Perched unassumingly on the east coast of central Vancouver Island, the small city of Courtenay is an ideal destination for anyone seeking nature with the comforts of an urban locale.
Courtenay offers easy access to lush temperate rainforest, crystal clear rivers, expansive beaches, impressive waterfalls and multiple trail networks, all complimented by a locally focused food and drink scene.
This post features more than 40 great things to do in Courtenay and the wider Comox Valley area. It includes a list of what I believe to be the 10 best activities as well as many more suggestions.
Previously living in Courtenay and now visiting at least once a year, we have personally tried almost every single one of these suggested activities (yes, really!)
The majority of recommendations are located in the town of Courtenay or within 20 minutes drive. There are just a couple that are a bit further (35 minutes but worth the extra time).
Here’s what to expect:
- The best things to do in and around Courtenay
- Chase waterfalls at Nymph Falls and Browns River Falls
- Go tubing on the Puntledge River
- Browse the independent shops and cafes of downtown Courtenay
- Visit one (or more!) of the local breweries
- Go hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park
- Shop locally made products
- Swim in Comox Lake or the Puntledge River
- Visit Kye Bay beach
- Hike the trails in Seal Bay Nature Park
- Explore downtown Cumberland
- Other great things to do in the Courtenay area
- 20+ more ideas
- Where to stay in Courtenay
Last updated July 2023
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Courtenay, Vancouver Island
Courtenay is a city of 30k people located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, on the unceded traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation.
It is the largest community in the area known as the Comox Valley, with the second biggest being Comox then Cumberland. Yes, there’s a lot of ‘c’ names around here!
People have lived in this region for at least 4,000 years, with the mild climate and abundant marine life being significant factors.
And when I say mild, I mean usually sunny and warm (20-25°) in the summer and damp and cool (6-8°) in winter. Heavy rain is common from October to May, with the city surrounded by temperate rainforest as a result.
Though Courtenay is situated very close to the Salish Sea, it is more of a river city.
The Puntledge River is an integral feature, running from Comox Lake (the source of drinking water for over 49k local residents) into the Courtenay River and then eventually out to Comox Harbour.
Reaching the ocean is easy though, with a half a dozen beautiful beaches only 15-25 minutes from downtown Courtenay.
Personally, I think Courtenay is a great place to live. It’s a wonderful place to visit as well, but I find that the best things to do are not as obvious as some other Vancouver Island destinations. And here’s where this post steps in!
Top 10 best things to do in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland
As mentioned above, we lived in Courtenay for two and a half years. Our home was very close to the Puntledge River, just west of downtown.
We still have quite a few friends in the Courtenay area (more than our current home of Penticton actually!) and still visit pretty regularly.
And when we visit, we usually stay for at least a week, sometimes two. So I’d like to think we know the Comox Valley reasonably well! And we know it from both a local and visitor perspective too.
With this in mind, this section features what I believe to be the 10 best things to do in Courtenay and the wider Comox Valley.
Most of the suggestions are completely free and many can be enjoyed all year round. There are a handful that can only be done in a specific season.
If you’re visiting Courtenay for a weekend, you should be able to fit the majority of these activities in. But realistically, I think it is best to choose perhaps 5 or 6 and go from there!
Chase waterfalls at Nymph Falls and Browns River Falls
Vancouver Island is a land full of waterfalls and Courtenay is no exception. My favourite easily accessible waterfalls are found within a stone’s throw of each other to the west of downtown.
Nymph Falls is located on the north side of the Puntledge River in Nymph Falls Nature Park.
The river runs over a series of exposed rock ledges, with Nymph Falls itself featuring a manmade fish ladder designed to help salmon swim upstream.
The waterfall is an easy 1km return walk from the main parking lot. There are several trails to choose from, with one being wheelchair accessible.
Browns River Falls is a beautiful wide waterfall situated on a Puntledge River tributary. The rock at the base of the waterfall features several intricate bowls as well. Swimming here is popular in the summer months.
This natural waterfall is more difficult to access than Nymph Falls. Park near the yellow gate on Piercy Road and follow the trail below the powerlines.
Look for a right turn after 200m. This trail leads into the forest and south along the creek. The very steep, short path down to the falls has a rope (not suitable for children). Total distance is 1.2km return.
Go tubing on the Puntledge River
Tubing the Puntledge River is a quintessential summer activity in Courtenay. Lined by trees and featuring a few small rapids, the float is a wonderfully natural and wild experience (some caution required though!)
The journey starts at the Puntledge Hatchery on Powerhouse Road. Most tubers float to Condensory Bridge. The float time depends on the time in the season, but allow at least an hour.
