Photo Story: Exploring Vancouver Island's Varied & Unique Trail Network

Apr 29, 2021
by The Free Radicals  
Special advisory during the COVID-19 crisis:

Like you, we’re passionate about exploring British Columbia. But now is not the time to travel. Please stay home and follow the advice of health authorities to keep yourself and others safe. Do your part now, so we can all explore BC again later. In the meantime, find updated information here.

Vancouver Island and the surrounding area, are part of what archeologists refer to as the kelp highway and likely played an essential role in the human settlement of North America. The discovery and subsequent carbon dating of several campsites in the region suggest the first human inhabitants of the continent likely crossed the Beringia land bridge from Asia and traveled south down the Pacific coast, by sea via the kelp highway, as opposed to arriving from the east of the Rockies as was long believed. Scientists are divided on whether this migration happened before or after the last glacial maximum ~19,000 years ago, but regardless of the timeline, leading hypotheses agree British Columbia’s Pacific coast is one of the longest inhabited regions in North America.

For millennia, before the disruption of European settlers in 1790, Vancouver Island was home to thriving complex cultures who lived in lock-step with the environment, not just using the resources for subsistence, but respecting and protecting the sources of this rich bounty. Most Indigenous peoples on the island identify with three language groups; Nuu-chah-culth, the Kwak’wala-speaking Kwakwaka’wakw and the Coastal Salish who speak several variations of the Salishan language. Indigenous knowledge is gradually gaining the long-overdue respect and recognition it deserves from non-Indigenous populations, thanks largely to the heightened awareness that the survival of the human race hinges upon more sustainable practices. An environmentally conscious way of life has permeated the fabric of island society more so than other regions of the province and is immediately evident when visiting.

This rich natural history and conservation forward mindset makes Vancouver Island one of the most interesting places to visit in the province. Our second Ride Island itinerary is for those who enjoy their pedalling as well as their descending as we aim to provide folks with a more well-rounded experience of the Island’s trail offerings. This immersive riding experience provides a prime opportunity to take in the natural beauty of the region and cherish the stunning landscapes.


The Cowichan Valley is home to some incredibly diverse trail offerings. Our last itinerary explored the aggressive trail options on Prevost and Mt. Tzouhalem, while this time we’ll pay closer attention to the more “cross-country” or “all-mountain” trails on Mt. Tzouhalem and Maple Mountain.

But first, coffee.

The Garage Cafe is conveniently located next door to Cycle Therapy, incase you need anything before riding

The Duncan Garage Cafe & Bakery is a regular stop of ours whether we’re fuelling up for a day of riding, grabbing a post ride coffee, or simply just driving through Duncan. The food is delicious homemade vegetarian and has plenty of options to suit all dietary restrictions and will leave you feeling better on your ride than a McMuffin or BigMac ever will. The coffee is local, hot and caffeinated. We usually stock up on breakfast and lunch here, as rest assured, you always end up doing an extra lap or two at Tzou, it’s too damn fun not to!

Mt. Tzouhalem’s relatively mellow grade makes it a prime destination for those who prefer their trails with a bit more undulation. For those who desire a more scenic approach than the main forest service road, we would suggest parking in the new lot off Nevilane Drive which allows you to take a more scenic route to the top via A Grand Traverse.

Since it’s impossible to go to Tzouhalem and not ride Double D, we will assume you ride that as your first lap. After that, we’d suggest checking out Rocky Mountain Ridge which combines technical rock roll sections with some equally technical punchy climbs into Danalyzer back down to the main parking lot before finishing with a lap of Show Time to M-One to Bumble Bee back to your vehicle.

Maple Mountain, a stone's throw away from Tzouhalem, is another exceptional trail network in the Cowichan Valley, having played co-host to the infamous BC Bike Race in both 2018 and 2019. Having never ridden Maple prior to this trip, we were impressed with the well built climbing trail Xylem which crossed through a few different ecosystems on its way to the top. This constant change of scenery, along with some intermittent technical features, helped keep the climb interesting. From here we would recommend Upper and Lower Maple Syrup then a slight climb back up to ride Phloem into Solar Coaster to finish.

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Kozman comes in a little too hot into a corner on Phloem

Our night in Duncan was capped off at Jacquie Gordon's B&B, conveniently located right between the trail networks. The warm hospitality, comfy beds and delicious home-cooked breakfast were vastly superior to any hotel's offerings.


After the 45 minute drive from Duncan to Nanaimo, you’re likely ready for your 3rd coffee of the morning before hitting the trails. Regard, just north of the Departure Bay ferry terminal, has been our favourite coffee shop on the island since we first discovered it in 2016. The owner and roaster Andrew is often keen to chat beans, brewing techniques and all other things coffee and Regard offers beans for all coffee drinkers out there; from a rich, bold espresso to a wild and funky floral natural.

