Cumberland Trail Network in Cumberland, BC

Mountain Biking Cumberland Forest // tahoefabulous.com

Things got super busy at work for a while, and then I got a new job, but I’m feeling back to normal finally. I think I’m going to spend this awful winter we’re having in Tahoe finishing up my mountain biking road trip recaps. Hopefully I’ll finish by spring when it’s time to get back on the bike.

The previous stop on our #toasterroadtrip was Englishman River Falls Provincial Park and the Hammerfest Trails. After an amazing couple of days there, we headed about an hour up the road toward the three Cs – Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland. I’ll do a post about the lodging/food/beer of this area next, but now, the mountain biking.

The mountain biking in this part of Vancouver Island is centered in the small town of Cumberland, which is just a short, 15 minute drive from Courtenay. Despite a population under 4,000, Cumberland is a dream destination for mountain bikers. There are more than 50 miles of trails, several bike shops, delicious pizza, a cool brewery, and even a hostel that caters to mountain bikers.

Trail map in hand, we headed to Cumberland Forest and up a fire road. Through no purposeful planning, our honeymoon followed the path of the BC Bike Race, and we began to see the pink route marking tape that would become very familiar over the next 10 days. After about 3.5 miles of fire road climbing, we turned into the forest and began to climb single track – the trail Truffle Shuffle. This was my first hint that BC trail grades are significantly harder than in the other places I’ve ridden.

As I got off to push for the 10th time in under 400 meters, I told myself, “You’re just not used to technical climbing. Most of the uphill you do in Truckee is on fire road or easy single track. Get to the downhill. You’ll be fine.” We crested the climb with 3.6 miles and more than 1,000 feet of climbing. The route that had been recommended to us was approximately Upper and Lower Vanilla to That Dam Trail to Missing Link to Found Link. Vanilla and That Dam Trail were recommended as new, super fun trails that are representative of the type of riding in Cumberland Forest. Vanilla was fast, flowy, and rideable. We hopped onto Teapot briefly to connect to That Dam Trail. Trailforks rates Vanilla & Teapot as blue/intermediate and That Dam Trail as black/advanced.

In the places I usually mountain bike, I can typically ride everything on a blue/intermediate trail and everything to nearly everything on a black/advanced trail. Before this road trip, the Downieville Downhill was the most technical trail I’ve ridden, and I could ride ~90% of it. I can ride the easier double blacks at Mammoth. I say this because mountain biking in BC is different. Vancouver Island is closer to the grades of California/Oregon/Washington, but on the Sunshine Coast/Whistler/Squamish, the trails are much more difficult. This is something I really wish I had known beforehand. I still had a great time, and I’d go back to any of these destinations in a second. If I’d known about the difficulty of the trails ahead of time, I could have adjusted my expectations and been less frustrated.

One more from #cumberlandforest on #vancouverisland #pnw #toasterroadtrip

A post shared by Greyson Howard (@greyson_goes_outside) on

That Dam Trail was a little more feature-y than Vanilla, and had jumps, drops and an optional log ride. Some of the features were WAY above my pay grade and I walked some steep drops, but it was still a smile-inducing trail. That Dam Trail dropped us out on the fire road which we rode down until we came to the Missing Link trail head on our left. Note – Cumberland Forest is pretty well signed, but some of the lesser used trails get overgrown which can lead to confusion. Having Trailforks on your phone is great, as well as the paper map that the local bike shops sell. We climbed up Missing Link for less than a quarter mile and ~100 feet of elevation gain before turning onto Found Link for our last downhill of the day. This short trail has jumps and a drop at the top, and the lower section is rooty with berms before dropping us out on the fire road, which led us back to our car.

Greyson and I agreed that Missing Link/Found Link (sometimes called Lost and Found) was our favorite part of the day, though I also really enjoyed Vanilla. Our full ride was 7.25 miles and ~1,230 feet of climbing.

Our second day was more of a slogfest, which involved a lot of pushing bikes – not necessarily because of difficulty, but because of how overgrown the trail was. A local bike shop had recommended Bronco’s Perseverance, which connected to a trail we later found out was called Swamp. We got onto Mama Bear after that -which involved pushing up a very steep and short connector- so I’m not sure if we did that correctly. I wouldn’t full heartedly suggest this route. Bronco’s was pretty fun, but Swamp was a pretty miserable slog, overgrown, humid, and buggy. Mama Bear was decently fun, but I was pretty done after Swamp. I told Greyson that I’d definitely ride Bronco’s again, if I could do it without riding Swamp. From the Trailforks map, it looks like you can get from Bronco’s back up to the fire road, but I don’t have first hand experience.

We loved Cumberland so much that we actually returned to the Cumberland Forest for a quick ride before our ferry trip. Since we knew it had to be short ride, we decided to revisit what we already knew we liked, and we did a quick fire road – Missing Link – Found Link lap. It was a perfect end to our time on Vancouver Island!

