The sweetness of North Vancouver Island is uncovered in the most remote places. The romance is in the ruggedness, in the work that goes into being there. The exhaustion from a challenging hike or frozen hands from an afternoon of paddling – a song and dance of perseverance and reward.


We acknowledge the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwakaw’akw people who have long navigated the waters of the Pacific Ocean around Vancouver Island. We pay our respects to them and honour their relationship with the bountiful ocean and temperate rainforests.

Vancouver Island is the largest island in British Columbia, Canada. It’s one of the few places you can surf and snowboard on the same day.

Where you can see whales, Grizzly bears, sea lions, and dolphins within the same hour and enjoy some of the most authentic Canadian outdoor experiences British Columbia has to offer. 


As with many places, the Island’s popularity skyrocketed during Covid. Before we knew it, the secret was out.

While most people continue to flock to Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet, and Salt Spring Island, the North Island remains relatively untouched. A little piece of paradise – a Canadian postcard if you will.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

About the Northern Vancouver Island

Only 3% of the Island’s population lives in the north. It’s located in the thick of the Great Bear Rainforest and is a hub for eco-tourism, hikers, surfers, and kayakers.

The spring is blessed with endless rain, while the winters are cold and desolate, leaving the ultimate time of year to visit between June and October.

There’s no clear-cut itinerary for the north. Logging roads, locals, and paper maps are your faithful tour guides and nature quickly becomes your primary source of wisdom.

How to Get to Northern Vancouver Island

Telegraph Cove is six hours north of Victoria and three hours north of Campbell River. There are several ways to get to the North Island depending on your time and budget.

There are two main airports as well as ferry terminals on the Island – one in Victoria and one in Nanaimo. The best route will vary depending on where you’re starting your trip and which places you intend to visit during your stay.


Ferry From the Mainland

$80 per vehicle – one way 

  1. Twassen Ferry (Vancouver) – Swartz Bay (Victoria)
  2. Horseshoe Bay Ferry (Vancouver) – Departure Bay (Nanaimo)

Fly From Vancouver Airport Directly to Port Hardy

$150-$400 Pacific Coastal Airlines 


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, map, screenshot

Top Five Things To Do on Northern Vancouver Island

1. Fishing

The air is crisp on the North Island, especially at 5am – the usual wake-up call for any avid fisher.

Mornings are spent sharing a cup of coffee with a pod of whales, the warmth of your bed replaced by the cool sea mist. The sun flirts with you until she dances along the ocean’s surface, entering a bluebird afternoon.


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, crystal blue water with mountains on horizon


The tiny village of Telegraph Cove is the perfect base for a few days of fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking, and whale watching.

Take a tour with one of the local legends who’ve been navigating these waters for over 30 years. For many of us, hunting our own food is a foreign concept, the labour and skill required for just one meal is unfathomable until you’re doing it; your hands covered in blood, the ecosystem in full swing and eagles swooping down collecting scraps from the day’s catch.

Later, our evenings are spent with a glass of wine, fish cooking over the fire, the final meal so simplistic, but taking an entire day to come together.

2. Wildlife Tours

While you’ll likely see Black bears roaming the ditches of old logging roads, day excursions from Port McNeil or Telegraph Cove take you through Knight Inlet, where you’ll arrive in Glendale Cove, a haven for several families of Grizzly bears.



Knight Inlet cuts through a remote coastal range of mountains and gives you a view of Mount Waddington, the tallest mountain that lives solely in British Columbia.

You can only reach these areas by float plane or boat – so you’ll need to book a tour. Expect to see whales, dolphins, eagles, bears, sea lions, and other native wildlife.

3. Hiking

East Coast Vancouver Island

The following trails and hikes are found on the East Coast of North Vancouver Island.


Distance: 7.7km roundtrip

Blinkhorn offers stunning views of Johnstone Straight and the islands on the East Coast. To get there follow signs to the Telegraph Cove Campground where you’ll find the trailhead beside one of the campsites.


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, camp on the banks of vancouver island, tents below pine trees


Warning, it’s not always well marked and people have gotten lost, but it’s a simple walk up to the viewpoint (about 1 hour) or a 4-hour return to make the entire loop.


Stories Beach

Less of a hike and more of a leisurely beach walk, this bay offers views of neighbouring snow-capped mountains, swimming, and windsurfing.

West Coast Vancouver Island

The following trails and hikes are all found on the West Coast of the North Island.

Getting there: Take Highway 19 towards Port Hardy and watch for the sign to Holberg. At the sign, turn left off the highway. Here you’ll follow a logging road until you hit the tiny hamlet.

You’ll eventually lose cell service so download your maps in advance. Once in Holberg watch for signs to Cape Scott National Park or Grant Bay, depending on which beach or hike you are planning to do.

Read more: Our Favourite Hiking Navigation Mobile Apps in 2023


Cape Scott National Park

Distance: 48.4km round trip

This park offers hikers the option of single or multi-day hikes, usually between 2-7 days, and challenges even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, person on rock formation, vancouver island


It’s encouraged to plan your day trips around the tides to see the caves of San Josef Bay. Hiking the North Coast Trial will take serious preparation and planning of over 40km of coastal and rainforest terrain.


