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Vancouver Island North Road Trip: Comox Valley to Port Hardy

Updated: Jan 15

The Vancouver Island North Road Trip takes travellers along the east coast of Vancouver Island, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and includes remote landscapes, amazing wildlife, and charming small towns. This 7-day road trip itinerary will make sure you hit all the highlights.


Welcome to the latest installment of my series of suggested British Columbia Road Trip Itineraries. I spend my summers travelling around British Columbia in my converted camper van named Wanda in my quest to see everything there is to discover in this stunning province. Today's post is a continuation of my explorations on Vancouver Island, heading north along a less-travelled path to discover some rich culture, interesting history, and amazing wildlife.

A brown bearr and cub fishing beside the water.
Mama Brown Bear and her cub

 

Table of Contents


Getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver

How to Get Around Vancouver Island North

Cellular Reception Picking Up Supplies

Miracle Beach

Oyster Bay Campbell River

Woss

Nimpkish Provincial Park

Port Hardy

Telegraph Cove


 

Why Do A Vancouver Island North Road Trip?

A road trip around Vancouver Island North is not just a journey; it's entering a world where nature collides with captivating history and vibrant culture. The remote wilderness and rugged coastlines with eagles soaring overhead, whales hunting just off-shore, and bears feeding at the water's edge make this area a must for those hungry for adventure and looking for an escape from urban bustle.

a map showing the stops on this road trip

Know Before You Go

Before you hit the road and let the adventure unfold, a bit of preparation can make your Vancouver Island North road trip smooth. Here's what you need to know before starting on this unforgettable journey.


Getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver

The anticipation builds as you plan your route from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. Whether you opt for the ferry ride, allowing the ocean breeze to heighten your excitement, or take a scenic flight, the journey begins long before you reach the island's shores. Check ferry schedules, book in advance, and relish the anticipation of crossing the waters to unveil the wonders of Vancouver Island North.

Most visitors to British Columbia will arrive in Vancouver and will need to take a ferry or small plane across the Salish Sea to the cities of Victoria or Nanaimo.


Most visitors to BC will arrive in Vancouver and use the BC Ferry system to travel to Vancouver Island from Tsawassen, Travellers can choose to rent a vehicle in Vancouver or Victoria. Fares are based on number of passengers, vehicle size, and routes. There is public transportation between the ferry terminals and the cities.

A white ferry with blue lettering "BC Ferries" at dock

Another option is to fly over via regular airlines, a seaplane or helicopter service. Seaplane routes (and aerial tours) are available through Harbour Air. Harbour Air flies from Vancouver Harbour or Airport South (Richmond) to Victoria Harbour, Nanaimo, and Comox, amongst other small harbour communities. Helijet offers helicopter flights from Airport South to downtown Victoria.


When researching vehicle rentals, check prices in both Vancouver and Victoria, including ferry costs. It is often less expensive to rent vehicles on Vancouver Island. For those looking for a more immersive camping experience, check out my post on renting an RV or campervan.

A white camper van parked with a screen room over the picnic bench
My converted camper van, Wanda

To get to Comox where this itinerary begins will depend upon where you arrive. If arriving in Victoria, check out the Pacific Marine Route (linked here). If arriving in Nanaimo, you may want to explore the Wild Pacific Route to the west coast of Vancouver Island or hang out in the Comox Valley before starting this itinerary.


How to Get Around Vancouver Island North

There is very little public transportation -- you will need a vehicle. There is one main highway north that goes through most communities. Pack a good map, or let your GPS guide you through the twists and turns -- just make sure you download all maps before getting on the road.


Cellular Reception

Cellular reception is spotty. While the communities and most lodgings will have cellular connection and WIFI, there will be areas where there is no service While you'll want to immerse yourself in the natural beauty, having a reliable connection can be a safety net, so plan accordingly.


Picking Up Supplies

The cost of everything rises and the variety and quality of options lessens the further north you travel. To save some money and to ensure you have all your favourite snacks and groceries, try to pick up the supplies you will need before leaving the Comox area.


7-Day Vancouver Island North Road Trip Itinerary

A week is not enough but that may be all the time you have available. The longest drive (3.5 hours) is on the last day. Most days, the drive is short with the suggested activities filling your day. I urge you to follow the included links to detailed posts that give more information regarding activities and services available to provide the nitty-gritty about each location.

a map showing the regions of Vancouver Island
image credit: Vancouver Island Tourism

On the other hand, you may have the ultimate luxury of more time. If so, slow down and stretch out the time spent in each location and review my other road trip itineraries and locations found in the "Canada" category to mix and match to create your own perfect British Columbia road trip. You are never going to be able to see everything so focus on the kinds of activities that suit you and start planning your next trip to BC.

