A scenic little island just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, Hornby Island packs a lot of things to do and great viewpoints into a small, manageable package. Whether you are most interested in active pursuits like hiking or kayaking or looking to tour some art galleries and drink some wine, Hornby Island has plenty of options. It is a popular tourist destination in summer as it is one of the best islands to visit in BC, although the extra effort required to reach it keep it from ever getting too busy.
If you are wondering what to do on Hornby Island during your visit here are 13 choices that will keep you busy for days.
13 Outstanding Things to Do on Hornby Island
Visit a Hornby Island Beach
Beaches are always favourite summer hangouts for people of all ages. Along with Comox Lake, Hornby Island has some of the best beaches on northern Vancouver Island. When people are deciding what to do on Hornby Island going to the beach is usually one of the first choices and the Hornby Island weather means that summer is hot and dry. Perfect beach weather. If you are there during the fall, winter or spring seasons the beaches are still worth visiting for a walk along the water’s edge and exploring during low tide.
Tribune Bay Provincial Park
Tribune Bay Provincial Park covers 95 hectares of natural terrain, boasts one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Gulf Islands and is famous for its fascinating sandstone formations. Guarded by the beautiful bluffs of St. John’s Point (part of Helliwell Provincial Park) the water in Tribune Bay is surprisingly warm and in summer the bright aqua water can feel almost tropical. Plus, it stays shallow quite a ways out, making it a very safe place to swim. It is a common stopping point for recreational boats and sailboats making their way up the coast. Of course, the beach isn’t the only attraction of Tribune Bay, as there are also picnic tables, a picnic shelter, public toilets and even a tennis court.
Little Tribune Bay Beach
Located right next to Tribune Bay Provincial Park, this pretty little area offers slightly different terrain and views, some of which are directly related to its reputation as a clothing optional beach.
Whaling Station Bay
Located just north of Helliwell Provincial Park, Whaling Station Bay has one of the more popular beaches on Hornby Island, with nice homes lining the surrounding hills. To get there you turn at the Co-op and follow St. John’s Point Road to Anderson Drive where you will pass a number of small beach accesses, each with a few parking spots.
Another wide beach with safe, shallow water, Whaling Station Bay is a terrific place for families to settle in for the day. On the busy days of summer the atmosphere can be very festive, often including group games of beach volleyball.
While the former whaling station is long gone, wildlife lovers will enjoy exploring the tide pools that appear during certain tide cycles, many birds frequent the area and sometimes you can even spot eagles hunting perch.
Fossil Beach (Boulder Point)
This gorgeous spot is a favourite of paddle boarders when the tide is in and perfect for exploring on foot when the tide is out. It is also a great place to see wildlife. Eagles, seals and crabs are drawn by fish trapped in the tide pools and often stick around to enjoy the water left behind on the rocks that has been warmed by the sun.
For something a little more isolated, you should check out Mushroom Beach in Helliwell Provincial Park. Surrounded by picturesque cliffs, the climb down to the beach can be tricky but can be worth it to enjoy the calm water and secluded location.
Go Shopping for Art
Hornby Island has long attracted artists of every type. Even though Salt Spring Island is also rightly famous for its art community, Hornby has far more art studios per capita and actually has one of the densest art populations in the entire country. Its extensive community of resident artists includes writers, musicians, painters and photographers, sculptors, potters and wood and metal workers. If you are interested in getting involved you can check out the Hornby Island Arts Council website. Whatever your artistic fancy, chances are you will be spoiled for choice among the studios and galleries of Hornby Island.
Check Out the Mountain Biking Trails
Though not as well-known as the famous network of mountain biking trails around nearby Cumberland, Hornby Island is also a mountain biking mecca with over 80 km of surprisingly varied trails scattered around the island. They are open year-round due to the warm winters and surprisingly good drainage, with options to suit all levels of biker from recreational beginner to hard-core biking fanatic.
Because the island receives so much precipitation the trails generally pass through lush greenery and atmospheric ferns and the trails tend to be smooth and grippy rather than dry and dusty. Fewer roots makes for fast and comfortable riding.
With trails spread out around the island, chances are wherever you choose to stay you will only be a short ride from the nearest trailhead. The bike shop in Ringside Market, officially Hornby Island Outdoor Sports, handles repairs, offers hourly, daily and weekly bike rentals and also has trail maps, parts and accessories. The Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association’s website is also a great source of biking info and event information.