Doumont is currently the main sanctioned trail network in Nanaimo. That said, there are more solid trail offerings than a mere mortal can explore in a day and the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club is working hard to continually update and improve the riding experience in Doumont.

The topography of Doumont rewards those willing to pedal, the shallower grade means getting up to speed sometimes takes a bit of extra effort, but carrying that extra momentum over the roots and rocks really makes the trails spring to life.

Our top 3 Doumont pedal trails are Stairway to Hayden into Hayden, for a technical warmup climb into a low-angle, rooty descent. Monkeys In The Mist, which has recently received a face lift for some dark blue technical descents and finally Styx for a blue xc trail with rolling climbs followed by some pristine singletrack through electric green salal.

When traveling, we try to find food options that we don’t have in Whistler/Squamish. In Nanaimo we like Jalapeños Mexican Food for some classic, no-frills Mexican fare or Saigon Kitchen for a Vietnamese kick.

Gabriola Island

Gabriola Island is a short 20 minute ferry from downtown Nanaimo, and is a fun way to break up your riding trip with a mellower sight-seeing day by bike. The small, 58 square kilometre island is home to just over 4000 permanent residents, with the population ballooning to nearly 6000 in the summer as people flock to the area from Vancouver and Nanaimo to live a more laid back lifestyle.

The island has an interesting modern history that places deep-seated hippie culture against that of industrial development from the logging and quarry industry. More stories, old photos and interesting artwork can be found at the Gabriola Museum, a short ride from the ferry.

We spent the morning sipping coffee and perusing the museum, before setting off on a mellow cruise around the island. There are some trails in the centre of the island that offer an aimless pedal around as you get lost amongst the ferns. Be sure to pack some beers in your bag as both Cliffside and Winter Waterfall provide some lookouts with stunning vistas and an opportune place to take 5.

After lapping the island several times, we gorged ourselves on pizza from Woodfire before catching one of the evening ferries back to Nanaimo.


Cumberland is fun on a long travel “enduro” bike, but the network really shines on a short travel whippet. It is a sign when most of the locals are absolutely shredding on 120mm trail bikes.

Don’t let their calm, cool and collected demeanour fool you, Jeremy from the Riding Fool and Martin from Island Mountain Rides will rip your legs off if you ask them to. We had an absolute riot chasing these two around the rat’s nest of the lower mountain trails in Cumberland. Over beers on the Riding Fool’s back patio, Dougal from UROC shared some of the organization’s plans for future trail development and his personal ethos of trail building and network planning. It’s an exciting time for UROC and Cumberland and we can’t wait to come back and check out their network again soon!

Our top 3 Cumberland trails for those looking for an xc/trail experience are: Missing link to Found Link, Rugburn to Scat to Brat and Two Flats to Bonestorm. These provide a great variety of riding from some fast singletrack to wide open blue flow and some big steep rock rolls!

Mount Washington

Unlike the ankle deep braking bumps of the Whistler Bike Park that will rattle your trail bike to bits, the Mt. Washington Bike Park is very trail bike friendly!

Hawk Express is a high speed quad chair that will get you to the top before you know it.

Mt. Washington has an extensive rental fleet to get anyone and everyone on the mountain for some laps.

Mike Manara, Director of Sports & Guest Services at Mt. Washington has been actively working with the mountain staff and trail crew to expand their product offerings in an effort to support what the Island community is asking for. They take great pride in the growth of their kids rental fleet, which is now 50 bikes deep, signalling that more families are exploring the bike park. This was really evident last summer when we were there on Family Friday, where between 5:30p.m. and 7:30p.m. Kids passes were $5, Seniors $10 and Adults $15.

Will puts his trail bike through its paces on one of the bike park's well built jumps.

Our top 3 trail bike friendly laps in the bike park are: Call it In to Lower Helter Skelter, Highway 19 and Time Warp. These laps have a good mix of high-speed blue tech, some wide open berms and jumps in a range of sizes.

Finger Trail offers some great views along the ride.

Manara revealed some of the trail crew plans to build out the mountain's trail network beyond the bike park. Currently it’s limited to Finger Trail, a very mellow xc loop of mixed double and single track that provide stunning views of Strathcona Provincial Park and two subalpine lakes. They have also published the GPS coordinates of a trail named “Far West Enduro” which appears to descend from the top of the resort to the farthest point on the Finger Trail. All good things for those who want to add some variety to their bike park experience.

A morning Finger Trail loop is a great way to get the legs ready for a day of bike park laps

Campbell River

Campbell River is unlike all the other riding destinations in this itinerary in the sense that it won’t just hand you a good time, you will need to work a bit harder to navigate and discover the fun trails they have to offer, but the effort is worth it for this unique experience.