For a longer float, continue along a slower section to Lewis Park (another 45 minutes).
With the Puntledge offering a one-way experience, tubers must organise transportation.
Don’t have your own tube? Rent one at Blue Toque Sports – they have both singles and doubles at a reasonable rate.
Browse the independent shops and cafes of downtown Courtenay
It’s well worth exploring Courtenay’s super cute downtown.
Centered around 5th Street, the downtown area occupies a surprisingly large area and includes clothing stores, bookshops, gift boutiques, cafes, restaurants, a very popular butcher’s and a brewery. The museum, library and Sid Williams Theatre are located here as well.
The majority of the businesses are independent. Some of my favourite shops are:
- Hot Chocolates – handmade artisanal truffles, caramels, bars and fudge (same building as Cakebread Bakery)
- Blue Toque – sports consignment, everything from skis, camping gear and mountain bikes to tennis rackets and hockey sticks
- West Coast Karma – hand drawn designs by local artists on clothing, accessories and gifts
- Laughing Oyster Books – curated collection of adult and children’s books, operating for 40+ years
There are so many great places to eat in downtown Courtenay! I love:
- Pizzeria Guerilla – creatively topped thin crust pies, made with simple, fresh ingredients
- Nikkei Ramen-ya – housemade ramen noodles in cosy surroundings
- Atlas – a Courtenay institution featuring globally inspired dishes
- Bigfoot Donuts – light and fluffy doughnuts made fresh every day in a dozen different flavours
- Gladstone Brewing Co – downtown brewery, more details in the next section!
Visit one (or more!) of the local breweries
Back when we lived in Courtenay, there wasn’t a single local brewery in the entire Comox Valley. There are now five! Visit one or tour them all, it’s your choice.
Gladstone Brewing is my favourite, located in Courtenay’s downtown area. There are five core beers (cream ale, pilsner, porter, IPA, hazy pale ale), with at least one guest tap as well.
Gladstone’s patio is huge and partially undercover – it’s a great place to be, rain or shine! The food menu is small but very tasty, with burgers, salads and tacos.
Ace Brewing Company has a longer beer menu, with the F@#%! Bomb Raspberry Creamsicle Sour being my top pick. The name is a nod to CFB Comox (Ace Fighter Pilots in WW1 and WW11) and the airpark behind the brewery. The food menu is extensive, with burgers, nachos, wraps, bowls and more.
Over in Comox, Land & Sea Brewing Company is a hip spot with a solid beer line up. The saison is a stand out for me. The menu is a little elevated and has a particularly good choice of vegetarian and gluten free options.
New Tradition Brewing Company is opening in Comox soon.
Last but not least is Cumberland Brewing. Situated right on Cumberland’s main street, it feels like the beating heart of this characterful village.
I love the Forest Fog (wheat ale), with the core beer range being being rounded out by an oatmeal stout, IPA, pale ale and English bitter. Great patio and shareable food menu.
Go hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona Provincial Park is Vancouver Island’s largest provincial park, completely occupying the central mountainous region. The Forbidden Plateau area of the park is located to the west of Courtenay, with two main access points.
The first, and easiest, is found at Paradise Meadows, close to Mount Washington Alpine Resort. The drive from downtown Courtenay takes around 25 minutes.
There is an impressive network of alpine trails and backcountry campgrounds here, including a challenging route up to the top of Mount Albert Edward (2093m). Due to the high elevation, the best months to hike are July, August and September.
My recommendation for a short visit is to hike the easy Centennial Trail Loop (2km) or Helen Mackenzie Lake Loop (8km). The Centennial Trail is a flat boardwalk with no barriers, therefore accessible for wheelchair users and families with strollers.
The southeastern tip of Strathcona Provincial Park is accessible from the end of Forbidden Plateau Road. A moderately difficult 11km return hike (650m elevation gain) leads to the summit of dome-like Mount Becher, where incredible views of Comox Lake, Mount Albert Edward and the ocean await.
Shop locally made products – cheese, wine, vegetables and more
Thanks to such a mild climate, the Comox Valley is a bountiful place. Take advantage and buy local food and drink products grown, processed or made right here.
A visit to the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market is the easiest way to browse many local products at one location.
There is a Saturday morning market in Courtenay almost year round, with the location changing through the seasons. During the warmer months, there is also a Wednesday market held downtown and a Sunday market in Cumberland.
Beyond the market, I’d recommend visiting Sieffert’s Farm Market for fruits and veggies. It’s located right by Kye Beach (suggested below). The selection is great and the prices very fair.
