11 Things To Do in Port Hardy, British Columbia
Located at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Port Hardy is a quaint coastal town that serves as a gateway to God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park. It lies within the traditional territory of the Kwagu’ł First Nation, as well as being the homelands of the Quatsino and Gwa’Sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw people.
This little-visited corner of British Columbia is home to secluded beaches, rugged hiking trails, and marine life filled waters that attract adventure-seeking travelers from near and far. Either before or after you head out to explore this coastal wilderness, why not spend a few days discovering the sights and charms of Port Hardy?
Read on to learn about some of the top things to do in Port Hardy, from feasting on local seafood to discovering a little-known airplane crash site.
1. Learn about the area’s Indigenous history and culture
Port Hardy is the traditional homelands of the Kwagu’ł, Gwa’Sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, and Quatsino people, with carved totems and elaborately painted big houses standing as a testament to their deeply rooted cultures. Join a Nakwakto Rapids & Cultural Tour to experience the traditional territory of the area’s First Nations peoples, including now-abandoned settlements and villages. At the Copper Maker, you can watch as cedar is transformed into Kwakwaka’wakw works of art, including canoes, paddles, and masks.
2. Hike the Fort Rupert Trail
Dubbed the “Commuter Trail” by locals, the Fort Rupert Trail extends for around 2.5 miles through the territory of the Kwagu’ł. It takes around an hour to walk, taking in old-growth forests and a hidden lake as it winds its way between Bear Cove Highway and Storeys Beach. In addition to gravel and dirt, the Fort Rupert Trail also features sections of boardwalk and is dotted with benches where you can sit and soak up the views. Why not pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at Storeys Beach where you’ll find picnic tables, barbecue pits, and a covered pavilion?
3. Explore the North Coast Trail
For a longer walk, you can challenge yourself on the 28-mile-long North Coast Trail, which connects Nissan Bight with Shushartie Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park. The route takes in sections of the old Settler’s Trail, which was established almost a century ago, as well as newly built boardwalks, bridges, and open beaches. Along the way, there are environmentally-sensitive campgrounds run by BC Parks where you can spend the night. From Port Hardy, there is a water taxi shuttle service that accesses the eastern trailhead at Shushartie Bay, with the journey taking around 60 minutes.
4. Try the local seafood
Port Hardy is renowned for its seafood, with fishing boats coming and going from the harbor almost every day. In addition to sockeye salmon and albacore tuna, the area has a long history of shellfish harvesting by First Nations communities. The Quatsino people have recently established a shellfish farming industry, with a new species of mussels as their focus. There are several restaurants in Port Hardy where you can try locally caught fish, prawns, and scallops, including Ha’me, Macy’s Place, and Karai Sushi.
5. Stroll along the Hardy Bay Seawall
Hugging the waterfront, the Hardy Bay Seawall is the perfect place for a stroll, either in the morning or the late afternoon. It connects to the bustling harbor where fishing boats can be seen coming and going, together with float planes transporting visitors and locals to and from Port Hardy. You can pay your respects at the war memorial in Carrot Park with its carved totems or continue on to Tsulquate Park to spot sea otters. In Kinsmen Park, there is a pavilion where you can relax over a picnic lunch.
6. Explore the Dakota 576 crash site
One of Port Hardy’s lesser-known attractions is the remains of a Dakota 576, a Royal Canadian Air Force plane that crashed here on April 19, 1944. It was on a navigation flight from Patricia Bay when bad weather hit and the pilot ran out of fuel as he attempted to land in Port Hardy. While two pilots died in the crash, the wireless air gunner managed to survive. A memorial plaque now marks the site’s location, which is located a short walk from the Port Hardy BC Ferries terminal.
7. Visit the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Center
If you’re interested in the local marine life, head to this interpretive center and salmon hatchery on the riverfront Quatse River Loop Trail. It’s home to numerous aquaria and habitat displays where you can learn about the lifecycle of salmon and how they survive in both freshwater and saltwater environments. In addition to offering tours of the hatchery, the center also runs regular workshops on fish culture and conserving the natural environment of salmon.
8. Go on a whale-watching tour
Northern Vancouver’s salmon population lures another marine creature to the area, the orca or killer whale. Sea kayaking tours offer a front-row seat for observing these magnificent marine mammals, together with Pacific white-sided dolphins and Steller sea lions. Not only that, but you can also spot humpback whales, minke whales, and Pacific harbor seals, together with a dizzying array of seabirds.
9. Go shopping along Market Street
Stretching north to south through Port Hardy is Market Street, which is lined with galleries and boutiques selling locally made handicrafts. At the West Coast Community Craft Shop, you’ll find handcrafted jewelry, clothing, and artworks, many of which reflect the area’s Indigenous cultural heritage. Several cafes also dot the route where you can relax over afternoon tea, as well as bookstores that invite you to lose yourself for an hour or so.
10. Kayak through God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park
Encompassing more than 2,000 hectares at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Strait, God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park comprises several islands and islets that are ideally explored by kayak. Legendary diver Jacques Cousteau rated the area as one of the best cold-water diving spots in the world, largely due to its exceptional marine diversity. Join one of our lodge-based sea kayaking trips to explore this magnificent natural area, accompanied by superb food prepared by our talented chefs. In addition to the abundant underwater life, God’s Pocket Provincial Park is also renowned for its regular sightings of whales, bald eagles, and seabirds.
11. Check out Cafe Guido and Co.
Combining a cozy cafe with a well-stocked bookshop, Cafe Guido and Co. is one of the most popular places to get a caffeine fix in Port Hardy. Come for the artisan coffee and baked goods, then stay to browse the extensive library detailing the area’s history. You can pick up locally made artworks and gifts or head upstairs to browse the unique fashions at Drift. Cafe Guido and Co. also runs a drive-thru premise if you’re just after a quick coffee on the go.