The Vancouver Island Accessible Travel Guides are crafted by travellers with disabilities (both visible and invisible) to provide recommendations and share trip considerations. The information provided is based on consultations with accessibility experts, as well as first hand experience at the time of our visit. The experiences will be different for each traveller and we hope this information will ease some of the trip planning. If you’d like any specific details from the participating businesses, we encourage you to reach out to them directly.
Vancouver Island North is an outdoor enthusiasts dream, with towering cedars and windswept beaches, teeming with culture and rich history, there’s something for every kind of traveller. We hope these guides provide you with the information needed to make your trip as comfortable as possible. Experience the magic this region has to offer, and share your adventures with along the way by using #GoNorthIsland.
Click through the businesses below to read about their features. If you have any questions, please reach out to the businesses directly. Stay tuned as we continue to add accessible businesses and experiences!
Arriving in Port Alice is a bit like taking a step back in time, when life seemed a little less complicated. The small, charming village has transitioned from a former forestry town to an area quietly known for its vibrant, rural community, appealing for residents and visitors alike. Port Alice is located on the mountainside at the edge of Neroutsos Inlet, which is a 45 minute inland drive southwest of Port McNeill, and is surrounded by beautiful forests and lakes. It’s known as the one of the gateways to the Wild West Coast due to its location off of Quatsino Sound, with access to some of the most beautiful remote beaches, on logging roads past this point. Port Alice and surrounding regions are the traditional lands of the Quatsino First Nation.
The Foggy Mountain Coffee Co. in the inlet community of Port Alice (pop. 739) is definitely a great place to grab your morning cup of joe (or latte, cappuccino, specialty coffee, etc) along with a tasty snack or lunch. The locally owned and operated coffee shop, which has a rustic, West Coast vibe, is located in the strip mall on Marine Drive, and is wheelchair and scooter accessible. The shop, accessed by a small ramp at the end of the strip mall sidewalk, has ample room inside with moveable tables and chairs that can accommodate mobility devices. There is a wheelchair accessible bathroom with a grab bar and a sink with leg clearance.
At the Foggy Mountain Coffee Co. you can find the creative work of local artists, interesting west coast gifts and cards, plus store merchandise to purchase. A unique feature of the café is a wall of teredo wood, a.k.a. “wormwood.” It is produced when the Teredo clam bores into underwater wood, such as log debris or docks, and makes holes and tunnels. The decorative boring patterns in the Teredo wood are distinctive, and lend a feeling of natural beauty to the friendly and popular place.
Outside the coffee shop, there are beautiful views of Neroutsos Inlet that cuts deep inland and gives kayakers, scuba divers and sports fishermen access to the Pacific Ocean. The Foggy Mountain Coffee Co. is a delightful thread in the fabric that is Port Alice, and one that visitors to northern Vancouver Island shouldn’t miss.
On Vancouver Island’s northernmost tip is the town of Port Hardy, which is within the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl First Nations Peoples, who have been guardians and shepherds of these plentiful lands and waters for millennia. It is also home to two neighbouring First Nations bands – the Quatsino and Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw. The area is rich in Indigenous history, culture and traditions.
Port Hardy is world-famous for its rugged, natural beauty and access to top-class kayaking, spectacular cold water scuba diving, abundant wildlife watching, sport fishing, hiking and much more. Camping is very popular during the summer season. From the ferry terminal in Port Hardy (Bear Cove), sailings leave regularly to BC’s central and north coast.
On the northern end of Vancouver Island in Port Hardy, Café Guido is a popular wheelchair accessible coffee shop and community hub, loved by locals and tourists alike. All manner of coffee and tea is served, plus delicious food and snacks. The curb cutaway from the diagonal roadside parking is a bit up the sidewalk from the front door, and the café entrance has a normal, relatively unremarkable threshold. Inside there are colourful, accessible tables and chairs throughout. Up at the counter is where all the different food choices are displayed, including things like wraps, quiches, soups, salads, cookies, bars, muffins, and more. There is a wheelchair accessible bathroom down the hall, which has a universal height toilet, grab bars, a baby change table, and a sink with leg clearance. The bathroom is on the small side, which might make it tricky for large powerchairs.
In the cafe, located down about ten stairs and therefore not accessible for wheelchair users, there is also a gift and book shop called “The Book Nook” with an interesting, well-curated selection of books, trinkets and treasures.
Up another flight of stairs is “Drift”, a small yet stylish shop with ladies clothing, handbags, jewellery and beautiful, west coast-inspired gifts made by local artists.
A paving stone patio with tables and chairs for customers to enjoy their coffee in the fresh air is on the side of Cafe Guido, but it’s located down a significant step. In the warmer months, a couple of tables and chairs are accessible outside on the sidewalk in front.
For folks with disabilities who can manage stairs, the Book Nook, Drift and the patio are well worth a visit, but for those who can’t, the coffee shop is quite accessible for mobility devices, and this community art hub shouldn’t be missed. Café Guido is a Port Hardy staple that is clearly popular for lots of reasons, be sure to check it out!
