From sea to sky, rolling green fields to the majestic peaks of the Beaufort Mountain Range, the North Island offers a landscape that invites exploration. Add to that a rich and diverse heritage, an you have a destination where the real challenge may be fitting it all in!
Nestled between the Beaufort Mountains and the Strait of Georgia, the Comox Valley’s unique geography features stunning mountain peaks, alpine meadows, rivers and lakes, lush forests and fertile farms. A mild year-round climate provides an exceptional location for hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, mountain biking and diving. Stunning scenery, top-notch amenities and a huge variety of activities come together in one of the Island’s most popular vacation destinations.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort is a hot spot for skiers and snowboarders in the winter and hikers and mountain bikers in warmer weather. Ride the chairlifts for panoramic summer views of the Comox Glacier and the Strait of Georgia or hike into the spectacular 250,445-hectare wilderness of Strathcona Provincial Park.
Down the mountain, golfers tee off on six year-round courses, while paddlers venture out in canoes and kayaks. Diving, boating and fishing round out the list of marine activities. The Valley also boasts some of the most varied mountain biking trails on Vancouver Island, with cross-country, downhill, shuttle runs and lift-accessed riding.
Culinary and agri-tourism is growing strong with an incredible diversity of farm-fresh products. Stop in at the year-round farmer’s market or buy direct from the producers, savouring the flavours of artisan cheeses, Fanny Bay oysters, local wines and beer, plus an array of fruits and veggies. Visit one of the culinary festivals centred around shellfish, wine, beer and food or savour the bounty showcased at area restaurants serving locally grown and produced foods.
Also home to a thriving arts community, the Comox Valley hosts several amazing summer festivals celebrating both the performing arts and the work of local artists and artisans. Explore the region’s rich local history in the Comox Valley Heritage Experience, a 16-stop self-guided driving tour, plus four Heritage Walks in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland. From booming coal mining towns, rural farms and bustling harbours, the Heritage Experience offers a glimpse into the rich social, cultural, natural and industrial history of the Valley. Pick up tour brochures at local Visitor Centres or download copies from www.discovercomoxvalley.com
Between activities, catch your breath with a peek into the area’s unique communities. Courtenay is the commercial centre and a hub for arts and culture with downtown art galleries and studios, boutiques, theatres and restaurants. Cumberland celebrates its history as a former coal-mining town – learn about its fascinating past at the Cumberland Museum and Archives. Nearby is Comox Lake, a crystal clear, glacier-fed paradise perfect for swimming, boating and fishing, with a full-service campground, picnic area, boat ramp and hiking trails.
Excellent marina facilities and a quaint downtown make Comox a popular destination where attractions include the Comox Air Force Museum and Heritage Airpark and the historic Filberg Lodge and Park, where annual events include the August long weekend’s Filberg Festival, one of BC’s finest arts, crafts and entertainment celebrations.
Get off the beaten track with a visit to Denman and Hornby Islands, just offshore and accessible via BC Ferry from Buckley Bay, south of Courtenay. Favourite escapes for hiking, cycling, diving, swimming and kayaking, don’t miss Hornby Island’s Tribune Bay, where the summer sun heat’s the shallow waters to the perfect temperature for swimming. You’ll also find a wealth of local art studios and galleries, and quaint villages for exploring.
Just north of Courtenay, the Merville/Black Creek area promises plenty of family fun, with mini-golf, petting farms, go-karting and horseback riding, plus one of the region’s best beaches.
Call the Comox Valley Visitor Centre at 1-888-357-4471 or 250-334-3234, or visit at 2040 Cliffe Ave in Courtenay.
Campbell River & Quadra Island
For more than a century, Campbell River has welcomed visitors with warm hospitality and exhilarating outdoor adventures, particularly saltwater fishing which earned the city its reputation as “The Salmon Capital of the World.” Campbell River has since added to that reputation with exceptional scuba diving, golfing, kayaking, hiking, rafting and more. Walk on the wild side with whale- and marine wildlife-watching tours, bear viewing, bird watching, diving charters to search for giant Pacific octopus and even snorkelling with salmon. Highlighting this extensive marine heritage will be the Discovery Passage Aquarium, set to open on Oceans Day, June 8, at the Discovery Fishing Pier, a 185-metre-long fishing pier complete with equipment rentals, fabulous views. Also nearby is the Maritime Centre, home to the BCP45 historic seine boat featured on the Canadian $5 bill in the 1970s and ‘80s.
This bustling city of about 33,000 people offers visitors a wide range of accommodation and dining opportunities. Downtown, near the waterfront, explore the shops, art galleries, theatres and the 4km Rotary Beach Seawalk.
The Museum at Campbell River boasts some of the largest and most dramatic masks ever carved and a captivating First Nations presentation called Treasures of Siwidi, along with numerous exhibits exploring the region’s fishing and forestry past. Haig Brown House, the former home of nature conservationist Roderick Haig Brown, is an interesting historical stop featuring displays, seminars and courses, and which operates as a bed & breakfast in the summer.
