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Courteney is a beautifully lush city located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, in the heart of Comox Valley. First Nations people called the area Komoux (“Land of Plenty”)
Stepping off of the ferry and shifting onto island time is a feeling unlike any other. There’s a great sense of ease that washes over you as you find yourself breathing deeper on the North Pacific Coast of Canada. It must have something to do with being surrounded by some of the world’s tallest and most ancient trees.
Growing up, I spent all of my summers on the island, swimming in the Nanaimo River and kayaking in the ocean. I have cousins and friends living in Comox Valley who were always happy to show me around to the local hot spots every time I visited.
Courtney is a quaint city that is packed with character and charm.
With plenty of waterfalls, lakes, beaches, and riverside hikes in the Courtenay area, this is an adventurer’s paradise.
Besides getting outside to explore nature, there are also several shops, eateries, and galleries worth checking out. Here are the 23 best things to do in Courtenay, BC including some other important information about visiting that you might want to know before you go – enjoy!
How to get to Courtenay, BC
If you are coming from Vancouver, you have two different ferry terminal options that will get you to the island. Arriving in Nanaimo will get you the closest to Courtenay.
Vancouver (Tsawwassen) >> Nanaimo (Duke Point)
Vancouver (Departure Bay) >> Nanaimo (Departure Bay)
If you are driving onto the ferry, I recommend booking your ferry ahead of time to avoid spending an afternoon waiting in line all day. Things can get pretty busy at the ferry terminal, especially on the weekends. If you are walking onto the ferry, you are usually pretty safe to show up and purchase a walk-on ticket upon arrival. Although, it never hurts to purchase a ticket online ahead of time to guarantee your spot on the ferry.
Once you arrive in Nanaimo, it’s about an hour and 15-minute drive to get to Comox Valley, where you’ll find the beautiful city of Courtenay.
21 BEST Things to do in Courtenay, BC
1. Float down the Puntledge River
Relaxing on a tube for a float down the Puntledge River on a sunny afternoon was definitely the highlight of my trip to Courtenay this past summer. It’s easily one of the most exciting things to do in Courtenay during the warmer months.
The best part is that is that if you have your own tubes, this activity is entirely free! With that said, you can go through a company to rent tubes. I suggest bringing a lifejacket for the kids and anyone in your group who isn’t a strong swimmer.
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 the start.
Park a vehicle at the Puntledge River Fish Hatchery on Powerhouse Road; this is where you will begin your river float adventure.
There is a path that you can follow with a sign marked “Tubers Trail” that will point you in the right direction. Use caution as you follow the trail, as it can be a bit steep in some areas. There are ropes near the bottom of the trail that are helpful for keeping your balance.
Once you’ve made your way down to the river’s edge, the rest is smooth sailing. Sit back and relax as you float along through some majestic views. There are some points along the river where you will pick up some speed and encounter some rapids. It took us approximately 1.5 hours in mid-July to reach the Condensory Bridge.
The Condensory Bridge is a great place to have parked your second vehicle and a commonplace to end your float. There will be several cars parked along the road in the summertime.
As you float under the bridge, you will most likely see many people gathered on the other side to watch those brave enough to jump off of the bridge. I had a blast jumping from the top of the railing!
Related Read: Another great destination in BC that has an epic river float is in Invermere, read all about it!
2. Wander Downtown Courtenay
While you’re visiting Courtenay be sure to take some time to stroll and check out some of the local shops.
Start out on 5th Street where you’ll find a few great places to eat, locally-owned shops, and enjoy the brightly colored murals that cover the city.
3. Try the infamous Bigfoot Donuts
While you’re exploring 5th Street, you’re definitely going to want to drop into this family-owned and operated shop for a coffee and a donut before embarking on your day’s adventure.
The staff are friendly and welcoming, making you feel right at home in this cozy cafe. Their donuts are baked fresh every day, and with a huge variety of rotating flavors, there is always something new to try. After trying the donuts here, I dare say you’ll never eat the ones at Tim Hortons ever again (sorry, Timmies!)
Expect to pay about $2.50 CAD for a donut.
