If you’ve ever had the chance to travel to Sointula and/or Sointula Lodge, one of the best British Columbia fishing lodges the region has to offer, you’ve likely passed through Port McNeill.
Many travelers on their way to Malcolm Island only recognize Port McNeill as the spot where they catch a ferry on the final leg of their journey to our island. Unless you choose to travel to Sointula by seaplane from Seattle or Vancouver, you’ll have to pass through this small port town.
While you’re no doubt eager to get to Sointula and start your outdoor adventure, Port McNeil is worthy of a second look. Whether you have some time to kill before you catch the ferry or want to arrive the day before or extend your trip a bit longer, there’s plenty to see, do, and experience in this often overlooked town. Keep reading to learn how to spend anywhere from a few hours to a day in Port McNeill, British Columbia.
Getting to Port McNeill
If you don’t choose to book a ride on a seaplane for the final leg of your journey to Sointula, you’ll need to pass through Port McNeill instead, where you can catch a ride on one of several scheduled BC Ferry trips between the port town on Vancouver Island and the town of Sointula on Malcolm Island.
Port McNeill is located close to the Northern tip of Vancouver Island. From the city of Vancouver, it’s around a 6-hour drive to Port McNeill, including a BC Ferry Ride from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. From Seattle, it’s a 9-and-a-half-hour journey, including a ferry ride from Washington to Victoria on Vancouver Island, or through Vancouver, with a ferry ride from the city to the island.
Another option is to fly into Vancouver and then catch a flight to Port Hardy. This small airport features regular flights to Vancouver and is just a 35-minute drive to Port McNeill.
Checking the BC Ferry Schedule
One important aspect of planning a side trip to Port McNeill on your way to the best British Columbia fishing lodges or to the town of Sointula is to check the ferry schedule.
BC Ferries operates a regular daily ferry service between Port McNeill and the town of Sointula. Ferry rides last just 25-minutes each way. Most days during the summer, the ferry departs every few hours, with the first ferry leaving at 7:25 a.m. and the last ferry departing at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets cannot be purchased in advance. Instead, you’ll need to plan to arrive in time to buy your fare at the terminal. The check-in and ticket counter close 5-minutes before each scheduled sailing. Spots on the ferry are limited, and boarding is based on the order of arrival at the ferry terminal. This means that if you arrive late to a popular boarding time, you do run the risk of space-filling up and having to take a later ferry.
If you have scheduled fishing excursions or other activities booked in Sointula, it’s a good idea to plan to catch an early ferry ride or arrive at the terminal early to make sure you’ve got a spot.
Things to Do in Port McNeill
If you do find yourself with extra time while waiting for the ferry or simply want to extend your trip with some time in Port McNeill, you’ll have several options for how to spend your time.
Enjoy an Outdoor Adventure
Have a few hours or a day or more to spend? Port McNeill is a hub for ecotourism. You’ll find a variety of fishing charters, guided kayak tours, whale-watching trips, and more in town. It’s also a popular destination for wind-surfing, hiking, and mountain biking. The Port McNeill Visitor Centre is a great spot to get information on these tours. The town is known for being a popular spot for wildlife watching as well. Bald eagles, black bears, and elk are common sightings in and around town.
Explore the Town’s History
Once a logging town, you can still see some remnants of Port McNeill’s past, including a 1938 steam donkey and other vintage logging equipment. You can learn more about Port McNeill and other surrounding communities at the Port McNeill & District Museum.
Take a Stroll
Looking for a relaxing spot to take a stroll? Shepherds’ Garden, a family garden created by Marilyn and Bill Shephard, is open to the public and features three and a half acres of incredible flowers, shrubs, trees, and more. The harbour seawall, located closer to the ferry terminal, is a great spot to take a walk and watch for wildlife in the water and on the shore. SchoolHouse Creek Trail, a 1-mile or 1.6-kilometer trail follows a protected salmon spawning stream, where you might get lucky enough to spot salmon as they make their way up this forested stream.
See the Town’s Quirky Side
One quirky attraction you’ll find in Port McNeill is one of the world’s oldest burls. A burl is a growth that forms on a tree as a result of excessive cell growth. These growths can be as small as a fist—or much, much larger. Port McNeill is home to not one, but two massive burls, both of which are on display.
The Ronning Burl is on display near the BC Ferries terminal. Weighing more than 30 tons and standing just over 20 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter, the display claims that it’s the largest burl in the world. It was removed from a Sitka Spruce tree on Vancouver Island in 2005, and put on display in a waterfront park in Port McNeill soon after. The self-proclaimed second-largest burl in the world is also on display in town, near the intersection of Highway 19 and SW Main Rd.
Extending Your Visit to the Best British Columbia Fishing Lodges
Whether you’re looking to kill some time before catching the ferry or want to extend your visit to the best British Columbia fishing lodges with some time in this often-overlooked town, there’s plenty to see and do in Port McNeill.
Looking to extend your trip even more? Check out this guide to learn about some of the things to see and do as your road trip your way across Vancouver Island on your way to Sointula!