Cycle Touring North Vancouver Island

Area Rides & Campgrounds

The north island is huge, sparsely populated, strewn with lakes, rivers and mighty inlets, criss-crossed with rugged backroads carved out mostly by the logging industry. There are countless, long, remote, tough multi-day riding opportunities. Sprinkled throughout, also, are remote villages with all the comforts, coupled with north Island hospitality (where folks speak to strangers). There's even a couple of northern Gulf Islands - well worth the visit. The biggest attraction, though, is the grand outdoors.

 

This area north beyond Campbell River is almost as big as the other Island riding areas combined, with endless possibilities.

 

Port Hardy waterfront, looking east across the Queen Charlotte Strait to the mountains of the BC mainland. Port Hardy is the end of the North island Highway, with the BC ferry terminal to north BC at Bear Cove, just to the south.

Port Hardy waterfront | end of North Island Highway | cycle touring north Vancouver Island
Grant Bay Park Camp | bikepacking north Vancouver Island | west of Winter Harbour

My camp at Grant Bay, at the far NW corner of the Island, near Winter Harbour. An incredible, remote spot, reached by a tough ride in. Check out more at the Fav Campground

Below is a summary map, with buttons for favourite north Island rides and campgrounds. If you look close, you'll see the ride buttons are blue with blue shading, and the campground buttons are green with green shading. The map ropes together a lot of content:

 

Under the map, the rides and the campgrounds are listed alphabetically, with links to the pages or summaries for each. This gives you a geographic overview of North Island options you'll find within this website, and links to follow if you wish. 

 
North Island area map | Fav cycle tours & campgrounds | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

Links for buttons in above map - click to jump to pages with more detailed information

Or click to go back to Maps & Links Central

North Island Rides (blue buttons):

North Island Campgrounds (green buttons):

Some island character from seaside Sointula, just off the ferry from Port McNeill. On Malcolm Island along my ride to Bere Point, a favourite campground.

Sointula seaside, Malcolm Island | Bere Point Regional Campground | cycle touring north Gulf Islands

Here are what I think of as the main riding areas on the North Island:

  • West from Porty Hardy north of Quatsino Sound, past Coal Harbour and Holberg out to Cape Scott. Some pretty serious wilderness up here.

  • Hub around Port Alice, extending north to Rupert Inlet and all the way west to Side Bay (and the Brooks Peninsula, if you can get there). More grand wilderness

  • Hub around Port McNeill, including fabulous Malcolm & Cormorant Islands and nearby Telegraph Cove, then south to Bonanza and Nimpkish Lakes

  • The 'Lower west'. This includes remote, rugged area around Zeballos and Fair Harbour. It extends south to Tahsis and Gold River - linked to Campbell River

  • The 'Lower north', centred around Woss, Schoen Lake and the hinterland west from Sayward on the west side of the North Island Highway

  • Sayward and the Lower north-east coast. This extends north of the Island Highway as it heads NW past Sayward, to reach down to the coast around areas like Adam River, Eve River, Naka Creek and Tsitika River

  • Campbell River North. Hard to say where the boundary is with the North island, but there's lots of overlap in the grand backroads hinterland north and west from Campbell River.

Zeballos Inlet | backroads to Fair Harbour | bikepacking north Vancouver Island

Riding the remote NW shores of mighty Zeballos Inlet, just south of Zeballos, on the way to Fair Harbour.

The main route north is along the 2 lane, basic shoulder, paved Island Highway, 235kms from Campbell River up to Port Hardy (and onwards by ferry to Prince Rupert). It roughly follows the east coast, past a handful of small northern towns, with a long bend inland past Nimpkish River & Lake.  Read more in the North Island Highway Fav Ride. There are a number of forestry Rec Camp options near or just off the highway, and many more if you delve deeper.  There are also a half dozen 'rest areas' along the highway, which come with toilets and tables, and usually areas around the perimeter you can camp if you're in a spot for a place. 

 

From Port Hardy, a hard pack road continues NW to Winter Harbour and Cape Scott.  Carved into the mid and north island are long, narrow inlets (or sounds), with rugged backroads, lakes and scattered villages.  

Be mindful of truck traffic, both on the highway and (particularly) if you branch off on some of the backroads. 

Looking down the North Island Highway, north of Sayward

North Island Highway | north of Sayward | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

There's no question that great expanses of the north are more remote and rugged, well suited to backroads riding, and adventure tourism pursuits like fishing and kayaking.

 

But there are some good paved road riding options, fine campgrounds, hospitable small communities, and a great little hub around Port McNeill, Malcolm Island, Alert Bay & Telegraph Cove - with lots of tourist attractions and infrastructure.  See Fav ride for all.

