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Vancouver Island - Westycamp trip report
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climberjohn
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 11:38 am    Post subject: Vancouver Island - Westycamp trip report Reply with quote

My family of four just returned from a 10 day trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We camped in the Westy for every night but two, and had a superb time. Here's an account of our journey, along with photos and travel tips for anyone else contemplating a similar outing.

A special thanks to the following Samba friends: “BlackDogVan” and “One more islander...” for sending some specific travel information. We found all the Canadians we met to be supremely friendly, and eager to share knowledge with travelers.

The van performed flawlessly, due in part to the newly installed Subaru 2.5 engine by resident Portland engine conversion guru and Samba resident Tristar Eric. Everything from 75 mph on Interstate 5 to high RPM twisty mountain roads in third gear, the engine was terrific. We averaged about 19 mpg overall, with a fully loaded van with cargo box and 4 peeps. After 10 days camping with four people, we really got our camping systems dialed in on this trip!

We saw very few other American cars on our trip. Outside Victoria, maybe five total. Most Canadians we met seemed quite surprised to find Americans somewhat off the beaten track. We saw LOTS of Westies! On the first day alone out of Victoria I stopped counting at 15. Lots of air cooled. Most everybody waved.

Here's the whole route:
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Day 1 in red, Port Angeles WA to Port Renfrew. Day 2 in green, Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan.
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Lake Cowichan to Denman & Hornby Island
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Now some of you may be shouting, “Oh no, how could you miss Tofino?!”
Keep in mind I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now live in Portland OR, where there’s no shortage of big trees, rain and beautiful beaches. While Tofino does sound like a special place, we did not make it there this trip.

(Truth be told, if I had to do this trip again, I would probably skip Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan and go straight up to Tofino and Denman Island. But more on that later.)

General itinerary
Day 1: Portland Oregon to Port Angeles. Our kids, ages four and six, can stand about five hours total driving per day and this was it. We opted to stay in a Port Angeles motel the first night in order to catch the early ferry (8 AM ) to Victoria BC. It is entirely reasonable to get from Portland to Port Angeles, take the ferry, and get out of Victoria to a nice camp spot in the same day, but we opted for two.

Day 2: Victoria to Port Renfrew. A decent road, occasionally very twisty, leads to Port Renfrew. The area around Sooke looked pretty cool, but we did not stop. We stopped at French Beach Provincial Park near the hamlet of Shirley for a stroll on the beach, and the campsites here looked excellent.

Me and the co-pilots at at French Beach park
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Port Renfrew is known for being the southern end of the West Coast Trail, a classic backpacking route. There's actually not much of a port (nor much of anything else) in Port Renfrew, other than about the largest, nicest, sandy beach in the southern part of the island. Depending on how beach-deprived you might be, this could be a worthy destination. First Nation folks run the one campground here, and the standards were, ahem, well below what we saw in the provincial parks. There were a few outstanding campsites directly on the beach, but the majority were bumpy, gloomy and in the woods. If you do stay here, I highly suggest reserving in advance the private beachside campgrounds, which are numbers 40, 38, 36, 34, 32 and maybe 30. We lucked out and scored site #38, and hoped to stay two days. However, it dumped rain that night, so we opted to pack up the following morning and move inland to hopefully drier places.

(If you go to Port Renfrew, Botanical Beach at low tide is a must see.)

A sunny afternoon in Port Renfrew, at one of the prime sites right on the beach:
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Day 3-4: Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan
This is a former gravel logging road that was recently paved, probably to encourage tourists like us to make a loop trip. Well, I have to say it worked, because we did it. There are MANY stealth places to camp along this road, as it has a maze of logging roads leading off into the bush, many without gates. But overall, the road is not very scenic, as it goes mostly through cut over timber lands.

We passed Lizard Lake, which was recommended to us by several locals is a good place to stay with decent fishing. Once we got to Lake Cowichan, we stayed for two days at Gordon Bay Provincial Park. This park has excellent well-spaced campsites, unlimited free hot showers(!) and a terrific swimming beach with warm water, a hit for the kids.

