderful little place. You can find walking tour brochures online or at the entrance to park.
As well as the hiking options listed above, Comox Lake is an excellent place to go for a picnic, swimming, fishing, water sports or just hanging around at the beach. It also features a beautiful campground where you can set up your tent overlooking the lake.
Check out our detailed guide – Comox Lake: Camping, Hiking and Biking on Vancouver Island
Day Trip to Hornby Island
Eccentric little Hornby Island, just 2 short ferry rides out from Buckley Bay, is one of the best day trips on Vancouver Island. With a vibrant community of artists, thriving vineyards, several beaches, outstanding hiking and mountain biking and some terrific campgrounds, it is easy to spend an entire day (or week) exploring this off-the-beaten path favourite.
Seaplane Tour in Nanaimo
If you have time during your Comox Valley stay, it is worth considering a seaplane tour of the Nanaimo area. As impressive as Vancouver Island is from ground level, nothing compares to seeing it from above. This 30-minute seaplane tour offers a bird’s eye view of the phenomenal scenery of the bay, coastline and inland mountains. Truly unforgettable, and not nearly as expensive as you’d expect.
Where to Stay in Cumberland BC
There is a wide range of accommodation options throughout the Comox Valley but here are a couple of good choices right in Cumberland.
Cumberland Guest House features 4 comfortable, self-contained suites where guests have access to an extensive outdoor area with a BBQ, bike storage and even a bike wash station. The 2 largest units include well-stocked kitchens and en suite laundry.
The Riding Fool Hostel is a beautifully restored heritage hostel offering rooms with wifi and shared bathroom, as well as bike storage and an on-site bike shop. Staff can provide maps and recommendations for hiking and biking in the area.
Where to Eat – Cumberland Restaurants
Wandering Moose – A classic Cumberland stop with a great variety of foods for breakfast or brunch and a great location with outside tables.
4 Quarters Restaurant – Awesome homemade food and a wide range of vegetarian options.
Biblio Taco – Enjoy outstanding Mexican food in an old library with a patio out the back. Their homemade hot sauces are a local favourite.
Rider’s Pizza – Terrific pizza and beer combos, in conjunction with their sister restaurant across the street, Cumberland Brewing Company.
Cumberland Village Bakery – Excellent baked goods made on location at this tiny place right in the heart of Cumberland. Famous for their Cronuts, a donut made of croissant dough, fried and filled with raspberry filling.
Cumberland Grind Espresso & Smoothie Bar – With excellent coffee, this is yet another place with a free bike wash (Cumberland loves its mountain biking). They also offer an extensive selection of smoothies, bubble teas, cold beverages and some unique coffees such as the Mexicana (with cayenne pepper and whip) and the Cubano (featuring condensed milk).
How to Get to Cumberland BC
Part of the Comox Valley, Cumberland is located just off the main Highway 19 about 3 hours north of Victoria on the east side of Vancouver Island. There are also airports in Comox (about a 25-minute drive), Campbell River (45 minutes) and Nanaimo (75 minutes).
Driving from Vancouver, you will first need to take the Horseshoe Bay ferry across from the mainland to Nanaimo ($60/vehicle + $20/pp).
Cumberland BC Weather
Make no mistake, this part of the world gets a lot of rain. Especially in winter, when most days tend to be cloudy and damp but because the temperatures stay mild year-round (hovering around 0C even in winter), most local activities can still be enjoyed during any month of the year.
You will need to be mentally prepared to get good and muddy when biking in the winter but at least there seems to be a bike washing station on practically every corner. Of course, summer is the best time to visit, as this is when most of the festivals and events take place. It is also the best time to enjoy Comox Lake and the hiking/biking trails are mostly dry.
Cumberland BC Summary
Cumberland is definitely one of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island. A mountain biking hotspot, it combines gorgeous natural areas and mountain scenery with easy access to the ocean and a plethora of a water sports on nearby Comox Lake. But you don’t have to be an adventure fanatic to enjoy Cumberland, as its quaint little downtown district features many compelling and picturesque historic buildings and unique churches, all of which are well worth an easy stroll, stopping to eat, drink or shop in one of the many superb shops along the way.
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