The Café Guido-owned Copper and Kelp Market, near the Port Hardy Airport at 4950 Beaver Harbour Road, is a combination of corner grocery store, small commercial kitchen, coffee shop and gift shop, in the attractively renovated Old Schoolhouse, which did duty as the local primary school decades ago.
For folks who use a wheelchair or scooter, the store has a very gently sloping ramp, which takes you to a side entrance with a push plate automatic door opener. Once inside, the space is roomy with plenty of area to manoeuvre around while discovering all of the wonderful things, both edible and otherwise. There is a good-sized wheelchair accessible washroom with grab bars, as well as a sink with leg clearance. Parking is in front.
The Copper and Kelp market has an in-house deli with a selection of cheeses, cured meats, salads and ice cream, and a commercial kitchen with fresh sandwiches, salads, baked goods and charcuterie trays. A curated selection of frozen and refrigerated foods are available for purchase, plus many locally-sourced artisan food items. Everything required to make a simple dinner, or a delicious picnic, can be found at the Copper & Kelp Market.
The retail section has a selection of interesting books and gifts for sale, which make a stop-by well-worth your time. Products are ethically sourced, and supportive of the community and the environment. Be sure to pop by this female co-owned market that offers a little bit of everything in a friendly and welcoming space.
Located just a kilometre from Port Hardy is the Kwa’Lilas Hotel, which has been recently renovated in a traditional west coast First Nations style. From the exterior, the hotel is designed to resemble an indigenous Big House, the traditional community gathering place for cultural and spiritual events. Inside, the stunning lobby is decorated with beautiful works of First Nations art including masks, sculptures, and an exceptional copper wall hanging, which captures the history of the community. There is a wonderful seating area in the lobby for relaxing and being immersed in the beauty. The atmosphere at Kwa’Lilas is welcoming and friendly in a quiet, graceful way.
This Indigenous owned and operated hotel offers designated accessible rooms that can accommodate a person who uses a mobility device. These rooms (one with a king size bed and the other with two queens) are standard style hotel rooms with large bathrooms. The bathroom has a universal height toilet and grab bar, sink with leg clearance and a lipped shower with drop-down shower seat. The rooms are beautifully decorated using Coast Salish motifs throughout.
At the Kwa’Lilas Hotel, there are two points to note for wheelchair and scooter users: one being a very short and steep ramp to access the breakfast room – extreme caution and sturdy assistance is required when using the ramp. The second, there is only one set of doors into the hotel that has an automatic door opener. It is located at the back of the hotel parking lot near the designated accessible parking space. All other doors I found to be relatively light and easy to use.
The Gift Shop has a selection of local indigenous brands featuring beaded jewellery, handmade moccasins, spa products and more, and is definitely worth checking out. It’s a small shop but while snug, I was able to manoeuvre around it in my compact scooter.
The Nax’id’ Pub, which along with plenty of great drink choices, offers creative and delicious chef-inspired meals influenced by local First Nations culture. The pub, which hosts a steady stream of events from comedy nights and live music to day-time career fairs, is a relaxing and family-friendly place to be. From the serving staff to the talented cooks, each person contributes to an enjoyable experience. If you’re after further dining options, ha’me, Kwa’Lilas’s Hotel’s newly renovated restaurant is expected to open the summer of 2022. There is a wheelchair accessible bathroom in the pub, and moveable tables and chairs in the pub that accommodate wheelchairs.
Carrot Park is located on the harbour in Port Hardy and is surrounded by beautiful waterfront views. It is named for the trouble the locals had getting the highway extended all the way north to Port Hardy (picture a carrot being dangled). Fortunately, the park is a fait accompli now, and it is a much-loved community space. For wheelchair and scooter users, there’s a 400m paved waterfront promenade that offers stunning views of the harbour. The park, also known as Rotary Park, has a children’s playground, and a public restroom nearby (outhouses, inaccessible). There are also signboards that tell about the various wildlife that live in the area. A particularly meaningful totem pole representing the richness of the area’s First Nations’ culture and history, carved by Kwakiutl chief and acclaimed artist Calvin Hunt, stands proudly in the park alongside a monument dedicated to the servicemen of the nation. The Port Hardy Visitor Information Centre is also located here, which is wheelchair accessible. There is also an accessible washroom in the visitor information centre.
Port McNeill is a small town on Vancouver Island’s north-east shore, which had it’s economy firmly rooted in traditional resource sector industries (mainly logging and fishing) in the past, but is finding itself adapting to a changing global economy in order to stay sustainable. While forestry jobs still account for the bulk of area folks’ occupation’s, outdoor recreation and ecotourism are steadily becoming significant economic drivers.