Elk Falls Provincial Park is a 10-minute drive from downtown featuring stunning waterfalls and forested trails around the Campbell River. The Quinsam Hatchery is popular with nature enthusiasts, especially in summer and early fall when the salmon return to spawn. Campbell River also serves as an excellent base for exploring Strathcona Provincial Park, accessed 59km west on Highway 28. Find freshwater lakes for paddlers and anglers, excellent hiking, camping and stunning scenery.
Take a 10-minute BC Ferry trip from downtown Campbell River to Quadra Island, another prime destination for saltwater fishing, kayaking, hiking and diving. One more ferry trip – about 45-minutes – from Quadra Island leads to tiny, quiet Cortes Island, with a lovely landscape of orchards, lagoons and beaches.
Call the Campbell River Visitor Centre at 1-877-286-5705 or visit at 1235 Shoppers Row.
Gold River, Nootka Sound & Tahsis
West of Campbell River, through the wilderness of Strathcona Provincial Park, sits the village of Gold River and stunning Nootka Sound. Revered by sports fishers, Gold River has also earned attention for the astonishing beauty of Nootka Sound, “the birthplace of BC” because it was here Captain Cook first landed in 1778. Pristine waters welcome kayakers and divers while hikers and walkers can enjoy everything from 20-minute forest walks to the three-day Nootka Trail. Caving is another growing activity.
From Gold River, the scenic 64km “Tree-to-Sea Drive” takes just over an hour to reach the Village of Tahsis in the heart of Nootka Sound. Along this well-maintained gravel road, visitors can stop to explore the Upana Caves, photograph spectacular scenery at several viewpoints, visit the Conuma River Salmon Enhancement Facility, see the Three Sisters Waterfalls, picnic and swim at Malaspina Lake and visit the President’s Tree.
Tahsis is ideal for outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, diving and kayaking. Families will enjoy Tahsis Days on the third weekend of July. Amenities include lodging, a marina, fuel, grocery store, liquor outlet, pub and dining options. The Tahsis Heritage Museum and Tourist Centre welcome visitors from July 1 to Labour Day. Museum tours may be arranged during the off-season.
The Uchuck III is a working passenger and freight vessel offering scenic tours of the region. Explore the Nootka Sound wilderness, hike the beaches at West Bay Park or charter a fishing trip, or try your hand at fishing for steelhead or salmon. For something a little more adventurous, fly by floatplane to surf the big waves at remote beaches or relax in a natural spa.
For details about Gold River call 250-283-2202. For the Village of Tahsis, visit www.villageoftahsis.com or call 250-934-6344 or the Visitor Centre at 250-934-6425.
Sayward, Nimpkish Valley & Zeballos
Continuing north from Campbell River along Highway 19, stop by the Seymour Narrows Lookout, a viewpoint and hiking trail overlooking Ripple Rock, a submerged mountain that caused dozens of shipwrecks before it was blasted apart in 1958 with the world’s largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion. At Sayward, see a building surrounded in 2,700m of steel logging cable, the Iron Man Totem and the Dalrymple Nature Trail, a 23km looped trail up Mt. H’Kusam. Try canoeing, boating, camping and fishing off the pier at the Kelsey Bay wharf on Johnstone Strait, tee off at the nine-hole, par 3 golf course on the river and book a marine adventure.
The beautiful Nimpkish Valley offers a challenging hiking trail at Mount Cain – a family skiing destination in winter – boating at Lake Klaklakama, picnicing at Hoomak Lake and, 22km off the highway, renowned fishing at Vernon Lake. Just south of Nimpkish Lake is the road to Zeballos, a quiet logging community that once bustled with gold mining activity. Enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the historic buildings and Zeballos Heritage Museum, where tales of the gold rush and the resulting boomtown are told with pictures and artifacts. Enjoy fishing, diving, boating, hiking, caving, rock climbing and kayaking and visit the Zeballos River estuary, designated a Wetland Reserve.
For Sayward details call 250-282-3821 or 250-282-0018. Find Visitor Centres at the junction of Sayward Road and Highway 19 and the Sayward Futures Office on Kelsey Bay Wharf. For Zeballos details, call 250-761-4070 (July and August) or 250-761-4229 (September to June).
Telegraph Cove, Port McNeill, Sointula & Alert Bay
Telegraph Cove began in 1912 as a one-room telegraph station and later was briefly home to a fish saltery and small sawmill. Today the town has been re-discovered as an acclaimed fishing and adventure destination, calling kayakers, divers, fishers, boaters and bird, bear and whale-watchers. Most of the picture-perfect community’s buildings are perched over the water on pilings. Wander the boardwalks to watch the fishing vessels, yachts and whale watching boats enter the cove. Rent a kayak for your own adventures, or book a whale or wildlife-watching excursion with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Several accommodation options are available, along with dining, supplies and various adventure packages.
