Here’s everything you need to know when visiting North Vancouver Island — including where to stay, things to do, how to get there and more!
North Vancouver Island is about as remote as they come, especially compared to the city of Vancouver or even the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Most people have heard of Victoria, but have you heard of Telegraph Cove or Port Hardy? For me, part of the fun of traveling to these lesser-known destinations is that it gives me the opportunity to share my insights (and misadventures) with all of you.
I’ve put together this informative post for anybody looking to travel to the northern part of the island, because there’s not as much information online as other areas in British Columbia.
North Vancouver Island Travel Tips
How to Get to North Vancouver Island
Unless you are a local with a car, then flying from either Vancouver or Victoria is the easiest way to get to North Vancouver Island. I flew into the tiny airport of Port Hardy from Vancouver and the views along the way were well worth the trip.
Flights from Vancouver to Port Hardy
Pacific Coastal Airlines offers three daily flights from Vancouver to Port Hardy — options include a morning, afternoon, and early evening flight. Price start at around $200 round trip and the flight takes a little over an hour. Book far in advance for the best prices!
Flights from Victoria to Port Hardy
If you are already visiting the southern part of the island, then you can hop on a flight from Victoria. Pacific Coastal Airlines has four to six daily flights from Victoria.
You can take a Greyhound Bus to Port Hardy from many of the larger towns on Vancouver Island, where you will then have to rent a car to visit the more remote areas further up north.
This works out well if you are already visiting places like Victoria and you want to avoid the eight-hour drive to Port Hardy (and expensive one-way car rental drop-off fees). The bus from Victoria takes nine hours and will set you back about $84 for a one-way ticket, but at least you can let someone else do the driving.
Renting a Car
Once you arrive in Port Hardy, there are two car rental companies to choose from — National and Budget. I booked with Budget at the Port Hardy airport and I was in the car within ten minutes of walking off the plane. Remember to drive slow at night, so you don’t hit any bears, deer or other wildlife!
Where to Stay on North Vancouver Island
There are limited accommodation options in the extremely remote town of Telegraph Cove, but I think that is part of its charm.
Telegraph Cove Resort offers a number of cabins overlooking the harbor as well as a campground. It’s an ideal place to unwind — for those travelers in need of an internet detox — because you won’t find televisions or telephones in the room and I didn’t see a hint of cell service.
For another extremely remote and unique stay in this area, you can take a 45-minute ferry from Port McNeill (about 30 minutes from Telegraph Cove) to Nimpkish Hotel on the tiny Cormorant Island.
Port Hardy has a few more accommodation options than Telegraph Cove.
If you are looking for something quiet, comfortable and situated just on the outskirts of town, then Ecoscape Cabins is the ideal place to stay in this area. It’s environmentally friendly and all of their cabins are tastefully decorated. Our cabin had a living room with a fireplace, full kitchen with new appliances and a loft with two queen beds.
Another great option in Port Hardy, the Kwa’lilas Hotel, is less than 10 minutes’ walk from the waterfront and Port Hardy city center. It offers on-site dining and provides free WiFi in every room.
Things to Do on North Vancouver Island
Grizzly Bear Tour
North Vancouver Island is a wildlife-lover’s paradise and is the first place I had ever heard of taking a Grizzly Bear tour from a boat. Tide Rip Grizzly Tours offers daily tours (from May to late September) to Knight Inlet, which is home to close to fifty percent of Canada’s Grizzly Bear population. The tours last all day and they feed you breakfast and lunch for $299 per person.
Read about my Grizzly Bear tour from Telegraph Cove.
The waters around Telegraph Cove are known for its large Orca population. Stubbs Island Whale Watching offers two daily tours (early May to October) for $99 per adult and $84 per child. I saw a huge pod of transient Orcas, numerous Humpback whales, and sea lions on a morning boat trip in late September.
Kayaking in Johnstone Strait
Telegraph Cove is one of the few places in the world where you can kayak with whales. Johnstone Strait is a 68-mile channel that is home to approximately 150 Orcas, so your chances of seeing an Orca on a kayaking trip during the summer months is very high.
North Island Kayak takes nature-lovers out on half day, full day and multi day kayaking tours in search of whales and other wildlife. It’s best to book this tour during the summer months because I visited in late September and they had to cancel the trip due to weather.
Update: I planned another visit to Telegraph Cove and you can read about my overnight kayaking trip here.
Hiking in Cape Scott Provincial Park
North Island Day Trippers is a local company with experienced guides who take tourists on day hikes in the Northwest Coast of Vancouver Island. They will pick you up from your hotel, drive your group to the hiking site of your choice, dispense useful information along the hike and provide a homemade lunch.
The road from Port Hardy to Cape Scott Provincial Park is a rough dirt road used by massive logging trucks — who have the right of way — so I’m thankful I didn’t try to do this drive on my own.
I highly recommend hiking in San Josef Bay to see the unique sea stacks on the beach. We saw a black bear along the trail, so be prepared for wildlife encounters. Our guide brought a stick (no bear spray) and it came in handy when all the bear wanted to do was stare at us, while blocking the trail out of the park. She used the stick to make noise against a tree and the bear quickly scurried off into the bushes.
Packing List for North Vancouver Island
I packed the same clothes and gear as I brought to Alaska. See our Alaska packing tips post for ideas on what to pack.
What do you think? Is North Vancouver Island a place you would like to visit?