North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

The Northern Route: Nanaimo to Port Hardy

Why Choose North Vancouver Island?

Remote, rugged, wild and beautiful. If these words capture your imagination than North Vancouver Island is for you! This lesser known region is often overlooked and is "undiscovered" by the majority of people who visit Vancouver Island. This region is remote with most roads off of the highway unpaved and limited access to amenities. Come prepared for the elements, but know that you will most likely have wild open spaces all to yourself! 

After multiple adventures over four years exploring the region's hidden gems, I've created this North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary and Guide that will truly get you off the beaten path. You'll not only avoid the crowds , but you'll also get out exploring the true wilderness this area is known for with options to add some luxury along the way. Let's dive in!

North Vancouver Island Beach near Raft Cove, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

When is the Best Time to Visit North Vancouver Island

Generally, Vancouver Island is a year round destination with something for every season. Its temperate climate makes

hiking, kayaking, biking and boating accessible year round for most of the Island. BUT, North Vancouver Island has a harsher climate with more frequent storms in winter and colder temperatures throughout the year. Since tourism to this area is so seasonal, a lot of restaurants, hotels and vendors close for the winter season.

The best time to visit North Vancouver Island is between the months of May-September when the weather is warmer and more predictable, the highways are clear of snow and most tour operators are open. Even during the summer months, you can expect temperatures to be a bit cooler and the chance of rain to be higher than in the southern regions of the island. It really is "The North"!

If you travel in the off season, be prepared to be more self-sufficient as some hotels, restaurants and tour operators will be closed for the season. But the beaches are always open!

How to Get to North Vancouver Island

The North Island region extends north of Campbell River to the windswept tip at Cape Scott, and west to the rugged Pacific coast including Winter Harbour, Grant Bay and Raft Cove. The eastern part of the region includes the communities of Port McNeil, Port Hardy, Telegraph Cove, Sayward, Woss and Alert Bay as well as the whale-rich waters between the Island and the mainland of BC.

The easiest way to get to North Vancouver Island is to start your road trip in Nanaimo. There are 5 main ways to get to Nanaimo from the mainland of BC.

  1. BC Ferries offers car and passenger ferry service via two ferry terminals. You can transit between the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal in North Vancouver to the Departure Bay Terminal in Nanaimo or from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Tsawwassen to the Duke Point Ferry Terminal in Nanaimo. This is the only option if you are brining your own vehicle across with you.
  2. Air Canada Jazz, and WestJet both offer commercial flights from the Vancouver airport to the Nanaimo Airport. Rental cars are available directly from the Nanaimo airport on arrival. WestJet also flies into the Comox airport if you want to shorten your road trip itinerary.
  3. Hullo Ferry offers high speed passenger only ferry service between downtown Vancouver and downtown Nanaimo.
  4. Harbour Air offers seaplane service from both downtown Vancouver and Richmond to downtown Nanaimo.
  5. Helijet offers helicopter service from Vancouver's Waterfront Station to downtown Nanaimo.

Car rental options are available from downtown Nanaimo, but you will need to either take a taxi or bus from your point of arrival as their locations are outside the centre of downtown.

BC Ferries with mountains in the background, Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Driving the Highways in North Vancouver Island and What to Expect

North Vancouver Island has a lot of untouched wilderness to explore. This means that not all roads are paved and not all destinations are accessible year round. Travel distances can be long from one location to another, so plan your route carefully and budget extra time as road conditions can vary.

Most of this road trip will be on Highway 19 which is a well maintained, paved highway that runs along the east coast connecting the north and south regions of Vancouver Island. From Nanaimo to Campbell River, the highway is divided, but north of Campbell River, the north and south lanes converge to a two-lane highway that winds through the mountains and along the coast. It is a beautiful drive!

Access to the more remote locations off of Highway 19, is on privately managed forestry roads. Western Forest Products maintains and uses these roads. Updated road information can be found online here. It is important to know when logging roads are being used, so check online before you go.