Being situated on the south end of Queen Charlotte Strait, Port McNeill is also known as the Gateway to Broughton Archipelago Park, a jaw-droppingly beautiful collection of islands and islets popular with boaters, sea kayakers and wildlife viewers from around the world. The town is also a jumping off point for whale watching expeditions, fishing charters and cultural tours. The summer festival season includes a logger sports competition in July and Orcafest in August. The short walk along the waterfront on the seawall offers views of the busy harbour and the beauty of the natural environment.
The tri-port BC Ferries terminal is located in Port McNeill, which takes you to the communities of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island and Sointula on Malcolm Island, both destinations rich in cultural and historical significance. For road trippers, a picturesque drive a little over 80 kilometres north by highway and logging road, takes you to Cape Scott Provincial Park and the North Coast Trail. In the opposite direction, the tiny fishing village of historic and scenic Telegraph Cove, a boardwalk community and ecotourism destination, is a a short 30 minute drive south by paved road.
Located across from the Port McNeill harbour is Devil’s Bath Brewing Co., a family-run brewery, and a great place to pop in for a delicious meal along with some tasty made-in-house brews! For myself, a wheelchair user, not only is the food and service top-notch, the real bonus is that the space is barrier-free. But let’s back up a moment.
Port McNeill is not an overly-developed or populous neck of the woods, but spend some time at Devil’s Bath Brewing Co., and you’d never know it. This modern establishment, part brewery, part restaurant, is situated in an old mechanic shop that has been remodelled with warm wood vaulted ceilings, bright windows featuring water views, and a giant patio overlooking the town. While at Devil’s Bath Brewing, you’re in for excellent food, drink and a welcoming atmosphere that rivals any urban establishment as my friends and I found out while visiting recently. The menu is creative and interesting so we tried a couple of different pizzas, Caesar salad, and pulled pork tacos, which were excellent. We also tried some of the brews, including house-made kombucha, and declared it all “very fine, indeed!”
Back to the accessibility features, the entrance to the restaurant/brewery is step-free. Once inside, the space is large, with plenty of room to manoeuvre around, as well as tables and chairs which can be rearranged to accommodate mobility devices. The bathroom is large, has a universal height toilet with grab bars and a sink that has clearance underneath for wheelchair users. Servers were also friendly and happy to be of assistance.
The brewery gets its name from one of Canada’s largest cenotes, named the Devil’s Bath, which is a sinkhole caused by a collapse of limestone bedrock. Located a 45 minute drive up a nearby logging road, if you have the time, the cenote shouldn’t be missed. A very interesting wall painting of Vancouver Island, which hangs in the restaurant, shows exactly where the cenote is.
Port McNeil’s Gate House Theatre is a wheelchair accessible community space for enjoying theatre productions, live music (including the North Island Music Fest), open mic nights, as well as programs for after-school drama and professional dance. In addition to the arts, movies are also shown on a monthly basis. Free movies go throughout the year for special occasions and to give back to the community. The building’s acoustics are reportedly very good for live performances.
For wheelchair and scooter users to get into the Gate House Theatre, there is a large cutaway to get from the parking lot up to the sidewalk. From the sidewalk, a sturdy, cement ramp structure takes you into the lobby of the theatre into the concession stand area. Off the lobby is a large wheelchair accessible bathroom with grab bars, a baby change table and a sink with space for leg clearance (for mobility devices). Once in the theatre area, there is ample viewing space to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters; in fact, the entire theatre can be easily accessed all the way up to and onto the stage. A person using a mobility device can even successfully exit out the back doors if necessary.
The Gate House Theatre is largely run by a very dedicated group of volunteers from Port McNeil and the surrounding area. The theatre also benefits tremendously from amazing community support.
Seating capacity is 160-200.
The Port McNeil municipal marina, AKA the Government Wharf, is located next to the town of Port McNeil, on the harbour. The working marina has a sturdy ramp to get down onto the wharf and docks, which is made of anti-slip metal. Its steepness is dependent on the tide. The pathways, sea wall and grassy area around the wharf are wheelchair accessible and great for sightseeing, strolling and breathing in the fresh marine air. An accessible visitor information centre (with an accessible bathroom) is located in the same building as the harbour office. There is a designated accessible parking spot in the parking lot. Unfortunately when we visited the info centre had just closed, but a stroll along the harbour seawall and down to see the boats, was refreshing and invigorating. Don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the world’s largest burls, down the road in the baseball field parking lot!
Tia’s Cafe in Port McNeil is a flamboyant Latin American-inspired coffee shop that offers a full coffee menu with specialty drinks, and a variety of pastries. There is a small lip to access the cafe, opening into a seating space decorated with tropical plants and colourful art, tables and chairs that can accommodate mobility devices, and a grouping of furniture arranged to view a wall-mounted TV. The bathroom is wheelchair accessible with a universal height toilet with grab bars, a baby change table and a sink with a cabinet underneath. There is also a selection of different syrups, dressings, and other interesting Latin American food items to purchase that you might not find at your average island grocer.