4. Admire the Old Church Theatre
Located 5 minutes walking distance from the shops on 5th Street, you can easily check out this intriguing historical structure during your morning stroll.
Admire the unique beauty of this church that is almost completely covered in vines – perfect for a photo op!
Built in 1938, it’s recognized as a landmark of heritage significance by the community of Courtenay. Today, the space is used as a venue for the performing arts, including musical theatre productions, and visual art displays.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a local performance here while you’re in Courtenay.
5. Hike to Nymph Falls and explore Barber’s Hole
Take an easy hike through the forest to discover Nymph Falls, and then cool off with a relaxing dip in Barber’s Hole. This is an easy nature walk that continues for about 0.5 km down to the falls.
As you follow the marked trails, you will come to see Barber’s Hole. This calm section of the Puntledge River is a perfect spot to stop for a swim on a hot summer’s day.
As you continue down the trails, you will find yourself down at Nymph Falls where you can admire the powerful cascading waters.
With picnic tables, a toilet near the falls, and plenty of rocks to spread a blanket on, this is a picturesque spot to spend the day with a picnic lunch for the family.
Between October and November, you will be able to see one of nature’s greatest shows as the spawning salmon leap up the falls to return home. This is definitely one of the most popular attractions in Courtenay.
6. Go mountain biking!
This is an extremely popular adrenaline-packed activity amongst the locals on the island. There are dozens of trail systems set up for mountain biking in this area.
Mount Washington is a favored spot for skiing during winter months (more on that below), as well as mountain biking in the summertime. Enjoy riding the only lift-accessible mountain bike park on Vancouver Island right here on the outskirts of Courtenay!
Mount Washington Alpine Resorts offers 2hr, 4hr, and all-day tickets for biking.
Depending on your experience level, there are a variety of trails available to explore.
7. Hit the slopes!
Mountain biking in the summer means downhill skiing and snowboarding in the winter at Mount Washington! Mount Washington Alpine Resort is located only a few minutes from Courtenay and it’s the main ski resort on Vancouver Island.
Now, I have to be honest, it isn’t the best place to ski in Canada. When compared to other winter destinations like Whistler or Banff, Courtenay quite frankly doesn’t measure up. With that said, it is a great ski resort for beginners and intermediates, families, as well as those on a budget.
A full-day lift ticket costs only $99 CAD mid-week, with slight price increases on weekends or during the holidays.
Related Read: Skiing is also one of the most popular things to do in Vancouver in the winter.
8. Enjoy a private tour of the local breweries
Ready to relax with a drink in hand? There are a number of craft breweries on this side of the island. If you are a beer connoisseur looking for a fun way to spend a day, why not experience four of Courtenay’s top local breweries on your own private tour!
Don’t worry about picking a designated driver, this half-day tour has you covered with pickup and drop-off included.
You will get to explore four local breweries and sample a flight of 4 uniquely hand-crafted beers at each stop.
1) Land & Sea Brewing Company
2) New Tradition Brewing Company
3) Ace Brewing Company Limited
4) Gladstone Brewing Co.
Check out this link for more tour info and bookings.
9. Try the best sandwiches at The Yellow Deli
Upon entering The Yellow Deli, I felt as if I was transported into another world. The warm and cozy energy is especially inviting; it draws you right in.
With kindhearted staff and a rustic wooden interior, this is my favorite lunch spot in Courtenay, BC.
They specialize in serving organic farm-to-table sandwiches and delectable desserts. With fresh bread that melts in your mouth, all of their sandwiches are a solid choice. My personal favorites are the chipotle chicken sandwich served on an egg roll, and the Deli Rose roast beef sandwich served on an onion roll.
If you are in the mood for something warm to drink, try out the Irish Fog or Vanilla Chai Tea – and you can’t go wrong with the coconut cream pie for dessert!
Expect to pay about $9 CAD for a sandwich and $3 for a hot drink.
10. Enjoy a Kye Bay Beach Day
Relax and unwind on this incredible stretch of beach; a favorite spot for the locals in Courtenay.
Spend a day on the beach enjoying the warm water from the shallow pools of our ocean’s tides. Kye Bay is a quiet beach decorated with giant rocks and driftwood, and is the perfect spot to bring the family.