Local cheese is made at Natural Pastures, which sits surprisingly close to downtown. The Aged Farmhouse cheese is SO good!
The Comox Valley has two wineries open for visiting – Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery and 40 Knots Winery. Coastal Black Winery (fruit wines, cider) is just up the highway as well. Tastings are available at all three wineries.
Swim in Puntledge River or Comox Lake
Tubing isn’t the only thing to do on the Puntledge River! Swimming in the Puntledge is the best way to cool off on a hot summer’s day in Courtenay.
Lewis Park and Puntledge Park are two of the most popular and easily accessible swimming spots. Barbers Hole, not far upstream from Nymph Falls, is a beautiful, deep swimming hole.
Comox Lake is another freshwater swimming option. On the Cumberland side, there is a great beach on the other side of the Cumberland Lake Park Campground. There are less ‘organised’ beaches on the Courtenay side too.
Of course, swimming in the ocean is an option for the most hardy souls! Access the water at Goose Spit, Kye Beach, Point Holmes or Kin Beach. A little further away from Courtenay are Saratoga Beach (my favourite) and Miracle Beach.
Visit Kye Bay beach
Courtenay is a very short drive from some truly gorgeous beaches, with Kye Bay being one of my favourites.
Kye Bay is situated just behind the airport in Comox, with the beach looking out towards Powell River and the snow capped coastal mountains.
This beach is the best at low tide, when the sand stretches as far as the eye can see. At high tide, the remaining mix is a mix of pebbles, sand and driftwood.
If you noticed that I said Kye Bay is ‘one’ of my favourites, it is because my top pick is actually nearby Air Force Beach.
The latter is a private beach administered by CFB, the local military base. It’s still possible to visit if you’re not authorised military personnel, but you have to pay for a parking pass (daily or yearly).
Air Force Beach features soft, golden sand and the same amazing views as Kye Bay. Here’s a tip – it is possible to walk to Air Force Beach from Kye Bay. Simply follow the beach for 2km to the north.
Other beautiful beaches in the Courtenay area include Kin Beach, Goose Spit, Point Holmes and Singing Sands.
Hike the trails in Seal Bay Nature Park
Combine a trip to Kye Bay (above) with a short hike in Seal Bay Nature Park. This expansive area showcases multiple local ecosystems and wildlife habitats, including coast, forest, ravine and marsh.
The K’ómoks First Nation refer to this land as Xwee Xwhya Luq, meaning “a place that has beauty, beauty that is not only seen but also felt.” And this really does sum it up!
A network of trails leads through the forest and across the wetlands, with the 7.3km Forest Loop providing a good workout.
The park protects 1km of wild rocky beachfront, where you can try and spot whales, seals and bald eagles. For a quick visit to the park, I’d recommend either the Seal Loop or Coupland Loop as both trails have beach access.
Explore downtown Cumberland
Once a bustling coal mining town, the village of Cumberland has been reincarnated as an outdoor recreation mecca.
Adventure, arts, culture and entrepreneurship all combine to make Cumberland one of the most characterful small communities on Vancouver Island. It’s also one of the youngest, with the average age of local residents around 39 (Courtenay is 47).
Cumberland’s downtown area is host to a lively collection of unique businesses, many located in heritage buildings.
Biblio Taco, for example, is situated in the old library building and produces some of the best tacos anywhere on the Island (yep, they give Tacofino a run for their money…)
At the top of town is the Cumberland Museum and Archives, which is packed with information regarding the town’s mining heyday.
People came from all over the world to work in the mines here, with Cumberland being home to the fifth largest Chinese settlement in BC at one point. There was a significant Japanese community as well. I’ll talk more about this later.
Other great things to do in and around Courtenay
If you have more time to spend in Courtenay, I would recommend these activities as the ‘next best.’ Many are located very close to already mentioned places, making it easy to combine activities.
Take in the views from Goose Spit Park
Goose Spit is another spectacular Comox beach. This narrow piece of land consists mostly of sand and provides natural protection to the harbour.
The eastern side provides sweeping views of the ocean, backdropped by Denman and Hornby Islands as well as the Vancouver Island ranges. A sheltered lagoon lies to the west, a favourite of migratory and resident waterfowl.
No matter which way you look, it is simply beautiful! When there is no fire ban, it’s possible to have a campfire in designated fire rings.
Learn about Cumberland’s Chinese and Japanese communities in Coal Creek Historic Park
In the early 20th century, the booming mine town of Cumberland was host to significantly sized Chinese and Japanese communities.
