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Home to stunning waterfalls, impressive beaches, and the cutest towns you could ever imagine, it’s no wonder Vancouver Island tops the list as one of the best places to visit in BC.
Courtenay and Campbell River are two towns in the center of it all. Although small, there’s plenty to do in and around these towns, with many of the best attractions actually located along the road between them! So naturally, a road trip from Courtenay to Campbell River (or Campbell River to Courtenay) is a must-do while you’re here!
The drive from Courtney to Campbell River is short, at only 40-minutes long. But it’s easy to turn this short drive into a full-day affair, with stops at the sandy Saratoga Beach, the naturally pretty Oyster River Potholes, there’s even a distillery where you can taste some whisky and vodka!
In this blog, I’ll tell you about 7 of the best stops on the drive from Courtenay to Campbell River. This way, you can turn this short drive into a full-day fun road trip!
About the Drive from Courtenay to Campbell River
The short drive from Courtenay to Campbell River is just 53 kilometers (33 miles) in length and will take as little as 37 minutes to complete, without stops. The route follows the Inland Island Hwy/BC-19 N for most of the way and is considered an easy drive.
It can be a pretty busy stretch of road during the summer and at weekends, so be prepared and leave early in the morning so you can squeeze in all the awesome stops along the way.
7 BEST Stops on the Drive from Courtenay to Campbell River
The beautiful small city of Courtenay is where you will begin your journey to Campbell River – and it’s well worth spending a few nights or even just a couple of hours here. The city is located in the heart of the Comox Valley, an area known to native First Nations people as “Komoux” which means ‘Land of Plenty’. This region is home to waterfalls, lakes, beaches, and hikes. It truly is an outdoor-lovers paradise here!
In downtown Courtenay, 5th Street is where everything happens and it has several great restaurants, cafes, and boutique stores. There are also heaps of colorful murals dotted throughout 5th Street you can enjoy as you wander around. Be sure to pop into Bigfoot Donuts for a delicious donut – I love the Original Glazed or the Big Foot, which is a chocolate-flavored donut. They also serve coffee and Chai!
A 5-minute walk from 5th Street is the Old Church Theater which is a significant heritage building in the town. Built back in 1938, once used as a church, today it’s a musical and performing arts venue. It’s a gorgeous building and even if you can’t catch a performance here be sure to take some photos outside of it.
One of the best things to do in Courtenay during the summer is to relax in a tube and float down the Puntledge River. If you have your own tubes, this activity is completely free, otherwise, you can rent a tube from Blue Toque Sports downtown. Definitely rent a lifejacket if you don’t have your own as the water is pretty fast-moving!
Whether you decide to rent tubes or purchase your own, you will still need to arrange your own rides. I found it works the best if you have two vehicles. This way, you can leave one car at the end of your river float route, and park the other one at Puntledge River Fish Hatchery on Powerhouse Road; this is the starting point!
A popular hike in the area is the forest hike to Nymph Falls and Barber’s Hole. This is an easy nature walk that’s short and sweet, it’s just 500 meters down to the powerful cascading falls. Along the trail, you will come to Barber’s Hole which is a great place for a swim thanks to the calm waters here. In October and November, you can witness the spawning salmon leap up the falls on their way home – and, as a result, this hike can get very busy during these months.
As for places to eat in Courtenay – my recommendations are Javier’s Latin Cuisine on 14th Street and Il Falcone, a delicious Italian eatery on 6th Street. I should add that one of the best tours I’ve done on Vancouver Island is this half-day tour of Courtenay breweries, which includes stops at 4 breweries and the chance to try over 16 different craft beers! If you’re a beer-lover like me, you must book this tour!
2. Miracle Beach Provincial Park
Located just outside of Courtenay on your way toward Campbell River, Miracle Beach Provincial Park is the perfect first stop on this drive. With a campground for you and your family to stay at, this is a beautiful stretch of beach to explore during the summer months.
There is a 2km trail system starting at the day-use area and taking you out into the old-growth forest. You can also check out the Nature House and an Amphitheatre where educational talks, activities, and movie nights are hosted through the summertime.