Recommended Routes:
Long: Truffle Shuffle to Vanilla to Teapot to That Dam Trail to Missing Link to Found Link. 7.25 miles and ~1,230 feet of climbing. If you want to skip the technical climb on Truffle Shuffle, it looks like you can continue up the fire road and take another fire road (called Vanilla Access) and get onto Lower Vanilla.

Mountain Biking Cumberland Forest // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Biking Cumberland Forest // tahoefabulous.com
Elevation Profile via Strava

Short: Missing Link to Found Link. 2 miles and ~375 feet of climbing.

Mountain Biking Cumberland Forest // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Hammerfest Trails in Parksville, BC

After a few days exploring the Olympic Penninsula, it was time to head to Canada and mountain biking paradise!

Hammerfest Trail Network // tahoefabulous.com

We took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, and we ran into some issues. We were leaving around the 4th of July and just after Canada Day, and we ended up not booking the ferry we wanted early enough. That meant that we had to rely on the first come, first serve spaces. We got to the ferry terminal almost three hours early, and we still had to be on standby. Luckily, we were able to get on the earlier sailing that we’d been planning on. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning a similar route – buy your ferry tickets in advance or prepare to wait around for quite awhile.

The ferry boat ride (Greyson’s first ever car ferry!) was gorgeous, with views of the Olympics, the Cascades, Mount Baker, and the San Juan Islands. I was hoping we’d see some sea life, but nothing made an appearance. Crossing the border went smoothly, and we were quickly on our way north to the campground I’d booked outside of Parkside. We stopped at a brewery for a sampler and some snacks in Nanaimo. (I’m going to write up all of the Vancouver Island breweries at once, so stay tuned.)

I booked a campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park because it looked pretty close to a trail network when I was doing basic research on TrailForks. I figured we could stay there one night, and if it sucked, we could move on. It turned out to be one of our favorite campsites on the whole trip.

 

You can literally ride from your campsite at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park to the Hammerfest Trail network, which is awesome. It’s super convenient, and the trails themselves are great. We only ended up riding there one day, which we regretted. Now we just have to go back!

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via trailforks.com

I had a great time riding the Hammerfest trails. Obviously, in a single day, we could only ride a fraction of the network, but I found everything rideable. The climb up was a long fire road slog, but not nearly as bad as the climb in Ashland. The trails were fairly well marked, and we followed our chosen route using a combination of trail signs and the TrailForks app.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via Strava

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

@tahoefabulous getting after the dark and loamy on the #hammerfesttrails of #vancouverisland . #mountainbiking #toasterroadtrip

A post shared by Greyson Howard (@greyson_goes_outside) on

We got off the fire road on to Jughead. This trail started out heading down a hillside in a clear cut or burned area. The trail was a little rough – narrow and beat up with loose rocks, but still fun. You quickly got into the forest and the trail turned into the fun, flowy trail of my BC dreams.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

Once in the cover of the trees, we switched from Jughead to Locomotion. Here is where we first encountered an issue that would cause us problems on pretty much every trail we rode in British Columbia. We’re used to staying on a single trail for miles, not riding spiderweb like networks with potential turns every 100 meters or so. Even the trail network I ride most often only has a few choices. Since we weren’t riding with locals, and we were just navigating for ourselves, that often meant stops at every fork in the trail to make sure we were taking the correct turn. This really threw off our rhythm sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, the trails are super fun. Just be prepared to do some stopping in order to stay on route.

 


The last major trail we hopped on was Dem Bones. I remember this one seeming really rooty, but it turns out it was just the first taste of rooty BC single track, and we’d encounter even more roots on trails to come. We popped out just down the road from the park and rode back to camp, giddy with our first taste of BC mountain biking.

Hammerfest Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is an awesome campground – even if you’re not into mountain biking. It’s clean, the employees are super friendly, and they take quiet hours very seriously. These facts were true about every provincial park we visited in Canada, but this was a great introduction. The person driving around collecting fees even told us he was “so sorry” about our current leadership when he saw our California plates, which we appreciated.

After eating lunch and hanging around in the hammock, I decided that I wanted to hike down to the falls and check them out. Greyson wasn’t feeling great at this point, but he agreed to accompany me. The falls were small but pretty, and there was a perfect swimming hole (neither of which I got a picture of, oops). We were there late enough in the afternoon that it wasn’t very crowded and no one was in the water. Dipping my toes in, I could tell the water was freezing, but it was so beautiful and clear that I had to jump in. I stripped down to my underwear and dove in. The cold was shocking, but refreshing and I dove in a couple more times before I had enough.

Hammerfest Trails // tahoefabulous.com

I loved this park, the trail network, and the general area. I’d go back to visit this area in a heartbeat and I highly recommend it.