Seal Bay Nature Park was first logged in approximately 1913 and then again in the early 1920s. Springboard marks are still visible on the old-growth stumps. Several trails, such as the Mitchell grade (Red Alder/p̓iχay (pronouned pee-hi), follow rail or logging grades once used to haul logs. There was a small Japanese camp on the beach along with a sawmill where Eagle/q̓ayk̓ʷ (pronounced ky-kw) trail reaches the water.
The area on the water (east) side of Bates Road and the marsh area on the inland (west) side of the road were originally part of a larger area offered to WWI soldiers as settlement lands. The soldiers opted not to claim the lands, leaving the area as Crown land. In 1971, the Comox-Strathcona Natural History Society started lobbying the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the provincial government to have the area designated as a park. In 1975, approximately 135 hectares (335 acres) were leased to the CVRD as a park for a 20-year term. In 1985, the area under lease was transferred to the CVRD by the Province through a Crown land grant. An additional area of approximately 16.2 hectares (40 acres) was added through another Crown land grant in 1988.
The provincial government, school district and the CVRD have all put forward plans in the past to harvest some of the trees from Seal Bay forest but all were placed on hold due to opposition from local residents. In 1990, Comox Valley residents sent more than 3,000 letters to the provincial government in support of a proposal to have the forest added to the existing Seal Bay Park. The CVRD has obtained successive 10-year licences of occupation over the forest to manage it as a park. In 2012, the CVRD was successful in obtaining a long-term lease until October 2040.
The remainder of Seal Bay Nature Park, the area surrounding the Melda Marsh Loop on the west side of Bates Road, remains Crown forest under long-term lease to the CVRD as park.
The primary value of Seal Bay Nature Park is that it is a large regenerated second-growth forest. The park is one and half times the size of Stanley Park in Vancouver, protecting 642 hectares (1,585.6 acres) of biodiversity and treasured wildlife habitat. Seal Bay forest features rare plant communities such as hardhack (spirea), wetlands, trembling aspen, Pacific crab apple and slough sedge.
Seal Bay Park lies within the unceded traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation and contains many cultural and natural values meaningful to generations of K’ómoks families. Indigenous people historically visited the bay and forests to collect supplies and to camp during canoe trips. They refer to these lands as Xwee Xwhya Luq (pronounced Zway Why Luck), meaning “a place that has beauty, beauty that is not only seen but also felt.”
To acknowledge and increase awareness of this cultural and historical significance of the park to the K’ómoks First Nation, the new trail signs installed feature Coast Salish names in the traditional aýaĵuθəm language. aýaĵuθəm is a Coast Salish language shared between the peoples of K’ómoks, Tla'amin, Homalco and Klahoose. Trails throughout Seal Bay Park now take into account the rich cultural heritage of the first nation peoples. A couple of examples of the new trail names include Salal Berry Place/t'akay (pronounced Tuh-kie) and Huckleberry/t̓uxʷʊm (pronounced Toe-kwum). To help park visitors learn and pronounce the Coast Salish names, signs feature phonetic pronunciations.The new signs reflects a variety of natural park features, animals and cultural references.
The colour at the top of each sign indicates permitted trail use. Bike riders are welcome on trails with brown or blue tops. Purple signs mark hike only trails. The same colours are used on the trail map.
To learn more about the Seal Bay Signage Project visit here.
Bates Road divides Seal Bay Park into two sections. The water side (on the east side) has well groomed meandering trails leading through a second-growth forest of Douglas fir, big-leaf maple and red alder, with steep ravines lined with gigantic sword ferns and a seasonal waterfall. Three trails lead down to the waterfront: Ravine/saʔpɛt (pronounced saw-pet), Don Apps and Eagle/q̓ayk̓ʷ (pronounced ky-kw). There is nearly one kilometre of beach front to spot seals, birds and maybe even a whale. You will find harbour seals loafing on rocks dotting the bay throughout the year. Paths to the water unfortunately come with a somewhat strenuous climb back up from the beach. No bikes or horses are allowed on this side of Bates Road and dogs are to be leashed year round.
The west side of Bates Road is level and fairly easy walking or riding. Enjoy a creek side walk to Melda's Marsh, named by Ruth Masters in memory of Melda Buchanan. Melda campaigned tirelessly to have the area protected as a park and made many of the wooden trail signs mounted on trees throughout the park. The Melda's Marsh Loop is a leashing-mandatory trail. Other trails on this west side of the park are leashing-optional other than during nesting and fawn season (April 1 to June 30).
Trails in the park are well-liked for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and dog walking. They are also known as one of the best places for trail running. The 7.3km long multi-use Forest Loop/ʔayigən (pronounced eye-eee-gin) makes for an invigorating run or 90 minute hike. Bikes and horses are welcome. A couple of new connector trails completed in June of 2019 now allow bikes and horses to circle through Seal Bay Park without riding along Bates Road.
- Located along the coast in Electoral Area B (Lazo North) approximately 12 kilometers north from the city centres of Courtenay and Comox.
- Main parking areas are 2201 Hardy Road (62 stalls plus 3 stalls for horse trailers) and 2100 Bates Road (30 stalls)
- Small parking areas Mitchell Road and Seabank Road entrances
- Pet leashing is required year-round on the Melda Marsh Loop and on all trails on the water side of Bates Road
- During fawning and nesting season, from April 1 to June 30, leashing is required in the entire park.
- Thank you for doing your part to reduce park visitor impact on wildlife
The CVRD prepared a new Park Management Plan for the park in 2018. This plan was adopted in February 2019. For more information, visit the management plan project planning page.