Great Big Outside

Step by step by glorious step.  Hiking on Vancouver Island North is where all paths lead to open air adventure.  All skill levels are welcome.  Curiosity and a willingness to ditch the vehicle are essential.  The region is vast and geographically diverse offering hikers dramatic land and seascapes, glimpses of ancient First Nations culture as well as diverse wildlife and foliage.

‘Namgis First Nation Awak’was; Boomer Jerritt photo

If slow and steady is your preferred speed each community offers easily accessible walkways.  Shake off the day to day and soak up the flavour of coastal life. From one of benches along the Port McNeill seawall view fishing boats and pleasure craft traveling in and out of the harbour.  Don’t forget to look up as bald eagles circle overhead hunting for a meal. Wander the boardwalk in Alert Bay stopping at cedar gazebos each adorned with original First Nations artwork.  Stroll cedar chip covered trails beneath a canopy of whispering trees.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” which means bathing in the forest. Or count how many different sea and shore birds you can spot at Cluxewe Estuary. Just one of many natural wonders on lands cared for by, and within the traditional territory of, the people of the Kwakiutl First Nation.

San Josef Bay; Steven Fines photo

Finding your bliss may involve a more vigorous half day, full day or multi-day trek with unsurpassed seascape, forest and mountain vistas.  Cape Scott Provincial Park runs the gamut, starting with an easy 30 minute trail walk to San Josef Bay on the wild west coast.  Yours may be the only footprints on the sandy white beach.  The stunningly beautiful shore is dotted with sea stacks that rise out of the ocean.  Waves pounding at rock and dirt showing the incredible power of the ocean.  The Cape Scott Trail is a hike for beginner and intermediate multi-day hikers, requiring 2 to 3 days to complete.  Lush rainforest, marshlands and remote sweeping beaches are your reward.  The North Coast Trail is highly challenging with previous backpacking experience a must for this raw and rugged 58 km journey.  You’ll have to work for it but oh, so worth the effort.

Maps, brochures and hiking details are available at local Visitor Information Centres.  Also now available is the new North Island Trail Guide , available as a web application and as a free mobile app for iOS and Android.  GPS enabled, once the app has been downloaded to your cell phone, the data will be available even when you are out of cell range.  All trails are shown on a map and details include length of trail, time required, degree of difficulty and what time of the year it’s open.

Whatever the duration of your hike do plan and prepare.  Think about fresh water, food and warm clothing.  Be aware the weather can change in an instant.  Believe us when we tell you it’s possible to experience more than one season in a day.  And respecting the incredible unspoiled wilderness, everyone who hikes the back country should strive for LNT, Leave No Trace.  What you pack in — you also pack out.  Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.


Whether you choose an urban setting or a back country expedition, hiking will change you in all the right ways.  It’s the call of the trail.  Reconnecting with the best medicine ever.  Breathing the wild air.

Karen Stewart – Freelance Writer

Karen is the author of a blog titled This is Port McNeill