No offence to the Comox Valley, but from our brief experience there I wouldnít be surprised if, from time to time, visitors might find themselves wondering what to do with a couple hours to kill.
Well wonder no more!
The answer is called the Medicine Bowls. They’re a beautiful set of waterfalls and interesting rock formations, a can’t miss attraction that too many visitors miss out on.
The Medicine Bowls are a 20 minute drive outside Courtenay, BC. Since everyone and their grandmother has a cell phone with Google Maps these days, I won’t bother with giving you precise driving directions, but just share this map instead.
Click “View larger map” to open the map and location on your phone’s app.
And here’s what the turn off looks like:
Prepare For a Bumpy Start
Once you turn off Forbidden Plateau road, the gravel road to the Medicine Bowls very quickly deteriorates in quality. There are tons of potholes.
If you have a truck or SUV with a high undercarriage, you can safely drive all the way in. But if you have a sedan, like the Prius we came in, you should probably park your car and walk instead. It’ll only take you ten to fifteen minutes.
That said, if you rather risk your little sedan’s underbelly then take a short, peaceful walk in the woods, you can drive. We saw one guy do so. He drove about as slow as we walked, and we heard quite a few cringe-inducing bangs and scratches, but he did make it all the way in his old Corolla.
There are no signs pointing the way on the gravel road, but the Medicine Bowls are pretty easy to find. Walk (or rattle in your car) along the gravel road, up a small hill, past a first clearing where there is parking on the left, then another hundred meters or so to another circular clearing. That’s where you’ll have to park and walk the rest of the way inóeven if youíre in a monster truck.
The Lower Medicine Bowls
From the clearing, look for the plaque commemorating the lives of two boys who drowned there back in 2001. Take note of this warning to be careful, then take the path behind it.
Within a minute or two along this path, youíll get to the lower Medicine Bowls.
The bowls beautiful pools of water carved into smooth rocks by thousands or millions of years of erosion. They’re beautiful to look at, and thrill seekers can jump in. Further down, there’s a nice and more easily accessed swimming hole. We didn’t try the rope swing and nobody else was around either, so we canít attest to whether itís worth it (and safe) or not.
Once youíve had enough, head back the way you came.
Just don’t go all the way back to your car. There’s more to see!
The Upper Medicine Bowls
Back at the clearing where the plaque is, head in an upstream direction to find a second path. (You canít see the stream from there, but hopefully you have enough sense of direction to figure our which way is upstream.) This path, again only a minute or two in length, will lead you to the upper part of the Medicine Bowls.
Here you’ll find a beautiful little waterfall and swimming hole. The easiest way to get in? Jump!* Itís only about four meters high and the pool is plenty deep.
(*Caution: Weíre told the water levels can get perilously high at times. When we visited in late July the waterfall was a tranquil trickle and obviously not a risk. If itís a rampaging rush don’t risk jumping. Stay dry and simply enjoy the sights.)
Around the upper Medicine Bowls, there are quite a few nice rocks around to sunbathe and dry off on before finally returning to your car and continuing on to whatever further adventures await you in the Comox Valley or beyond.
13 thoughts on “Medicine Bowls in Courtenay, Comox Valley, BC”
Love it! I’m taking a trip up to Courtenay this week and was looking for something exactly like this! Thanks so much for this, and I will be sure to check out your other adventures.
And the weather forecast says it’s going to be in the mid to high twenties this weekend! Whoa boy, summer’s early! I wish we could join you. It’s going to be awesome. Enjoy, Dave.
Thanks for the handy advice – went to take a look at these today. Although I donít think thereís been a lot of rain recently (or at least not since we got to the island a few days ago), the river/stream was raging and we could hear the roar of the waterfalls from the clearing with the sign up above.
We didnít go down to the very bottom swimming hole, but itís safe to say the middle medicine bowls terrified us! I canít conceive of how anyone could swim in them without being taken by the current and thrown down the rapids and rocks below. (Obviously we didnít get it).
They looked a world apart from your photos, which probably shows what a change in water levels can do – the higher water level causes a fast and strong flow from the middle bowls down a waterfall/rapids. Iím sure they would be a lot more enticing (by which I mean safer) in a month without rain!
Thanks for the tip though – they were interesting to see if nothing else.
Oh really? That’s interesting. And it explains all the danger signs. Glad it was still worth checking out even though it wasn’t safe to swim. We’ll have to check it out in fall/winter next time we’re in the area visiting family. Thanks for the heads up, Harry!
The Medicine Bowl Road that you identify with Google Strret View and with the marker on the map is NOT the road you took to the falls. The new trail is off Duncan Bay Main Line Rd.
@ 49 41′ 14″ 125 04′ 03″
Thanks very much, Doug! I’ve updated the maps accordingly.
There seems to be some confusion. The marker on the map is for Browns River Falls, a single cataract not far from where the river joins the Puntledge. The Medicine Bowls are considerably upriver and are reached from Forbidden Plateau Road.
Thanks Peter. I guess Doug gave us a bum steer in his earlier comment, which had me doubting the marker and map I had originally. I’ve changed it back, so it should be correct now. Thanks again.
Went there today! Beautiful area, but a comment that should be made is that itís not an easy trail down to either bowl! The one to the Upper Bowl is quite steep and narrow. Not good footing either. The Lower Bowl is a bit better, but not much. I wouldnít be recommending it to anyone with even a slight disability or a family with small kids!
Thanks for pointing this out Charlotte! Since we’re healthy, young, and childless, we sometimes fail to notice these things.
Just to clarify, the Medicine Bowls, located at the top end of Forbidden Plateau Rd and the Browns River Falls are 2 different locations. As everyone has mentioned, pretty dangerous place to go if you don’t know the area, several fatalities over the past 20 years. Browns River Falls is much more timid and a safer swimming spot, access by the power lines on Forbidden Plateau Rd, or off Duncan Bay Main, a longer trek to find them but not impossible.
How long is the hike in if you drive as far as you can?
Maybe 100 meters if memory serves me well.