Vancouver Island & Sunshine Coast Loop
Every year I get requests from cycle tourers regarding the Island and Sunshine Coast route. I added my report of this the tour to this site way back in 1997 and have now realised that it's probably time to update some of the information posted there!
In fact, the information on my first Sunshine Coast Circle Tour is pretty sparse now that I revisit it!
I've ridden this route many times and just did not bother to write it up again as a tour again as I considered much of the information would be a repeat, but after 18 years I think that it really needs some attention...
My home town is Sidney, BC, so I'll start this virtual tour from there. It's a good place to start too, as Sidney is on Vancouver Island and very close to Victoria International Airport, BC Ferries and the Washington State Ferries. So, a good access point for anyone to wishing begin their tour here. Furthermore, Sidney with its stores, accommodation and camping nearby makes an excellent lauchpad (and end point) for this clockwise loop tour.
Clockwise is my preference, as having ridden this loop in both directions I found that prevailing tail winds seem to favour the clockwise direction.
The Google map below is interactive and one can zoom in or open the map in a large window...
A note before starting this trip... There are some challenging hills on sections of this route and especially so on the Sunshine Coast; the Salt Spring Island alternative route is not flat either! Nevertheless, most of the route has good shoulders on the roads and access to services, hence carrying a lot of food/water is not particularly necessary.
As mentioned, this tour involves lots of ferries; automobile drivers seem to always be in a hurry to get off the ferry and "down the road." Although all the ferries will let cyclists disembark first, is is very prudent to postpone setting off riding for a few minutes to let the car and truck traffic go first on the road. This makes for a much more peaceful and safe journey!
Some cyclists will be starting from the City of Victoria and I would advise those riders to avoid the very busy Highway 1 out of Victoria. Also, Highway 1 would take riders on a long climb over Malahat Mountain, which with a loaded bike can be a fair challenge. Preferably for either a Victoria or Sidney start, cycle to Brentwood Bay for a short ferry ride across the Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay. The above Google map shows the approximate routing and also shows the two start points for this tour.
Alternatively, there is an option to pick up this route via the Gulf Islands, namely Salt Spring Island. There are ferries to Salt Spring from Swartz Bay ferry terminal & from the mainland at Tsawwassen, south of the City of Vancouver. Swartz Bay ferry terminal is 4.5km north of Sidney via the Lochside Trail. After riding through the village of Ganges on Salt Spring make your way to Vesuvius for another ferry to Crofton on Vancouver Island where you can join the mapped route above.
While on the subject of ferries, this tour involves multiple ferries. BC Ferries has an "Experience Card" that one can purchase; this card gives a substantial discount on just about all the ferries and bicycles are free on all ferries. For more details go to the BC Ferries website.
Continuing from the Mill Bay ferry, a short ride along the waterfront leads to the village of Mill Bay proper and a chance to pick some provisions or snacks. Join the Highway 1 shoulder here for a short distance to a space in the concrete barrier on your right; there is a short trail here down to Church Way which leads north to Kilmalu Road. Turn right on Kilmalu then the very next left onto Telegraph Road. 6km north on Telegraph is an alternate route via Cherry Point Road, slightly longer but it will rejoin Telegraph Road farther north.
From Mill Bay my route now basically follows the "Rotary Route" to the City of Nanaimo with only small deviations. Riders will periodically see a blue "Rotary Route" sign at some intersections while on this section. There are many opportunities for rest stops as one will ride through the small towns Cowichan Bay, Maple Bay, Crofton, Chemainus on the way to Ladysmith.
At Ladysmith the route joins Highway 1 for a short section, but shoulders are wide and just 6km north of Ladysmith is the right turn onto Cedar Road. Riding along Cedar Road riders will see the turn for Yellow Point Road, a slightly longer detour off the highway than if one stayed on Cedar. Either way, Yellow Point Road will rejoin Cedar further north.
At the end of Cedar is a large intersection for Cedar Road, Highway 1 and Highway 19. We will turn right here and travel along Highway 1 a short distance past a shopping mall on the left and make a right turn onto Haliburton Road, which is a signed bike route into the downtown waterfront of Nanaimo. The waterfront trail will eventually lead to a marina where riders must leave the trail to access Townsite Road (see map). This is the route to the E&N Rail Trail... Ride on Townsite Road to Holly Ave, turn right onto Holly, the E&N trail starts at the north end of Holly. The E&N Rail Trail is a paved trail with a gentle grade that is adjacent to the Highway and the inactive railway line.
Highway 1 (the Trans Canada) ends in Nanaimo and Highway 19 takes over as the route north. Highway 19 starts as the Nanaimo by-pass route (Parkway) back at the Cedar intersection and also has a bike trail adjacent to it. I find the Parkway trail to be unnecessarily hilly and find the waterfront and E&N Rail trails a much more pleasant route north, at least through the city.
The E&N trail ends at Mostar Road, turn left on Mostar then right on Dunster Road. Ride on Dunster to cross Highway 19 (Nanaimo Parkway), then immediately turn right onto the Parkway Trail. Aulds Road is next where one must cross over the highway again to access the Parkway Trail which continues north for a short distance to Mary Ellen Road, where the trail ends. Mary Ellen crosses the old Island Highway and ends at Dover Road. Turn left onto Dover which turns into Lantzville Road. Lantzville Road will eventually join Highway 19, which is the only route for the next 6kms.
The next relief from the highway is at Nanoose for a right turn onto Northwest Bay Road. Stay on NW Bay Road which ends at the south end of Parksville and very close to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park where many cyclists choose to camp. Almost at the same place where NW Bay Road joins Highway 19A, the highway splits into two, one is the freeway of Highway 19 and the other is Highway 19A, the seaside route; this is our route. 19A runs through the centre of Parksville and can be quite busy as the area is a favourite place for many summer visitors. This will be the busiest section of the highway that one will encounter as some sections have no shoulder for riders. There are some back street alternatives, but the highway is the most direct and is only at its busiest for about one kilometre. Just north of Parksville the shoulder resumes.