Logging road conditions can vary greatly depending on the amount of rainfall and how frequently they are being used. Although 4-Wheel Drive is not necessary to travel these roads, having mid-high wheel clearance is recommended. Bring a spare tire and/or a repair kit and know how to use them. Sharp rocks have been known to do a number on tires!

Lastly, give yourself time. Distances may not seem far, but road conditions can make travel times longer. And the little stops along the way make your experience that much richer! Stop at the lookouts or at picnic areas. It’s worth it, I promise!

Logging roads near Grant Bay on North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary: Day by Day Breakdown

So, how much time do you need for this North Vancouver Island road trip Itinerary? I've created a 7 day itinerary that covers all of the best sites and includes some that you may have never heard of before. I am breaking it down day by day giving you my recommendations, as well as extra places to consider exploring if you have a bit of extra time! I will include options for each day so that you can pick and choose between activities and sites that suit your travel preferences. Think of it as an a-la-carte menu within a curated timeline.

If you have more than 7 days to spend in the area, I have included 3 optional day trips to extend your stay in the region. These can also be used as substitute activities if you choose not to book any wildlife tours on your trip. Trust me, you will not run out of things to do!

Day 1: Nanaimo to Campbell River

(Driving Time: 1.5 hours | Distance 150 KM on Highway 19)

Grab coffee and breakfast at Vault Cafe in downtown Nanaimo and then hit the road early to make the most of the day. Most of the stops listed here are in and around Campbell River so you will want to arrive with enough time to see the sites. Campbell River is the largest and most well serviced community on this itinerary so enjoy a little bit of "urban" before you head further north.

1. Stop at Miracle Beach Provincial Park to walk the forested trails and visit the park's main attraction, a wide open sandy beach backed by driftwood and old growth trees. The beach is best visited at a mid-low tide when the sand bars are exposed and give lots of space for beach explorations. This park also has campsites that can be booked through the BC Parks website here.

Miracle Beach, Campbell River North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Miracle Beach, Campbell River North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Miracle Beach, Campbell River North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

2. Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park. Located just 5 minutes off Highway 19 as you enter Campbell River, this makes an easy but very worthwhile stop on your journey north! It’s an easy 1 km walk to visit a spectacular 25 metre waterfall with a suspension bridge over the river canyon and beautiful wooden platform look out points. For a complete guide to visiting Elk Falls visit the blog post here.

Elk Falls, Campbell River, North Vancouver island Road Trip Itinerary
Suspension Bridge at Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River, North Vancouver island Road Trip Itinerary

3. Enjoy the Campbell River waterfront by either walking along the Rotary Seawalk or the Discovery Pier.

The Rotary Seawalk is a 6km paved pathway running along the waterfront that is shared by both cyclists and pedestrians. The path has various access points down to the pebbled and sandy beaches along the Discovery Passage. Don't forget to stop in at Foggdukkers Coffee and grab a seat with a view!

Discovery Pier is a fishing pier that stretches out 150m into the sea. The pier is lit at night and is open to the public for recreational fishing. It even has built-in rod holders, bait stands, fish cleaning tables, covered areas, picnic tables and benches. To complete the experience, there are concession stands selling ice cream, donuts and of course, fish and chips. Make sure you check out Dockside Fish and Chips and Donuts!

4. Stroll the quaint downtown and visit shops like WestCoast Wildflowers an Indigenous woman-owned and operated shop selling clothing, jewelry, home decor, artwork, and more or Bough & Antler selling locally made northwest themed clothing and pottery. Grab lunch or dinner at Crabby Bobs for the freshest seafood or at Session Taproom for gourmet pizzas and salads.


Stay in upscale rustic cabins at Dolphins Resort or stay a little north of the city at Browns Bay Resort for an outdoors experience on the coast. If you prefer to stay right in town, book in at the Coast Discovery Inn.

Day 2: Campbell River to telegraph cove

(Driving Time: 2.5 hours | Distance 261 KM on Highway 19)

Grab coffee and a ridiculously good croissant at Freyja in downtown Campbell River for breakfast. it!! You will thank me later. Then hit the road again heading north to Telegraph Cove. I've got A LOT of stops for you to make along this journey, so pick and choose what sites grab your imagination the most. Or go all out and stop at them all for an epic road trip day!!

