The Getaway
Hornby Island: What's the Big Deal?

Hornby Island, just off the east-central coast of Vancouver Island, has a reputation as the Hawaii of the North. You may be wondering how hyperbolic that is. This rugged northern Gulf Island has a lot in common with other Vancouver destinations, it's true. But Hornby Island's waters are warm and turquoise, and its weather is relatively mild. It's an MTB dreamland featuring otherworldly arbutus trees and incredible sunsets, and you can tune into its frequency.

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01 Tribune Bay Provincial Park

Let Tribune Bay Provincial Park's white sandy beaches and warm aquamarine waters transport you to the tropics for the day. The beach here is in a sheltered cove, so it's like a big flat swimming pool, and the soft sand is perfect for comfy sunbathing and building sandcastles. Other recreational activities available here include camping, fishing, canoeing, and you can play tennis on the court. The rock formations are a point of interest, and in spring, wildflowers add to the pretty picture. Parking shouldn't be a problem.

02 Helliwell Provincial Park

Fresh and beautiful view of Helliwell Provincial Park, Hornby Island Canada.

Hiking at Helliwell Provincial Park offers panoramic views of the Strait of Georgia. The trails are wide, and the terrain varies, making for a satisfying cliffside amble. You'll feel like you're in a desert, but the sparseness makes way for meadows and old-growth forests. The ecosystem here is delicate, so hikers are advised to stick to the trails so the unique flora and fauna of the area can continue to thrive. You can spot bald eagles, seals, and sea lions while doing the three-mile loop.

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03 Kayaking and paddleboarding

The tranquil, protected waters off of Hornby Island are ideal for sea kayaking, skim boarding, and SUPing, and providing the weather complies, you can get into a meditative rhythm at just about any time of year. Check out Hornby Ocean Kayaks for gear rentals, lessons, and guided tours that explore the island's secluded bays and coves. All ages are welcome, and you can bring your canine bestie along for the adventure too.

04 Local art and culture

Hornby Island's website features over four dozen local artists working in various mediums. It's rare to see such a dedicated spotlight on regional creators, so if you're interested in the arts, do have a look at what the island's makers have to offer, from stained glass to stonework. There's also a convenient Hornby Arts Map to point enthusiasts toward art studios. The annual Hornby Island Festival showcases local and regional talent and recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. It's a 10-day multi-genre summer party with world-class talent, and some of the performances are free. Attendees can take Indigenous workshops and hear K'ómoks First Nation storytelling, too.

05 Scuba diving adventures

Scuba diving near Hornby Island is a real thrill. Flora Islet and the Lambert Channel are known for their rich marine life and the opportunity to swim with 16-foot-long six-gill sharks in the summer. You can get up close and personal with wolf eels, giant Pacific octopuses, and sea lions too. Flora Islet is only accessible by boat and is suitable for advanced divers. You can launch from Deep Bay Marina or book a charter.

06 Cycling routes

Hornby Island is a hit with mountain bikers because of its relatively straightforward terrain and 72 trails of tacky dirt. Cycling here is doable for all skill levels, and there are over 50 miles of single-track to enjoy. It's a great place to pick up off-road biking. You can look forward to smooth and quick descents on Mount Geoffrey and a welcoming cycling community. Hikers frequent the Northwind and Cold Deck trails, so limit your speed here to 12 miles per hour and catch sunset on the Cliff Trail.

07 Beachcombing at Tribune Bay

Beachcombing at Tribune Bay is so therapeutic it deserves its own spot on this list of things to do on Hornby Island. Whether you have children with you or not, you'll delight in finding unique shells, moon snails, sand dollars, starfish, and other fascinating marine creatures at low tide. Black sand dollars are still alive, and the white ones are resting in peace. Local authorities recommend not removing live sand dollars from the beach.

08 Wildlife viewing

Big and old Eagle with an injured beak sitting on a rock covered in snow. Picture taken in Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Birders can spot dozens of feathered species on Hornby Island, including alcids, cormorants, loons, grebes, and yellow-headed pileated woodpeckers. You can go on birdsong identification walks with local ornithologists in Helliwel Park and beyond, and spring birding events aim to connect visitors and locals with the winged beauties flitting about. For whale watching, sightings are possible from Helliwell's headland. In January and February, Bigg's killer whales are attracted by the herring spawn and influx of edible mammals.

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09 Farm-to-Table dining

Hornby Island's dishes change with the seasons. If you're looking for fresh, organic farm-to-table fare, Forage Farm and Kitchen is all about rotating menus and colorful, well-plated slow food. Try the flavor-packed Vietnamese salad and Thai peanut noodle bowl and the amazing burgers and breakfast bowls. For comfort food, Hornby Island Bakery and Pizzeria make the best pies, and Hummingbird Bread Company will appease your sweet tooth with carrot cake and other treats.

10 Wineries and cideries

Isla de Lerena Vineyard is such a gorgeous backdrop to a scrumptious dinner with your partner or a group. You can go glamping at this winery and savor the live music and setting during summer. At Fossil Beach Farm, patrons can sip on either hard ciders or alcohol-free drinks while feasting on BBQ or a tasty salmon burger. The apple varieties used come from the Pacific Northwest. Fossil Beach Farm also offers glamping.

11 Fossil Beach exploration

Fossil beach is a great place to catch a sunset on Hornby Island, Brtiish Columbia, Canada.

Fossil Beach is known for its geological formations, plus it offers visitors the chance to discover fossils among the rocks. You can stumble across ammonites and many other animals from long, long ago. It's a messy business, and you'll need a rock pick to chip away at concretions. This cobble beach is accessible via a short wooded trail. During the herring spawn season in spring, birdlife is abundant.

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12 Stand-up paddleboarding at golden hour

A middle-aged woman stand up paddle boards on a bay at sunset in Canada.

Fossil Beach is also a great place for SUPing and whiling away a beautiful evening. While giving your core and arms a workout, you can hang out with seals as the sun begins to dip. It's so relaxing to be out on the water at the end of the day, and you can take a moment to reflect. Folks staying at Fossil Beach Farm have access to stand-up paddleboards.

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13 Accommodations

Some of the farms on Hornby Island offer luxurious glamping experiences. You can also go camping at Tribune Bay Campground and Outdoor Education Centre, Ford's Cove, and Bradsdadsland Campsite. With limited hotels, you're better off with well-appointed and tasteful Airbnbs. Hornby Island Cottage has waterfront access, and The Barn Suite has lovely amenities.

14 Island day trips

View of Chrome Island, from the ocean, off Denman Island, BC, Canada

Keen on a day trip out of Hornby Island? Why not visit its neighbor, Denman Island, for the full northern Gulf Island experience? Visit Corlan Farm Vineyard, see the Chrome Island Lighthouse at Boyle Point Provincial Park, and stroll through Morning Beach Park. Hornby Island is not far from Vancouver Island towns like Qualicum Beach and Courtenay. Check out the goats on the roof at the Old Country Market in Coombs or learn about the region's dinosaurs at the Courtenay & District Museum and Paleontology Center.

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15 Seasonal activities

We've mentioned the Hornby Island Festival, the summer event that's loaded with good vibes, music, and captivating storytelling. But what other events do the locals look forward to? The annual HerringFest is a big one. It involves sea life boat trips, a marine-themed community art show, and dancing at the Herring Ball.

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