Surrounded by a beautiful valley, and the largest glacier on Vancouver Island, the charming seaside village of Comox is located on the peninsula that forms the Comox Harbour, land originally settled by the Salish people.
The Port of Comox was founded in the mid 1800s on the slopes of the Comox Peninsula. Overlooking the protected waters of Comox Harbour (once known as port Augusta), it was an important port for the ships of the Royal Navy and transport steamers.
The name Comox is derived from the Kwakwala Indian word Komuckway, meaning Place of Plenty, a reference to the abundant game and berries in the Comox Valley. European settlers adapted the name to Komoux, then finally to Comox. With a moderate climate, year-round recreational activities like skiing, swimming and golfing, and all amenities close by, Comox certainly lives up to its name!
Miles of sandy shore lead off both north and south of the quiet little coastal town, whose charm has not been overwhelmed by either the nearby Canadian Forces Air Base or the more recent influx of arrivals that southern Vancouver Island has experienced.
As you head up island towards the Comox Valley and Campbell River, the peaks and glaciers of Vancouver Island’s ranges that rise in the west vie for your attention, principally the imposing Comox Glacier, Forbidden Plateau, and Mount Washington. The highway winds past well-kept farms – a serenely rural part of the island journey.
The Canadian Forces Base in Comox is an integral part of the community. Having been founded in 1942 as a Royal Air Force base, CFB Comox has played a major role in shaping and supporting the community. The primary responsibilities of CFB Comox are Search and Rescue operations, maritime patrols and support of naval and air force defences. In addition to the essential roles the base plays for the community, BC and Canada, CFB Comox is a large supporter of community events, routinely supplying volunteers and equipment wherever needed.
Location: The Island Highway (Highway 19) now supersedes the old Island Highway (Highway 19A). Highway 19, a four-lane expressway, allows you to move quickly between Nanaimo and Campbell River. Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. Approaching from the north, Highway 19 links the Comox Valley and Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island. The Comox Valley is a two-and-a-half hour drive north from Victoria, or a 75-minutes drive from the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point near Nanaimo.
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BC Ferries operates a ferry route between Comox and Powell River on the British Columbia mainland. The Comox Valley Regional Airport is served by three major airlines, with 12 daily flights between Vancouver and Comox and direct flights from Calgary. Small aircraft and floatplanes land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay. Daily coach lines connect all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland, and local bus service is also available in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland. Those travelling by boat will find a full range of facilities including moorage, showers, restaurants and shops adjacent to the Comox Marina.
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The Comox Air Force Museum focuses on the history of aviation, with permanent exhibits reflecting the heritage, customs and traditions of Canada’s Air Force. Several historic aircraft are preserved at the museum’s Heritage Air Park, including the recently restored H-21 Piasecki Flying Banana.
Nautical Days are held each year on the BC Day long weekend. The festival is a celebration of the long time affiliation Comox has had with the sea. Weekend highlights include a parade down Comox Avenue, a festival in Marina Park, build, bail and sail your own creation, and other events throughout the weekend.
The historic Filberg Lodge and nine acres of beautifully landscaped grounds are located on the harbour near the end of Comox Avenue. The rustic Filberg Lodge, built for R.J. Filberg in 1929, is a reflection of the skills of local craftsmen in the use of stone and timber. The Lodge’s warm interior complements the outside appearance with extensive hand-made woodwork and stonework. The Gardens are a myriad of exotic and local trees and flowers – a wonderful place for a peaceful stroll or an afternoon picnic.
The Filberg Festival in August features the best of B.C. arts and crafts in the fabulous setting of Filberg Lodge. Hundreds of artists and performers attend the four-day festival to display their artwork and demonstrate their crafts.
Beaches: The beaches around Comox are sometimes bypassed by visitors, which is a shame, as miles of sandy shore lead off both north and south of the quiet little seaside town. Take the time to drive east of Hwy 19 as it passes through Courtenay, and follow the signs to the BC Ferries terminal in Comox. Long, sandy beaches can be found at Goose Spit Regional Park, which noses out into Comox Harbour at the west end of Hawkins Road. Kin Beach Park on Kilmorley Road south of the ferry terminal is a good spot to pass time if you’re waiting for a sailing. Offshore, Texada Island’s dark form lies in the strait directly east of Comox, while Denman Island lies to the south.