The Coal Creek Historic Park brings to life the former sites of Chinatown and No.1 Japanese town with walking paths and intrepretive signage.
The stories of the families are so interesting yet also sobering at times. There are 31 cherry trees planted around the No.1 Japanese town, each planted to commemorate a family forcibly removed from the area during WWII.
Paddle to Jáji7em and Kw’ulh Marine Park (Sandy/Tree Island)
True to its name, the beaches of Sandy Island feature soft and beautifully golden sand. This tiny oasis sits just off the northern tip of Denman Island and across from Comox’s Goose Spit Park.
With interrupted views of mountains on Vancouver Island and on the BC mainland, Sandy Island is a spectacular day trip destination. The catch is that it’s only accessible by boat or by foot at low tides (from Denman Island).
We have paddled to Sandy Island several times over the years, always launching at Union Bay ($5), just south of Courtenay. The paddle takes around an hour, though you have to plan your trip to work with the tides.
Go fruit picking in Dove Creek
As mentioned, the Comox Valley is an incredibly bountiful destination. Go beyond just purchasing fresh produce and go pick your own! There are many U-Pick Farms in the Dove Creek area.
The type of fruit available to pick greatly depends on the season, with June being best for strawberries and July ideal for raspberries and blueberries.
We really like Dove Creek Produce Farm for strawberries (no bending down needed!) and McClintock’s Farm for raspberries and blueberries.
Walk the Royston Seaside Trail and see the Royston Wrecks
The tiny community of Royston borders the ocean south of Courtenay. The Royston Seaside Trail weaves along the shoreline, providing beautiful views towards Comox and Goose Spit Park.
The easiest section to walk runs from Chinook Road to Lince Road and features a 1.1km long gravel path. Close to the southern end, there is a picnic area and viewpoint towards the Royston Wrecks.
Back in the 30s, large sailing ships and tugs were intentionally sunk here to protect the log boom operation (sorting area for logs). The rusting ships rising towards the sky remain an intriguing sight today.
Bike or hike the trails in Cumberland
The small community of Cumberland is host to the most impressive network of multi-use trails in the entire Comox Valley.
The majority of the network sits on private forest lands just to the west of town, with most of the trails built by local mountain bike users.
The opportunities for adventure feel almost endless here. Before heading out, be sure to read up on the Cumberland Trail Network Etiquette to help protect the local environment and ensure a safe adventure for all!
Watch the salmon run in autumn
The Puntledge River is a focal point in Courtenay and also a salmon bearing river.
The salmon usually start swimming up the Puntledge at the very end of September, with the largest numbers arriving in October and November. The exact dates vary from year to year.
Puntledge Park is a great place to spot salmon, as is Nymph Falls Nature Park (the fish leap their way up the falls themselves!)
Another easy place to see the salmon is at the Puntledge River Hatchery. It’s completely free to visit and offers a chance to see hundreds of salmon in giant tanks. There are intrepretive signs and the facility is family friendly.
Check out our dedicated article for more places to see the salmon run in British Columbia
Discover 400+ million years of history at the Courtenay Museum
Did you know that Courtenay is a hotspot for fossils? Local residents discovered the fossilised bones of a Elasmosaur along the Puntledge River in 1988, the first recorded west of Canadian Rockies.
Find out more about this and local First Nations and settlement history at the downtown Courtenay Museum. Entrance is by donation, which makes it the perfect budget friendly activity, especially on a rainy day.
If you’re more into hands on history than museum exhibits, consider joining one of the Museum’s Fossil Tours. Participants have the chance to dig and find fossils with the help of a museum guide. We haven’t tried this yet but can’t wait to do it!
Walk the Courtenay River Estuary
The Courtenay River starts where the Puntledge and Tsolum rivers meet and runs into Comox Harbour. The mouth of the river is incredibly abundant with marine and bird life.
For thousands of years, the K’omoks First Nation and Pentlatch Nation people built fish traps to collect salmon and herring.
It is believed that more than 100,000 stakes are still buried in the mudflats, making it one of the the largest concentration of inter-tidal fishing structures in North America.
The estuary can be viewed from the Birdwatching Platform on Comox Road or from the Courtenay Riverway Heritage Walk next to the Airpark. An easy, flat 2km loop leads around the Airpark, with interpretive signage along the way.
Go skiing or snowboarding at Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Mount Washington Alpine Resort is Vancouver Island’s premier skiing and snowboarding destination.
With five chairlifts, 1700 acres and 80+ runs, it’s an approachable mid sized resort with a (worthy) reputation for huge amounts of powder.