Although on a highway, 19A is a pleasant ride through many coastal towns and offers many opportunities for rest stops or to explore the beaches and bays of this part of Vancouver Island.
At about 50kms north of Parksville is Buckley Bay, where if desired, one could take the ferry to Denman Island and another ferry to Hornby Island. There is camping on both islands, somewhat limited on Denman, and reservations are recommended for Hornby as it is very busy in the summer months. Continuing north on 19A there are the small towns of Union Bay and Royston. After Royston, riders will begin to enter Courtenay, a large town with an array of stores and food opportunities. Highway 19A is named Cliffe Ave in Courtenay. To avoid the downtown core, keep an eye out on your right for Mansfied Drive, which will be on your right just past an intersection for 29th Street (Comox Valley Parkway). Turn right onto Mansfield where one can access the Courtenay Riverway (see map) which leads to River Lane for access to the bridge and a right turn across the river. Once across the river turn right again onto Comox Road. I mapped the route, through Comox, but there are three good campground just off my route in this area (see map) if one decides to camp here. My route stays on Comox Road/Avenue for about 4kms then turns left onto Anderton Road. Stay on Anderton for almost 6kms, then bear right onto Ellenor Road which leads to the Comox Ferry Terminal of Little River for the ferry to Powell River.
The Powell River ferry from Comox actually lands in Westview, an area of Powell River. The old townsite is a little further north on Marine Avenue next to the large pulp mill that began life there many years ago. But most people just refer to the different areas as "Powell River." Willingdon Beach Campground is good spot to camp in Powell River, and the town also offers many motels, food outlets etc. Our route will head south from here, but two side trips are worth considering...
Lund is 27kms north of Powell River on the Sunshine Coast Highway (101) and well worth a visit. If heading north from Westview, there is the Willingdon Beach Trail that will take you just about to the mill and the old townsite - this saves riding over the "Cut", as locals have named this hill, which is on the highway between the two areas.
Lund is a very small village , but there is a nice campground there, cafes, a general store and pub. Lund is the northernmost point of Highway 101 (which snakes all the way down North America to Los Angeles, California) and a last fuel stop for many pleasure vessels heading north on the coast. So it is a bustling little port offering a great opportunity for relaxing and people/boat-watching.
The other side trip is to catch a ferry from Westview to Texada Island, which also offers great camping and beautiful sunsets from the beach at Shelter Point Regional Park. A little hilly, but well worth a visit.
Leaving Westview, ride south on Marine Avenue which changes to Thunder Bay Street and then Sunshine Coast Highway (101). This section of 101 will end at Saltery Bay Ferry Terminal about 30kms south of Powell River. Take the ferry here which will land you at Earls Cove on the Sechelt Peninsula. Once again, 101 is the only option for riding, but there are quite a few options for side trips to Garden Bay, Madeira Park/Beaver Island and other spots on this stretch of the route. At about 40kms south of Earls Cove is Halfmoon Bay, and an escape off the highway. Turn right onto Redroofs Road which is a pleasant 9km waterfront detour off the highway. Redroofs will rejoin 101 for the rest of the way to Sechelt. Sechelt is a small town and good stopover; camping is very good at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park about 2kms north of the village (see map); if camping there, buy supplies in Sechelt. From Sechelt ride south on 101 again for about 10kms then take a right turn onto Roberts Creek Road, another respite from the highway. Roberts Creek Road will turn into Lower Road which will rejoin the highway again, but only for about 2kms then turn right onto Pratt Road. Pratt continues down to Gower Point Road. Turn left on Gower Point and follow it around to ride into the town of Gibsons. From Gibsons, head north east to the ferry terminal at Langdale.
Although my route through the City of Vancouver is my preference, there are other alternatives that one may wish to explore. Without outlining all the possibilities here, it is best to download the excellent .pdf cycle route maps that are available from the Translink website.
The ferry from Langdale lands at Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver. Once off the ferry, make your way down to the village via the first right turn at Douglas Street - there is a bike route sign there. Keep right on Douglas which will change to Keith Road. At the intersection of Keith and Bruce Road, there is a trail that double back adjacent to Keith (see the map above for this detail). This trail will end at a roundabout and Marine Drive splits off; you will follow Marine Drive South (see above map) heading for the Lion's Gate Bridge. At about 5kms before the bridge, turn right on 29th Street which will lead to Bellevue Avenue. Bellevue will end at Capilano Pacific Trail. Follow this trail as it will provide access to the bridge (see map above). The Lions Gate Bridge has a very good cycling/walking path that protects riders from any traffic. Once off the bridge deck, stay on the shared sidewalk, then take the first right that is signed Stanley Park/Prospect Point. This access road will double back then join Stanley Park Drive. Turn left onto Stanley Park Drive (see map above). Join onto the Beach Avenue Trail at end of Stanley Park Drive and follow this trail to Thurlow Street. Take Thurlow to Pacific Street for access to the Burrard Street Bridge - also segregated for cyclists. Once over the bridge, take West 1st Avenue to Cypress Street and turn left there. Cypress is a main bike route that changes to Angus Drive. Without detailing each turn now it is best to follow the map above for the turns.
In Richmond there is a bike shuttle to take riders through the George Massey Tunnel as cycling is not allowed through the tunnel. Once off the shuttle, the map shows route to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal for return to Swartz Bay and Sidney where we started. Of course, many riders may wish to end their journey sooner which is why my detail of riding in Vancouver is abbreviated, regardless, the map is easy to follow.
Enjoy and Ride Safe!!!