Artists and hippies, pottery studios, wineries, small tucked-away farms, stunning white sand and warm azure water perfect for swimming, walks on sandstone beaches and an enchanted forest – welcome to Hornby Island!
Denman and Hornby Island are a little ways out from the main hustle of southern Gulf islands and require more effort (and time) to get to, nevertheless, in summer months Hornby Island is buzzing with tourist activity and you’re well advised to book your accommodations well ahead of time. Visiting in early season and bike-camping we have enough flexibility to just wing it and threw this plan together at 6pm on a Friday afternoon.
One ferry to Nanaimo, then an hour’s drive north to Buckley Bay and another ferry to Denman Island got us to our starting point. For ferry schedules check BC Ferries – Northern Gulf Islands. A small curiosity between Buckle Bay and Denman Island is that the ferry vessel is pulled across the channel by a system of cables anchored into the docks instead of a motor. It is the longest cable ferry in the world. To get to Hornby Island you have to ferry-hop yet again from Gravelly Bay on Denman for a final 10 minute crossing to Hornby. We did not rush to that second ferry, wanting to explore two provincial parks on Denman in my bid to visit every single BC Park in the Lower Mainland and the surrounding area.
Fillongley Provincial Park is tiny, but it encompasses a square of pretty forest with lush ferns and large trees. It abuts to a pretty pebbly beach with views towards Hornby Island and comes with a miniature campground (reservable). The ten available sites (all drive-in) were already occupied at the time we visited, seemed mostly with the locals. Glad we were not planning to camp here for the night as there was no room. Being the only provincial campground, it comes as no surprise that it is always full. You can’t get a beach access accommodation for $12.50/site elsewhere on these two islands.
Our next stop on Denman was Boyle Point Provincial Park with two attractive viewpoints: Boyle Point and Eagle Rock lookout which can be reached after a short 2 km forested walk. The Boyle Point overlooks a small Chrome Island which is just a hand’s reach distance away from the shore and features a staffed lighthouse and a set of service buildings. Apparently, the grounds are accessible to public but access is by a boat only. In my alternate life I am a lighthouse attendant and living on a remote island so looking at Chrome Island stirred up a lot of daydreaming for me.
Just a short walk away from Boyle Point is Eagle Rock lookout. At low tides you can walk to the rock but it requires an unauthorized bypass of some fencing and walking down the cliff side. The path leading down, however is very well established. We did duck the rope and I did not find the trail particularly difficult but you need to be sure of your footing.
For an easier (AND parks-endorsed) walk to a large outcropping connected to Denman via a shelled beach, head to Sandy Island, a.k.a. Tree Island, a.k.a. Jáji7em and Kw’ulh Marine Provincial Park on the west side of Denman. The access is from Morningside Beach Park at low tide. To find the low tide times consult the tide tables for station 7953-Hornby Island.
Before leaving Denman for Hornby I would like to give honorable mention to two great bistros where we bought a) our lunch and b) snacks & treats and which are worth your visit for the quality of food and ambiance:
a) Café Pourium
b) Earth Club Factory Bistro
Most people that make it this far typically just drive through Denman and continue on to its neighboring island. Straight from the Hornby ferry terminal we rode our bikes following the Shingle Spit Trail (part of Mt. Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park) towards Ford’s Cove on the southeast side of the island. This wooded trail is completely off limits to anyone but hikers and cyclists. It follows the shoreline without, much ups and downs, under a canopy of large hemlock trees and if off-road cycling is your thing you are going to absolutely love it. The trail starts directly across from Thatch Roof Pub at the ferry terminal.
Ford’s Cove Marina has everything you might need – a general store, fish and chips place, gourmet café and bakery, cabins for rent and a grassy campground with tons of songbirds chirping around. Another highly recommended camping option on the island is Brad‘s Dad’s Land campground on the west side of Hornby. You‘ll be smitten by their lovely groomed tent sites tucked between the hedges and coming with their own bed of daisies.
From Ford’s Cove it is a short 5 km ride to the Tribune Bay Provincial Park. And now – that’s some beach! A large bay with fine, fine white sand, shallow sea gradually extending into the horizon, azure AND warm waters with more sand under your feet and an occasional eagle overhead. Probably the closest you can get to a tropical beach while still in B.C. In early June beach is still deserted but brims with families come July and August.
Helliwell Provincial Park is located in a northwest extension of Hornby Island but is not to be missed. The 5 km loop around the park takes you to grassy headlands and close to cliffs plunging in to the Salish Sea here. Numerous benches offer a place to sit and soak up the views. In some places the trail descends almost to the water and at low tide you can stroll between the rocks benches extending into the sea. Please, do – we discovered a saltwater filled crack full of beautiful starfish waiting out the tide. It was a beautiful spectacle of purple at a close range. The trail in and out of the Helliwell Park passes through what I can only describe as an enchanted forest – thick-barked Douglas ferns, large ferns and carpets of flowers.
Back on St John’s road we turned R on Chandler Rd to join an Old School Trail (a single track and a shortcut, bikeable) to emerge on Central Road. From here it was a super easy and mostly downhill ride to visit Isla de Lerena Winery and after a wine tasting we enjoyed sitting in their rose garden, soaking up the sun.
From then on, and nearing the end of our weekend, we made one last stop at a very quirky Fossil Beach Farm which is down a 1 km dusty driveway, free-roaming cows and all, at the foot of Savoie Rd. The place is a work in progress with a lot of construction projects on the go but serving the best lemon raspberry kombucha and a choice of six ciders on tap (“tropical citrus” flavour blew my mind). Make sure to walk down to the beach once there, too.
And that was it, folks – a tasty finish to an awesome weekend on two wheels!