Telegraph Cove | near Port McNeill | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

Popular Telegraph Cove. This was early June, before the big tourist rush. It's an idyllic cove, with boardwalks, restaurants, lodges, a vibrant marina and incredible ecotourism opportunities. An internationally known favourite for many.

There's no question that great expanses of the north are more remote and rugged, well suited to backroads riding, and adventure tourism pursuits like fishing and kayaking.

 

But there are some good paved road riding options, fine campgrounds (see following), hospitable small communities, and a great little hub around Port McNeill, Malcolm Island, Alert Bay & Telegraph Cove - with lots of tourist attractions and infrastructure.  See Fav ride for all.

In the north, it's usually never too far from a Rec/forestry camnpground, and wild camping options abound. That said, here's a little more info.

 

Port Hardy has a bunch of campgrounds, including several on the road out to Beaver Cove and the ferry north, that specialize in people leaving in the middle of the night to get ferries leaving at dawn. My favourite Port Hardy campground is Quatse River Regional Camp, where I've left my vehicle while out roaming. For options in the wild hinterland NW of Port Hardy, see the fav backroads ride, as well as more details on Grant Bay and Cape Palmerston

Port McNeil also has a number of surrounding campgrounds, including several at Telegraph Cove, Bere Point on nearby Malcolm Island (a fav campground), and a town campground at Alert Bay on Comorant Island. I seem to be usually passing through Port McNeill, though I have camped at Broughton Strait Regional Campground, just north of the ferry terminal along the seaside road.

 

Port Alice has several nearby Rec sites, including Link River, a Fav camp. Tiny Woss has a nearby rec camp on the north end of Woss Lake. Zeballos has an honourable mention Fav campsite at nearby Resolution Park. Fair Harbour has Ka-oouk River Campground as you near the harbour. Tahsis has Lerner River Rec Camp just before reaching the village. Gold River, has a municipal campground just south of town, or, a little further to the north, Muchalat Lake Rec camp, a favourite. 

I've stayed in 3 different Sayward campgrounds. In the village proper along the seaside, 11kms east off the highway, is a village campground. Just north of town, accessible to the west off the highway, is Elk Creek Rec Camp. And just east of the highway junction is Sayward Valley Resort (aka Fisherboy). This is a bit of a bigger establishment, mostly serving RVers, but they have a strip back from the road for tent campers: I give this spot a special shout out for 2 reasons: if you're coming down island, it's something of a treat - you get showers, power, a convenience store, laundry and a nearby restaurant; and, the owners have been really helpful to me on several occasions when I have left my vehicle there while off exploring on my bike. 

 

'Namgis Burial Ground, at Alert Bay on Comorant Island. Reached via a short BC ferry ride from Port McNeill, it's an incredible place to visit for First Nations history and culture, as well as ecotourism focused on the surrounding waters of Queen Charlotte Strait.

Namgis Burial Ground | Alert Bay on Cormorant Island | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

If you are feeling ambitious, give some thought to taking the ferry north from Port Hardy. If you have the time, and a desire to see the rest of mainland BC, you can really get places (I've done both these, and heartily recommend):

  • take the ferry to Bella Bella, then connect to another ferry heading 100kms east up fjord-like Burke Channel to Bella Coola. Seaside Bella Coola has a different climate, and rich Nuxalk First Nations culture. Then ride the grand Chilcotin Highway  (including 'the Hill') east to Williams Lake and Hwy 97 (north or south). 

  • take the ferry all the way up the glorious inside channel to BC's northern port city, Prince Rupert. From there, take another ferry north into Alaska, or ride east to connect with the Alaska Highway and wonders beyond.

Kelsey Bay marina | bikepacking Sayward area | cycle touring north Vancouver Island

Kelsey Bay marina, next door to Sayward. I had a great dinner at the restaurant to the right. In behind the marina is a large active log sort for the area. A tough ride north from here gets on to Naka Creek, a fav campground.

Check this out for more local info on 'Getting off the NE Highway'

Backroads options heading up the NE Island (e.g Woss Lake to Coal Harbour)

This page details several riding options to continue north, while getting off the big North Island Highway, up on the NE Island. The main section is 140kms from north Woss Lake to Coal Harbour, west off the main highway. There's another route from Zeballos junction north to Rupert Inlet. These off-highway stretches also help to knit together a continuous backroads route for the Tip to Tip ride.

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It appears the end of the rainbow can be found in Coal Harbour. I camped on the seaside field here, and watched the boats, seaplanes and wildlife pass by.

camping beside Coal Harbour Marina | bikepacking north Vancouver Island

Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times