Marinas: Comox is home to four marinas, which hold over 500 pleasure boats and a commercial fishing fleet. The marinas are protected by a rock breakwater. The breakwater is in turn protected by Goose Spit, which extends out into Comox Harbour, providing one of the safest year-round harbours on Vancouver Island. Comox Harbour is a great launching spot for some of the best salmon fishing in the world.
Boat Launch: The Comox Marina offers a boat launch located right next to Marina Park, with plenty of parking, washroom facilities and a play area for children.
The Comox Harbour (or Port Augusta) has provided shelter for ocean travellers and marine explorers for centuries. The well-known Beaver was one of the early exploration ships that made marine history. The boats and ships came to the Comox Valley for many reasons; to explore, to trade, to survey, to work, and like many today, to rest and enjoy the beauty of the area. More Comox Harbour Marine History.
Fresh Seafood: Buy fish and seafood directly from the fishermen at the Comox Harbour Marina! When the fishing boats come in, it’s time to feast on the large variety of species, to meet the fishermen and their families, and to see the fishing gear that really works. Quality of the catch is given the highest priority. A special area has been set aside for Dockside Sales, which is located on the East side of the Comox Harbour Marina.
Ferry to Mainland: Ferry sailings from the Little River Ferry Terminal in Comox link central Vancouver Island with Powell River on the northern Sunshine Coast.
Golf: Nearby golf courses include the Crown Isle Golf Club in Courtenay, and the Comox Golf Course, a challenging nine-hole course in the heart of downtown Comox. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Fishing: Some of the best saltwater fishing on the island, particularly for salmon, can be found in the waters of the Strait of Georgia north of the Puntledge River Estuary between Courtenay and Comox, and off of Cape Lazo, King Coho, and Bates Beach. Because of its sheltered location and an absence of dangerous currents, the shoreline around Comox is well suited for rod fishing in a small boat. If the weather does change, you can see it coming and quickly make for shore. Shore angling for salmon is popular in Comox Bay from August to November.
Goose Spit Regional Park in Comox is one of the best windsurfing locations on the central coast. A long neck of sand curves out into Comox Harbour, where a strong wind rises most afternoons, as winds funnel off the Strait of Georgia and up the flanks of Forbidden Plateau. To find the park, head south of Comox on Comox Road, then turn left on Pritchard Road and right on Balmoral to Lazo Road, beyond which Balmoral becomes Hawkins Road and leads out to the spit.
Mountain Biking: The Comox Valley is blessed with a plethora of multiuse and mountainbiking trails. Many of the trails revolve around the Puntledge River and Comox Lake. A network of nine moderate-to-difficult trails near Courtenay, known collectively as the Comox Lake-Puntledge River Trails, starts at the dam on Comox Lake. Most of the trails here are hard-core singletrack, so if you find yourself chewing dirt, you can’t say we didn’t warn you.
The parking lot is on the west side of the dam at the mouth of Comox Lake. Trails begin just west of the dam. Ride west on this gravel road and take the first road (B21) north. About 15 minutes uphill is a trail that leads off to the right. This is called Puntledge Plunge, and you’ll figure out why in the first few seconds of a near-vertical descent. More moderate trails are available for all levels of riders.
Seal Bay Nature Park north of Comox doesn’t have a lot of downhill, but then, it doesn’t have a lot of uphill, either. This is a nature park, but if you’re trying to find some easy cranking and some peace of mind, you could do a whole lot worse than the multiuse trails here. All trails are well marked and begin from the park’s main trailhead on Bates Road.
Mountain bikers who like their ascents easy, and their descents long and sweet, can’t get it any easier or sweeter than catching the Blue chairlift up Mount Washington and riding down. The mountain biking season here generally begins by July 1 and extends through August. Mount Washington is 5,216 feet (1590 m) above sea level. At the end of the day you can take a long time making your descent back into the Comox Valley.
Diving: The protected nutrient rich waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island provide an astonishingly rich display of underwater life – scuba divers won’t be disappointed.
