Pushing your limits in the great outdoors, then settling in for a sweaty post-effort pint with friends is a feeling like no other. Among the trails in the Comox Valley, it’s a way of life.
The Comox Valley is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. A burgeoning food and craft beer scene, easy access to Strathcona’s remote wilderness, and a world-renowned network of trails attract passionate folks who work hard and play harder.
Like many, I found myself seeking out new hobbies in a year of lockdowns and uncertainty. I’ve always considered myself a runner, but my efforts until recently have been mostly focused on road, meaning I’m, by all accounts, a beginner in the trail-running realm. There’s something exciting about being a beginner again, though, isn’t there? Trail running brings me closer to nature; it’s the perfect vehicle for exploring new places and new landscapes and, in this case, new craft beer! My partner Tavis and I are here for the weekend with our pup Bodie (yes, in true COVID-cliché-style, we adopted a dog during lockdown). He’s an energetic little guy and we’re working hard to make sure he’s well-versed in two of our favourite things—trails and patio beers.
Atlas Cafe, Courtenay
It’s Saturday morning; we load up the pup, stuff a couple of Hornby Bars in our bags and make our way out of the city. A few podcast episodes later, we’ve arrived at our first stop (aka fueling station): Atlas Cafe. This place is known for its laidback excellence and tasty international menu, featuring everything from Italian to Mexican to Japanese (and doing it all really, really well).
They have an adorable garden patio in the back, but we opt for a shady spot out front where Bodie can sit with us. We’re greeted by our server, who promptly disappears back inside and reappears with a doggie water bowl. I scan the menu and am tempted by the Panzanella Salmon Salad, but Tavis reminds me we’re fueling for a run, so I settle on the Atlas Fish Tacos and he goes for the Veggie Enchilada. We both order a pint of Cumberland Brewing‘s Finally IPA. I mean, heck, it is vacation after all and we’re here to enjoy the trails, not break records. Our food comes quickly and we eat it slowly while Bodie snoozes at our feet, lifting an eye every so often at passersby on the sidewalk. I could relax here all afternoon, but we’ve got trails to run! Next stop: Cumberland.
Cumberland Community Forest
If you’ve visited Cumberland, you’ll understand when I say it’s the beating heart of the Comox Valley. The stoke here is intoxicatingly high and it seems like both locals and out-of-town folks alike are here for one thing: the trails (of course, the après-trail situation doesn’t hurt either).
We fill a few bottles, grab Bodie’s water dish and make our way to the forest on foot. The access to recreation here is insane—the trails back directly onto the edge of town, making everything supremely walkable. We contemplate the trail map for a moment—Bodie’s young and still tires quickly, so we pick a relatively flat loop route where he and Tavis can split off early.
We set off, keeping our eyes peeled for oncoming cyclists (I suggest leaving your headphones at home for this one!). We do some climbing midway, watching our feet mostly for exposed tree roots. The smell of the fir trees towering over us feels like just what the doctor ordered this weekend! A few bikers pass by as we pause for a drink; friends chattering about life and work as they ride side-by-side, donning baggy double shorts and enduro packs strapped to their backs.
It’s clear this forest is teeming with life and people who love theirs. We continue a bit further and eventually decide it’s time for Bodie to pack it in. Tavis cuts off onto some double track and heads back to the house with the pup while I continue on.
Riders Pizza & Cumberland Brewing Co.
I end the run where we started, which is conveniently steps from our next stop—Riders Pizza. Bodie greets me with a few excited licks to my salty face, and we head to grab some food.
The patio is filled with families communing over whole pies and friends sporting helmets and flushed cheeks, meeting up for a slice post-ride (no doubt a Saturday ritual). Mud-splattered chammies and sweaty top-knots are the norm here, so we fit right in. Dogs aren’t allowed on the patio, but we’re told Bodie’s more than welcome to enjoy some shade next to us on the other side of the low fence. I order a slice of the Dunsmuir Deluxe and Tavis opts for the Dad Joke (so-named for its pure cheesiness).
