Winter Harbour is the true “end of the road”, an outpost community off Quatsino Sound on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in remote northern Vancouver Island.
The village of Winter Harbour got its name in the 1800s, when its sheltered harbour became a haven for sailing ships. Today, the docks are always busy, providing modern recreation and commercial fishing boats with the same welcome respite.
This boardwalk community puts visitors close to the wildlife and remoteness of northern Vancouver Island. Winter Harbour is the perfect base for hiking Cape Scott Provincial Park and exploring beaches, some just minutes from here.
At the northern tip of the island, a network of publicly accessible logging roads has opened up wilderness areas on the west coast and provides access to Winter Harbour.
Location: Winter Harbour is located a 40-minute drive south of Holberg on northern Vancouver Island. Highway 19, the main highway serving Vancouver Island, links Port Hardy with Victoria and all other major centres on the island. Other communities in the North Island, including Holberg and Port Alice, are connected to Port Hardy by well-maintained highways.
Scenic Boardwalk: Like many coastal towns in British Columbia, houses in Winter Harbour were built along the waterfront, many on stilts. The houses are joined by a boardwalk over the silt and water.
Botel Park Trail is a short but beautiful hike through rainforest, passed Robson Island and Low Island, to a rocky beach, providing fantastic views of Mathews Island, Forward Inlet, Quatsino Sound, and the Pacific Ocean.
Kwaksistah Regional Park is set among tall trees on Winter Harbour, just before entering the village. A rustic user-maintained campground provides 12 campsites, fire pits, pit toilets, picnic tables, two sheltered barbecues, and a boat launch for very small boats.
Quatsino Sound is a huge sound that leads in from the Pacific Ocean, almost separating the north island region. A marine wildlife tour from Winter Harbour out to Quatsino Sound will put visitors even closer to the abundant marine life in the area – gray whales, sea lions, seals, otters and thousands of shorebirds. Located on or off the sound are the communities of Winter Harbour, Quatsino, Coal Harbour and Port Alice.
Grant Bay Trail: Grant Bay is an isolated bay on the north side of the entrance to Quatsino Sound from the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Winter Harbour. Bounded by a shore of shoals and rocks, the main attraction of Grant Bay is the long and remote sandy beach. The Grant Bay Trail is a hike of 2-1/2 hours one way, passing the mud flats on the west side of Browning Inlet. Access to the trailhead is off West Main.
Ronning Gardens: On the way to Winter Harbour, visit the garden and homestead established by Norwegian settler Bernt Ronning in 1910. Ronning wrote to all corners of the world asking for exotic seedlings, planting nearly 5 acres with many species of trees, shrubs and flowers collected from all over the world. His house and garden became a regular way station for the settlers hiking from Cape Scott, Raft Cove, and San Josef Bay. After Ronning died in 1963, the garden was reclaimed by the temperate rainforest until the property was purchased some years later and the garden freed from the invading rainforest. Find old and new Monkey Puzzle Trees; drifts of bulbs in spring; old rhododendrons in early summer; maple, beech, and oak leaves in fall; and gnarled branches in winter. The Ronning Gardens are located beside San Josef Wagon Road approximately 15 km west of Holberg, and can be reached by a pleasant 10-minute walk on a restored section of the old San Josef Wagon Road.
Raft Cove Provincial Park is a wonderfully scenic park that attracts wilderness adventurers on day hikes, or backpackers carrying in overnight gear to set up camp on the 1.3-km sandy beach – a great place to really get away from it all. The hike in from the car park is a challenging hike on a very rough and muddy trail. Accessed via the Ronning Main logging road.
Lawn Point Provincial Park is located south of Quatsino Sound, which is accessible by boat from Winter Harbour. The 560-hectare wilderness park has no facilities, and protects unique geological and botanical features, as well as endangered old-growth forest, rocky shoreline and intertidal beach.
Quatsino Provincial Park is located on northern Quatsino Sound. This 654-hectare undeveloped park contains known archaeological sites and protects a mature forest, some small lakes and the sheltered inlet of Koprino Harbour. The Koprino River estuary is noted for its critical fish rearing and waterfowl habitat, and is a popular eagle viewing area. Quatsino Provincial Park can be reached by logging roads from Holberg or by boat from Winter Harbour, Coal Harbour or Port Alice.
Cape Scott Provincial Park is a wilderness, preserving a truly magnificent area of coastal British Columbia. Visitors to the 21,849-hectare park can expect to find little development except hiking trails. Cape Scott Park is characterized by 64 kilometres of scenic and rugged ocean frontage, from Nissen Bay in the north to San Josef Bay in the south. Rocky promontories and jagged headlands are scattered along the remote and wide sandy beaches. Nels Bight is the most impressive of the 9 beaches in the park, at 2,400 metres long and over 200 metres wide!
There are opportunities for wilderness camping, hiking and wildlife viewing within Cape Scott Park. Trails range in length from two to over sixty kilometres, and from a pleasant stroll to the challenging and demanding test of skill and stamina on the the North Coast Trail. The incessant rain results in muddy and difficult conditions on primitive trails that provide some of the most tortuous terrain of any trail in British Columbia, but the visual and emotional rewards are beyond comparison, especially on a clear day.
There are no formal camping facilities inside the park. Wilderness camping is not restricted to particular sites. The more popular spots are near San Josef and Nels Bight. Fresh water is available at these sites as well as at the east end of Nissen Bight and at Guise Bay. Campers are urged to camp on the beach whenever possible to minimize damage to the fragile environment.
North of Winter Harbour is the hamlet of Holberg, once the site of the world’s largest floating logging camp. The lakes and waterways in the area are well protected for boating and kayaking.