Within 10 min. of arriving at Gordon Bay Park, I found some nice chanterelle mushrooms right next to our camp. Here is where they were a few minutes later:
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Drying out after rain the previous night, and the sweetest picnic tables I’ve ever seen in any park, anywhere, Gordon Bay
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Day 5 - Lake Cowichan to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
For various reasons we got a late start out of Lake Cowichan. We tried to get a site for the evening at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, recommended here on the Samba. Unfortunately it seems like half of Vancouver Island had the same brilliant idea, as all sites were full. Apparently reservations here are required during the summer. If you plan more in advance than we did, this looks like a great stop. However, the friendly Park folks directed us to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, about 20 min. drive away up in the foothills. This is yet another beautiful forested park, only about half full, and with a very dramatic waterfall. It takes a pretty nice waterfall to impress Oregonians, in this place had it!

Framed by foliage at Englishman River Falls
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Day 5-6: Englishman River Falls Provincial Park to Hornby Island
We were fortunate to have friends from Portland who were renting a vacation house on Hornby Island, so we got to park in their driveway for couple of days. Hornby is a pretty interesting place, where counterculture pot growers and artists commingle fairly peacefully with lots of tourists. It's also home to a pretty amazing beach, with very warm water and very flat sand. Popular for the kids, but personally I got a little bored at a beach the does not have any surf.
The camping on Hornby is pretty slim. The two campsites we saw were like what I remember from Europe: very crowded with sites packed closely together. All are privately run campgrounds. Drinking water can be scarce on the islands in summer, so if you go here, stock up. All store-bought goods are extra expensive on the islands as well.

Beach art: One of the local Hornby long hairs we met:
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We saw lots of Mitsubishi Delicas. Damn, I wish we could import these into the US!
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Day 7: Hornby Island to Denman Island
We left Hornby in late afternoon and lucked out on a wonderful campsite on Denman Island, called Fillongley Provincial Park. This little gem has only 10 campsites, but fortunately four of them are first-come first-served, and we scored one even though we arrived at four o'clock on a Saturday. The sites are just a few steps away from the beach, and the beach is loaded with all the oysters and clams you could ever hope to eat. Sadly there was a red tide warning on, which is typical for the summer warmer waters, and I could not enjoy any of the shellfish. If I visited this area again, I would reserve at this site for at least two nights, and use it as a base camp from which to explore, going to Hornby Island as a day trip.

The small campground
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About a 30 meter stroll from camp gets you here:
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The clams jump into your lap at Fillongley park – I got these in about 10 seconds of digging!
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Day 8: Denman Island to Victoria
This was pretty much a meandering travel day to get close to Victoria so we could get the ferry back to Port Angeles the next day. There is a nice alternate route that runs along the ocean for ways, which we took. We decided to take the alternate town route through the city of Nanaimo as well, which was a mistake. Not much to see there, IMHO. We stayed this night in a motel just outside of Victoria, and I have to say a swimming pool for the kids, a clean bed, and a long hot shower are fine way to end a long camping trip.

Day 9: Victoria to Seal Rock campground
I dropped the wife off to shop and explore Victoria for a few hours, while I took the kiddos. As suggested by someone here, Clover Point on the south end of Victoria is a wonderful place to park the van and watch the ocean and birds. There is a nearby park that has a quite nice petting zoo, if you have small kids who are interested in such things.

Be darn sure you are at the ferry terminal two hours in advance, so you can buy tickets and go through the rather rigorous U.S. Customs screening. I was surprised to see more US customs agents in Canada than Port Angeles. I was little nervous about going through in the van, but once the gruff looking agent saw two kids in the back, I think we had clear sailing.

Back in the US, we stayed the last night in a nearly deserted USFS campground on the Hood Canal side of the Olympic Peninsula, called Seal Rock. This had a bountiful oyster bed right in the campground, and after setting up camp at dusk, I waded out into the cool waters, plucked a dozen or so, and slurped them down on the beach with a nice Chardonnay I had saved for just such a moment.