San Josef Bay

Distance: 5km round trip

San Josef is the most well-known day trip to the West Coast. It is wheelchair accessible and a short 30 minutes from the car park to the beach.

There you will be greeted by a magical bay with secret caves to explore, tents scattered around the edge of the forest, campers lounging in hammocks, and the lingering smell of campfire.


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, camp on the banks of vancouver island

4. Surfing Beaches

As with most coastlines, the West Coast is a wild playground. Both the winter and summer pick up consistent swells and while tourists and locals are fighting for a spot in the lineup in Tofino, remote places like Grant Bay and Raft Cove offer plenty of waves without the crowds.

Surfing in Canada can be ruthless. It’s ritualistic– the process of putting on your gear and enduring the cold all before catching a wave creates a sense of comradery and dedication that’s hard to find in warm water surfing.

Most will spend a weekend at one of these beaches, making the trek with surfboards and camping gear. Be prepared for two to three days of surfing, warming by the fire and sleeping under the stars while keeping an eye out for bears and cougars.

If you’re tenting on these beaches be sure to lock up your food or tie it in a cache, be aware of your surroundings and leave the place just as pristine as you found it.

Grant Bay

Grant Bay is the trickiest beach to find. Several side roads and detours make it essential to pay close attention to your map so prepare to take a few wrong turns, but once you arrive it’s a short five-minute walk from the car park to the beach.

Don’t be surprised if you’re solo out there, with white sand beaches contrasting with the deep ruggedness of BC forest, and if you’re lucky, a wave, off-shore winds, and a sunny afternoon.

Raft Cove

Raft Cove takes a little extra work and it’s encouraged to spend at least a night or two here. Many will canoe their surfboards and gear down the river mouth at high tide, settling in for a multi-day surf trip.

If you’re simply there for the day, the hike is about 45 minutes and is usually in decent condition, depending on the rain.


Vancouver Island: A Guide to Northern Vancouver Island, Abby tait, map, screenshot

5. Have a Beer

Old Saltry Pub

There’s nothing like ending the day with a cheeky pint and a great view. In Telegraph Cove head to the Old Saltry Pub and grab a seat on their deck overlooking the marina. Here you can watch the fisherman filleting the day’s catches while eagles hover above, the sky turning pastel pink as the sun sets into the mountains.


Scarlet Ibis Pub

After your time in Cape Scott, Raft Cove, Grant Bay, or San Josef Bay, you’ll pass back through the town of Holberg, originally a Danish community established in 1907.

A favourite amongst hikers and surfers is the Scarlett Ibis, an English-style pub offering local beers, a cosy atmosphere, and a place to unwind after your latest adventure.


Devil’s Bath Brewery

If you’re in Port McNeill check out Devil’s Bath, a local brewery offering great beer, pizza and a view of the action down at the port. Also, a perfect stop if you’re catching the ferry to Malcolm Island.

Northern Vancouver Island is a postcard for the humble beauty of Canada. Her confidence is grounding, and she kindly asks that you pay attention, quiet your thoughts, and take inventory of your expectations.

There’s no hand-holding or five-star resort. The romance is in the ruggedness, in the work that goes into being here. The exhaustion from a challenging hike or frozen hands from an afternoon of paddling – a song and dance of perseverance and reward.

There are moments of intense emotion on this land, our insignificance magnified by deep forests and vast oceans. Here, it’s okay to take a break from the chaos that we have created.

To focus on our breath, the one responsible for experiencing the sweetness of this fresh, Canadian air.

Vancouver Island FAQs

What are some basic protocols for bear and cougar safety?

Remember this is their home. Give them space and respect and they will likely do the same. However, if you find yourself in an unlikely situation here are a few tips.


  • Face the animal, maintain eye contact, retreat slowly, and make yourself as big as possible
  • If it does attack, fight back
  • Always let it know you are human and a threat
  • Always protect children or pets as it will target them first


  • Talk loud at all times
  • Pack bear spray
  • Limit the amount of food odour in your packs
  • If the bear sees you DO NOT run, back away slowly, be loud, do not make any sudden movements
  • If the bear attacks, play dead 

Can I visit Northern Vancouver Island in the winter?

Yes! Expect lots of snow and chilly days, but if you are prepared this is the perfect opportunity to surf empty waves, snowboard at Mount Cain and maybe even pitch your tent.

Be sure to check road conditions and have all the basic tools in your vehicle in case of a breakdown. Warm layers, a spare tire, windshield scraper, jumper cables, flashlight, blanket and first aid kit.

Do I need a 4WD?

Almost all places are accessible with a 2WD. Logging roads are all gravel so pay attention to potholes and stones (for your windshield’s sake.)

Always have a spare and know how to change a tire. If you’re visiting in the winter you’ll want to have winter tyres and a 4WD.