Earlier in April, Jocie and I spent an enjoyable day without the kids revisiting Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve. The last time we hiked out to this ecological reserve was in May, 2008 with Comox Valley Nature (note the year on the web page is incorrect). Alden was just coming up to age 1 at that time and you can see him in Jocie’s backpack in the group photo!
After four years we “sort of” knew where we were going and were able to find the trail head easily enough. Our problems began when we started second guessing ourselves on the trail in. After several false starts (and some mutual frustration) we backtracked and ended up walking from the trail through a grove of stunted shrubs and onto the mossy bluffs.
This ecological reserve is an extremely interesting place to visit. The mix of hairy manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana) and arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) is strikingly beautiful. The limbs of both of these species are dark, smooth and twisted. They prefer open sites and the drier parts of the south facing bluffs are a prefect place for them.
The bluffs can be quite wet and moss covers the smooth rock that descends steeply down to Comox Lake below. Some care is required here, but with caution and an awareness of the edges, the bluffs can be explored. The moss is delicate so be careful not to damage it as you search for some of the many interesting plants that can be found here.
Early April was perhaps just a little too early for flowers. We found some rusty-haired saxifrage (Saxifraga rufidula) and fine-leaved desert-parsley (Lomatium utriculatum) in bloom as well as chickweed monkey-flower (Mimulus alsinoides) in the wet seepage areas. However, we were unable to relocate one of the rarest plants in the ecoreserve, least moonwort (Botrychium simplex), but it was just coming out in early May when we visited in 2008. Again, just a little too early in the season.
The Comox Lake Bluffs are a very special place and fairly easy to access. Unfortunately, the easy access also means that the moss and lichen has been damaged in the past by mountain and motor bikers. If you decide to visit, do so with light feet.
From Courtenay, follow Lake Trail Road until it passes under the Inland Island Highway. Look for your next major left which is Comox Lake Road. Follow Comox Lake Road until it crosses Bevan Road (which takes you to the old townside of Bevan)—keep on straight through this intersection and the road becomes Comox Lake Logging Road. Continue on Comox Lake Logging Road past the Courtenay Fish and Game Club. Drive over the bridge just above the Comox Lake Dam and continue on Comox Logging Road until you find a small gravel pullout on the left hand side (see map below). Zoom out to get a better idea of where the reserve is located in relationship to Courtenay or click on the the red marker to get directions to the reserve from your starting point.
Entering the trail at this point you’ll take an old decommissioned road through a logged over section until you reach the edge of the forest. Here you have the option of continuing straight or turning right. Follow the trail to the right through the forest. You’re on the right track if you start to see rudimentary wooden bridges crossing streams (used by mountain bikers). Once the trail hits the gravel access road (visible on the Google Map) continue over it and look for a rough road that climbs up hill. There are a number of access points onto the open bluffs from the rough road. Note – the map seems to show a fairly major road that provides more direct access to the bluffs. I haven’t used that trail but would be interested in knowing if it connects quicker.
Disclaimer: I’m writing this from memory so may have got some of the details a little incorrect. Make sure that you’ve got a good map, lots of water and something to eat. And let someone know where you’re going!