Day 1: Comox Valley to Miracle Beach (30.5 km 29 min)

Start your day by exploring some of the great activities around the Comox Valley, as outlined in this post. Enjoy walking the trails at Seal Point, check out Nymph Falls, or enjoy wandering around the village of Cumberland. The first leg of our Vancouver Island North adventure is short, only about 30 minutes from the town of Comox so you'll have plenty of time to explore.

Fern covered forest floor within a large evergreen forest
Seal Point Trail

Miracle Beach

The first stop will be Miracle Beach Provincial Park with a large sandy beach, fabulous trails, lots of natural beauty, interpretation programs and a large campground. Enjoy the rest of your day hanging out on the beach or walking the trails.

wide sandy beach on an overcast day
Miracle Beach

If you are travelling during the peak summer season, you will need to reserve a camping spot in advance. My blog post review (Miracle Beach blog post) will give you an idea of what to expect.


Day 2; Miracle Beach to Campbell River (29.5 km 24 min)

Day 2 is another short drive from Miracle Beach to Campbell River. Yet, within this short distance, lies a world of exploration waiting to be uncovered. Stop at all the viewpoints and rest stops along the way for stunning coastal views. Not far from Miracle Beach is the community of Black Creek where you can find the Coastal Black Estate Winery where you can enjoy wine and cider tastings. Coastal Black is a member of the Harvest Host network that hosts self-contained (meaning you have your own toilet and water) recreational vehicles. I thoroughly enjoyed my overnight stay on my first 'Shake Down' trip in Wanda.

3 small glasses of cider on a cedar plank: red, amber, and clear
A flight of ciders at Coastal Black Winery

Oyster Bay

One of my favourite stops is at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, a rest area and nature reserve along the route. My blog post (Oyster Bay blog post) unveils the beauty of Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, inviting you to take a leisurely walk amidst nature's beauty. Keep an eye out for shorebirds like herons, killdeer, and dippers.

a driftwood fort on a rocky beach as the sun sets
The Golden Hour at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park

Overnight in Campbell River

The last of the larger communities along this route, Campbell River is a good spot to stop for the night and pick up supplies. There are plenty of reasonably priced accommodations including campgrounds, guest houses, and hotels as well as more luxurious oceanfront and wilderness resorts.


Things to Do:

Visit Elk Falls Provincial Park: The trails and waterfalls in Elk Falls Provincial Park are breathtaking. There is an extensive network of trails of different lengths and difficulty so you are sure to find one to suit.

two waterfalls cascading down into a deep gulley surrounded by forest
image credit: Campbell River Mirror

My favourite is the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge Trail, part of the Upper Day Use trails. The trailhead is off Highway 28 and includes spectacular views of Elk Falls with additional loop trails and viewpoints. Plan on spending between 1 to 3 hours for a visit to this area.


Whale Watching Tour: Whale-watching tours can be found in almost every community along the coast. Every visitor to British Columbia wants to experience the thrill of seeing orcas, humpback whales, and other marine wonders with a guided whale-watching tour. These tours tend to be expensive but worth every penny. An excellent company to consider in Campbell River is Campbell River Whale Watching.

a fishing tackle box, net, and rod & reel
image: kris-pixabay

Fishing Charters: Visitors looking to get out on the water for some fishing adventures will want to consider booking a fishing charter. These charters are led by very experienced expert fishers who know all the best spots and will provide the equipment and instruction needed for a fabulous day. You will enjoy a fabulous seafood dinner knowing that you caught the fish that day. C0astal Wilderness Adventures offers both freshwater and saltwater trips.


Places to Eat:

Serious Coffee: Start your day with a cup of locally roasted coffee and a delightful breakfast at Serious Coffee, a popular Vancouver Island chain.

Beach Fire Brewing: Unwind with a unique selection of craft beers and delicious bites in a cozy atmosphere. There is often live music so this makes a great evening activity

Dick's Fish and Chips: Take advantage of the coastal location and indulge in fresh seafood at this local favourite, known for its casual and friendly ambiance. There is nothing fancy about Dick's but you will get a good and tasty meal. They also have burgers and vegetarian options.

a group of sea lions on the rocks beside the water
Sea Lions in Campbell River image: Joey Poliquin

Day 3: Campbell River to Port Hardy (232.6 km/2 hrs 26 min)

Day 3 is a longer but incredibly scenic drive, much of it through remote wilderness. Much of this route does not have cellular service, so if you are using a mapping program, make sure to download your maps before you start your journey. Get your playlists and podcasts downloaded, too to keep yourself entertained as you drive. Again, take advantage of all viewpoints and rest stops along the way.