Since this is such a jam packed day with few amenities along the way, it's not a bad idea to pack a picnic lunch. My pick is Nesbitt Coffee and Cheesecake for their Montreal style bagels and sandwiches or Perks Donuts for classic old school donuts and simple but delicious sandwiches. I like the pineapple fritter!

1. Choose a hike with coastal views. Get your heart rate up and choose one of these hikes to enjoy coastal views of Seymor Narrows from above.

  • Ripple Rock Trail - a moderate- challenging 8km out and back trail with two lookout points. The trail ends on the bluffs overlooking the site of the famous Ripple Rock Explosion in 1958 when the hazardous underwater rocks were blown up to allow for safe maritime passage.
  • Campbell River Lookout Trail - a challenging 8km out and back trail up Broken Eye Mountain with incredible views from the top!
  • Menzies Lookout - 10km out and back trail/logging road to the top of Mount Menzies. You can either hike the whole thing or drive part or all of the way up if you have 4-wheel drive.

2. Take a detour to visit the Sayward Public Pier and try your hand at fishing right off the pier. Sayward is a small coastal community on Kelsey Bay overlooking Johnstone Strait. The currents in Johnstone Strait are pretty wild in this region and it's common for people to catch salmon and halibut right off the pier here! Also, the view is pretty incredible with a chance of whale sightings. To get to Sayward, you will need to turn off Highway 19 at the Sayward Junction onto Sayward Rd. If you are feeling hungry or didn't pack a picnic, there is a Co-op Gas Bar and a small grocery store at the junction to stock up on supplies. The drive to the Sayward Pier is about 10-15 minutes from the junction.

Sayward Pier, North Vancouver Island
Fishing off the Sayward Pier, North Vancouver Island
Sayward Pier Lookout, North Vancouver Island

3. Stop in at the tiny village of Woss if you have a train lover in your midst! An old logging train used by Western Forest Products is on display with a newly built interpretive centre for the region. The village is nestled at the base of the surrounding mountains and the views can't be beat. Also, the Woss library is surprisingly really cute! Woss is also home to a charging station for electric vehicles if you need a little recharge on your way north. AND.. If you are looking for one last chance to really get your heart pumping, the adventurous can climb the short and steep 1.4km out and back trail to the Woss Fire Lookout. I've heard the views are fantastic!

Old Forestry Train in Woss, Vancouver Island
Old Forestry Train in Woss, Vancouver Island

4. Visit Little Huson Caves located near Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park between Woss and Port McNeil. If I had to pick only one place to stop on your road trip, this would be the one! These caves and the canyon that the river carves through are absolutely incredible!

To access the caves, turn off of Highway 19 onto Steele Creek Rd/Upper Creek Rd. It's a 20 min drive on a gravel road but 4-wheel drive isn't necessary. If your car has limited clearance, just take it slow. The road is generally in good condition. The directions Google Maps will give you are accurate.

From the parking lot, the trailhead is clearly marked with a large park map and signboard beside the parking area.

Once on the trail it is a short 0.5 km walk to the river and the network of caves and land bridges. You will first reach a viewing platform that overlooks a unique land bridge formation. The river roars into the opening of the limestone rock. Backtracking a short distance you can walk down to the river to see the cave formations up close. Deep green pools fill the eroded limestone and lead to an impressive cave system! Leave yourself enough time to really explore the area. It's worth it!

Man standing in front of Little Huson Caves, Port McNeill, North Vancouver Island
Little Huson Caves, Port McNeill, North Vancouver Island
Man standing in front of Little Huson Caves, Port McNeill, North Vancouver Island
two kids hiking at Little Huson Caves, Port McNeill, North Vancouver Island

OK, I'm going to share an insider tip here! After you visit Little Huson Caves, you can continue down the gravel road past the parking lot towards Huson Lake. The gravel road narrows, but there is small opening at the end with space to park your car right at the narrowing of the lake. From here you can walk the short distance down to the lakeshore to see the magnificent views of the mountains surrounding the lake. It makes a great picnic spot or just a place to sit and enjoy the view for a while.