Boating, Sailing & Cruising: Comox is a good base from which to charter boats to prime cruising areas in the region – the Discovery Islands, Tribune Bay on Hornby Island, Princess Louisa Inlet or Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park, one of the most beautiful and varied cruising areas in British Columbia.
Comox Lake, west of Cumberland on Comox Lake Road, has good freshwater fishing for trout and char year-round. Boaters must beware of the strong winds that rise in the afternoon on the large, dammed lake. You’ll find a boat launch at the west end of Comox Lake Road.
Seal Bay Regional Nature Park on Bates Road is a BC Wildlife Watch viewing site where California and Steller sea lions, seals, and migratory birds hang out at this sunny stretch of coastline. Spring is a time of increased activity, when the sea lions arrive as they follow the annual herring and eulachon migration. (Eulachon are a small, sardine-sized fish.) Trails begin from the north end of the road and lead through a forested ravine to a staircase that descends to the broad stretch of sandy beach that stands revealed at low tide. Also called Xwee Xwhya Lug, a place with an atmosphere or serenity, by the Comox Native Band.
Mt. Washington Ski Resort: Comox is a great place to return to and relax after a day of skiing at Mt. Washington Ski Resort, located 19 miles (31 km) west of Hwy 19 at Courtenay. Mount Washington (elevation 5,216 feet/1590 m) has long been known for having good snow conditions from early in winter to well past Easter, despite the fact that the top of the mountain isn’t as high as the peaks of Blackcomb or Whistler Mountains. The snow here is often deeper than anywhere else in British Columbia, and occasionally anywhere else in the world! In 1995, Mount Washington had more snow than any other ski resort in the world. This accounts, in part, for Mount Washington being the second-busiest winter recreation destination in British Columbia, behind Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mountain Washington also provides excellent hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in summer, or you can simply make the 40-minute trip to Mount Washington to ride the chair lift and enjoy the wonderful views of the surrounding area.
You will want to spend a day on the lovely Denman Island and Hornby Island, touring artists’ studios, swimming on a sandy beach, hiking the bluffs and trails, scuba diving or just plain relaxing. Catch a ferry from Buckley Bay, south of Comox.
Strathcona Provincial Park: No visit to central Vancouver Island would be complete without a visit to Strathcona Provincial Park, a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Mountain Peaks dominate the park, some eternally mantled with snow, while lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. Created in 1911, Strathcona is the oldest provincial park in BC and the largest on Vancouver Island. Fabulous hiking trails include the Della Falls trail to the highest waterfall in Canada, and dozens of trails to the many pretty alpine lakes that dot the Forbidden Plateau area, providing good fly fishing for rainbow trout during summer.
Trumpeter Swans: Attend February’s weeklong Trumpeter Swan Festival and discover why 2000 Trumpeter Swans spend their winter in the Comox Valley! The trumpeter swans come in low over the treetops, two or three at a time. With an 8-foot (2.5-m) wingspan, the world’s largest waterfowl exemplifies aerodynamic magnificence. Mimicking the landing gear of a plane, pairs of wide, webbed feet drop down at the last instant to break their fall with a finesse that would make the best bush pilot burn with envy. Seconds after landing, the new arrivals come to a quick halt, fold their wings, arch their necks like bass clefs, and drift regally off to join other swans already on site for the night. An aristocratic bugling call and response rises among them that makes the homely honk of Canada geese and the quotidian quack of mallards sound decidedly plebian.
This scene is repeated twice daily on lakes and ponds throughout the Comox Valley. Over the past decade, as population numbers of trumpeter swans have continued to rebound remarkably from a dismal low of several hundred in the 1960s to well over 10,000 today, many Comox Valley farmers put out winter feed for the swans. More than a thousand of them remain to winter here and form the largest colony on the west coast of North America. Smaller flocks settle in the Lower Mainland, while others fly as far south as Oregon. As you drive around the valley, signs alert visitors to participating farms in the Trumpeter Swan Management Area.
Trumpeter swan viewing sites abound in the valley, including along the well-marked scenic route on Comox Road between Courtenay and Comox, a route that is equally well suited to driving and cycling. Shoreline sites include Point Holmes and Cape Lazo as well as Kin Beach, Singing Sands, and Seal Bay Parks. For more information on trumpeter swans, contact the Comox-Strathcona Natural History Society.
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