Malcolm Island, Alert Bay & Telegraph Cove
Surprising NE Island Gems
This ride is short on kms to cover, but very well suited to a leisurely bicycle tour. This ride stands out as it's up in a far-flung corner of the thinly populated NE Island coast, starting and finishing in Port McNeill. You'll find some of the finest tourism experiences on the Island - a surprise in the (mostly) rougher north.
If you choose to drive with your bikes on a rack, it's only a couple of hours north of Campbell River.
Seaside Sointula harbour on Malcolm Island, snapped from the BC ferry terminal
Bere Point Regional Campground on north Malcolm Island (a Fav Camp), where killer whales cruise in close to get a belly rub on the smooth stones of the bay
Popular picture-postcard setting at Telegraph Cove, with a perimeter boardwalk, lodges, restaurants and shops around the bustling central marinas & docks
Internationally famous First Nations culture and history at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island
Incredible natural surroundings and ecotourism opportunities at all 3 destinations
Telegraph Cove. I visited right at the start of June, just before (I am told) the tourist rush. There's hotels, restaurants, pubs, coffee houses, cottages, evening entertainment, an RV park, kayak rentals, and so much more around the cove boardwalk. Really picturesque, and unique if you want to indulge a little
Days for Ride:
You should plan for at least one night in each place, the minimum needed to look about and sample the attractions. You also need some time to manage the BC ferry connections to & from Malcolm and Cormorant Islands. That said, I recommend at least 2 nights on Malcolm Island to kick back at Bere Point Regional Campground and settle in to some Island time. Add another day if you're into renting kayaks, or boat tours.
U'mista Cultural Centre, opened in 1974, Canada's longest running First Nations museum. In Alert Bay, Cormorant Island
Easy - but you'll be climbing a few hills . This assumes you are not riding up the North Island from Campbell River, and are leaving your vehicle in Port McNeill. From seaside Port McNeill, there's a sharp little hill as you head inland to the north Island Highway.
On Vancouver Island between Port McNeill & Telegraph Cove, it's mostly paved, you're never far from the seaside, and hills are modest, up to ~100m. At Alert Bay, it's a sharp climb to the town campground, but the distance is short. On Malcolm Island, it's around 6+kms from the ferry terminal to Bere Point Regional Campground on the north shores. There's a short climb up and over the spine of the Island (again, under 100m).
You may meeting logging trucks on the backroads of Sointula, but this is unlikely. More likely, you could meet a logging truck near Beaver Cove, where there's an active log dump/sort, around 4km before you reach Telegraph Cove. That said, you are on a paved, road used by the public: you need to be careful, but any trucks will also be keeping a close eye out for you.
The marina and seaside at Port McNeill. This pic is taken from the BC ferry dock just to the south. Parking, if you want to leave a vehicle, is just to the left from here.
Soak in some local history & culture.
I'm changing my usual format a little for this Ride report. I generally try to focus more on the ride, vs the places I visit. But this is a favourite trip that doesn't have all that much riding. Through there's fine camping (particularly Bere Point), what makes this trip so worthwhile is the history, culture and sights around Telegraph Cove, Alert Bay & Sointula.
Telegraph Cove got its name from Alfred Marmaduke "Duke" Wastell when, in 1912, they were looking for a location for a telegraph lineman's station. Fishing and logging were the early economic pillars. There was a saw mill, built with the help of Japanese & Chinese labour. In the 1970s, the mill and fishing gradually shut down, and tourism, based on the incredible natural setting looking out on the Broughton Archipelago (today a huge marine park), picked up steam. Harrowsmith magazines named Telegraph Cove one of the "10 Best Towns in Canada to Visit". Jacques Cousteau called Telegraph Cove one of the best places in the world to view killer whales in their natural habitat.
The log sort at Beaver Cove, ~4kms SW of Telegraph Cove. A reminder forestry is still part off the local economy.
Cormorant Island is small (~4sq kms), with a population of ~1,500. It's home to one of the oldest communities on north Vancouver Island, a vibrant fishing station from the latter 1800s. Much of the heritage flavour has been preserved. There's restaurants, coffee shops, artisan shops and many outdoors oriented opportunities. Alert Bay has a long seaside boardwalk, and is surrounded by an excellent network of nature hiking trails.