Huson Lake with mountain view, North Vancouver Island

5. Stop in at the Nimpkish Recreation Area. Nimpkish Lake is known for the winds that funnel through the surrounding mountains over the lake creating strong and reliable thermal winds . These winds draw windsurfers to the lake all summer long. The recreation area is open for camping but usually fills up with windsurfers who set up camp for the season. We stopped for a quick visit just to watch the windsurfers zip around the lake!

Nimpkish Lake North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Nimpkish Lake North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

6. Arrive in Telegraph Cove. Known as the gateway to the Broughton Archipelego, the charming and picture perfect village of Telegraph Cove is tucked right into the bay. There is a wooden boardwalk built along the intertidal shore of the bay that is part of the Telegraph Cove Resort and leads to other restaurants and shops. After a long day, you will want to check in to your accommodation, stroll the boardwalk and sit down for a relaxing dinner. My picks are either Killer Whale Cafe or Old Saltery Pub. Both are on the boardwalk in Telegraph Cove and are as quaint as quaint can be! Or if you are staying in Alder Bay, you can sit outside and enjoy the view at Roxy's Food Truck.


Telegraph Cove Resort - The most common place to stay is at Telegraph Cove Resort. The resort has a variety of options including the historic wooden cabins built right along the wooden boardwalk on the shore as well as their more modern dockside suites. They also have rooms available in the lodge up on the hill. The resort also manages the Forest RV Campground just 1km up from the village. The resort is open seasonally from May-September.

Drift Inn - Drift Inn is a 3 bedroom ocean front vacation home located right in the village. If you are travelling with a larger group, this might be a great choice with a full kitchen, spacious living areas and large decks overlooking the islands off shore.

Alder Bay RV Park and Marina - You can also opt to stay in the nearby Alder Bay RV Park and Marina in either seaside cottages or RV camping spots. Alder Bay is family run and can arrange tour packages for wildlife viewing, scuba diving and kayaking.

Historic cabins at Telegraph Cove Resort
Historic cabins on the boardwalk at Telegraph Cove Resort, North Vancouver Island

Day 3: telegraph cove

This is your day to explore the natural beauty of Telegraph Cove! I have put together a variety of activities and things to do, so pick and choose what suits your travel style the best. If you plan on booking a tour, make sure you make reservations in advance (especially in the peak summer months) as tours in this area are popular and can fill up quickly.

Start your day by grabbing coffee at Sally's Snack Shop near the boat ramp or get supplies at the General Story next door. For a full breakfast menu head to Killer Whale Cafe and fuel up for the day.


Book a Grizzly Bear Watching Excursion with Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures. They depart out of Telegraph Cove and cross over the water to Knight Inlet where the grizzly bears are known to be found along the shore. This is a full day tour and includes breakfast and lunch.

Book a Whale Watching Tour with Prince of Whales. You can choose a 3 hour tour in either their open zodiac or in their larger semi-covered cruiser. You'll explore the waters around the Broughton Archipelago which is rich with marine life. Whale sightings are guaranteed year round.

Book a Kayaking Tour with North Island Kayak or with At the Water's Edge Adventures. Get out on the water and explore islands, remote beaches, and the rugged coastal shallows along the shore. Both companies offer day trips as well as multi-day expeditions. North Island Kayak also offers 2 hour sunset paddles and half day excursions if you are looking for something a little shorter or want to combine it with another adventure that day.

Hike the Dave Farrant's Blinkhorn Trail. The trail starts in the Telegraph Cove Forest Campground and leads up into the mountains above Telegraph Cove. You'll pass through old growth forest with log bridges, moss and fern lined trails, and finally reach the lookout over Johnstone Strait. From here you can opt to continue on to follow the winding trail down to the Blinkhorn Peninsula. If you choose to do the whole trail, expect a 4 hour roundtrip.

