Cumberland to Strathcona Park
Leave Cumberland via the back lane across Sutton Road from the Rec Centre parking lot. As you leave the residential area, drop down through a grassy area to Porky’s Path, a trail through the woods parallel to Comox Lake Rd. This leads you to and through an old orchard with several heritage tree fruit varieties. The trail soon intersects Comox Lake Rd which you cross over. Now on the south side of this road you will follow the old Colliery Railroad grade (parallel to Comox Lake Rd.), passing by the sites of old Chinatown and #1 Japanese Town (each have walking tours available) and a linear complex of swamps, marshes and ponds that afford good wildlife and bird/waterfowl watching. The old townsites lie within Coal Creek Historic Park; its rich history is outlined in cumberland.ca/coal-creek-historic-park. The #1 Mine and #1 Japanese Town date back to the 1890’s. 1.2 km down the old rail grade, you will again cross Comox Lake Rd, this time to the north side, where you will see a rock cairn with a brass plaque commemorating the #4 Coal Mine (eventually there were six pit-heads accessing the coal seams). From here, the route follows a gravel road (most recently used for logging) to the east end of Comox Lake. Stay on the main travelled road and go right at a T-junction (straight ahead is a private road [with sign] that provides access to several private lakeshore cabins). 800 metres along takes you to another road junction (ignore a prior spur road to the left just around a sharp bend).
At this junction, you have a choice of two routes – a ‘low-water’ route and a ‘high-water’ route. This is necessary since the level of Comox Lake (actually a BC Hydro reservoir) fluctuates several metres. The level is right up to the tree-line in late spring-early summer during snowmelt in the upper watershed, then drops through the remainder of summer into the fall. When the lake is high/full, there is no beach strip to walk on and a raft/mat of floating woody debris between Comox Lake and Black Lake and its wetlands cannot be crossed. When available, the low-water route is shorter and more scenic, particularly at the point between Whyte’s Bay and the smaller bay with the floating wood. This point and the crossing over the woody debris are both accessed by short trails off the end of the logging spur road. If you can cross over the raft of woody debris (i.e. when it’s grounded), continue along the beach for about 250 metres to where an old road comes right down to the beach (it’s used a lot by dirt bikes). Take this road past a remnant of one of Cumberland’s eight coal mines. About 600 metres along this road through Douglas-fir plantations, bear right at a road junction into a heavily shaded ‘tunnel’ of young forest. After 200 metres, the low-water and high-water routes rejoin.
From the junction/split of the two routes, the high-water route follows inactive logging roads through areas logged in the last 5-10 years. These roads (and several trail off-shoots) are quite heavily used and ‘cut-up’ by dirt bikes. Fortunately, the gravelly soils and thick gravel deposits in this area are quite resilient in the face of this traffic impact (i.e. relatively dry and non-erodible). Soon after the route turns more to the north, the old road become much wetter as it skirts around the extensive poorly drained forests and swamps that grade into the open wetlands around Black Lake. In places, the road is right at the toe of a steep terrace escarpment – above, the flat terrace proper is a recently logged much drier, Douglas-fir salal site.
Past the merge of the low and high-water routes, the trail becomes single-track and heavily used by dirt bikes as far as the Comox Lake Road. The first section is in second-growth forest and follows the crest of some gravel ridges (eskers deposited by the meltwater streams of retreating glaciers; a remnant of a glacier tongue once occupied Comox Lake), but the trail soon breaks out into the open of recently logged areas, with fir plantations of various ages. Other than one dry draw, the trail is across an extensive gravel flat, the top of an ancient delta deposited into the ocean (Georgia Straight) by glacial meltwaters when the ocean level was about 170 metres higher than at present, at a time when Comox Lake was occupied by glacier ice flowing from the Vancouver Island Mtns.
When you intersect a blacktopped road, go left for a couple of hundred metres. At this point Comox Lake Road and the ‘Colake Main’ logging road run close alongside each other. Jog over to the logging road before they separate and within 400 metres turn right and follow a logging spur road towards the timber edge that defines the linear park-like property of BC Hydro that flanks both sides of the Puntledge River. Just into this forest, turn left onto Hydro’s East River Trail and follow it to the road that crosses the bridge over the Puntledge River as it flows out of Comox Lake. Just across the bridge is a trail on your right that takes you to Hydro’s Comox Lake Dam Picnic Area. From the open grassy picnic area, follow Hydro’s West River Trail downstream for 1.5 km and watch for a light trail to the left (west). Take this trail uphill – it soon crosses over the ‘Bear Bait’ mountain bike trail – through the forest on BC Hydro property and into a cutblock/plantation logged a decade ago by Hancock Timber – here the trail is within a narrow leave strip purposefully left to preserve the trail. The trail crosses over one logging road and then joins and follows a second logging road up to the timber edge onto the next property (owned by TimberWest).
From here up to Forbidden Plateau (a 450-metre elevation gain), the VI Trail route follows a series of mountain bike trails, including Catnip, Transmission, Rebel, Cabin Fever, Gecko and Two Sheiks. Both “Gaia” and “Trailforks” smart phone apps are useful in figuring out the maze of mtb trails – take a look at trailforks.com/region/forbidden-plateau. From the top of Two Sheiks, go uphill on a recently re-built logging road (i.e. the initially steeper road straight ahead, not the more or less flat road to the right) and then left onto an old, eroded road that leads to the former Forbidden Plateau Ski-hill area.
Angle across the slope (along the contour) as you encounter the old ski runs before turning sharply left to head straight uphill on a well-used trail up the former main ski run. In the absence of brushing for 20 years or so, it is mostly grown-in with young conifers and slide alder. At about 960 metres, the old ski run becomes bordered by old-growth mountain hemlock forest. Just below 1000 metres, the route passes by a small lake (on the left) and the former T-bar runs (on your right), before turning more to the south. The trail then flattens out and crosses a couple of low wet areas to where you will see a Strathcona Park boundary sign quite high up in a tree (above the typically 2-4 metre winter snowpack). The route then turns westwards (straight continues to the top of the old ski lift) and drops down to a park sign kiosk with maps and park information.