There are plenty of natural treasures to explore; crabs, oysters, seashells, and starfish. Occasionally there are food trucks nearby during the summer months. However, I suggest you pack yourself a picnic before heading down to the beach for the day, as there aren’t many options to grab a snack on this section of beach.
Directions to Kye Bay:
Follow Ryan Road until you read the base at the end, and then turn right onto Pritchard.
You will come to a round-about (traffic circle) and take a left turn onto Knight Road. As you continue driving, you will pass the airport and many farms before taking your next left turn. This is the last street before a hill takes you down to the water at Point Holmes and will lead you right to the beach.
11. Explore the District Museum and Palaeontology Centre
Spend your afternoon exploring the history of Courtenay at their District Museum and Palaeontology Centre. Here you will discover impressive exhibits on paleontology, First Nations settlements, a series of art installations, as well as rotating displays that change throughout the year. This is a fantastic museum to bring the family, and one fo the more affordable things to do in Courtenay since the cost for entrance is by donation.
The Distric Museum and Palaenontology Centre is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.
12. Tour around Goose Spit Park
Goose Spit is an incredibly unique beach which makes up part of Comox Harbour. Here, you are sure to see a wide variety of wildlife around the lagoon and surrounding the beach.
When the tide is out, there is a 4km loop that will take you around the entire spit.
You can also check out the stairs, or wander down to the end of the spit, where you’ll find the Canadian Forces Cadet base.
There are picnic tables and fire pits available, making this a great spot for a beach day with family and friends.
You can also take your paddleboard or kayak and paddle out to “Little Mexico” at the tip of the spit.
For kayak or paddleboard rentals, check out Kayakutopia, located at 2020 Cliffe Avenue.
13. Experience Coffee Love Bug
This quirky coffee shop in the heart of Courtenay is run by a group of fun-loving and sassy baristas. Their purple cabin-esque cafe is packed with personality.
Upon entering, you will find yourself fully engulfed in the beauty of their alluring floor-to-ceiling murals.
They offer a variety of espresso-based drinks, and some very unique specialty drinks, like “The Mustache Ride” or the “Donkey Punch”- which contains crushed chilis!
They also have fresh-baked cookies roughly the size of your face.
On top of it all, the ladies running the cafe are a breath of fresh air, and sure to brighten your day. You know how the people in a place help make the destination memorable? Well, this is also true in Courtenay and the staff at Coffee Love Bug are a prime example of this.
Expect to pay between $5-6 CAD for a latte. You can find their location on Google Maps here.
14. Visit The Comox Valley Art Gallery
This center for the visual arts fosters cultural diversity and creativity through powerful contemporary art installations. This is a beautiful space to discover unique art exhibits displayed by local artists. Relax and enjoy yourself as you wander through the current art exhibition where you are sure to experience art that is both inspiring and thought-provoking.
If you’re looking for something special to take home with you, check out the gift shop where you will find the work of local artists and makers.
Find out what exhibitions are currently being displayed, and learn about the history behind the installation on their website here.
15. Take a day trip down to Campbell River
Located a 40-minute drive from Courtenay, Campbell River is another town in the Comox Valley that’s definitely worth visiting. Take a day to venture outside of Courteney and head down towards Campbell River to check the “Salmon capital of the world.”
Much like Courtenay, Campbell River is charming. Enjoy all of the fun things to do in Campbell River.
But it isn’t just Campbell River itself that’s worthy of a day trip, the road trip to get there is full of attractions you’ll want to check out (keep reading for more about those!).
You can also spend the night in Campbell River with a few hotels to choose from. The Comfort Inn is a great option because of the variety of rooms on offer and amenities. In the hotel, you’ll find an indoor pool and hot tub, as well as a gym. The hotel has excellent reviews and reasonable prices.
16. Visit Saratoga Beach (on the way to Campbell River)
Saratoga Beach is a popular attraction near Campbell River.
The calm ocean tides along this large stretch of beach create a lovely place to stop for the kids to play. I can’t resist stopping to feel my feet in the sand and dip my toes in the ocean, so this was a perfect pitstop on our way out to Elk Falls and Campbell River.