Visit the Whale Interpretive Centre. The Whale Interpretive Centre is located in a renovated historical site (the "Old Freight Shed" on the wooden boardwalk in Telegraph Cove. It's right on the water compete with the sound of lapping water against the wooden floor boards. Definitely dock vibes!! It is home to the largest collections of marine mammal skeletons in British Columbia including including a juvenile fin and humpback whales, two killer whales, and a steller sea lion.

You can read all about the history of whaling in Western Canada, check the genealogy chart of the entire population of Northern Resident Killer Whales and the kids can play in an interactive "kids corner" with hands on games and activities. Personally, I love it here! Tickets can be bought at the door.

Day 4: telegraph cove to Port McNeill

(Driving Time: 40 min | Distance 26 KM on Highway 19)

Day 4-6 of this itinerary will be in the areas in and around Port McNeill and Port Hardy. Theses two northern towns are similar in size and available amenities, and only a 40 minute drive from each other. I recommend choosing an accommodation in either town and using this as your base to complete these 3 days of exploring the area.


Cluxewe Resort - Port McNeill Lodge in the waterfront cottages and suites or camp directly along the shore at Cluxewe Resort on the Ancestral lands of the Kwakiutl First Nation. Both tent and RV lots available. If you choose to stay here, budget time to simply enjoy this area. The beach here is incredibly beautiful and stretches for a long ways.

Humpback Inn - Port McNeill. New and clean and tidy, Humpback Inn sits near the water in Port McNeill.

The Artists Point B&B - Port McNeill Charming Artisits Point B&B is run by Rolf Hickers, a local photographer and adventure guide who runs wildlife photography tours either on land or out on the water.

Black Bear Resort - Port McNeill. Black Bear Resort has cozy wood lined rooms that feel more like you are staying in a cabin

Glen Lyon Inn and Suites - Port Hardy. Oceanfront rooms are available at Glen Lyon Inn and Suites

EcoScape Cabins - Port Hardy. The cabins at EcoScape Cabins are on a large forested property with access to nearby beaches and trails and have a strong focus on sustainability.

Port Hardy RV Resort and Log Cabins - Port Hardy. At Port Hardy RV Resort you can choose to stay in a cozy log cabin or camp in either the open tenting area on in the gravel RV lot with power.

Kwa'lilas Hotel - Port Hardy. Indigenous owned and run, Kwa'lilas Hotel has luxury rooms and suites.

Back to Day 4 in Port McNeill...

1. Visit Suquash Beach just north of Cluxewe Resort. Suquash was once the location of an underground coal mine in the area, but is also an incredibly beautiful beach! The rock formations at this beach are unlink anything I've seen in other beaches in the area. You will need to hike in to the beach and if you choose, you can take the side trail to see the ruins of the old coal mine.

To get to Suquash Beach, take Rupert Rd. off of Highway 19 and then turn left onto Suquash Main. Both of these roads are gravel roads so expect rough conditions and potholes after heavy rain. There is an gravel opening for parking at the trail entrance. The trail to the beach is a bit overgrown but you'll see it! Be prepared for a muddy walk no matter the time of year.

Suquash Beach near Port McNeill in North Vancouver Island
Rocks at Suquash Beach near Port McNeill in North Vancouver Island
Suquash Beach near Port McNeill in North Vancouver Island
Suquash Beach near Port McNeill in North Vancouver Island

2. Book a tour with Sea Wolf Adventures. Sea Wolf Adventures is indigenous owned and operated. They offer wildlife viewing and cultural tours with opportunities to learn about the traditions and history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

3. Book a photography tour with Rolf Hicker. Rolf Hicker Photography offers wildlife and nature based boat tours with a focus on photography. Get to see the wildlife and the natural landscapes while with a professional and internationally recognized wildlife photographer.

4. Walk the docks down near the Harbour Authority. OK, I admit that as a sailor and boat owner, I'm probably a bit biased, but I love a good dock walk!! You get to be by the water, look at cool boats and see the daily catch as its brought in on the fishing boats. It's also just a really good view!

5. Sit out on the patio for dinner at Devils Bath Brewing . End your day with a locally brewed pint of beer and fabulous food at Devil's Bath Brewing. Grab a table outside on the patio for sunset ocean views.

