Thursday, September 1, 2016

Century Sam Lake - Vancouver Island's most popular hike [Summer 2016]

Undoubtedly the most popular hike on Vancouver Island this summer has been Century Sam Lake, and for good reason! Situated below the Comox Glacier, surrounded by mountains, a lake so blue you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes and ice caves (fast melting) to marvel at.

The Vancouver Island outdoor community has grown in the past year due to both social media connections and Facebook groups that help get like minded people out together.  Not a day goes by where my feed on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is not flooded with gorgeous views of Vancouver Island hiking destinations and positive comments encouraging others to get out and see for themselves.  It was the sharing pictures of Century Sam Lake thru these channels that sparked a near traffic jam of hikers every weekend in July and early August to this beauty of a place. (2016)

For years Century Sam Lake has been on our list of places to hike. Same with Comox Glacier, which is accessed via the same trailhead. No real reason as to why it took us so long to get there but finally we made it happen. What made it even better was taking some friends from Germany with us. Needless to say, they absolutely loved the hike! (whats up with my creepy smile?) haha

Trail info:

Distance approximately 4km from trailhead to the lake. Depending on where you park on the last section of logging road, you may have to hike a bit more to get to trailhead. In 2016, the final section of road had been upgraded due to falling tree activity in the area. We were able to park less than 1km from the trailhead but this can change year to year.

The trail is well marked and beaten. Elevation gained on the hike is 610m. Most of the hike takes you through treed terrain, some muddy/slipperly sections with the final approach to the lake wide open along a rocky surface with mountain views. Hiking time on the trail reported to be anywhere between and hour to 2 hours, pending your speed. Our time to the lake was just under 2 hours but we stopped to feast on salmon berries (a few times).

Allow plenty of time for this hike. We left Nanaimo at 8am and returned home at 8pm. Want to add to the whole hiking experience? I recommend heading into Cumberland after the hike and hitting either the Cumberland Brewery or Riders Pizza for a post hike bevy and meal. Nothing better than sharing trail stories with family and friends over beer and pizza! It is a well deserved feast!

Trail Preparedness:

A few things to note about this hike. Access to the trailhead is very limited and quite often the road is closed in the summer. Otherwise it is a weekend only hiking destination. Check Island Timberlands blog for road closures. Look for status of Comox Main. (As of Aug 17, 2016 road closed)

I would consider this a remote backcountry hike due to how far it takes to travel on logging roads to get there. There is no cell coverage on the trail or for the majority of the drive so proper research ahead of time and being prepared is a good idea. Prepared means packing the 10 essentials and knowing how to use them. North Shore Rescue has a what to bring list should you need more info. Another great resource to review ahead of time is the Leave No Trace Principles. Together we can all do our part to keep our wild spaces wild. 

Trip Report:

We hiked to Century Sam Lake mid July. Berries were abundant, bugs minimal, and trail well used. The trail was super busy. Everyone and their dog were there! Had to be at least 40 people milling about at the lake and ice-field while we were there. Not the normal amount of hikers we would see on hikes but that speaks to just how popular this hike has been this summer (2016). It was hard to get a picture without someone else in it!

Highlights of the hike include some of my crew swimming in the lake, a quick swim! First time adventure girl did not swim, although she contemplated it for a long time.

We enjoyed lunch on a cliff above the lake listening to one of the German gals play guitar. That was cool! 

Then we explored further towards the ice-fields and checked out the ice caves, which are melting fast. We did not go in the ice caves but checked out the entrance a bit. The day after I took the shot below, the ice bridge collapsed.

Trailhead Directions: 

Starting at Bevan Road off of Cumberland Road, it is 33 km to the trailhead, About 25km of it on logging roads. Comox Main travels along the west side of Comox Lake. Turn right onto Cruikshank Road (after bridge) and turn left when the road forks. About 10 mins or so after that there is a sign for Comox Glacier (same trail head as Century Sam), keep right. The road from here was passable during the summer of 2016. Other years it required 4x4 and high clearance vehicles. We drove in a Hyundai Santa Fe. Park well off the road leaving room for other vehicles to pass.

Additional Info:

Century Sam Lake is a stunning emerald green color. Our German friends were convinced the Canadian Government adds dye to the lakes. :) How else could they get to be so beautiful? The true story is the Canadian Government adds silt. (hee hee) All kidding aside, the silt is created when rocks underneath the surface of the ice are grinding from the movement of the glacier. This "rock flour" is very light and stays suspended in the lake water for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the lakes their spectacular turquoise blue or emerald green colour. Simple.

A bit of history on the naming of Century Sam. There is a stone cairn at the lake that shares some history.  I forgot to take a photo of it but came upon the words so will share that with you. You will have to take the photo of the cairn yourself. 

“Honouring Sid Williams of Courtenay, who played the role of ‘Century Sam’, the old prospector, during our 1958 British Columbia Centennial celebrations. Sid was an actor and comedian, a tireless volunteer who enriched the community. In 1984, he was awarded the Order of Canada for his lifetime of irrepressible humour and his service to others. Sid was also a keen hiker and skier who loved these mountains. Remembered by family and friends. 1992.”


  1. Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!
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  3. When timberwest says 'comox main open until 28 km' does that mean the century Sam trailhead is available?

    1. I saw that too, I'm going to try it today and see if I can get there!

  4. Any luck making it up the trail? I'm wondering if the lake is still covered in snow? Thanks!

  5. Is trail open planningtrip this weekend coming 15th

  6. This looks beautiful! Do you have any info on the road conditions and what type of vehicle is needed to access?