Mount Washington is especially great for beginners as the expansive learning area is nicely separated from the main runs. They have regular ‘Discovery Days’ providing free lessons, ticket and rentals to complete beginners.
The truly special thing about Mount Washington, however, is the chance to see the ocean from the summit. The peaks of Strathcona Provincial Park provide spectacular views in the other direction as well.
I worked at Mount Washington for three seasons and we both lived in the Village for some time. It’s a great place for cross country skiing and snowshoeing as well, with the trails leading into the adjacent provincial park.
Enjoy brunch in downtown Courtenay
Courtenay has a pretty solid food and drink scene and I think that it particularly excels when it comes to brunch.
I am a huge fan of brunch and we find ourselves rotating through the local brunch options often!
My current favourites are Atlas and the Hen and Hog Cafe (prepare to wait) as they are both Eggs Benedict focused. Atlas has many vegetarian options, while the Hen and Hog has more for meat eaters.
The runner up would be Off Main, a brunch/lunch spot serving classics (and new favourites) with a twist.
Even more ideas of things to do in Courtenay
Here are 20+ more ideas of things to do in Courtenay and beyond.
- Visit the I-HOS Gallery, a band-owned and operated First Nations gallery and gift shop
- Watch the ocean and enjoy the views at Point Holmes
- Eat local fish and chips at Comox Marina (Surfside Fish and Chips)
- Camp on the waterfront at Kitty Coleman Provincial Park
- Explore beautiful Kin Beach
- Go bouldering at WIP Climbing in Courtenay
- Hike to see the spectacularly green emerald colours of Century Sam Lake (weekends only due to limited access)
- Visit the abandoned ski resort at Forbidden Plateau
- Play tennis in Lewis Park (Courtenay) or Highland Park (Comox)
- Explore the beautiful Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens
- Attend one of many local events, such as the BC Seafood Festival (June), the Vancouver Island Music Festival (July) or the Filberg Festival (August)
- Check out the real CT-114 Tutor Jet, a Snowbird aerobatics plane, at Vancouver Island Visitor Centre
- Watch a sunset at Air Force Beach
- Climb one of 100+ routes above Comox Lake
- Explore the landscaped grounds of the Filberg Heritage Lodge
- Watch for wildlife from the birdwatching platform on Comox Road
- Take a walk on Fisherman’s Wharf Boardwalk at Comox Marina
- Discover the Comox Valley’s military connction at the Comox Air Force Museum (CAFM) and Heritage Air Park
- Relax at the spa at Kingfisher Oceanside Resort
- Ride the scenic chairlift to the top of Mount Washington
- Spend the night at the Cumberland Lake Park Campground
- Visit the cascades of Trent Falls near Royston
- Fly down Mount Washington via 4 zipline routes
- Learn about Canadian war history at the HMCS ALBERNI Museum and Memorial in downtown Courtenay
- Play golf at one of seven local courses
- Attend a show at the Sid Williams Theatre
- Watch small planes take off at the Courtenay Airpark
Where to stay in Courtenay
My top pick for accommodation is the Old House Hotel. This attractive property sits just in front of the Courtenay River, with the Courtenay Riverway walking trail just adjacent.
Downtown is five minutes drive away, with a good choice of shops and other restaurant options nearby as well. Rooms are well equipped, with the smaller rooms having kitchenettes and the one bedroom suites offering full kitchens.
A more budget friendly alternative would be the Westerly Hotel. This Best Western property is just across the road from the Old House Hotel, allowing guests to enjoy the same convenient location.
For a treat, consider a stay at Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa. While it may not be in Courtenay itself, this beautiful waterfront resort is only 10 minutes drive away.
Besides the location and spacious accommodation, the other highlight of this property is the on-site spa. The Pacific Mist Hydropath features eight elements (including a mineral massage pool, steam area, glacial waterfall) in a sculpted cave and pool environment that recreates the West Coast shoreline. Amazing!
Wanting to camp near Courtenay? As suggested in the post, I’d recommend Kitty Coleman Provincial Park or Kin Beach. Otherwise, check out our other favourite Vancouver Island campgrounds.
Other Vancouver Island posts you may find helpful:
Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip Guide: 15 Amazing Places to Stop
Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island: Complete Hiking Guide
11 Amazing Short Hikes Near Tofino, British Columbia
Sayward Forest Canoe Circuit: Complete Paddling Guide
Where to Find Big Trees on Vancouver Island
Pacific Marine Circle Route: Best Places to Stop, Road Trip Itineraries
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada