This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.

Leave the confines of Vancouver, and head out on the ocean via BC Ferries to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Set your sights on the northern region of Vancouver Island, which is steeped in First Nations heritage, and a variety of forest and marine life, including whales, grizzly bears, eagles and more. Enjoy spectacular coastlines, and lush rainforest, while discovering the area’s rich and still-living Indigenous culture.

Province: British Columbia

Length: 4 Nights / 5 Days

Dates: May 15 – September 30

Route: Vancouver – Courtenay – Alder Bay – Alert Bay – Port McNeill – Port Hardy

[This is the perfect itinerary for visitors wanting to travel to Prince Rupert via BC Ferries]


Day 1: Vancouver – Nanaimo – Courtenay

Leaving Vancouver early in the morning, head out on the ocean via BC Ferries to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. From here, a 1 ½ hour drive will take you to the town of Courtenay, the traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. The I-Hos Gallery presents a collection of traditional and contemporary Northwest Coast artwork, including masks, prints, gold and silver jewelry, wood carvings and more. Meet the Kumugwe Dancers in Courtenay as they share the songs and dances of the K’ómoks and Kwakwaka’wakw peoples.

Overnight in Courtenay

Kumugwe Dance Troupe, K’ómoks First Nation. Photo courtesy I-Hos Gallery

Day 2: Courtenay – Alder Bay – Alert Bay – Port McNeill

This morning, drive up the coastline for 2 3/4 hours to Alder Bay (located between Telegraph Cove and Port McNeill) where you will travel by zodiac to the friendly village of Alert Bay, and join a guided cultural tour with Sea Wolf Adventures. You will visit the U’mista Cultural Centre, and take a walk into the past. You will learn about the potlatch system; and see and hear how Kwakwaka’wakw people of today are reconnecting with their ancestors’ ways. You will come away with a deeper understanding of the traditional life and spiritual way of viewing the world. Upon arrival back at Alder Bay, drive 30 minutes north to Port McNeill for your overnight stay.

Overnight in Port McNeill [Black Bear Resort]

Mike Willie of Sea Wolf Adventures leading a cultural tour

Day 3: Port McNeill – Broughton Archipelago Exploring

This morning, you’ll enjoy the second half of your tour with Sea Wolf Adventures when you take a short drive to the dock to embark on the full-day excursion by boat through the Broughton Archipelago and into beautiful X̱a̱ḵwika̱n (Thompson Sound). Your guide will navigate the sheltered waters in search of marine life and wildlife, such as humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, sea lions, eagles and wolves. The Broughton’s are also home to many beaches that were once ancient villages occupied by the Musg̱a̱makw Dzawada̱’enux̱w.

Later, you will board a truck to bring you further up the beautiful X̱a̱ḵwika̱n River, true backcountry and home to the grizzly bears. While you wait – at a quiet and safe sitting area – for the grizzlies to come and feast on wild salmon, your guide will tell you traditional stories. Afterwards, enjoy a wild salmon BBQ lunch. On your return route you will see ancient pictographs, and at Gwayasda̱ms on Gilford Island you will view the oldest standing Big House in Canada, erected in 1887.

Overnight in Port McNeill [Black Bear Resort]

Grizzly Bears of the Wild Tour – Sea Wolf Adventures

Day 4: Port McNeill – Port Hardy

Take the morning to relax and enjoy a leisurely drive to Port Hardy. Here, discover the traditional territory of the Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations on boat or hiking excursions. Your home for the next night is the Kwa’lilas Hotel – a premier First Nations destination hotel, offering 85 guestrooms and a curated selection of authentic local Indigenous arts and culture. Meaning “a place to sleep,” the “Kwa’lilas” hotel was named by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Elders in hopes that guests may find peaceful rest after a day of exploration on North Vancouver Island.

Overnight in Port Hardy at the Kwa’lilas Hotel


Day 5: Leave Port Hardy

Extend your stay in Port Hardy, travel by BC Ferries to Prince Rupert, or explore more First Nations culture on Vancouver Island.


This itinerary can be booked by visiting our package website at IndigenousCanada.Travel 


Dené Sinclair

Dené Sinclair

Dené Sinclair was ITAC's Director of Marketing. She lives and works in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis Nation. She acknowledges her traditional homeland around Selkirk, Manitoba (St. Peter’s Band) as a member of Peguis First Nation and a proud Anishinaabekwe.