Scuba Dive with Hornby Island Diving
The calm, nutrient-rich waters of Helliwell Park are a wonderland of marine life, featuring excellent visibility and gentle currents, making it a great place to try your hand at scuba diving. The unique sandstone reefs and diverse sea life lure avid divers from all around the world. All year-round you are likely to spot harbour seals, rock fish, ling cod, wolf eels, Giant Pacific octopus, vibrant anemones and enthralling nudibranchs. During the winter months, Steller’s and California sea lions follow large schools of herring to the area, delighting divers with their underwater feeding acrobatics.
Flora Islet, just off St. John’s Point, was recently added to the park by the Pacific Marine Heritage Legacy. It is one of just two dive sites in the entire world where you can see rare Six-Gill sharks. Marine biologists and recreational divers flock to Hornby Island to witness these ancient, deep-sea sharks when they occasionally forego the depths for the enticing shallows of Flora Islet. In addition to the amazing variety of marine life, Hornby also boasts a wide range of dive types, from shallow starter dives to deep, wall and drift dives. Hornby Island Diving is located at Ford’s Cove.
Go for a Hike
Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park
Featuring a stunning ridge running along the north and west sides of the Geoffrey Escarpment, this park has several trails offering outstanding views of Denman Island, Vancouver Island and the long range of the Coast Mountains just inland. On a clear day, the snowy slopes of Mount Washington can seem close enough to touch.
Starting on the north side of the escarpment, you can climb a steep flight of wooden stairs to reach the start of the Cliff Trail, one of the best hikes in the Comox Valley region. This trail is about 6 km out and back, but we tacked on the Outer Ridge Trail at the northwestern corner. Completing both trails out and back will involve about 12 km / 3 hrs / 400m elevation gain but you can make it as long or short as you choose. If you are staying long enough, you can find several more variations on the AllTrails app.
Helliwell Provincial Park
Meanwhile, there is more to Helliwell Provincial Park than just great scuba diving. On dry land, its picturesque rocky headland and imposing stands of old-growth Douglas fir also offer some amazing hiking trails. Gifted to the people of British Columbia from noted philanthropist John Helliwell, these gorgeous bluffs are located right next to the stupendous beaches of Tribune Bay.
All along the ridge there are awe-inspiring views of the Strait of Georgia and the inland Coast Mountains and, if you’re lucky, you’ll also be treated to plenty of wildlife sightings, the specific species varying by season. Unlike the northern temperate rainforest more common along this stretch of Vancouver Island, the trails of Helliwell park pass through uniquely dry, desert-like areas lined with ancient Douglas firs and photogenically twisted Garry oaks.
Kayak Around the Island
As previously noted, the waters around Hornby Island are known for being calm, warm and filled with marine life. All the same qualities that make it an excellent scuba diving destination also make it the perfect place for sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and even skim boarding. Well-protected on either side by Vancouver Island and the mainland, this group of Gulf Islands represent one of the most placid regions anywhere in the Georgia Strait. At different times throughout the year you can see whales, seals and sea lions, and always a wide range of eagles and other birds.
You can rent kayaks, paddle boards and skim boards from Hornby Ocean Kayaks in Big Tribune Bay (head down from the Co-op past the Tribune Bay campground to the Shields Road beach access). They supply boards, kayaks and wetsuits in all sizes (including canine PFDs) and will even deliver gear to other parts of the island for a small fee.
Visit a Vineyard
As if there weren’t already enough to recommend Hornby Island, they even produce some of the finest wines in the Gulf Islands. There are a number of a places to find the best local wines:
Founded in 1999 by owners John Grayson and Joan Costello, Hornby Island Estate Winery uses local British Columbia fruits and berries to produce a variety of outstanding wine, port and sherry. They also use proprietary fine bubble technology to produce a number of sulfite-free sparkling wines.
Along with phenomenal wines, Isla de Lerena Vineyards has a superb location offering incredible views. You can work your way through your favourite vintages (or range of beers) in their new lounge and even order some sustenance from their on-site pizza kitchen.
Middle Mountain Mead is an artisan honey winery that produces premium handcrafted mead, a unique and traditional local concoction. They combine both ancient and modern methods to produce the very best version of this classic refreshment.