Port McNeill Docks
Port McNeill Docks
Port McNeill Docks

Day 5: Alert Bay

(Sailing Time: 45 min | BC Ferries)

Take a day trip to visit Alert Bay. Alert Bay is a small village on beautiful Cormorant Island just off the coast of Vancouver Island. The island is rich in history and culture. The most vivid is the thriving and living culture of the ‘Namgis First Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw.

To get to Alert Bay catch the ferry from the ferry terminal in Port McNeill. The ferry is operated by BC Ferries and is for both cars and foot passengers. All of the sites on this itinerary are walkable so I recommend boarding as a foot passenger. This is a non-reservable route, so arrive a bit early and purchase your ticket directly at the terminal.

Girl on Ferry to Alert Bay, Cormorant Island, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Ferry coming in to Alert Bay, Cormorant Island, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

1. Walk the waterfront boardwalk and marvel at the art and carvings done by local artists at each wooden pavilion. The boardwalk stretches along the waterfront from the ferry terminal to U'Mista Cultural Centre (mentioned later). The walkway is a piece of art! Take your time to admire the unique carvings at each covered pavilion and read the plaques explaining the cultural significance of each carving.

Alert Bay, Commorant Island boardwalk wooden carvings
Alert Bay, Comorant Island North Vancouver Island
Alert Bay, Commorant Island boardwalk wooden carvings

2. Visit U'mista Cultural Centre. U'mista Cultural Centre sits near the site of the former residential school on the island. The museum is beautifully curated with a solemn atmosphere that displays an original potlatch collection of masks and costumes. Learn about the indigenous history of the island, the culture of the ‘Namgis First Nation. The highlight is the beautiful potlach collection on display in a replica of a longhouse. Visiting U'Mista is a 'Must Do" when visiting the area!

3. Visit the world’s tallest totem pole and the ‘Namgis Traditional big house, where ceremonies are held. During the summer, the T’sasala Cultural Group dance in the big house. This is the only time the big house is open for viewing. Check here for updated information about public performances.

4. Take in the 'Namgis sacred burial grounds and totem poles while strolling along the harbour. Please note that these are sacred grounds and visitors are not permitted to enter the site. You can walk along Fir Street for views into the grounds.

North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Alert Bay Big House, Cormorant Island
Alert Bay, Cormorant Island, North Vancouver Island
Alert Bay, Cormorant Island, North Vancouver Island

5. Hike the network of trails around the island including the wooden boardwalk through the Ecological Park known as Gator Gardens or the more challenging Gwa’yam (whale) trail.

6. Shop & Dine around the island along Fir Street. Stop in at local shops and restaurants or wander out on the public piers and watch the current race past. I recommend Culture Shock Interactive Gallery and coffee shop for one-of-a-kind authentic First Nations art, jewelry, and woven cedar bark items. Or try bannock at Duchess Bannock and Dessert.

North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Alert Bay
North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Alert Bay
North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Alert Bay

Day 6: Port Hardy

Spend the day in and around the most northern community on Vancouver Island! Port Hardy isn't known for being the prettiest town on the island, but the natural beauty in the area more than makes up for it!

1. Walk along the waterfront at Carrot/Rotary Park. A great place to smell the salty air and watch for wildlife. Eagles are reliably soaring above and whales frequent the waters offshore. Look for the totem poles throughout the park as well. You can continue along the shore past the waterfront pathway at low tide. It's a pretty beach walk. You can also walk out along Seagate Pier to the public fishing dock. Locals are usually out fishing especially when the salmon are abundant!

North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Port Hardy Carrot Park
North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Port Hardy Totem Pole at Carrot Park
North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary, Port Hardy Beach at Carrot Park
Bald Eagle on the beach in Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

2. Visit Storey's Beach. This is the highlight of the area for me! Storey's Beach is part of the Beaver Harbour Park recreation area. It is an open sandy crescent beach that goes on and on at low tide when the sandbars are exposed. Out in the distance you will see the beautiful Cattle Islands. Everytime I am here, I wish I had my SUP with me to paddle out to the beautiful surrounding islands!