Day 10: home to PDX
Boring driving on I-5, not much to say. We did have a nice stop at the Hama-Hama oyster and seafood shop on Hood Canal, where stocked up on more oysters and clams to take home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

General travel notes . . .
- Stock up on booze and fill up your gas tank at the border. Both are expensive in Canada. (For that matter, most everything costs more in Canada than the US.)
- Take advantage of the tourist information offices, which are all over. Phenomenally helpful, friendly staff, huge selection of maps, brochures, etc. of anywhere you might want to go.
- If you plan to go on more than one ferry, consider getting the ”BC ferries experience card”. This is a discount card the gets you something like 40% off ferry tickets. This can save you a substantial amount of money. Google it for more.
- All the provincial parks we saw were very well maintained (including park staff who rake the campsite after someone leaves!?), with lots of foliage and space between sites.
- Many Provincial Park campsites have a certain percentage of sites (it seemed like roughly a third) set aside for first-come first-served. If you can hit these at around 11 o'clock in the morning, chances are good you will get a spot for the night. We only made advance reservations at one place, and it turned out we really did not even need to do that.
- Provincial Parks do not charge for day use visits, how nice! (Unlike most western US state parks.) This was about the one thing in Canada less expensive then the US =^)
- Many Provincial Parks have day use parking areas. We were told at two different parks that when all the campsites were full, and if you ask nicely, they usually allow overflow camping in the day use area parking lot. This is a potential option if you're really stuck for a place to stay.
- There are many smaller campsites run by the British Columbia Ministry of forests, comparable to US forest service campgrounds in the United States. These are smaller, more rustic, less expensive, and off the beaten track, but if that's what you're looking for there are lots of them. Most of these are marked on the back roads mapbook. Also, here's a website that lists just about every remote campground in the province:

http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca/search/search-location-coastal-region.aspx

What I’d do differently next time:
- Bring a wetsuit and snorkeling gear to take advantage of the beautiful clearwater and amazing marine life.
- Stay less on Hornby and more on Denman.
- As mentioned above, drop Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan from the itinerary. While I have not been on the mainland side, based on the recommendations of many people we met, I think a wonderful 10 to 14 day loop route would be this: Victoria -- Tofino -- Denman/Hornby -- Comox -- ferry to Powell River on the mainland -- meander south along the “Sunshine Coast” to Vancouver. (or reversed)

I'd try this route next time
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Most valuable players:
- Benchmark road atlas mapbook for Washington, and Backroads mapbook for Vancouver Island.
- Mp3 player plugged to Xmini speaker. The X mini speaker is not much bigger than a ping-pong ball, charges off of a USB port, and gives decent sound. This allows one to play quiet music in the van without using the radio and aux battery. Good for getting kids to bed and to play livelier tunes of the morning. A mere $18 online.
- GPS with Canada street maps. I bought a low-end Garmin GPS off Craigslist for 80 bucks before I left, and made sure it had Canada maps on it. Even though I pride myself on my navigation, this unit was extremely helpful on several occasions.

Thanks for watching, and I hope this helps someone with their future travels.

-CJ
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Last edited by climberjohn on Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:39 am; edited 4 times in total
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GWTWTLW
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NICE!!!
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 11:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looks like a beautiful trip! Welcome home.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Vancouver Island - Westycamp trip report Reply with quote

Excellent travelogue, JG.

A small critique ... the provided map did not show many of your mentioned sites. A cartographic faux pas ? Wink

(for those not in the know, we're both geographers/cartographers. John - active. Me - retired)


Last edited by WestyBob on Fri Sep 02, 2011 2:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

what a great documentary Travel exp glad you had a safe trip

Cheers
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report! Thanks for taking the time to share this.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 12:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

that site at Englishman River Falls looks like the same site we stayed in when we were there last month! those falls were pretty nice. Courtenay is worth the trip. stayed two nights at Kin Beach Park,right by Comox Air Base.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 1:56 pm    Post subject: Re: Vancouver Island - Westycamp trip report Reply with quote

climberjohn wrote:

Me and the co-pilots at at French Beach park
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The most important and best photo of them all! Glad that you had a good trip! Thank you for sharing!
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purplepeopleeater
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm, we are heading the other direction in two weeks...I'm toying with going to canoduh now.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 2:19 pm    Post subject: Van Island Reply with quote

Vancouver Island is a nice place to be!!! Glad you enjoyed yourself and it's nice to see tourist off the beaten path.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 2:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice write up. Class act all the way!
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 4:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool trip. The Pacific Marine Circle Route is a nice drive, Renfrew isn't very much of a destination as you discovered.
Sooke has lots to offer, sorry you skipped it. China Beach is another excellent park/campground, with a 1 km hike to a beautiful sandy beach.
Next year Wink
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very cool trip report John. Miss camping with you guys already, give our best to the family!
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Volks,

Bump . . . I just added some more photos and maps to this trip report, in case anyone's interested.