Visit an Artisan Studio
Hornby Island is a riddled with studios, galleries and workshops, far too many to list them all. We recommend stopping in at the Co-op to pick up a Studio Guide which will help you focus your efforts into a manageable list.
Shop at Hornby Farmer’s Market
Located on Sollans Road next to the RCMP office on a spot known as “The Copse”, the farmer’s market takes place from 11 am – 2 pm every Saturday from the May long weekend to the end of September. In July and August, a second weekly market runs Wednesdays at the same time.
The BC Farmer’s Market Association motto is “Make it, Bake it, Grow it”, a philosophy intended to ensure the best quality and maximum diversity. Made up of long-term island residents, the market features a diverse group of artists, bakers, growers, hand-crafting specialists and even performance artists. Shoppers can choose from a wide variety of products including produce/plants, take away food, baking and drinks, jams, preserves, pickles, jewellery, ceramics, woodwork, clothing, seaweed skin care and edibles, painting/mixed media/fine art, photography and soaps and lotions.
Take a Yoga Class
Located in a sunny cedar grove surrounded by impressive ferns and maples, Sun Door Yoga is a tranquil Hornby Island retreat. With a peaceful and intimate atmosphere, this comprehensive yoga retreat features classes, workshops, rentals and accommodation.
Participate in the Hornby Festival
This 9-day art festival is known as one of the most unique and memorable summer festivals in Canada. The Hornby Festival runs each year in late July and early August, featuring 12 to 16 concerts, as well as its hugely popular “Art in Unusual Places” – short sets performed by mainstage artists in strange locations around the island. Past “unusual places” include Big Tribune Bay beach, Sandpiper Bluffs and even the recycling depot.
Stay Up Late and Go Star Gazing
A lack of large-scale urbanization makes Hornby Island an excellent place for star gazing provided, of course, you are lucky enough to enjoy clear night skies. Island Stars Observatory, near Whaling Station Bay Beach, is open to the public and is an enjoyable and informative island highlight.
Charter a Boat to go Fishing or on a Sightseeing Cruise
In high season you can choose from a large selection of public group tours. However, any time of year you can charter your own boat and customize the day to fit your particular interests, whether that be fishing, wildlife watching or simply enjoying the stupendous scenery. Hornby Island Ocean Adventures offers a wide range of tour options.
Day Trips to Hornby Island
Hornby Island is best enjoyed over a few days to have the chance to slow down and truly enjoy what the island offers. However, if you are short on time you can easily do a day trip if you are in the Comox Valley area. There are a total of 4 ferries to get to Hornby Island from Vancouver Island and back again. They ferries are only 10 minutes and quite frequent and the timing is set to make it easy to drive across Denman Island to catch the next ferry to Hornby Island. On a day trip you should be able to tour the island, visit a beach, go art shopping and go for a hike.
When to Go to Hornby Island
The permanent population of Hornby Island is just over 1,000 but during the busy summer months it can increase to as much as 4,000. Even at that number, though, the island doesn’t feel particularly crowded. When you choose to go will depend on the type of trip you are looking for.
Summer has the best weather and the majority of events and festivals. The water is warm and the beaches bustling.
Winter is best for quiet and solitude. Between October and April many shops, studios, restaurants and tourist services either shut down completely or only open on weekends. It may be tough to find places to eat out during this time.
As with most places, the shoulder seasons offer a terrific combination of good weather, open facilities and smaller crowds. Visiting in September after the Labour Day Weekend is a great choice, as are May and June. Local hikers recommend visiting in late April and early May, the best time to enjoy the endless expanse of wildflowers covering the hills and cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park.
Hornby Island Camping
Although Hornby boasts some of the nicest campgrounds on Vancouver Island, there are a limited number of sites and they tend to fill up quickly in summer. Consider reserving your campsite well in advance.
Tribune Bay Campsite can be found just before the Shields Road beach access next to Tribune Bay Provincial Park. With plenty of trees for shade and conveniently close to the Ringside Co-op, it an excellent place to base yourself if you prefer having everything within walking distance.
Bradsdadsland Campsite, on the west coast of the island, may have a strange name but this family-friendly Hornby Island campground boasts a commanding location on the bluffs overlooking Lambert Channel. They have a good range of sites for all campers, from grassy and sunny to shady and private.