But the real impact of Alert Bay comes from its proud, internationally renowned First Nations culture, and the vibrant blending of the First Nation and pioneer cultures living side by side. The library / museum has 6,500 photos dating back to the mid-1800s. You can visit the magnificent 'Big House', with the world's tallest totem pole. Or view the extraordinary 'Namgis Burial Ground', a collection of ceremonial poles marking the gravesites of leaders, alongside traditional Christian graves (see pic below).
'Namgis Burial Ground, Alert Bay, Comorant Island. It is common to allow fallen poles to lie and decay, part of the natural cycle of life and death.
Sointula means “place of harmony” in Finnish. This charming seaside village on sprawling Malcolm Island, part of the traditional territory of the 'Namgis First Nation, was established in the late 19th century when a colony of Finnish settlers arrived with utopian dreams of building the perfect community. While that vision was derailed within a decade, many of the Finns stayed on, farming, fishing & logging, and helping give the island a distinctive character that lives on to this day. Today, the population of Sointula is a little below 600. There are regular ferries from nearby Port McNeill.
The beach at Bere Point Regional Campground. The bay, looking over Queen Charlotte Strait, is famous as killer whales like to get a belly rub on the smooth pebbles. You'll see quirky driftwood furniture at the campground: and lots of campers come back every year
You'll be catching ferries from Port McNeill for this ride, and perhaps camping and leaving a vehicle there. The town population is 2,700. Port McNeill is the gateway to the Broughton Archipelago, surrounded by rugged mountains, rainforest and the the grand ocean.
Seaside Sointula, near the ferry terminal - a little Island personality
There are some fine side trip options (though these are tougher riding options).
Check out the adventure tourism town of Port Alice. It's only 30kms north on the Island Hwy, then 35 kms SW along a fine paved road. If you like, you can loop back along a rougher southern backroads route. See the Alice Lake Loop favourite backroads ride
Another backroads option - head south from Telegraph Cove on Kokish Main to Ida Lake Rec Camp (Honourable Mention Fav campground), and then on to wilderness camps along the SW shores of grand Bonanza Lake. You can continue south on Old Steele Main to join the North Island Highway, south of Nimpkish Lake.
40+kms north of Port McNeill on the Island Highway gets you to Port Hardy. From there you can head west to wild Cape Scott, Winter Harbour and so much more (see Fav Ride). Or you can catch a ferry heading north to Bella Bella, Prince Rupert and new adventures.
Another photo from 'Namgis Burial Ground in Alert Bay, and astonishing place
Suggested Itinerary & Distances.
It's around 200kms from Campbell River north to Port McNeill along the fine, paved North Island Highway (Hwy19). See Map2 below. Unless you have the time and inclination to ride up the North Island (see Fav ride), drive north with your bike and start your ride in Port McNeill (see map1). You can either leave your car at the parking beside the ferry terminal for $5/day (sometimes fills up), or check out Broughton Strait Town Campground just to the north.
Then ride out to Telegraph Cove (~25kms, all paved) and get yourself settled in one of the decent private camping options nearby (Alder Bay or Telegraph Cove Resorts - where I expect you could also leave your car). Enjoy the cove and have a dinner along the boardwalk.
Next morning, ride back to Port McNeill to catch a mid-day ferry to Alert Bay. Check out the boardwalk, shops, museum, 'Namgis Burial Ground, and Big House. Get yourself set up at the town campground. If there's time, tackle some hiking trails.
Next morning, make your BC ferry connection to Sointula on south Malcolm Island. Maybe grab a coffee in the village, then ride the 6kms over the island hump to Bere Point Regional Camp. Stay a day or two. Add a day at any of the destinations if you want to rent some kayaks, or .....
Map1: Ride & ferry routes: Telegraph Cove, Alert Bay & Malcolm Island
Map2: Location of Port McNeill & Ride Routes on NE Vancouver Island
Downtown Alert Bay, and the seaside boardwalk, seen from the Government dock. You can see the BC ferry terminal at the very left side in the distance. A great little village for walking and leisurely cycling.