-CJ
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

climberjohn wrote:
Volks,

Bump . . . I just added some more photos and maps to this trip report, in case anyone's interested.

-CJ
Epic travelogue CJ. Great pics and details that will be used by many in the future. A loving post in the true spirit of the Vanagon Community. You are hired as our resident documentarian Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Referencing your thread, now. Thank you very much.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 3:49 pm    Post subject: Re: Vancouver Island - Westycamp trip report Reply with quote

Glad you finally got to use all that travel info, John--next time take that circle route and come by!
climberjohn wrote:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

General travel notes . . .
- Stock up on booze and fill up your gas tank at the border. Both are expensive in Canada. (For that matter, most everything costs more in Canada than the US.) A fact of life, unfortunately for us and for you as you visit. Probably the reason you saw so few US cars is because US tourism is way down from the days when a CAD$ was worth 60 cents US. In those days, we were an affordable destination for US visitors; now, we are almost as likely to get Europeans or Asians.
- Take advantage of the tourist information offices, which are all over. Phenomenally helpful, friendly staff, huge selection of maps, brochures, etc. of anywhere you might want to go.
- If you plan to go on more than one ferry, consider getting the ”BC ferries experience card”. This is a discount card the gets you something like 40% off ferry tickets. This can save you a substantial amount of money. (From a very-frequent floater)...the experience card only saves you money on the minor routes, though you can use it as a prepaid card for the big ones with no discount--those being from Vancouver Island to the mainland through Swartz Bay (Victoria) or Nanaimo or Comox to the mainland. Unless you're planning to visit some of the smaller islands, as with John and Denman/Hornby Islands, the card probably isn't worth buying.

However, there is a round-trip ticket you can buy if you want to do the circle route from Vancouver Island across to the Sunshine Coast (Powell River south to Gibsons) and then down to Vancouver. That one does give you a bit of a break on the totally ridiculous ferry prices.

- All the provincial parks we saw were very well maintained (including park staff who rake the campsite after someone leaves!?), with lots of foliage and space between sites.
- Many Provincial Park campsites have a certain percentage of sites (it seemed like roughly a third) set aside for first-come first-served. If you can hit these at around 11 o'clock in the morning, chances are good you will get a spot for the night. We only made advance reservations at one place, and it turned out we really did not even need to do that.

- Provincial Parks do not charge for day use visits, how nice! (Unlike most western US state parks.) This was about the one thing in Canada less expensive then the US =^)

- Many Provincial Parks have day use parking areas. We were told at two different parks that when all the campsites were full, and if you ask nicely, they usually allow overflow camping in the day use area parking lot. This is a potential option if you're really stuck for a place to stay.

- There are many smaller campsites run by the British Columbia Ministry of forests, comparable to US forest service campgrounds in the United States. These are smaller, more rustic, less expensive, and off the beaten track, but if that's what you're looking for there are lots of them. Most of these are marked on the back roads mapbook. Also, here's a website that lists just about every remote campground in the province:

http://www.sitesandtrailsbc.ca/search/search-location-coastal-region.aspx

Don't forget, there are some national parks as well, though not a lot on Vancouver Island and along the inner coast. The best and most affordable camping at Long Beach (between Tofino and Ucluelet) on Vancouver Island is in Pacific Rim National Park. Some sites have to be booked early in the spring, but they have last-minute sites as well, I believe. The location is magic!

http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/visit/visit4c.aspx

What I’d do differently next time:
- Bring a wetsuit and snorkeling gear to take advantage of the beautiful clearwater and amazing marine life.
- Stay less on Hornby and more on Denman.
- As mentioned above, drop Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan from the itinerary. While I have not been on the mainland side, based on the recommendations of many people we met, I think a wonderful 10 to 14 day loop route would be this: Victoria -- Tofino -- Denman/Hornby -- Comox -- ferry to Powell River on the mainland -- meander south along the “Sunshine Coast” to Vancouver. (or reversed)

Agreed that this would be a great trip. If you want a break from Westy-ing and to do some hiking, the folks up at Powell River have created a terrific long-distance trail inland from Powell River, with huts that you can camp in for free and coverage of incredible territory. http://www.sunshinecoast-trail.com/index.html After you've checked out that area, the southern Sunshine Coast has some good spots as well. The Skookumchuck Rapids up behind Egmont are pretty exciting. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/skook_narrows/photos/. Then head south towards Vancouver.