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.
17. 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.
18. Oyster River Potholes
The natural potholes and crystal clear water at Oyster River create a breathtaking spectacle. We stopped here after our hike along Elk Falls and enjoyed a quiet afternoon listening to the flow of the river.
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.
19. Miracle Bay Provincial Park
This is another great attraction just outside of Courtenay on your way toward Campbell River. Miracle Bay Provincial Park is located about 5 minutes from Saratoga Beach.
With a campground for you and the 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.
20. Dick’s Fish n’ Chips
After an afternoon of hiking and exploring around Campbell River, head down towards the marina for some fresh and delicious fish and chips; made with love at Dick’s!
Cod, salmon, halibut, and more – they definitely have some of the best fish n’ chips!
Expect to pay between $15-22 for a full meal.
There is currently no dine-in options available, but with plenty of scenic places to park down around this area, you can easily find a picnic table to enjoy your meal. We took a drive down to the spit to enjoy our lunch. Drive down Spit Road near the Canadian Tire and you will see places for you to park.
21. Vancouver Island Regional Library
This is a great cozy spot to curl up with a good book; especially when it’s raining in Courtenay!
The first Vancouver Island Regional Library doors opened in 1936, which were on four wheels. Though things look a little different today, this is still a staple in the community promoting the search for knowledge and encouraging young minds to escape into a world of fantasy.
22. Visit The Buddery House
The Buddery House is a K’omoks First Nation cannabis dispensary.
If you are interested in checking out a local dispensary (you are in BC after all…) The Buddery House is running things down on the east side of the island. Stepping into their trailer you will be greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff who are happy to help you find what you are looking for. Aside from their excellent service, this shop is sure to impress with their quality and variety of goods sold.
There is something for every hippie at The Buddy house, from fresh, locally grown flowers to edibles, pre-rolls, bath/body topical options, and even a variety of pet-friendly CBD products.
I was even offered a discount since it was my first time visiting!
You can find The Buddery House located at 3230 Comox Rd, Courtenay, BC.
23. Eat at The Golden Carriage
If you’re looking for a delicious and affordable hot meal, this is the place to get it. Picking up an order of War Wonton Soup from The Golden Carriage was the perfect way to warm up after a day of hiking in the rain.
They serve a variety of Chinese favorites, including soups, chop suey, hot pot, and noodles. They also have a selection of fresh seafood, family combo platters, and a few western favorites.
You can even place your order online!
The War Wonton Soup cost $17 CAD and there was more than enough for two people to share.
Looking for more advanced hikes in Courtenay?
The Weather in Courtenay, BC
The temperate rainforests on Vancouver Island create an incredibly unique ecosystem.
Summers on the island are beautiful with temperatures ranging in the mid 20’s Celcius (around 77 Fahrenheit.)
October-March is their rainy season and they experience some pretty heavy rainfall.
If you find yourself in Courtenay during a rainy day, there are still plenty of things you can do while staying warm and dry. Many of the activities I mentioned above can be done rain or shine – so put on your raincoat and get out to explore!
Where to Stay in Courtenay, BC
If you’re on a limited budget, be sure to check out Estuary House Reflexology B&B. This small bed and breakfast is located right on the estuary offering amazing views. It comes highly rated and rooms start at about $150 CAD per night including breakfast.
For something a little fancier, be sure to check out Old House Hotel & Spa. Despite the name, this hotel is very modern with a huge outdoor pool. Their Standard King Rooms include a kitchenette whereas their One-bedroom Suites include a full kitchen, fireplace, and balcony.
If you came to Courtenay to treat yourself, you can pass up the opportunity to stay at Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community. This is the best place to stay in Courtenay if you love to golf since it’s located right on the golf course with mountain views. There is an onsite bar and restaurant and you can choose between a standard queen room or a one-bedroom apartment.
Before you go…
I hope this blog has helped you plan your trip to Courtenay, BC and you enjoy all the wonderful things to do and see in the area!
Be sure to browse around our blog a little more, we tons of helpful articles about travel in British Columbia including a few personal favorites: