A Vancouver Island ATV tour you won’t soon forget

The Campbell River ATV Club has a 400-kilometre circle tour that should bring more ORV visitors to Vancouver Island's north

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An ATV sitting on top of a mountain overlooking the Johnstone Strait.

With miles upon miles of Crown land, the northern region of Vancouver Island is ideal for off-road riders. — photo courtesy Mike Coulter

Imagine spending your entire summer vacation on an ATV, exploring sandy beaches, coastal inlets and the temperate rainforest of northern Vancouver Island. Riding from town to town, you see abundant wildlife, meet new people and learn about the fascinating culture of this remote region.

That is the vision of Mike Coulter, president of the Campbell River ATV Club (CRATV). And he’s one step closer to seeing it become reality.

“We just got access to Gold River,” said Coulter, “so now we can ride from Campbell River to Gold River and then go north to Sayward and back to Campbell River.”

It’s a 400-kilometre circle tour that follows forest service roads (FSR) and existing trails. Of course, ATVers need more than one tank of fuel and places to stay if they want to ride it. Before, that was a problem. But now, with new designated access in Tahsis and Gold River and off-road vehicle (ORV) operating permits available in Sayward, ATVers can ride into town on specific routes to access fuel, food and lodging. Campbell River also granted support to let riders stage from the Shell gas station on Willis Road—which has specified access to the FSR network. 

According to Coulter, there was some hesitation at first, but the club worked with the regional district, RCMP, tourism association and community council groups to come up with a plan that would be beneficial for all. With that in mind, he asks that riders be on their best behaviour and stay on the designated routes when riding into each community. 

Off-road vehicle tourism

The northern region of Vancouver Island relies heavily on industries like forestry and mining. In recent years, small towns have been struggling economically. Driving tourism, and more specifically ORV tourism, here will generate some much-needed business.

“The businesspeople are all excited in both communities,” said Coulter, who later added, “We are hoping to start a tourist movement on the North Island by making it a destination for off-road vehicle tourism.”

Two ATVs in a verdant forest on Vancouver Island.

This is the side of Vancouver Island that few get to experience. — photo courtesy Mike Coulter

The loop is not yet signed and it’s a little rugged in areas, but it’s already becoming an attraction.

“I’ve had enquiries from as far away as Paris, France,” said Coulter. “They wanted to know if they could rent machines.”

Other communities, too, want in on the trail.

“I just got an invite to do a presentation in front of the Port Hardy council so that we can advise them on what kind of access they could provide for us to get riders to come there,” said Coulter.

This isn’t the first time the CRATV has been successful in lobbying government for increased ORV access. In the spring of 2016, the club celebrated the grand opening of its Pye Mountain Recreation Site. Located 35 kilometres north of Campbell River, this designated ORV campsite is the first of its kind on Vancouver Island. Picnic tables, firepits, a loading ramp and access to the club’s trail system are available. This project took about three years to go from concept to completion, and according to Coulter, there’s more in store.

“We’re developing it into our main staging area,” he said.

An aerial shot of the Pye Mountain Recreation Site near Campbell River.

Although it’s geared towards ATVers, the Pye Mountain Rec Site is open to everyone, and the trails are multi-use. — photo courtesy Mike Coulter

With 110 members, the CRATV is a very active group of ATV and SxS owners. Coulter has been president for about three years, but he’s been through several ORVs in his lifetime. What he enjoys most about riding is the freedom.

He said, “When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, travelling down a trail, it’s just a sense of youth—being free.”

That’s an experience worth sharing. 

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