The Sunshine Coast Trail website covers the area on the northeast of John's map below, from the town of Powell River south to the first arrow that he's drawn on the mainland side. Although there's no surf on Georgia Strait, there's some wonderful places to see, and camp out in the wild, either on the waterfront or up in the forest.

I'd try this route next time
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Most valuable players:
- Benchmark road atlas mapbook for Washington, and Backroads mapbook for Vancouver Island.
- Mp3 player plugged to Xmini speaker. The X mini speaker is not much bigger than a ping-pong ball, charges off of a USB port, and gives decent sound. This allows one to play quiet music in the van without using the radio and aux battery. Good for getting kids to bed and to play livelier tunes of the morning. A mere $18 online.
- GPS with Canada street maps. I bought a low-end Garmin GPS off Craigslist for 80 bucks before I left, and made sure it had Canada maps on it. Even though I pride myself on my navigation, this unit was extremely helpful on several occasions.

Thanks for watching, and I hope this helps someone with their future travels.

-CJ
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Bruce Wayne
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

next time we go we are going to skip Tofino-Ucluelet area,just to touristy. for sure going back to Courtenay-Comox (Kin Beach) area,and up to Campbell River.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 9:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bruce Wayne wrote:
next time we go we are going to skip Tofino-Ucluelet area,just to touristy.


For anyone else considering going there, we were there in September and it was pretty quiet, the camp grounds were half closed and town wasn't particularly busy, but it is a haul to get there and unless you really like surfing there are a lot of other cool places on the island to check out.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always enjoy reading about vacationing in my back yard! The shot at Filongey Park beach was pretty familiar...we have a vacation lot a 2 min walk away and are over there a dozen times a year. PM me if you return to Denman and we could Vanagon over and meet you and camp for free on a 1/2 acre lot with a trampoline for the young'uns.

I hear you on not returning to Hornby. It's beautiful with a really nice beach but it is exhasting and expensive to get there and back and just isn't worth it to me. Plus it has a Tofino-too-touristy vibe that I don't like . The "Brad's Dad's Land" campsite isn't great as they have a very strict silence policy. I see it says 11pm on the site but my 70 year old dad and I were talking quietly (honestly) around the campfire at 10pm 2 years ago and their "bouncer" was giving us crap like we were lighting off firecrackers.

Good on you for spending time on Denman...too many people think it's just a road to get to the Hornby Ferry and they never explore Denman and see the great tide pools and cool meadow at Filongey. Nice and laid back. The Island's Trust is pretty anti-change/progress which is great because Denman is the same now as when I went there as a kid! Did you go geocaching? There's a few fun caches around the area, one of which I placed. Find it and find the best oyster/clam beach!

If you want a nice beach and are coming through the Comox Valley again (Courtenay/comox area) I'd suggest Miracle Beach Provincial Park:
http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/miracle_bch/
Awesome beach campsite just north of Courtenay (20min). Kye Bay, and Kin Beach are also great and more immediate to Courtenay. Comox Lake is quite nice too if you want to go salt free.
http://www.cumberlandcampground.com/
Parksville and Qualicum are spectacular beaches too. Just check the tides and make sure you're heading down at or near low tide because the beautiful beach dissappears at high tide at a lot of these locations:
http://www.waterlevels.gc.ca/eng/data/predictions/2013

Anyhow, great travel log! There is tons of great places and things to do in the Comox Valley and it's always nice to read about visitors enjoying themselves here!
http://discovercomoxvalley.com/
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Red Vanagon "Ron Burgundy": 1991 Vanagon Multivan (Weekender) 2.1L Auto - Driver/Camper
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