Ecological Reserve: Comox Lake Bluffs

Waterfall in the forest by Ron

Ecological reserves are established in B.C. to protect a specific ecosystem of plant and animal life.  Ecological reserves are not created for the purpose of recreation but rather for educational and research purposes. Although not created for recreation purposes, some reserves are easily accessible by trails while others are not and even in some cases, restricted.

Comox Lake Bluffs ecological reserve is 47 ha in size and occupies the northeastern shore of Comox Lake near the Dam. The lake is about 5 km west of the town of Courtenay on Vancouver Island and is accessed via a logging road.

Bluffs along Comox Lake by Ron

The northern boundary of the reserve lies adjacent to a former logged area that has various paths which lead to the reserve. There is even a mountain bike trail which runs through the forest near the reserve’s northern boundary and someone had constructed two wooden bridges spanning a couple of seasonal creeks.

I have visited this ecological reserve on numerous occasions and I usually take the mountain bike path through the dark but cool forest and visit a nice waterfall, along the way, which is fed from a good sized lake just outside the boundary.

However, the falls have disappeared through erosion and collapse of the gravel/dirt embankment. That’s a shame because it was one of the features of the forest I always look forward to seeing on my visit.

It’s an uphill trudge to reach the top of the steep moss-covered bluffs which drop precipitously into the cold waters of Comox Lake. Along the bluffs, one of the most eye-catching vegetation, is the Manzanita bush which prefer direct sunlight.

Arbutus tree (left) Manzanita tree (right) by Ron

The smooth bark of the bush is orange-red color and one fascinating characteristic is the radiating branches which twists in all directions. While considered a bush, some manzanitas resemble a tree but a small one at best. During spring, there is a nice floral display of pink and white flowers with berries later in summer. When the manzanita dies, its smooth bark disappears revealing the rough inner wood which becomes cracked and withered over time.

The arbutus tree is a very unusual looking tree that grows on exposed areas that are rocky and have good soil drainage. Although arbutus trees love the sun, I have seen them growing in the open forest that provides some shade.

Their range in B.C. is limited, mostly growing in the southern region along the coast near the ocean. The Comox Lakes Bluffs ecological reserve is one of the few locations that are suitable for arbutus trees since the southern habitat provides ample sunlight. These trees put on a good floral display of white to light-pink color in spring and later in the year it produces berries.

Peeling arbutus tree by Ron

At first, I was confusing the manzanita with the arbutus tree since their bark appearance is similar. The arbutus tree bark is smooth and red in color, just like the manzanita, but the thin bark peels away like an onion skin to reveal a smooth yellow-green cinnamon color. When parts of the branches die, its appearance resembles that of the manzanita.

Manzanita by Ron

During springtime, the bluffs comes alive with a variety of colorful wildflowers and the area is popular for crows and the odd bald eagle. Black bears are not too common so it was quite surprising when I saw one roaming about. The Comox Valley Naturalists Society puts out an extensive bird and plant species list.

I have visited the bluffs during mild winters when the logging road access is drivable without snow. At that time of year, I like heading into the forest to where some mossy bluffs are located and see the water drip down like a ‘weeping’ wall.

Due to the easy accessibility of Comox Lakes Bluffs, it can lead to recreational overuse during summer and along with it, vandalism. I’ve come across not only illegal fire-pits here and there but arbutus tree limbs sawed off and graffiti scrawled into the soft tree trunk. Patrols by wardens are few and far between. I did bump into one patrolling in the forest and had a chat with him. All wardens volunteer for patrolling ecological reserves and are required to visit at least twice a year.

Ecological reserve exists all over B.C. and serves as an educational classroom to observe a unique ecosystem. They are protected areas and visitors must tread lightly to preserve their value.

Ron (solo75) has enjoyed the outdoors for the past 42 years; most of those years are solo trips where he likes to observe nature and take photographs. He spends his free time researching on sports nutrition and living a vegetation lifestyle.


  1. Comox Valley Nature Viewing Guide, Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve, 2011 Comox Valley Naturalists Society,
  2. Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve, BC Parks,


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