Woss

About halfway is Woss, a quaint village in Nimpkish Valley. Consider making a pit stop at the Woss Fire Lookout. The panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, coupled with the crisp mountain air, create a moment that lingers in the memory. The Woss Heritage Park includes exhibits of the logging history of the area from hand saws to modern mechanized logging. Here you'll find Locomotive 113 and the Woss Fire Lookout.

The steam car of Locomotive 113 painted black with white lettering "Canadian Forest products Limited"
The last operated steam engine in North America

Nimpkish Provincial Park:

The Nimpkish River Trail in Nimpkish Provincial Park is a perfect escape for those seeking a rejuvenating stroll. The Nimpkish River Trail is a short and easy hike that winds along the riverbank, offering glimpses of the local flora and fauna.


Day 4: Explore Port Hardy

Today is dedicated to immersing ourselves in the wonders of Port Hardy where the sea breeze whispers tales of adventure and the landscapes beckon exploration. Whether you choose to learn about salmon, explore the Estuary Park, wander through the town, hike trails, or enjoy a fabulous kayak tour, you will find plenty of activities. Check out my full post about my visit to Port Hardy here for places to stay, play, and eat.

a short totem standing in the marsh grass of an estuary at high tide.
Quatse Estuary in Port Hardy

Day 5: Port Hardy to Malcolm Island (43 km/31 min + 30 min ferry ride)

On Day 5 this Vancouver Island North road trip takes a nautical turn, venturing to one of the islands off the coast. Today's journey carries us from Port Hardy to the captivating shores of Malcolm Island, a magical island where orcas pass by and stop to rub against smooth rocks close to the shore.


First, we head to Port McNeill, a quaint town nestled on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island where you will take a 30-minute ferry ride to Sointula, the island's charming village founded by Finnish utopians in the early 1900s. For ferry schedules and to plan your crossing, refer to the official BC Ferries website: BC Ferries Schedule - Port McNeill to Sointula

open-decked

Sointula and Malcolm Island

Sointula, with its Finnish roots, is a haven for those seeking tranquillity and a connection to nature. As you step off the ferry onto Malcolm Island, you'll be greeted by the village's charm and the warm embrace of its community. Here, time seems to slow down, inviting you to explore the island's unique attractions. For a full report on activities, and places to stay and eat, check out this post. Be warned -- once you arrive, you'll find it hard to leave.


looking across the water, a home painted red with a driftwood fence and art is on the right of the image
Looking at Port McNeill from Sointula

Day 6: Malcolm Island

Today, the itinerary focuses on three distinct treasures that define the island's charm: Big Lake, Bere Point, and Pulteney Lighthouse.


Explore Big Lake

Begin your day with the tranquillity of Big Lake, a serene oasis nestled amid the island's lush landscapes. As you amble along its shores or swim in the warm waters, you'll find the perfect harmony between stillness and nature's vibrant energy. The lake offers opportunities for birdwatching, with resident and migratory species gracing the area.


a calm black lake with some lillies, surrounded by tall fir trees.
Big Lake, Malcolm Island

Bere Point

Bere Point is known for its unique features, including a picturesque pebble beach and the chance to spot orcas and humpback whales during their migratory journeys.


Pulteney Lighthouse

Pulteney Lighthouse is a historic beacon perched on the island's edge. The lighthouse, with its rich maritime history, provides a glimpse into the island's past and a vantage point for breathtaking sunsets.

a square white lighthouse with a red light housing located at the edge of a rocky beach. Mountains in the background. Forest on the left of thee photo above the beach
Pulteney Lighthouse

Day 7: Malcolm Island to Nanaimo (350 km/3hrs 37min + ferry ride)

On the seventh day of our Vancouver Island North odyssey, it is time to head back towards Nanaimo with a stop in the enchanting Telegraph Cove.


Telegraph Cove

Telegraph Cove, with its colourful buildings, echoes a bygone era. Take time to explore the boardwalk. The historic buildings house a general store, pubs and restaurants, a museum, and the opportunity to join an exciting wildlife tour. More details can be found in my Telegraph Cove post.

The water facing side of the buildings built on stilts along a rocky shore at low tide.
Telegraph Cove boardwalk

If your budget allows, I recommend a wildlife tour to witness whales or bears in their natural habitat. Kayak tours are a little easier on the budget and are a fabulous way to explore and get close to marine life.

the tail of a humback whale showing above the waterline with mountains in the background
Humpback whale sighting near Telegraph Cove
Recommended Tour Operators:

Stubbs Island Whale Watching: A reputable operator offering various wildlife tours.

Telegraph Cove Whale Watching: Known for their eco-friendly approach to wildlife tours.


After your Telegraph Cove adventure, continue south along Highway 19 (the quicker route) or 19A (the coastal route) to Nanaimo, where this road trip concludes.


