The town of Port McNeill is a thriving community on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Established in 1937, Port McNeill was named after William McNeill, a Boston-born explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
As well as being the centre of North Island logging operations, the town’s sheltered harbour is also a launching point for sportsfishing enthusiasts who test their skills in the maze of waterways between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
Location: Port McNeill is located on the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island. The top half of 280-mile-long Vancouver Island is served by a maze of logging roads and Highway 19 (north Island Hwy), which links Campbell River with Port McNeill and Port Hardy, the southern terminus of BC Ferries’ Inside Passage and Discovery Coast routes. Port Hardy is the closest commercial Airport providing flights to Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and many coastal communities.
Tree Burls: See the two largest burls in the world, both located in Port McNeill – and both signposted as the World’s Largest Burl. The first burl to be called the world’s biggest burl was cut from the base of a 351-year-old Sitka Spruce tree in 1976. The burl weighs an estimated 22 tons and measures 45 feet in circumference. The new contender for the title was carved off a tall Sitka Spruce tree near Holberg on northern Vancouver Island in 2005. At 6 metres tall, 6 metres in diameter, and weighing an estimated 30 tons, the burl is located in a waterfront park next to downtown Port McNeill. Burls are naturally occurring abnormal formations that develop when extra cells grow on a tree. Small burls are used to make attractive table tops and clocks.
BC Ferries: Port McNeill is a terminus for the Tri-Island route, a BC Ferry connector service to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island and Sointula on Malcolm Island. Both communities are worthy destinations for day-tripping foot passengers.
Outdoor Adventure: At the North Island’s geographic hub, tour operators offer a wide variety of excursions, including hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, diving, fishing, spelunking, and wildlife viewing. Dense forests, tranquil lakes, spectacular views of Broughton Strait, and plenty of wildlife make this a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Wildlife: The area around Port McNeill is natural habitat for birds and sea life. Eagles soar high above, while sandpipers and herons dart along the ocean shore. Sea lions, porpoises, and whales may be seen in the offshore waters.
Port McNeill Heritage Museum is a good place to delve into the history of the Port McNeill area. Artifacts on display include a Grand Jewel wood stove, cider press, antique typewriters, historic photographs, vintage phonographs, snow shoes, and a 1904 Humber Motor Bike – all housed in a fine log building.
North Island Discovery Centre is a foresty interpretive centre offering displays and free forestry tours in the summer, providing visitors with the opportunity to learn about the mighty forest industry in British Columbia. Check out a working fish incubation box and spawning redd, or find out what a Madill tower is all about. Located at the junction of Highway 19 and the road to Telegraph Cove.
Nimpkish Lake is a hot spot for serious windsurfers thanks to the strong, reliable winds that rise here on summer afternoons. Bring your wet suit and everything else you may need, as the nearest town is Port McNeill. Enjoy the views of the rugged mountainscape that surround the lake. Island Highway 19 parallels the entire east side of Nimpkish Lake.
Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park is a wilderness area consisting of a maze of several small islands, numerous islets and adjacent foreshore at the southern extremity of Queen Charlotte Strait, off the west coast of Gilford Island. The islands in the marine park are undeveloped and largely undiscovered. Facilities are limited to a day-use recreation site. The numerous remote, solitary islands incorporated in the park are fabulous for exploring by kayak, and provide unlimited and unique fishing and swimming opportunities.
Lower Nimpkish Provincial Park is situated to the north of Nimpkish Lake and southeast of Port McNeill. There are no facilities available in the park. Wilderness, walk-in or paddle-in camping is allowed but not recommended.
Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park is situated on the southwestern side of Nimpkish Lake, south of Port McNeill. Wilderness camping is permitted in the scenic park, and Nimpkish Lake Recreation Site and Kinman Camp provide picnic tables and walk-in campsites. Nimpkish Lake also offers excellent freshwater fishing and a boat launch.
Marble River Provincial Park protects the Marble River canyon and the river’s estuary at Varney Bay on Rupert Inlet. Salmon spawning viewing areas are located near the trailhead and at Bear Falls, and a forest recreation site adjacent to the park offers camping and a boat launch. The Marble River is considered one of the best steelhead fishing rivers on Vancouver Island.
Cape Scott Provincial Park is reached via Holberg. The park is a rugged and rain-soaked wilderness, but a network of trails originally cut by enterprising Danish settlers makes it a paradise for the well-prepared hiker. From the park’s main parking lot, historic trails traverse the upland areas in two directions, either north to Cape Scott or southwest to San Josef Bay. The North Coast Trail extends a further 43.1 km from Nissen Bight to Shushartie Bay. There are more than 35 miles of ocean frontage within the park, composed of rocky headlands and promonotories interspersed with wide, sandy beaches. Cape Scott’s strategic location means that it is a natural gathering place for migratory birds. Cape Scott Park is also home to wolves and bears.
Robson Bight (Michael Biggs) Ecological Reserve is visited by up to 200 Orcas each summer when the whales arrive to rub themselves on the gravel beaches at the mouth of the Tsitika River. As the ecological reserve is a sanctuary for killer whales, all motorized boats must refrain from entering the reserve. Whale watching occurs outside the sanctuary, conducted by whale watching companies based in Port McNeill, Telegraph Cove, Alert Bay, and Sointula.
Little Hustan Cave Park: Take a side trip and explore the caves of the Quatsino System, a network of caves that honeycomb Vancouver Island between here and the Strathcona Provincial Park/Gold River region.
Golf: Golfers can head to the public, 9-hole, Par 35 Seven Hills Golf & Country Club in nearby Port Hardy, the northernmost golf course on Vancouver Island. Seven Hills offers the golfer meadering fairways and undulating greens, with scenic views of the North Island Mountains. Open year round. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Boating: The Port McNeill Boat Harbour is open year round, with both commercial and pleasure berthing available for all boat sizes. It is centrally located, so laundry, shopping, banking, liquor, pharmaceuticals, tackle, repairs, and doctors are all just a short walk away. As such, Port McNeill has become a major re-supply point for travellers up and down the coast of British Columbia.
Mt. Cain Ski Resort is a low-key, family-oriented ski hill with two T-bars and 1 beginners tow servicing 18 runs. There are approximately 15 kilometres of marked cross-country trails at the base of the mountain, and the terrain in the surrounding area is suitable for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing. Mt. Cain is about 1.5 hours south of Port McNeill.
Viewpoint: Just north of Port McNeill beside Highway 19 near the ‘375 km’ marker is a panoramic lookout offering views south along Broughton Strait past the Pultenay Point lighthouse towards Alert Bay, and east across Queen Charlotte Strait to the British Columbia mainland. The North Island Route is one of Vancouver Island’s most scenic drives, taking travellers through the pristine wilderness of this spectacularly beautiful, densely forested area.
Port McNeill is an excellent base for day trips to nearby communities such as the Nimpkish Valley, Port Alice, Port Hardy, Zeballos and Telegraph Cove. Port McNeill…wilder than your dreams, closer than you think.
Charter a boat or seaplane and visit Echo Bay on Gilford Island, the largest of the islands in the Broughton Archipelago. Visitors to the area are welcomed to a scenic area and wide range of activities in and around Echo Bay and Echo Bay Marine Provincial Park.