Port Hardy is a small town located on the north end of Vancouver Island. While its distance from BC’s bustling cities may seem daunting, this little port offers a wealth of natural beauty and adventure. We jumped at the chance to explore further at the end of August, packing our tent for three nights of camping and two days of beaches and hiking.
Getting to Port Hardy
Plan to enjoy the trip to Port Hardy as much as you’ll enjoy the destination. From Vancouver, we caught the ferry to Nanaimo. During the summer months, ferries are packed and you may want to make reservations to avoid waiting in line. We had a one-ferry wait going to the Island, and managed to be the second-last car on the ferry returning to Vancouver.
Once in Nanaimo, we enjoyed the 120-km speed limit on the four-lane divided highway up to Campbell River. If you have extra time for the drive, take the scenic beach drive, which moves at a slower speed through the smaller communities along the coast.
After Campbell River, the road became a two-lane highway winding through the valleys and forests of the north Island. We caught glimpses of lakes and mountains, as well as the local logging and mining activity. While there are no towns in the 2.5-hour stretch between Campbell River and Port Hardy, there were rest stops every 30-40 km along the highway (in case you are traveling with small people who have small bladders).
Staying in Port Hardy
Port Hardy offers a variety of accommodations, from hotels to AirBnB to campgrounds. We stayed at the Quatse River Campground just outside town. It’s one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve stayed at, with plenty of bush and trees to offer privacy between camping sites. The staff were friendly and the shower/washroom facilities were clean and nice. The girls aren’t fans of porta-potties or outhouses, so they were happy to have flush toilets.
Camping at Quatse River made me realize how long it’s been since we’ve gone camping as a family. While I was packing the stove and pots, Lily asked me, “You mean we have to cook there?” When we arrived at camp, Jade asked, “Where are the friends?” They are so used to the family and homeschool camps we’ve done for the past few years that regular camping was a bit of a shock to them!
Visitor Centre & Downtown
Our first stop in Port Hardy was the Visitor Centre, located on the water downtown. Although the skies were cloudy, the girls darted off to explore the big playground. There were plenty of picnic tables and benches around the park. A paved biking/walking path wound along the edge of the water, and we followed it around the corner to a Totem Pole and cenotaph. A few boats rested at anchor in the harbour.
My husband and I were able to grab some maps and brochures in the Visitor Centre to help plan our activities. The staff were very friendly, and the girls had fun checking out the shells and other beach debris in the display case.
Quatse River Stewardship Centre & Salmon Hatchery
Our next stop (after lunch at our campsite) was the Quatse Hatchery, conveniently located right next to our campground. From visiting Goldstream Park on Vancouver Island and seeing signs around Victoria and Vancouver about salmon habitats, I thought we were pretty familiar with these fish. I was surprised by how much we learned at the Quatse Hatchery.
Although it looks small, there was tons to do inside. Sunshine and Lily immediately opened up the dress-up boxes and began pretending to be eagles, salmon, and black bears. Jaclyn found a toy fishing rod and spent most of the next hour catching magnetic fish. Pearl did a few other fishy puzzles. The girls also played a life-size Jenga game that demonstrated the important of salmon to the environment and spun a wheel to see how they’d survive if they were salmon.
My husband explored the displays, and came back to invite the girls to watch the movie. The short, artsy, animated film featured a young girl’s quest to find the ocean, in a world that has gotten so busy it’s forgotten the ocean.
Outside, a tour guide showed us the salmon hatchery. Plenty of signs also explained the process of collecting eggs and raising the salmon until they were ready to be released into the streams. With this help, hopefully more than 2 or 3 salmon will survive to return and spawn in the rivers where they were born!
Storey’s Beach and the Tex Lyons Trail
With the skies clearing nicely, we headed for the beach and some hiking. Located just outside of town, Storey’s Beach is a picturesque expanse of soft sand overlooked an island-dotted bay. The tide was flowing out as we arrived, leaving plenty of space to play.
At the north end of Storey’s Beach, we found the start of the Tex Lyon Trail. Rated as “rugged” or “difficult” in the trail guide, this trail follows the coast, providing access to several other beaches and great views of the ocean. Starting mid-afternoon, we didn’t plan to hike the whole trail (which is 12 km or about 8 hours long). Instead, we figured we’d see how far we could get. I had the baby carrier for Pearl and my husband had a backpck with our Camelback and some snacks.
The trail crossed an inlet of the beach, then climbed steeply onto the hill beside the beach. From there, it wound up and down and back and forth through the trees, giving us glimpses of the ocean at times. In steeper sections, ropes hung from trees to help us pull ourselves up the trail. Bridges spanned muddy areas or small gorges in the trail.
Just after we left Storey’s Beach, the trail entered a deep, narrow canyon. Steep grey rock rose on either side of us, providing just enough room for me to walk through with Pearl on my back. That was just a hint of the adventure to come on the trail. Our first rope waited us at the end of the canyon.
From the trail, we popped out onto three beaches to take a break from hiking. Sunshine had fun clambering over the seaweed and barnacle covered rocks while Lily chased crabs. Pearl wasn’t happy about being stuck in the carrier for the hike, but the trail was too rough for her to walk, so I let her down on the beaches. Jade made shell collections, which she then left in a nook in the rock or a crack on some driftwood, as my rule is that “whatever you find on the beach stays on the beach.”
After the third beach, we planned to turn around and hike back, but another family told us about a great viewpoint “just around the corner.” My husband said we should go see it. As we clambered up the steep trail from the beach, even I was getting tired and reminded him, “This time this was your idea!” We finally found the viewpoint, which looked out on the white shell beach of one of the islands in the bay.
Then we hiked all the way back around to Storey’s Beach, going back up and down the ropes we’d already done once, and not stopping at the beaches this time. My husband ended up carrying Jade for part of the trail, as she was tired, but much of the trail was too steep or rough to safely carry her. The girls did have fun on the trail, however. They seem to prefer trails with a bit of “clambering” or a challenge, rather than just flat walks.
Back at Storey’s Beach, they made sand angels. Then two of the girls who’d be so tired they needed extra encouragement to keep hiking went running off across the beach to the far-away waterline. I guess a bit of beach can revive even tired hikers.
And that was the end of our first day in Port Hardy, BC. We spent our second day driving to and exploring Cape Scott Provincial Park.
I was not compensated for this post; all opinions expressed are my own.