Cycling both the Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Rail Trails

Rail trail riding

Castanet welcomes our new outdoors columnist, J.P. Squire. A veteran reporter, with a career spanning more than 40 years, Squire writes his column, Making Tracks, in the third person, calling himself the Sheriff. In addition to recounting his outdoor adventures cycling, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and skiing, he will also keep readers informed about upcoming outdoor events in the Okanagan.

The Sheriff is back. Did you miss him? OK, perhaps you missed hearing his tales of adventures (or more likely, misadventures) with Constant Companion Carmen.

The Sheriff enjoyed a well-deserved vacation for the month of May while contemplating his journalistic future and ultimately deciding to head in a new direction.

It was the result of chatting with friends during an e-bike trip to Parksville and Tofino on Vancouver Island. As always, the Sheriff shared his numerous tales of hiking, biking and kayaking, cross-country and downhill skiing for the last 40-plus years.

Friends laughed and laughed at the lessons learned from miscalculations and happenstance circumstances. And thanks to dozens of emails lamenting the possible end to his weekly outdoor recreation columns, the Sheriff realized how much his musings meant to other like-minded outdoor recreation fans.

So my column will now appear on Castanet Sundays morning to give you a heads-up on Okanagan outdoor activities scheduled for the next week and coming weeks to give you a chance to plan your participation. The column introduction will continue to be an outline of our adventures in the valley and beyond,

As for our latest outings, the Sheriff and CCC returned to Parksville, tented and e-biked at beautiful Rathtrevor Provincial Park, and again e-biked the Parksville to Coombs Rail Trail. This gravel 16.3K trail follows the south side of the E&N tracks and has an elevation gain of only 213 metres.

The Parksville trailhead is at Springwood Park (trailhead kiosk near the dog park parking lot) but we started at the industrial park opposite Rathtrevor and close to where friends had rented cabins. After several unsuccessful attempts to find the path to the rail trail (amid much laughter and backtracking), we made it to Top Bridge Regional Trail.

Alltrails.com says: Top Bridge Regional Trail is "the one that surely deserves to be highlighted with its superb pedestrian-cyclist suspension bridge spanning the English River. Inaugurated in 1999, Top Bridge Trail is a lively junction of parks and nature conservation areas."

It is also the favourite swimming hole for locals but the water is a little chilly in May and the river was running fast due to the spring freshet. Top Bridge Park also has a specialized mountain bike trail system.

Alltrails.com reveals: "Top Bridge's best-kept secret is the petroglyphs that, according to a local historian, you can find by opening your eyes a tiny bit wider while you're exploring down by the Englishman River. You could see at least three distinct First Nation carvings on the rocks."

At the Coombs end (after checking out the incredible Coombs Market), the rail trail starts across from Station Road.

The rail trail is multi-use so no ATVs, dirt bikes or other motorized vehicles are permitted. We did come across a limping dog who appeared to be lost, so we shared some of our water and cookies, and market staff promised to look for him after work.

Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of three hours 36 minutes to complete the out-and-back, says alltrails.com, noting it is a very popular area for backpacking, birding and mountain biking.

The highlight of our trip, though, was the paved multi-use pathway between Tofino and Ucluelet called ?apsclik tasii (pronounced ups-cheek ta-shee) which means "going in the right direction."

Colleen MacDonald, author of Let's Go Biking Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast, says "any direction is right on this fantastic path suitable for all ages and abilities."

The path is exciting as it winds back and forth, up and down over numerous creeks and past ocean views. The best part is the stop at Long Beach's Incinerator Rock where you can climb a steep hillside (and watch the spray of whales as they swim offshore as we did). The steep, steep, steep climb up Radar Hill produced only one panoramic viewpoint.

At the Ucluelet end, you can check out Ancient Cedars Trail and hike the Wild Pacific Trail at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse (named after the sea goddess and wife of Poseidon) with so many beautiful ocean viewpoints that you lose count.

Returning to the Okanagan, we realized how fortunate we are to live in a region with so many more opportunities for outdoor recreation compared to Vancouver Island.

Our first outing was from Kekuli Bay Provincial Park along the Okanagan Rail Trail to Kalamalka Road in Coldstream to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. From Kidston Road (Red Gate parking lot), we took Corral Trail down to Cosens Bay for lunch. The more adventurous e-bikers looked for the gnarliest trails (allegedly) while the Sheriff took the picturesque Comin' Round the Mountain back to the Red Gate.

The Sheriff is now adjusting to new deadlines and publication dates so the usual posting of upcoming activities will come next Sunday.

Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups should email information about their upcoming events to [email protected]. The Sheriff also appreciates hearing from groups or individuals who have explored valley trails and want to share the trail's condition.

In the meantime, the Sheriff highly recommends MacDonald's Let's Go Biking Okanagan and Beyond guide book, featuring 36 easy rides, hikes, walks and runs which is available at local book shops or through letsgobiking.ca (e-book available).

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Making Tracks articles

About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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