Rich with recreation, eco-tourism possibilities and a breadth of historical cultural treasures, Port McNeil offers an amazing array of north-island experiences.
Port McNeil also provides easy ferry connections to its neighbouring communities of Alert Bay and Sointula on nearby Cormorant and Malcolm Islands (respectively). These connections allow visitors to explore an abundance of culture within a relatively small, accessible area. Port McNeill is also the gateway to the protected Broughton Archipelago and sacred Great Bear Rainforest, world-renowned for its rugged, remote beauty and famed white Kermode or ‘Spirit Bear’.
Port McNeill is partially named after its harbour, which is open year-round for commercial and pleasure boats of all sizes. Centrally located and close to amenities, this convenient harbour has become a major supply point for sailors travelling along the inner straits of Vancouver Island.
Day hikers can explore the Salt Marsh Trail, Schoolhouse Trail, or stroll along the seawall and discover the 1938 steam donkey used for logging. For more hiking opportunities, head a few minutes south to Telegraph Cove.
Nearby Nimpkish Lake is a beautiful recreation area and windsurfing hot spot, thanks to strong, consistent thermal winds that blow through every summer afternoon. The highlight of the windsurfing season here is the Nimpkish Lake Speed Slalom Windsurfing Weekend, held in early August. For more information, including camping opportunities, explore our windsurfing section.
British Columbia’s largest marine park, the Broughton Archipelago is an island chain in the Queen Charlotte Strait made up of dozens of undeveloped islands and islets. The park is teeming with wildlife, such as bald eagles, salmon, seals and a variety of whale species. Broughton Archipelago is best accessed by a kayak or a light vessel under power. An immersive coastal experience awaits.
The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve was established in 1982 to protect the approximately 200 killer whales (orcas) that travel through this area annually. Motorized boats must refrain from entering the area, but whale watching tours travel along the borders of the sanctuary to catch views of the mythical sea mammals.
From bald eagles, to humpback whales and orcas, to grizzly bears and more, you are truly in wild country in this corner of Vancouver Island. With plenty of tour companies to choose from, you are sure to have the experience of a lifetime as you explore the diverse wildlife and unforgettable landscapes. Whether you’re a tourist hoping to see some incredible sights, or a photographer l looking to capture once-in-a-lifetime moments, there’s something for everyone in this breathtaking location.
The northeast side of Vancouver Island is recognized as one of the best cold-water diving locations in the world. With crystal-clear waters and exciting sea life such as wolf eels, sea otters, ling cod, rock fish, sea anemones, and massive kelp beds, it’s an experience you won’t forget. Local dive companies can provide you with equipment for your preferred diving style and help you get the most out of your experience.
Nimpkish Lake Park boasts nearly 10,000 acres of lush west coast wilderness. Old growth hemlocks and diverse ecological and wildlife fill this protected area just south of Port McNeil. Nimpkish Lake, which is believed to be the deepest lake on Vancouver Island, offers canoeing, fresh water fishing, swimming and windsurfing. With the nearest lodging 30 km away in Port McNeil, Nimpkish Lake Park only offers back-country camping.
Telegraph Cove grew from a fishing and canning village into an eco-tourism hub attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Even though Telegraph Cove only has about 20 year-round inhabitants, this small village has much to offer. Visit the historic Whale Museum, go kayaking, take out a boat and fish the stunning waters, or check out the impressive wildlife. This scenic area of the island offers incredible beauty everywhere you look, and there’s something for everyone.
Alert Bay on Cormorant Island is site of the oldest community on Vancouver Island, where the ‘Namgis First Nation’s culture continues to thrive. The U’mista Cultural Centre is the longest-running First Nations museum in all of Canada. Themed walking tours will take you across the island, pausing to take in the Alert Bay Library-Museum, the traditional “Big House”, the world’s tallest totem pole, and more.
Sointula, located on Malcom Island, translates to “place of harmony” in Finnish. Like Alert Bay, Sointula also historically belonged to the ‘Namgis First Nation. This isolated village was settled in 1901 by Finnish idealists who hoped to create a utopian socialist society. While the experiment failed after a few years, the town remained and some cooperative ventures (like the Sointula Co-operative Store) still operate today. During your visit to Sointula, be sure to check out the local hiking trails, Sointula Museum, fishing lodge, and artist studios.
Port McNeil and the surrounding areas have roots back as far as 9,000 years ago, with the arrival of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. Today the ‘Namgis First Nation, a group within the larger Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, inhabit what is traditionally known as Yalis on Cormorant Island, located a short sail away from Port McNeill.
Named after Captain William Henry McNeill of the Hudson Bay Company, Port McNeill’s foundations have been laid with an enduring pioneering spirit. Port McNeil was originally a base camp for loggers and became a British settlement in 1936. It was, notably, the first town to be incorporated under the law of the new Canadian Constitution in 1966. In stark contrast with its logging history, Port McNeill is now the reforestation capital of northern Vancouver Island.