Friday, August 25, 2017

The best trail runs in the Comox Valley

The Comox Valley hosts several amazing running trails. In this blog I've attempted to rank six of my favourite ones using the following as determining factors:
1) ease of access to the trail-head;
2) difficulty of the terrain;
3) the beauty, and,
4) length of run.


#1, Cumberland Mountain:
For the past two years I've been running The Cumberland Mountain trail on a weekly basis and I just don't get tired of it. It's always a challenge, an adventure, and leaves me whacked after running its hills for hours. I guess that's why it's number one on my list. Numerous entrances to the trail system are found at the edge of the Village of Cumberland. I prefer to park my car in the recreation centre parking lot off Dunsmuir Avenue, its main thoroughfare. From there I run down Sutton Road to the Cumberland Community Forest. Hours of challenging fun can be had running the hilly logging roads and mountain bike trails.It takes about an hour to reach the summit after ascending 1200-1400 feet. The views on a clear day are inspiring. You can run 2-5 hours through the vast Cumberland Mountain trail system. Make sure you bring extra fluids in the summer as the streams dry up and it can get hot in the back hills. Watch out for roots and rocks on the secondary trails, and make noise as bears and cougars have been spotted on some of these (I've never met any).

#2, Riverside/Nymph Falls:
The Riverside/Nymph Falls trail system covers close to 20kms if you follow it full circle. Running along beside the edge of the Upper Puntledge River through mostly evergreen forested areas it offers many beautiful views where you will be tempted to stop and rest to enjoy the scenery. West of the Inland Island Highway the trails can be a challenge on the north side of the river especially in the rainy season. A 2-3 kilometer stretch back up toward Nymph Falls follows a narrow mountain biking trail with many wooden bridges that get frosty in the winter months. But with rolling hills, several outhouses, and well groomed pathways throughout most of it, the circuit is a pleasure to explore. Access the trail head by vehicle either through Forbidden Plateau Road, Nymph Falls Nature Park or park at the end of Powerhouse Road in Courtenay and run west beside the cement hydro tubes (15-20 minutes) to the Duncan Bay Main Line Road. Continue on following the hydro tubes up hill and you will eventually join the Riverside Trail on the east side of the Puntledge River. If you cross the bridge following Duncan Bay Main Road over the river after 50 metres or so on the left you will see the narrow entrance to the Riverside Trail.
#3, Forbidden Plateau to Mount Washington:
Running this challenging trail is best done in the dryer months. During the rainy season sections of the trail are submerged by swamp and may be impassable. If you're running with a friend you can both meet up in separate vehicles either at the parking lot at the top of Forbidden Plateau or by Raven Lodge on Mount Washington. Leave one car behind and travel together in the other vehicle to the opposite end of the trail. To run this it will take 5-7 hours. There are some sections that are steep and technical with roots and rocks where your pace will be reduced to power-hiking. I usually wear a pair of gloves to protect my hands, and a camel pack with 2 litres of fluid, energy gels, and snacks.
#4, Lazo Marsh Northeast Nature Trails: To access this trail system there's plenty of parking to be found behind Highland High School off of Guthrie Road. I like running here when I want to get in an hour or so of trail training on varied terrain. There are close to 10kms of paths winding around the Lazo Marsh Northeast Nature Trail. It's a mix of rocky, root filled, and well groomed trails. There are some good short hills to test your stamina. The surroundings are beautiful with several old growth trees in the lower sections. Watch out for dog walkers. Give them plenty of warning so their pets aren't startled.
#5, One Spot: One Spot trail is an easy, well groomed, trail that for the most part follows an old lumber railway that once bore the same name. It passes by farmland where cows and horses can be spotted. Hedge groves along the way provide shade. Running out to the end and back from the Condensory Road Bridge in Courtenay can take around 2 hours. The trail head is located near River Meadow Farms on Condensory Road. I've had to share the trail with horses on several occassions. It's best to step aside and let them pass.
#6, Seal Bay Nature Park: The Seal Bay Nature Park trail is divided by Bates Road, where you will find the best place to park. Most of the trails are well groomed, and there are outhouses and directional maps stationed throughout. The circular Horse Bike Trail offers the longest run at around 7kms. But don't stop there, cross over to the east side of the trail system and take in the awesome ocean views from the trails that snake along the cliff side there. There are stairs that lead down to the beach, if you would like a challenging stair workout. The Seal Bay Nature Park trail is a great beginner trail for a road runner interested in making the transition.

CAUTION: For the Cumberland Mountain Trail and Riverside Trail systems I recommend that ear bud type music listening not be used as this may interfere with hearing oncoming mountain bikers and avoidance of wild animal encounters.

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