The beach area here is also beautiful. Stop for a couple of hours to relax and swim at the day-use area.
3. Saratoga Beach
Saratoga Beach is a 200-foot sandy beach located a 25-minute drive from Courtenay. The beach here is especially popular in the summer months for the unique sport of skimboarding (where you use a skimboard to skim across the top of the water), as well as kite-flying thanks to the consistent wind conditions here especially from May to September.
Despite the wind, the water here tends to be quite calm and so it’s a safe spot to swim. It’s a very family-friendly beach and is a great spot to stop, relax on the beach and dip your toes in the refreshing Pacific Ocean!
There is a campground at Saratoga Beach where you can pitch a tent or park your RV. There are also cottages for rent at the Saratoga Beach Resort.
Top Tip: A 20-minute drive away is the Seal Bay Regional Nature Park where you can spot sea lions, seals, and sea birds. If you have time on your road trip between Courtenay and Campbell River, I highly recommend making a stop here too.
Related Read: Another great drive to a place with beautiful beaches is the road trip from Nanaimo to Victoria!
4. Oyster River Potholes
The natural potholes and crystal clear water at Oyster River create a breathtaking spectacle. When the water level is low, you can easily see the potholes and even walk amongst them.
Hang out on the rocks, and take a dip in the river on a hot day. Though you should be warned, the water is extremely cold as the river comes from glacier runoffs.
How to get to the potholes:
Head North towards Campbell River on inland Hwy 19, just off from the Cranberry Rd Exit. When you get to the bridge that crosses over the Oyster River, park on the side of the road and go through the fence which will take you to a path leading down to the river. It’s approximately a 5-minute drive from Saratoga Beach en-route from Courtenay to Campbell River.
5. Shelter Point Distillery
An artisanal distillery just a 25-minute drive from Courtenay is a must-stop for whisky, vodka, or gin lovers – or anyone with an interest in distilling. They have a pretty unique method here in that they use only barley to create their whisky and vodka varieties. The barley is grown on their farm, and the spring water used in the process comes from a mountain-fed aquifer on the farm. Their botanical gin (my favorite!) is created using only hand-foraged local ingredients!
You can book a guided tour of the distillery, where your guide will take you through the entire process from mashing, fermenting, distilling, barreling, and finally the bottling of the spirits – as well as getting to see some of the 400-acre farm. It’s an hour-long tour and at the end, you will get to sample some of the spirits. For true whisky-lovers, there’s an in-depth two-hour tour available too.
If you’re short on time, just stop into their retail shop and purchase a bottle to go – this makes for a great souvenir!
6. Willow Point
Just over a 10-minute drive from Campbell River is the pleasant small town of Willow River. It’s home to Willow Point Park, which is a great spot to spend a few hours on a nice day. Here, there’s a playground, tennis courts, a skate park as well as several hiking trails.
As well as that, it’s worth checking out the Rotary Seawalk here, which is an 8-kilometer paved track that runs along the shoreline of the Discovery Passage. It’s popular with cyclists, runners, as well as walkers. Along the way spot the wood carvings at Frank James Park. It’s a great place for wildlife-spotting with seals, herons, and eagles all to be seen if you keep your eyes peeled on the water.
Willow Point Estuary is a great place for storm-watching, something that’s renowned with Vancouver Island. If you’re visiting between November to late February, be sure to come down with a camera to watch a storm come rolling in. There’s a beach here too which is popular with locals who come here to collect driftwood. In the summer evenings, you are likely to see small groups of people huddles around a makeshift driftwood fire watching the sunset.
There’s a small town here with some stores and other local businesses but if you’re hungry it may be worth waiting until your next stop in Campbell River, which has a much better selection of restaurants and cafes.
7. Campbell River
And now, you’ve reached your final destination on your drive from Courtenay to Campbell River!
Much like Courtenay, Campbell River is charming. Enjoy all of the fun things to do in Campbell River like scenic hikes, as well as learning about the history of the area at the fascinating museum in town. Downtown Campbell River is home to plenty of restaurants, cafes, and stores.