Walking the entire length of the beach will take over an hour at least. The north end of Storey’s Beach is also the stepping off point for the Tex Lyon Trail, a Regional District of Mount Waddington Park that offers a challenging 12-kilometre trek to Dillon Point. For a more relaxing (but still a bit challenging!) hike, take the Tex Lyon Trail to the nearby Dreamcatcher Point for beautiful views.

3. Hike Fort Rupert Trail. The Fort Rupert Trail starts near Storey’s Beach and extends to Bear Cove Road. This 3.7 km inland trail follows the traditional route the Kwakiutl First Nations took overland to Bear Cove. The trail includes sections of wooden board walk through the deeply forested areas. It is not uncommon to see many different types of wildlife, including black bears, along the trail, as well as culturally modified trees.

4. Book a tour with Coastal Rainforest Safari. In case you haven't had a chance to join a wildlife tour, here's one more chance! Coastal Rainforest Safari offers wildlife tours in their open zodiac. The advantage is that they are the only operator located so far north.

5. Dine locally. Although there aren't an abundant of culinary options in Port Hardy, you definitely will not go hungry. Here are my favourites:

Cafe Guido & Company is a bit of an institution with their full coffee shop in Port Hardy, a drive through coffee window located near the highway, The Book Nook and Drift, shops selling books, clothing and crafts within the coffee shop and finally the Copper & Kelp Market located near Storey's Beach, they really do have it all!

Nax'id' Pub is located in the Kwa'lilas Hotel, it is by far the nicest restaurant in town!

Hardy Buoys Smoked Fish. Look for their smoked fish products around town and stock up on trail snacks!

Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Day 7: San Josef Bay, Cape Scott Provincial park

(Driving Time: 2-2.5 hours | Distance 68 KM on gravel road off of Highway 19)

Take a day trip to the north west coast and visit San Josef Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park. This is my favourite region of Vancouver Island! It has a rugged wilderness that captures the soul and ignites a sense of adventure. This is OFF THE BEATEN PATH! Famous for its sea stacks and caves, for its wide sweeping white sand beach and for camping right on the shore, this is a Vancouver Island destination like no other.

San Josef Bay is accessed from a 68km gravel logging road. Although 4-Wheel Drive is not necessary to travel these roads, having mid-high wheel clearance is recommended. Bring a spare tire and/or a repair kit and know how to use them. Sharp rocks have been known to do a number on tires! Expect the drive to take 2 hours or more depending on the condition of the roads. These are active logging roads so give way to logging trucks.

1. Stop at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in the tiny village of Holberg along the way. The Scarlet Ibis is the only restaurant in this area, so if you want to grab lunch on the way in or dinner on the way out, check their opening hours and plan accordingly.

2. Visit Ronning's Garden. Norwegian settler, Bernt Ronning cleared over five acres of rainforest in order to plant the wilderness garden of his dreams. A garden created from seeds, cuttings of trees, and exotic plants he ordered from around the world. After the gardens were eventually abandoned, the trees started growing in interesting shapes as their searched for light under the encroaching rainforest canopy. Since then Ronning's Gardens have been restored, but the unusual plants remain. It's an optional stop on your way. I admit that I did not opt to visit here, but I've heard that gardeners love it!

3. Hike to the beach and visit the sea stacks and caves. From the parking lot it is a 2.5km (40 min) walk along a nicely groomed trail to the beach. The trail is a mix of crushed gravel, wooden boardwalks and tree roots. Expect some sections to be muddy. Don't be alarmed when you first see the beach and don't see what all the fuss is about! Once at the beach it is a further 10 min walk along the shore to get to the sea stacks and sea caves. Head right and keep walking. You'll see them!

Access to the seastacks and caves is tidal dependent as they are only accessible at a low tide. You can check current local tides here.

Visiting San Josef from either Port Hardy or Port McNeill as a day trip will take the whole day. If you choose to stay longer, you can camp on the beach overnight. You will need a backcountry camping permit which can be purchased here . This doesn't reserve you a spot, as it is first come first serve, but it does give you the convenience of prepaying before you get there.