There are kilometres of beautiful singletrack everywhere and it’s highly likely that you’ll have it all to yourself. In three days of riding, we only saw two other groups, which gave the rides a much more adventurous feel than anywhere else on the island. Shorter elevation profiles also mean you will need to work a little harder throughout the ride, to maintain momentum on the climbs and descents. If you’re looking for machine built blue flow, you won’t find it here.

There are two main trail networks in Campbell River; Radar Hill and the Snowden Demonstration Forest. Snowden, being the more extensive of the two is worth prioritizing for a day where your body is rested and your legs feel good, plus it’s a bit of a drive outside of town, so best to make the most of it while you’re out there.

Our top 3 trails in Snowden are: Pretzel Logic, Demon Seed and Vlad the Impaler to Cinnamon Girl to Three Pigs. Pretzel is coming off a fresh rebuild in 2019 that saw the steep eroded descent get a much needed re-route and tons of fresh dirt. Demon Seed has some fun technical climbing, scenic vistas on a few rock bluffs and short rock rolls before finishing with fast singletrack turns through salal that reminded us of riding in Oakridge, Oregon. Last but not least, Vlad to Cinnamon to Three Pigs combines tech rock with three of the best loamy turns on Vancouver Island with some high speed singletrack. These trails can all be ridden in one ride fairly easily and should guarantee a good time in the woods.

Radar Hill is a small network in close proximity to town that’s great for a quick morning or afternoon lap. Many of the trails originated as trials moto trails, so expect punchy climbs and steep descents. The network is tightly compact, so you’re never too far from the car and can sample a significant proportion of the trails in one ride.

Our favourite 3 trails on Radar Hill are Your Sister, A view to a Hill into AF Line and Punk Rock to Phone to Southside Deli to Rock me. Be sure to look before you leap on both the AF Line and Rock me features, as some are larger than you might expect!

If you find yourself with broken parts or just need of a tube, head over to Pedal Your World. Ken will get you sorted.

Campbell River has some great options for food and drinks after a day of riding. We visited Beach Fire Brewing for an after ride pint or two. If pizza is your thing, head over to Session Taproom & Kitchen for some of their delicious pies.

Ideal Cafe offered us that greasy breakfast that will surely be enough to get you back home.

This concludes our Ride Island Itinerary for those looking to explore some of the best singletrack British Columbia has to offer. If you’ve ridden some of these places and enjoyed your time, please consider donating to one of the local trail associations on the island who are working tirelessly to maintain and update their existing trails, while simultaneously expanding their trail networks with rad new offerings.

Huge thanks to Martin Littlejohn and Mountain Biking BC for making this possible
High fives to our friend Braedyn Kozman for coming along for the ride

MENTIONS: @MountainBikingBC

Posted In:


  • 17 1
 Fake news, the island sucks, don't bother. BC Ferries inserts a 5G chip into every passenger via the WSDDDS (White Spot DoubleDouble Delivery System) so that Pinkbike and Mike Gates (Bill's weird evil cousin) can track you!! Don't do it!
  • 3 1
 So true! Thinking of riding the Island, you better watch Deliverance to understand the consequences! Nothing good will come of it!
  • 3 0
 You are lucky Germany is so far away and I can not afford to travel to VI every summer, otherwise it would be my destination No. 1 in the world, sorry its just awesome. I would even take the 5G WSDDDS chip in my skin if that means I can spend time on Vancouver Island ;-)
  • 8 0
 Re Cumberland "Jeremy from the Riding Fool and Martin from Island Mountain Rides will rip your legs off if you ask them to."

They're not kidding. Both of them can really put the hurt on. You have been warned.

It's worth calling out that both Jeremy and Martin put a ton of work into Cumby trails and advocacy. Martin is also one of the OG Campbell River trailbuilders. Props to both of them
  • 3 0
 Martin is a great guy and willing to slow down. But, if you try to stay on his wheel, he'll drop you in no time.
  • 3 0
 We wouldn't want it any other way. They are great people, doing great things.
  • 3 0
 Was lucky enough to visit a couple of summers ago and hit up Martin for a cracking day on the Cumberland trails. A properly great guy to ride and spend time with and it felt good to invest a little in the community that has created such an amazing place to ride and stay. Want to go back, so, so much.
  • 3 0
 Im sure you can't wait to return to cumby since the trails recommended are literally 5 min climbs and 1 min decents back to the parking lot. They are the absolute bottom of the hill, no mention of the amazing climb trail or some of the actual rad, long trails we have here. You better come back!
  • 2 0
 Shhh. Ferries are shut down so we can have an uncrowded climbing trail and even quieter rides up high Smile
  • 1 2
 No there aren't. I guess they left out Vanilla, that's about it
  • 4 0
 Sometimes we want to leave people to explore for themselves. That, and we didn’t want to repeat recommendations from our previous island article that also featured some of the longer Cumberland trails.