The Campbell River Art Gallery is housed within the Centennial Building on Tyee Plaza. It showcases art from Canadian artists and they also offer several art workshops. If you’re in town on Saturday, be sure to check out one of their amazing free events, such as an art workshop or live entertainment.
Also, stop into the Campbell River Museum on Island Highway to learn about the history of the town as well as the First Nations people who have called this area home for hundreds of years. You can see a historic logging truck, as well as learn all about the importance of fishing to the town. It’s definitely worth checking out the Van Isle theater within the museum to learn about the Ripple Rock explosion.
Speaking of the Ripple Rock explosion, you can hike to the site of the infamous 1958 event, which was the biggest non-nuclear explosion in the world at that time. The trail is 4 kilometers in length and has several scenic viewpoints along the way from there you can see Menzies Bay and the Seymour Narrows.
Another popular walk in town is the walk along the Discovery Passage and Campbell River Estuary which takes in the Tyee Spit as well as Dick Murphy Park. Along the easy walk, you can see Quadra Island – and make sure to stop along the way to dip your feet into the refreshing Pacific Ocean! Every year, between July 15th to September 15th you will get the chance to see the Tyee Club rowers attempting to catch huge salmon from a tiny wooden rowboat, it’s a local tradition that has to be seen to be believed. Campbell River is, after all, known as the “salmon capital of the world”. One of the best places to watch the sunset in Campbell River is from the viewing platform on the estuary side of the spit here.
The best restaurants in Campbell River include Harbour Grill a fine-dining restaurant located in the Discovery Harbour Shopping Center and Takao’s Kitchen to try authentic Japanese food in a small, casual restaurant. For coffee and breakfast, I love The Crooked Spoon on Ironwood Street.
Bonus – Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park
As you drive along Highway 19 towards Campbell River, follow the BC Parks signs towards Elk Falls Park. Turn right off of Highway 28 onto Brewster Lake Road and keep right to get to the parking lot of the Provincial Park.
After parking, follow the signs that direct you down towards the trails.
This is an easy hike that takes about 1-1.5 hours. The trails will lead you down to a 60m high suspension bridge where you will have a clear view of the Falls. This was a majestic walk amongst some magnificent old-growth Douglas Fir trees.
With a campsite located only 3km from the Elk Falls Day use area, you can even spend the night and take some time to go fishing along the river that runs through the campsites.
Where to Stay in Campbell River, BC
There are several hotels to choose from for your stay in Campbell River.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend Above Tide Motel. The rooms here offer large private balconies with either mountain or ocean views. The Motel is located under a 10-minute walk from the center of Campbell River and you can book a room with a full kitchen if you wish to cook. Rooms here average about $100 CAD per night.
The Anchor Inn and Suites is a popular option with couples as it is located directly on the beach and every room has a private terrace with ocean views. There’s also an indoor heated pool and hot tub to relax in after a day of exploring. This hotel is located just a 2-minute drive from downtown Campbell River. A room here averages $145 CAD a night.
Why not treat yourself to a room at the highly-rated Comfort Inn and Suites on the waterfront. Rooms here are large and spacious and there’s an indoor pool, hot tub, gym, and restaurant on-site. This hotel is conveniently located near the BC Ferries terminal. A room will cost you about $180 CAD per night.
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog has helped you plan your road trip from Courtenay to Campbell River – I’m sure you agree that even though it’s a short drive, there’s so much to see along the way!
Why not browse our blog while you’re here, we’ve written lots of detailed articles about travel in British Columbia including a few personal favorites:
22 Fun Things to do in Kelowna, B.C.
Guide to Visiting Qualicum Beach, BC
Sunday 13th of March 2022
You missed the Pier in Campbell River. It's a great spot to stop for lunch and the best ice cream with nearly 20 flavours.
Watch the fisherpeople jigging for salmon - coho or pink. There's rock cod and lingcod too.
If you want to join in, you can rent rods and lures at the snack shop and try your luck.
Tuesday 15th of March 2022
Thanks for giving us some tips for our next visit! Summer is fast approaching so we will have to check them out!