Ford’s Cove Campground is a small, quiet spot well away from the main road. Very close to the great hikes and amazing scenery of Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park, it is also just minutes from the government wharf and nearby sandstone beaches.
Hornby Island Glamping
The latest hot trend in camping is “glamping”, a luxury camping experience intended to provide the best of both worlds.
Lerena Vineyards offer 9 comfortable permanent glamping tents surrounding a pond from May through September. There is an island gazebo, modern shower house, eco-friendly composting toilets, propane fire rings, a barbeque and even wi-fi.
Fossil Beach Farm is a century-old private working farm covering 80 peaceful acres on the west side of the island. On land running right up to the ocean, these fully furnished glamping tents are peaceful and quiet.
For detailed descriptions and prices check out:
Hornby Island Accommodation
Hornby Island accommodations fill up quickly in summer so you should book well ahead. Along with all the campgrounds, there is a good mix of other accommodation types as well, including hotels, lodges, B&Bs, private cabins and houses. There is also a wide range of prices, with beachfront and ocean view suites falling toward the upper end of the scale.
Hornby Island Vacation Rentals
There are over 75 vacation rentals on the island. They are mostly stand-alone houses, cottages or cabins and sleep 2 – 8 people that can be booked directly with the owners.
If you prefer AirBnb Hornby Island has almost 10 listings ranging from a single room to an entire cottage.
Hornby Island Hotels, Lodges, Cabins and Cottages
The Sea Breeze Lodge has 16 fully equipped cottages on an outstanding, secluded location on Tralee Point. There is also a cliff-side hot tub, grass tennis court and spectacular ocean-view restaurant.
Hornby Island Resort is a small, rural space with a diverse set of rental cabins, hotel rooms and campsites. There is also a pub and licensed family restaurant on-site at this oceanfront resort near the ferry landing.
You can rent self-contained one and two-bedroom cottages at Ford’s Cove. Within walking distance of shops, galleries and the government wharf, all units have showers, electric heat, open-air decks and fully equipped kitchens.
Where to Eat on Hornby Island
Hornby Island Bakery & Pizzeria – in Hornby town at 4 corners offering great pizzas and baked goods.
Forage Farm and Kitchen – a true farm-to-fork restaurant that offers ingredients directly from their Hornby Island farm on a seasonally inspired menu.
Ford’s Cove Marina – offers pizza, whole or by the slice, as well as sandwiches, baked goods and ice cream.
The Thatch Pub and Restaurant – located right at the ferry dock with great views over the water. They are the only pub on the island and also offer a full menu.
Often overlooked in favour of its charming neighbour, Denman Island has some great spots to visit as well. Boyle Point Provincial Park, in particular, is worth a detour on your way to or from Hornby. The park encompasses the entire southern tip of the island and the trailhead is only about a 5-minute drive from the Hornby Island ferry landing. The hike to Boyle Point is just 2.5 km round-trip and offers two amazing viewpoints. Adventurous types can climb down to Eagle Rock with its outstanding rocky bay, distant views of Chrome Island and, in our case, frolicking seals. A little further along is the magnificent Chrome Island viewpoint, which provides a good vantage point for the Chrome Island lighthouse, all framed by the mainland mountains in behind.
How to Get to Hornby Island
Hornby Island is located just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, in the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and is normally accessed by ferry from Buckley Bay. It is possible to fly to nearby Comox Airport (YQQ).
It is also possible to arrive directly on Hornby Island at Ford Cove by boat or float plane through a private charter.
Hornby Island Ferry
How to get from Vancouver to Hornby Island by ferry
Hornby Island is located two islands east of Vancouver Island, north of Nanaimo. Including driving time and three separate ferry connections, the trip from Vancouver takes approximately five hours. First you take the Horseshoe Bay ferry across to Nanaimo ($60/vehicle + $20/pp).
From Nanaimo to Hornby Island
Drive north to Buckley Bay. Once at the Buckley Bay ferry terminal you take the 15-minute ferry to Denman Island ($19/pp return), drive across to the east side of Denman (staying on the main road the whole way to get to the Hornby ferry terminal), and then take another 15-minute ferry to Hornby Island ($19/pp return).
Hornby Island is a wonderful, scenic gem that should be on every visitor’s Vancouver Island bucket list. Whether you are an art lover, beach bum, avid hiker or just enjoy great scenery, Hornby makes an excellent day trip or a great place to spend a few nights.
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