The communities of Courtenay, Cumberland, and Comox lie in the beautiful Comox Valley, nestled between Georgia Strait and high snowcapped mountains to the west. The valley lies almost halfway up the island, 220 kilometers (138 miles) from Victoria , but is also linked to the Sunshine Coast  by ferry.
The valley’s largest town and a commercial center for local farming, logging, fishing, and retirement communities, Courtenay (population 22,000) extends around the head of Comox Harbour. It’s not particularly scenic but has a few interesting sights and plenty of highway accommodations.
The main attraction downtown is Courtenay and District Museum (207 4th St., 250/334-0686, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–4 p.m. May–Aug., closed Mon. the rest of the year, donation). The highlight is a full-size replica of an elasmosaur. The original—12 meters (39 feet) long and 80 million years old—was found at the nearby Puntledge River. The museum leads tours out to the site daily in July and August and Saturday Apr.–June, on which you have the chance to dig for your very own fossil (adult $25, child $15).
The population of Comox is quoted at 12,000, and there’s certainly enough room for everyone, but you’d never know it, driving along forested roads that lead to golf courses, retirement communities, and a magnificent stretch of coastline. To reach Comox’s small downtown area, take Comox Road eastward after crossing the Courtenay River along Highway 19A.
Past the downtown area is a highlight of the valley, Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park (Comox Ave. at Filberg Rd., 250/339-2715, daily 8 a.m.). A high hedge hides the property from the outside world, but no admission is charged to wander through the beautifully landscaped grounds that stretch down to Comox Harbour.
The valley’s least expensive motels are strung out along the highway (Cliffe Avenue) as you enter Courtenay from the south. The Anco Motel (1885 Cliffe Ave., 250/334-2451, www.ancomotelbc.com , $65–75 s, $70–80 d) is typical, with a small outdoor pool as a bonus.
Overlooking Gartley Bay south of Courtenay is Kingfisher Oceanside Resort (4330 South Island Hwy., 250/338-1323 or 800/663-7929, www.kingfisherspa.com , $185–475 s or d), set around well-manicured gardens and a large heated pool right on the water. The resort also has a spa facility, yoga lounge, a bar with outdoor seating, and a restaurant renowned for its west coast cuisine (and a great Sunday brunch buffet 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m., $25).
An enjoyable place to pitch a tent, Miracle Beach Provincial Park ($24) is three kilometers (1.9 miles) off the main highway, 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) north of Courtenay. Highlights include a sandy beach, good swimming and fishing, and nature trails. Look for porpoises and seals at the mouth of Black Creek; orcas in the Strait of Georgia; black-tailed deer, black bear, and raccoons in the park; and seabirds and crabs along the shoreline.
In downtown Courtenay is Union Street Grill (477 5th St., 250/897-0081, Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–9 p.m., $15–26). Come here for well-priced global choices that include a delicious jambalaya and expertly prepared fish from local waters. Save room for a slice of chocolate mocha fudge cake. Also in downtown Courtenay is the Rose Tea Room (180 5th St., 250/897-1007, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., afternoon tea $8–12.50), a friendly little place where older locals catch up in a traditional English tearoom setting over simple sandwiches, scones and tea, and decadent rocky road brownies. Within the waterfront grounds of Filberg Heritage Lodge is a small café (Comox Ave. at Filberg Rd., 250/339-2715, Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. May–Sept., lunches $7–12), with picnic tables spread out under mature trees. A delightful setting more than makes up for the uninspiring café fare.
Comox Valley Visitor Centre (2040 Cliffe Ave., 250/334-3234, www.comoxvalleychamber.com , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. in summer, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. the rest of the year) is on the main highway leading into Courtenay—look for the totem pole out front.
BC Ferries (250/386-3431) sails four times daily between Comox and Powell River , saving visitors to northern Vancouver Island  from having to backtrack down to Nanaimo  or Victoria  before returning to the mainland. To get to the terminal, stay on Highway 19 through Courtenay, then take Ryan Road east to Anderton Road. Turn left and follow the signs down Ellenor Road. The regular one-way fare for this 75-minute sailing is adult $11.80, child $5.90, vehicle $37.50.