The North Island area of Vancouver Island is rich in Aboriginal history and culture, and offers a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Discover the North Island’s magnificent wilderness and wildlife on a sightseeing, caving, hiking, kayaking, or diving tour. For a moderately challenging day hike, follow the trail in Raft Cove Provincial Park to a spectacular beach with great surf. Arrange for a fishing charter and reel in a salmon or halibut, or fish for trout in one of North Island's many lakes and streams.
From Port McNeill, take BC Ferries to Sointula on Malcolm Island and Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, two of the region's most historic destinations.
North Island Facts
- The North Island region measures approximately 16,000sq km/9942sq mi in size, yet it's population is only about 2% of the total for Vancouver Island.
- The North Island is famous for unusual land formations, and Little Huson Cave Regional Park is the location of a number of these natural oddities including sink holes, canyons, and a swiftly flowing river that disappears into rock.
- The Port Alice area is another good place to see caves and karst.
- Browning Wall is considered the best dive site in BC and one of the top five cold-water dives in the world.
- The Nakwakto Rapids in Seymour Inlet are the fastest tidal rapids in the world.
North Island Communities
At the northern end of Hwy 19, the active community of Port Hardy offers a wealth of opportunity to outdoor enthusiasts at any time of the year, a major BC Ferries terminal, and the gateway to Northern Vancouver Island recreation.
Dense forest, tranquil lakes, exquisite views of Broughton Strait, and plenty of wildlife make Port McNeill a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Activities include fresh and saltwater fishing, whale and wildlife watching excursions, cultural tours, air charters, boat charters, hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, and windsurfing.
The tiny community of Telegraph Cove began as a one-room telegraph station in 1912. Today, Telegraph Cove is a mecca for visitors coming to experience superb fishing, kayaking, diving, and wildlife watching.
North Island Wildlife
North Island has abundant and varied wildlife. Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve, 1,248ha/1,084ac marine park was established in 1982 for the protection of Orcas (killer whales), 250 of which travel to the area each year. Other creatures in these waters include humpback, grey, and minke whales, seals, sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters, and eagles.
Black bear and grizzly bear watching tours are also offered in the North Island region. These safe, guided boat tours include such highlights as bears fishing for salmon or rolling over rocks in search of crabs. Bear watching tours are available from June through October.
In the Sayward area, watch for Roosevelt elk, a species found only on Vancouver Island. Bird watchers will enjoy Winter Harbour, Telegraph Cove, Rough Bay near Sointula, the Salmon River Estuary near Sayward, Storey's Beach in Port Hardy, the Ecological Park near Alert Bay, and the Zeballos Estuary. Other land mammals include black-tailed deer, timber wolves, and cougars.
North Island Water Activities
The North Island region has more coastline and waterways than any other area within the Vancouver Island region, and offers marine adventurers with a wide selection of guided and self-guided activities. The diving here is world famous, with brilliant soft corals, countless marine species, 100 visibility, and unique opportunities like diving with pacific white-sided dolphins and wolf eels.
The North Island region's many natural dive sites include the Browning Wall, a site that was rated the best dive site in BC and one of the top ten in the world. The North Island region also has its share of shipwrecks and sunken cargo ships that provide homes for an array of colourful creatures.
Kayaking is a region specialty because there is so much to see. Guided kayaking options include day tours and lessons, as well as two to seven day adventures. Paddling places for self-guided kayaking include serene bays and coves, and sheltered offshore islands. Opportunities for canoeing are just as exciting. Visitors to the region can sign up for a marine sightseeing tour, or fly over the waves on a float plane adventure.
Windsurfers will love the high winds at Nimpkish Lake, as well as along the coast near Port McNeill, while long-board surfers test their skills at Raft Cove and San Josef Bay. White water rafting is available on some of the fast-moving waterways in the Nimpkish Valley.
North Island Fishing
Year-round saltwater fishing opportunities in the North Island region are amazing and run the gamut from day charters and floating fishing operations to fishing-resorts accessible by floatplane. A day on the water can result in a wide range of fish, such as salmon (all five pacific species), halibut, crab, rockfish, sea bass, and snapper.
Peak saltwater fishing season starts in May and continues to early October, but locals fish, weather permitting, year-round. Freshwater anglers have dozens of lakes and rivers to choose from year-round. Camping is popular among freshwater anglers, and numerous lakes in the region have campsites. Guided tours and excursions by boat and helicopter are also available.
North Island Land Activities
The North Island region's most famous hiking trail is in Cape Scott Provincial Park. The 27km/17mi Cape Scott Trail is currently the park's longest, with shorter trails ranging from 2.5km/1.6mi to 21km/13mi. The 47km/29 North Coast Trail links to the Cape Scott Trail; check with local info centres for updates. There are many shorter trails in the North Island region. Maps and information are available at info centres.
The North Island region is renowned for caves. The most accessible caves are in Little Huson Regional Cave Park, between Woss and Port McNeill. Port Alice is also known for its caves, as well as its unusual karst (limestone) formations. Many of the caves in the region are located in difficult terrain and should only be visited by experienced cavers or with guides.
Mountain bikers enjoy the logging roads in the region, especially in the Woss/Nimpkish Valley and Sayward area, near Port McNeill, and near Sointula. Bike rentals are available.