Overlooking beautiful Broughton Strait and bordered on three sides by lush, dense forest, friendly Port McNeill is the hub of the North Island logging industry and an ideal base for North Island adventures. Enjoy interesting and informative displays at the Port McNeill Museum or stroll the lovely 1.5-hectare Shephard’s Garden. Fishing is superb here, as freshwater streams abound with trout and steelhead and offshore waters are famous for salmon, halibut, cod and snapper. Try a heli-fishing trip to the remote wilderness or a wldlife-watching excursion by land or by boat – another of Port McNeill’s most popular activities, along with kayaking, golfing, diving, caving, wind surfing, cultural tours and forestry tours.
Daily BC Ferries service to the nearby island communities of Alert Bay and Sointula offers a favourite daytrip. Take a 25-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill to Malcolm Island and the historic community of Sointula, founded a century ago by Finnish settlers. The community has retained much of its Finnish flavour and the museum, housed in the Old School, is the best place to explore Sointula’s past.
For an artist’s perspective, visit local art studios and galleries, or take the natural approach with Sointula’s natural amenities including Lions Harbour, a popular boating stop, and the beaches and shoreline on the north end of the island, particularly in Bere Point Regional Park where the Beautiful Bay Trail begins and follows the ocean for 5km. Keep an eye out –
Orcas can often be seen rubbing between July and September. The 3.5km Mateoja Heritage Trail offers a scenic hike, while the mudflats at Rough Bay are favoured by bird watchers. A variety of accommodations are available.
From Port McNeill, visit Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, rich with First Nations culture and tradition. The renowned U’mista Cultural Centre holds a remarkable display of the repatriated Potlatch Collection, as well as exhibits on the fascinating traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw, while the Alert Bay Linbrary-Museum also has a variety of artifacts and photographs. The ‘Namgis Burial Grounds, easily viewed from the roadside as entry to the site is not permitted, is another must-see historic site, along with the world’s tallest totem pole. The traditional Big House can be viewed from the outside only, unless you’re visiting during July and August when the T’sasała Cultural group dances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Bird watchers will delight in the Ecological Park. Walking trails surround a “drowned” cedar forest while others lead throughout the Island; the community’s sportfishing is top-notch and its proximity to Robson Bight Ecological Reserve makes Alert Bay an excellent departure point for whale-watching.
Find Telegraph Cove and Port McNeill details at 250-956-3131 or at the Visitor Centre in the Port McNeill museum. For Sointula details, call 250-973-2001 or visit www.sointulainfo.ca Call the Alert Bay Visitor Centre 250-974-5024 or email email@example.com
Port Alice & Port Hardy
In the recreation haven of Port Alice, both fresh and saltwater activities, including fishing, diving, kayaking and boating, abound in this little town on the shores of the Neroutsos Inlet. Natural attractions include Beaver Lake, a lovely spot to relax, picnic and swim, and O’Connor Lake, where you can catch a dinner of fresh trout; the picnic site has a boat launch and the lake is ideal for swimming. Marble River Park has forest campsites bordered by a rushing river known for steelhead fishing. Victoria Lake and Alice Lake are also popular for swimming, boating and fishing and paddlers can visit both with just a short portage between.
Continuing north, discover Port Hardy, first occupied about 8,000 years ago. European settlers began arriving in 1904 and, in 1916, a trail was established between Port Hardy and Coal Harbour. Now a bustling community of 5,000, modern Port Hardy is renowned for year-round adventures, including guided hiking, kayaking and caving tours. Fishing is always popular and operators provide everything from rentals to fly-in fishing camps. Prolific marine life, water clarity and tidal action attract divers. In town, the museum explores both European and First Nations history. Fort Rupert, where the region’s First People settled thousands of years ago, is now the site of a village of First Nations artists called the Copper Maker Gallery. New in Port Hardy is the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre, open mid-May through September.
The rugged coastal wilderness of Cape Scott Park west of Port Hardy features 40km of stunning coastline. A 27km trek will take experienced overnight hikers to Cape Scott Lighthouse, or, for a gentler adventure, try the 2.5km hike to San Josef Bay, or the new Fort Rupert Trail, a 3.7km easy walk running from Storey’s Beach to the Bear Cove Highway, just steps away from the Hardy Bay Estuary. For a day or overnight trip, visit Coal Harbour, Winter Harbour and Holberg. Coal Harbour, 20 minutes from Port Hardy, has a history in whaling, coal mining and copper mining and is now a good choice for canoeing and fishing. Holberg is known for beautiful Ronning Gardens and the Shoe Tree, a cedar snag covered in shoes, and is also the starting point for adventures in Cape Scott Park. Winter Harbour, 40 minutes from Holberg, is a tiny settlement with a boardwalk waterfront and great fishing charters. Port Hardy is also the departure point for two of BC Ferries’ most scenic cruises: Inside Passage to Prince Rupert and Discovery Coast Passage to Bella Coola. Please note: accommodation books quickly when sailings are scheduled; make arrangements before arriving.
For Port Alice details, call 250-284-3391. Call the Port Hardy and District Chamber of Commerce at 250-949-7622 or visit 7250 Market St.