To be perfectly honest- the climb trail is certainly an invaluable asset and provides a fast/easy way to the top that’s better than climbing up the road. But, it does resemble a sidewalk through the woods and the experience leaves something to be desired. I love some good ol’ fashioned tech climbing and prefer my climbs to be as stimulating as my descents.

Some people like ice cream with their pie, we like tech climbs.
  • 2 0
 @FreeRadicals: Ya but... who doesn't like ice cream with their pie, wtf??!!
  • 1 0
 @islandforlife: I (Will) am a bit of a purist and eat them separately, but maybe I’m the weird one.
  • 5 0
 Love this! Can't wait to get back out to the Island once COVID has been wrapped up.
  • 2 0
 Count us in!
  • 2 0
 The Island is pure magic! tup Can't wait to get back!
  • 2 0
 I would definitely agree with the mini-review of Jacquie Gordon's B&B.

I stayed there for 1 night of a three-day road/gravel trip (back when we could...) and found the room clean, quiet & comfortable and breakfast tasty, filling and excellent fuel for the next day back in the saddle.

Jacquie is super-friendly, helpful and went out of her way to make me welcome and looked after when I got there, much later into the evening than expected.

It's not a modern house (I felt at home as it reminded me of staying with my grandparents as a kid!) but I'd definitely stay there again when (if?) I get around to doing another, similar trip, but with my HT so I can hit the trails as well.
  • 2 0
 Errington is worth the effort as well. The old "hammerfest" area for those of us who are getting long in the tooth.
Port Alberni is starting to build some quality trails if you are on your way to the west coast.
  • 1 0
 Totally agree, Hammerfest area is well worth the trip!
  • 2 1
 I Just realized the tagline for this article on the main page says world-beating trails.

Just my opinion but hasn't the world taken enough of a beating lately? Can we maybe change that to world leading? Or like the island itself, flowing magical foresty goodness-leading?
  • 2 0
 Pinkbike makes up the tag lines- not us
  • 1 0
 If heading to Nanaimo check out the Mt Benson area. Amazing long downhill trails with steeps, flow and tech. Finn Iles filmed most of his "Duncan" edit here. It also has the Ridgerunner area across the road if you want to throw in a great technical XC loop.
  • 1 0
 That was an awesome read! Lots of great information to hopefully be put in use later this summer (vaccine depending of course).
  • 2 0
 Seconded on the recommendation for Regard Coffee. Little shop doing rad things!
  • 1 0
 Andrew has been pushing very progressive coffees for several years. Regardless of our end destination it’s our first stop off the ferry every time.
  • 3 0
 Such a good write up!
  • 1 0
  • 2 0
 Here look at this! You cant have it...
  • 2 0
 You lucky, lucky bastards....
  • 1 0
 Dude, you have no idea how true you are. If I never left the island again, I'd be perfectly happy riding the Island forever.
  • 1 0
 Next time add Victoria and Sooke!
  • 7 0
 They're trying to showcase good island riding. Hartland is some how a climb that leads to another climb and then one more climb that some how just ends you back at your car.
  • 2 0
 @warmerdamj: that's mostly true but there's been some progress lately. But then there's Sooke and Burnt Bridge for ~600m fun descents.
  • 1 0
 @GBangShredder: Then off to Sooke Brewing Company to rehydrate!
  • 1 0
 Shhhh Victoria has built a solid reputation that it sucks... if more people find out that some of the best trails on the coast are here (you have to know where to look), we'll just get more people and that parking lot is full enough!!

Don't come here!! Who would want to ride near a dump... shitty trails and it stinks all the time... go away!
  • 2 0
 Galloping Goose?
  • 1 0
 Sounds exotic.
  • 4 0
 A wonderful cycling path that goes from one side of the island to the other, on the South tip. An old rail network.... I can go 60+km on rail trail from downtown to the bush and only cross a half dozen streets.... It's the biggest commuter path in my city.... Over 4000 peole a day use it... It's a real feather in the cap of this region.
  • 1 0
 @OlSkoolJake: 4000 people a day use this cycle path. Luv it! Commuting by bike is starting to get serious recognition.
  • 2 0
 @Sshredder: Victoria and the capital region has always had a massive cycling community, of all types... Bikes are big here. I know more people that are car free that aren't nowadays. This city makes it pretty easy to do so. Even with families. E Cargo bikes are everywhere here.... Over the last decade I've witnessed a strong shift to less dependency on cars....
  • 2 0
 I wish we could travel!
  • 3 0
 Hopefully soon!
  • 1 0
 When did Gabriola become part of Vancouver Island?
  • 2 0
 They just pushed it over last weekend.
  • 1 0
 Great work!

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