Denman & Hornby - Island Escape
I'm getting predictable. Every time I ride smaller islands off Vancouver Island's east coast, I end up entranced. This 2 day March ride was no exception: my first trip back to Denman in a few years, and my first ever visit to further Hornby Island. Great riding, a leisurely vibe and lots of island personality (and some mean weather).
Looking west from Denman Island West terminal to snowy hills of Vancouver Island
Denman & Hornby Islands are ~25kms south of Courtenay, accessible via short (and frequent) ferry hops from Buckley Bay Terminal.
Denman has ~1,100 residents. The destination BC website says this about Denman: Denman is a low-profile northern Gulf Island with just enough accommodations and activities – hiking, kayaking, visiting art galleries, attending festivals, local farms and orchards – to keep active minds and bodies engaged.
Surprisingly, it is the smaller, more distant Hornby (population ~1,000) that is the more popular tourist destination. The website says this: ... a peaceful and progressive-minded refuge for artists, bohemians, young families, urban exiles, and retirees....A small but steady stream of visitors arrive with books, bikes, sketchpads and hiking boots.
As you might gather, water sports are big for the islands. So too are hiking, artisans and vineyards.
Roadside grave yard on Hornby Island. Note the bike in the back set up with a tombstone.
Both Denman and Hornby have formidable escarpments along major stretches of their east coasts, limiting roads and seaside homes.
Distances are modest. From the terminal on central west Denman to Gravelly Bay Terminal on the SE coast, is ~12-13kms by several options - east across island then south down the east coast (my favourite riding stretch), or south along west coast, then across the island to the terminal.
From the west Terminal at Shingle Spit on Hornby, it's only ~8kms to loop north and then south to Tribune Bay, the major population centre (and tourist destination) at the SE. Then, a gorgeous 5km ride south and west (with climbs!) to Ford's Cove.
Driveway marker just south of Gravelly Bay terminal
Tribune Bay has a cluster of small businesses, boutiques & artisans. One can imagine it bustling in season. The famous bay has one of BC's best family beaches, warm water heated over shallow sands. There's adjacent Tribune Bay Provincial Park, complete with trails, and, a little further to the SE, wild Helliwell Provincial Park.
When I visited Ford Cove, things were popping as local commercial fishermen were enjoying the best multi-day herring run anyone could remember. This also attracted other visitors, and one could constantly hear the sea lions barking and roaring, and see the birds gathered by their hundreds. The shoreline was foamy white with recently released roe.
Looking out over Tribune Bay and a lonely heron, at dusk
Tribune Bay Provincial Park
It was late by the time I reached the park and a storm was brewing. There's no campground in the park, but I was tuckered and hadn't seen options, so I put up tent in the picnic shelter you can see at the left. I expect this would not be an option in the busy season. The winds were so wild I had to sleep with ear plugs.
Shades of Andy Warhol, up near Grassy Point on Hornby
If you like local artisans, galleries and whimsy, this is a great ride for you. I barely scratched the surface, riding mostly only the main roads, so no doubt there are countless hidden treasures awaiting any explorer.
This is a backroads touring site, so see below .... Saw a loaded logging truck waiting for the ferry back to the mainland when I first reached Denman. Noted a few small operations like that below, several of them only part of clearings for new homes.
Local scale logging on Denman Island
My only beef with Denman and Hornby is that they're not really set up for campers. There are no doubt wild camping options if you go looking for them, but these are smaller islands and the nicer spots have some sort of development about. Denman has only Fillongley Provincial Campground (see pic below), which I really like, but it's a small campsite, so one is taking a chance to visit on a summer weekend (though there are a few spots down the beach from the formal site). Hornby is a little different, as the only options are a handful of private campsites in fine places like north of the ferry terminal, Tribune Bay and Ford's Cove. As I found out, these are also all closed in the off season.
I have been told in the past that these sites all fill up in summer, so unless you make reservations, or want to find a remote side track for wild camping, you are likely out of luck. Your best bet is likely to either make an advance booking, or plan a trip in the shoulder seasons.
Here's my route (below):
March 2017 ride route
At the store & coffee house in Ford's Cove, I got a good map of Denman & Hornby Islands. I was interested to see roads (assumedly dirt) north from Fillongley Campground all the way to the north tip. In future, I'd like to do this ride, heading north along one shore and coming back down along the other, perhaps with a side trip into central Denman Island Provincial Park & Chickadee Lake. Hornby looks to have excellent hiking at Helliwell Park (SE) and up into Mt Geoffrey Regional Nature Park.
Seaside at Fillongley Provincial Campground
Fillongley has long been a favourite off season spot of mine. When the tiny, unimpressive campground is full, you can walk down the beach a little where there are 4-6 flat spots for a tent. In season, you'll find hard core clammers love the site. It's fine swimming, and a wonderful spot to sit and watch the Straight go by.
Here's the distance / elevation chart from my ride (complete with some short ferry stretches):
Things look real hilly, but the left side elevation scale only goes up over 100m. There are some hilly stretches, like the ride to Ford's Cove, or climbing up over the middle of Denman island. That said, there are no big hills, and the distances are modest.
Another cemetary marker, Hornby Island
Island architecture, NE Hornby Island