Extending Your Road Trip

As this road trip draws to a close there are multiple possibilities for extending your British Columbia adventure. You can choose to explore more of Vancouver Island, head across to the stunning Sunshine Coast, or return to the mainland for your further adventures. The road trip itineraries currently on this blog can be explored by following this link to the Vancouver Island interactive map. For the BC Mainland road trips, click here. There are more itineraries to come so if you want to ensure you don't miss any future posts, you can subscribe by clicking on the log-in button at the top of the page and becoming a member. If there is a specific route you'd like me to cover, let me know and I'll move it up the list (or plan my next road trip

a map of BC showing 9 different road trip routes
Ramblyn Jazz BC Road Trip Itineraries

Ferry to Powell River on the Sunshine Coast

From Comox, let the journey continue across the waters to Powell River on the Sunshine Coast. A ferry ride connecting two coastal gems, this leg of the adventure promises scenic vistas and a change of pace. Take in the ocean breeze and explore the charms of Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. Check out my Sunshine Coast itinerary here. (marked in dark red on the map)

a short waterfall showing the creek above spanned by a rustic woodland bridge.
Gilker Park, Roberts Creek on the south Sunshine Coast

Wild Pacific Route to Tofino from Nanaimo

For those craving more island exploration, consider continuing south from Nanaimo to Highway 4 which crosses the island to the stunning west coast. The Wild Pacific Route (marked in green on the map) to Tofino awaits, unveiling the rugged beauty of the west coast of Vancouver Island. Check out that trip here.

The colours of a fading sunset are reflected on a flat beach with surf rolling in, and the silhouettes of islands and people in the background.
Cox Beach, Tofino BC

Or, if the allure of the mainland calls, return by ferry to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, where you can turn north to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway route (marked in purple on the map) or back into Vancouver.

a maarinaa with a woodn pier and boats in front. On the pier is aa building with aa bright red roof.
Horseshoe Bay

Victoria Pacific Marine Route

Another Vancouver Island extension is continuing south towards Victoria, the provincial capital. Here, you can follow the Victoria Pacific Marine Route (marked in blue on the map), full of historical sites and scenic coastlines. Conclude your island odyssey by heading to Swartz Bay and returning to the mainland via Tsawwassen.

A wooden signpost in front of a tree with intertwined trunks and a large burl wrapped around the trunks
Canada's Gnarliest Tree, Port Renfrew

Final Thoughts

From the serene shores of Miracle Beach to the untamed beauty of Malcolm Island, this road trip has opportunities for exploration, history, and amazing natural beauty and wildlife. The quaint villages, historic landmarks, and the warmth of the communities are sure to impress.


If you are enjoying the content and would like to be kept up to date with new posts become a member/subscribe (it's free!) and follow along on the RamblynJazz Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram. You can help the blog to grow by sharing the link with a travelling friend or through social media. I truly appreciate your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts below.



12 commenti


Ospite
25 gen

Another excellent and intuitive guide to a spectacular road trip!

I'm always fascinated by the biodiversity and wildlife you show in your articles about Canada. It only makes me want to visit these places even more.

I love the photographs that illustrate the wonderful landscapes so well, combined with the historical context of the place.

Road trip enthusiasts shouldn't miss out on these fabulous routes and itineraries! Angela | Blonde Around The World Travel -

Mi piace

What a great itinerary and way to see the beauty of Vancouver Island. I've been loving all of your posts, but it's great to see it organized in an itinerary post like this. It's important to know about cell reception so someone can download Google Maps Offline to navigate while driving. Great post!

Mi piace

That mama and cub were adorable, from my spot on the opposite side of the river! Mama kept an eye on me. I'm looking forward to exploring more of the Northern Coast of BC this summer.

Mi piace

Ospite
21 gen

Another complex post covering Vancouver Island, thanks for sharing your in-depth guide with all the useful information on what to do, where to hike and fetch the best coffee. You are definitely my go-to expert if I ever make it to this part of the world. It is a stunning island and I ca understand why the infrastructure is fairly restricted and traffic is mostly reliant on your own vehicle.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>


Mi piace
Risposta a

There is a constant campaign for improved public transportation services in the area and signs of progress with a new bus service starting in May 2024. Fingers crossed that ridership will support continuing service.

Mi piace

Cumberland is the area of the UK I'm from so I think I'd definitely have to make a visit to the village of the same name on the Island. The trails and beaches, quiet small towns and serene nature are all the things that would make this an excellent road trip. To see whales would be incredible, I'd absolutely do a whale watching tour

Mi piace
Risposta a

It's a lovely little village and I agree that a visit seems to be required... as is a whale-watching tour. Seeing whales playing or hunting in the wild is a profoundly joyful experience.

Mi piace
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