We grab a couple pints of CBC Forest Fog (reportedly a local favourite), which happens to be brewed right next door. After the afternoon sweat session we just had, I feel like we’ve hit the jackpot.
We leave Riders with full bellies and saunter next door to Cumberland Brewing; the place reminds me of walking
into a friend’s backyard. Everyone seems to be meeting up with someone and it has a relaxed energy that only a hard workout followed by beers with good friends can bring. We grab a growler of the Checkmate saison to bring home—it’s smooth, floral, and perfect for backyard sipping on a summer night!
We make time for a quick stretch session and crush some more water before bed. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned about combining my two favourite hobbies, it’s that beer—while delicious—can’t replace your H20. Remember that.) We drift off early to the sound of guitar strums floating through the open window from next door. Tomorrow, more trails await!
Morning: Cumberland & Courtenay
We take advantage of a sleep-in and do a bit more stretching on the porch in the sun this morning—our calves are feeling yesterday’s effort! For coffee, we stroll onto the
main strip to Cumberland Grind. It’s clearly a popular spot, with a mix of locals and day-trippers occupying the small patio. On the way back to the house we pop into Cumberland Village Bakery and snag a couple ham and cheese croissants for a quick post-run snack later (highly recommend). Then we continue to Comox for brunch at one of our favourite spots: Gladstone Brewing.
Gladstone occupies what was once a gas station on a busy corner in town. Fun little nods to its history are scattered throughout the inside, including vintage newspaper ads for car service, gas, and oil change plastered to the bathroom walls as wallpaper. The patio and the breakfast sandwiches are what brought us here, though. Bodie makes a point to greet all the other dogs snoozing under chairs as we make our way to a picnic table in the back. We order up a sleeve of the Hazy Pale Ale and a Cream Ale—two of their flagship brews—and a couple breakfast sandwiches: a bacon, egg and cheese and a gringo. Both are excellent. Gladstone seems to have a way of taking basic comforts and leveling them up with just enough flavour to make an impact (and if I’m honest, the saltiness of the breakfast sandwiches is hitting the spot after yesterday’s run).
Seal Bay Nature Park
The weekend’s next trail destination is the second-growth forested Seal Bay Nature Park, just north of Courtenay. The trails here are different from what we saw in Cumberland. They’re mostly flat and highly groomed, but they’re perfect for an easy Sunday loop. We lace our shoes and prep our bags in the parking lot. I select a route that’s close to 10k, mostly following the park’s “Horse Bike Loop” and Tavis opts for something shorter to tackle with Bodie.
A young couple waves at us passing by on matching Schwinns and we stop to chat with a few early-morning dog walkers along the way. There are benches scattered along the path overlooking some of the marsh areas throughout the park. It’s all very peaceful. I meet Tavis and Bodie back at the car. With our efforts complete for the weekend, it’s time to relax and refuel.
Afternoon: Comox & Courtenay
Land & Sea
Stepping into Land & Sea Brewing feels akin to arriving at a friend’s sailboat for the weekend. The covered patio is bright and breezy and, inside the large garage-door windows are rolled up, letting the plants poke in from the outside and merging the two spaces. They’ve nailed the laidback nautical vibe.
We decide to grab some takeout to enjoy in a nearby park so Bodie can sit with us. Everything on the menu looks incredible—a mix of Mexican, Japanese and Mediterranean-inspired options has me wishing I could try one of everything. We order up a Fiesta Valley Bowl, a Bulgogi Bowl, and a couple of cans of the Comexico Hazy Pale Ale and Red IPA to-go.
Our food comes fast and we head to find some green space to stretch out for a picnic, unlace our runners, and soak up some sun on our final day in the Valley. I’m already mentally planning our next visit. The trails (and ales!) to discover here are seemingly endless—I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface.
What’s your favourite outdoor activity to combine with your weekend ale-ventures? Post your pics and tag the @bcaletrail!