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Side Bay Campground

A Favourite Camping Spot

One of the great backroads wilderness camping destinations to be found. At the end of the road in a big blank area of the map of NW Vancouver Island, not a village to be found, west of the little community Port Alice, north of the fabled Brooks Peninsula. Reached by logging roads, including up and down notorious Teeta Hill, up from the shores of majestic Neroutsos Inlet.


Side Bay is gorgeous - a series of ~4 sandy or small-pebbled bays looking SW from south of the mouth of mighty Quatsino Sound. The views are magnificent, with otters and eagles about, deer and bear tracks along quiet stretches of the beach. Word of mouth is starting to make Side Bay popular in the summer, but I was there late September, and there was only one other camper about, so we each had a bay. 

There's no campground staff or fees and you have to pack out your own garbage. No facilities, though there are creeks for water. You may need to ford a creek, and push your bike down the shoreline to find a camping spot in the busy season (which can be tough in sand, but worth it). I was told by my neighbour, a regular visitor, that occasional storms can reshape the shoreline and push waves far up the shores, so be mindful where you set up camp in the off season.

My campground at Side Bay, looking west, on a drizzly evening.

Side Bay Campground | bikepacking west from Port Alice | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

Port Alice is reached via a fine paved road west from the Island Highway north of Port McNeill (see Fav ride - Alice Lake Loop). I left my vehicle in Port Alice at the grocery store parking lot, after asking around and getting permission. 

From Port Alice, one heads south down the east shores of grand Neroutsos Inlet before looping north along the SW shores then angling west over Teeta Hill. You'll see signs for Mahatta River, the logging depot, and after a time, signs for Side Bay. There are no gates (at least when I have visited), but you must keep a sharp ear and eye out for logging trucks. If it's summer, and it's been dry, dust could be an issue in places unless it's a weekend. See also this Fav ride out to Side Bay.

Overall, the ride out to Side Bay is under 90kms, but it is tough, and you'll earn your passage. I rode out in 2 days, taking in some sites along the way - Mahatta River, O'Connell Lake and (most especially) Gooding Cove. After kicking back for several days, I did the return ride in one longer day. 

Side Bay campground | bikepacking north Island backroads | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

My campsite again, this time looking east along 'my bay', during a fine sunny afternoon.

My campsite above was just to the east of the little creek where the access road comes down to the seaside. There's a stretch where folks camp along a small bay just west of this creek, particularly if they have a trailer. But the finest camping options are along 3 bays to the east. I tried to ride in across the little creek, but the creek bed was too soft and I ended up having to put my feet down and push (and souse my shoes). This can change depending on rainfall as well as convenient boulders to hop across on. Apparently, a few years past, the creek was mostly underground. 

My site in the 2 pics above was about 50m from the creek. You can see how far a walk it would be down to the next bay. Not surprisingly, quads ford the creek and one can see quad tracks along the beach. It's possible that at busy times they could get irritating, but they would sure be handy to carry gear down to the next bays. But each bay is so beautiful, that they are worth tough initial effort to get settled in. My site had a little driftwood table and benches, so I was in the lap of luxury.

There were rocks in front on my site, and there must have been good food pickings, as sea otters often hung about for long stretches. At one time there were four of them out there. As you can see in behind, it's also a popular seagull hangout

Sea otter, Side Bay campground | bikepacking west from Port Alice | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

Went for a walk down the bays one morning, and saw fresh deer tracks (perhaps elk, although I was told they are uncommon), as well as bear tracks along the far beach. I saw quite a few eagles. I wonder if they feed on seagulls, as there were hordes of these about - feeding on something evidently.

I was told by my neighbour that Side Bay is also a popular marine destination, particularly for kayakers making their way along the coast. It's common for them to come ashore late in the day to camp.

Neucel Mill, Port Alice | bikepacking to Side Bay | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

As noted, Port Alice was my starting and finishing base of operations for this ride. The big mill, Neucel (see at lower right in pic), ~6kms south, has essentially closed down, forcing Port Alice to confront the same economic challenges that have hit so many small forestry towns. They are looking to retirement & adventure tourism, but there's only so much of that to go around.

Route to Side Bay Campground

see Side Bay at the far SW corner of this fabulous ride

Location & route map | Side Bay Campground | bikepacking north Vancouver Island

This was the last (farthest east) of the bays I walked down to. But who knows - it may be that there are more options further along? My map suggests this, though it's unclear whether access is only by water or if there's road access. 

Side Bay Campground | bikepacking west from Port Alice | cycle touring north Vancouver Island
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