For more options to extend your stay on the north west coast, read my 'Optional Extras' for other places to visit.

San Josef Bay Sea Stacks, Cape Scott Provincial Park, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
San Josef Bay Sea Stacks, Cape Scott Provincial Park, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
San Josef Bay Sea Stacks, Cape Scott Provincial Park, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
San Josef Bay Sea Stacks, Cape Scott Provincial Park, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Ways to Extend Your Vancouver Island Road Trip if You Have More Time

If you have a bit more time and are looking for ways to extend your time in North Vancouver Island then I have some 'Optional Extras' for you! These can either be extra days added on to this 7 day intinerary or they will also work as add-ons to the days already outlined if you choose to skip out on some of the more expensive tour options.

Here are 3 'Optional Extras':

1. Port Alice and the Alice Lake Loop Tour (DIY) Complete a loop through one of Canada's best places to see features typical of a fascinating landform known as karst. This 100km circuit on gravel roads will take you to the following sites: The Eternal Fountain, a soothing waterfall that appears out of a ledge and then splashes into the ground under a rocky ledge beneath your feet, and Devil's Bath the only cenote in Canada!

You can incorporate the charming village of Port Alice into your route ( or skip the offroading entirely and just go to Port Alice!) Access to Port Alice is on Highway 30, the prettiest paved road off of Highway 19. This was my choice! Port Alice sits on a calm inlet with the tiny Frigon Islets just off shore. It's the perfect place to kayak. Or if you prefer to stay on land, walk the Port Alice Seawalk. Either way, make sure you grab coffee, snacks and maybe a locally made gift or two at Foggy Mountain Coffee.  Also make sure to stop at Alice Lake and Marble River for walking trails and fabulous views. 

2. Visit Sointula on Malcolm Island. Malcolm Island is known for the charming village of Sointula, established by Finnish settlers looking to establish a utopian colony. Today the village truly is tranquil. Malcolm Island is also known for its Whale rubbing beaches where orcas are known to swim up onto the sloped pebbled shoreline to rub their bellies. This beach is found near Bere Point, which is also the only public campground on the island. Other places to visit are Mitchell Bay and the Pulteney Point Lighthouse.

Malcolm Island can be reached by the same ferry that travels between Port McNeill and Alert Bay. Certain sailings do a loop connecting both islands.

3. Winter Harbour and Grant Bay. If you really fell in love with the ruggest north west coast and San Josef Bay, you can extend your time by continuing further south down the coast to the village of Winter Harbour. You can stay at The Outpost right in the heart of the village.

Winter Harbour is a tiny village nestled along the shores of a protected harbour in a protected inlet on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.  The old wooden buildings and the whimsical charm of the residences tell the history of commercial and sport fishing in the area. You can’t help but fall into a quiet and peaceful rhythm here at quite literally, the end of the road.

The village shoreline boardwalk is the highlight in Winter Harbour. It connect local residents and is a beautiful place to walk along the coast.  We watched eagles fishing over the water, sea otters rafting together and coming to the docks to eat crunchy mussels, and bears roaming the shores across the water flipping over rocks in search of food. 


17 km from Winter Harbour is Grant Bay, the Maui of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. It's a white sand beach with aqua-marine water and rocky headlands for tidepooling. Wild camping is permitted on the beach and is this is not part of a provincial park, no permit is required. You can park right at the trailhead and its an easy (although muddy!) 10 min walk to the beach.

Grant Bay Beach, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Grant Bay Beach, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Grant Bay Beach, North Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

I'd Love to Hear From You!

If you haven't noticed yet, I'm pretty passionate about North Vancouver Island and hope that this blog post will help you plan your own adventure north. The best thing about this region is that each time I visit it is different...the weather, the wildlife, they all are unpredictable and as visitors we are just there to witness the natural world unfold around us. If this guide has been helpful for you, I'd love to hear about it! Send me a message!

And if you want to plan a photoshoot to capture your Vancouver Island adventures, simply contact me and I will help you start planning the adventure! See you around the wilds of Van Isle!