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Tribune Bay - Hornby Island by Tyler Ingram

Family Trip: Hornby Island in the Off-Season

Do you have a place you like to vacation to with your family? Is it local or is it abroad? We of course love traveling both abroad and locally but lately we have stuck around the BC area and with that we love hitting up Hornby Island. Hornby Island is one many Northern Gulf islands in the Salish Sea north of Vancouver which has been reviewed as being the “Hawaii of the North” by a couple of online publications over the past few years.

My wife first introduced me to Hornby around 10 years ago since then we have tried to go at least once if not twice per year. Her family first started visiting Hornby back the late 1980s and has been going since. We continued that tradition of visiting Hornby Island with our kids too throughout the years in a variety of seasons. I think we have stayed at least once in each season since. Summer obviously is a favourite but I personally also like the off-season when the island is a bit quieter and less chaotic with beach goers.

Our most recent trip was during this past BC Family Day week. We booked our favourite 1-bedroom cabin (cabin #2) at Ford’s Cove for a Saturday to Saturday duration of island time. We also had our friends come stay with us at Ford’s Cove for 3 nights whom stayed in one of the 2-bedroom cabins.

The Journey to Hornby

Depending on where you are coming from, it can be a bit of a journey to get to Hornby. It is least an all-day event for us. We take a morning ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point, then make the 1.5 hour drive from Naniamo up to Buckley Bay though sometimes we will stop off at Qualicum for either some ice cream and a walk on the beach or grab food at the Shady Rest Pub. Once at Buckley Bay you take a quick ride across on the Baynes Sound Connector (the newish cable ferry) to Denman Island.

A quick drive across Denman will have you most likely wait at Gravelly Bay for the Kahloke to take you over to Hornby’s Shingle Spit.

A at Gravelly Bay with Hornby behind

A at Gravelly Bay awaiting the ferry to Hornby

In the summer we will catch a 10AM ferry at Tsawwassen and be at the cabin by about 5-6pm on Hornby. In the off-season we can usually get to the cabin by about 3pm.

Ford’s Cove and Marina

Ford's Cove Cabins - Hornby Island

Cabins at Ford’s Cove

You can see Ford’s Cove from the ferry crossing between Denman and Hornby, but to get there once on Hornby you need to drive all around the island.

Ford's Cove from Above - Tyler Ingram

Ford’s Cove as seen from my Spark

Ford’s Cove and Marina is situated on the southwest side of the island nestled along the sandstone shoreline with Lambert Channel separating Hornby and Denman islands. The property has 6 cabins (3x 1-bedroom, 3x 2-bedroom), 10-site campground, a general store and is home to a Federal wharf.

The cabins have gone through a few smaller renovations since my wife and I have been going. The 1-bedroom cabins face the Lambert Channel and are perched above the sandstone shoreline. The 2-bedroom cabins face north towards a small open field towards the general store.

Ford's Cove Waterfront Cabins on Hornby Island - Tyler Ingram

King Bed at Ford's Cove

Sleeping arrangements are for ever changing with us when we travel as the kids grow up. The 1-bedroom cabins have a king-sized bed. Previously there has been a queen with a single but with somewhat recent upgrades to the cabins they removed the queen and single and opted for the King. The 1-bedroom is not really designed for a family of 4, but we make it work as you can see from the above photo. ‘A’ has the blowup mattress and ‘W’ has the pack-and-play travel crib. My wife was telling me that when her family used to go to Ford’s Cove they would stay in the 1-bedroom cabins as well with 4 of them. Her family has been going since the late 1980s.

Cabin amenities are quite convenient and include:

  • Full-sized fridge
  • Full-sized oven/range
  • Pots, Pans, cooking and eating utensils.
  • Large TV (~50-inch) with Cable and DVD player
  • Bathroom with shower stall (nice hot water tank)
  • Wood-burning stove
  • Electric baseboard heaters
  • Living area has a couch with pull-out section and dining table with 4 chairs.
  • Large outside deck area

Ford's Cove View of Lambert Channel

Have I mentioned the deck? Made of ship timber, designed and installed by a shipwright from the island itself. The deck offers a great place to sit and watch the waters of Lambert Channel. Who knows, perhaps you can be lucky and see Orca swimming past! We have lucked out and have probably see them on average at least once per visit. This particular trip had 2 pods show up throughout the week, though we were informed they were more but we were out elsewhere on the island at the time. The herring spawning season is in effect now so the Orca will be in larger numbers too.

What to do on Hornby?

There are lots and lots of things to do on Hornby. In fact I bet there are still a ton of things to do that we have yet to do and we’ve been going for at least 10 years! Each time we go there is always something different we do or do not do while we’re there. Being in the off-season we obviously cannot go swimming in the water, so what did we get up to?

Helliwell Provincial Park

Helliwell Provincial Park

We try and hit up Helliwell Provincial Park every other day while we are on Hornby. We have done it in various weather as well, such as in the rain, though we do prefer to walk it when it is not raining.

Kids in Helliwell Provincial Park - Hornby Island - Tyler Ingram

Family and Friends at Helliwell

This time we did not do the bluffs that we normally do. I forget why we decided not to do it this time but they are a lot of fun to walk along. You just need to ensure the smaller children are safe as the cliffs/bluffs are quite high and there are some places where one could sort of walk off of them by accident. Not to say it will happen, but you just need to be mindful if you let smaller children run around the rocky paths of the bluffs. The rest of the walk in the park is over dirt and gravel type paths with a large portion being under the canopy of the trees.

Whaling Station Bay

There are a few beaches on Hornby such as Tribune Bay (Big Trib), Little Trib and Whaling Station. There are some smaller places you can go to take a dip into the ocean but these three are where the sandy beaches can be found. Out of the three it can be toss up between Whaling Station and Little Trib as to which is our personal favourite. Little Trib is a clothing-optional beach and less traveled but parking is horrendous there and less sand unless very low tide. We do like to visit Whaling Station and on this trip we went 3 times I think.

Whaling Station from Above - Tyler Ingram

Whaling Station as seen from my Spark

Whaling Station is a north facing bay near the entrance to Helliwell Provincial Park. There are 3 main entrances with some parking you can access between the private properties around the bay. The water is also highly influenced by the weather an current the passes by. Check the tide tables while you are visiting though, the beaches can be more fun a low tide than at high tide.

The kids love playing in the sand no matter which beach we chose though. As you can see from the above video I took, they are dressed for the chillier winter weather but still having fun digging. In the summer Whaling Station is great for cooling off. The beach is fairly shallow and the water can be warm depending on the surrounding water current. It would be a dream to own one of the many private properties around the edge of the bay though.

Tribune Bay Provincial Park aka Big Trib

The biggest beach of them all is Tribune Bay or Big Trib. This being another provincial park it is by far the busiest in the summer months but quite quiet in the off-season.

Tribune Bay - Hornby Island by Tyler Ingram

Big Trib from above with my Spark

In the summer, Big Trib can have crystal-clear waters has been given the nickname of “Hawaii of the North” because of this. The beach can be packed with people on the shore or in the water. Boats are typically moored out in the waters too as the bay is fairly sheltered. There have been somewhat recent upgrades to the beach facilities as well including new outhouses.

Big Trib Path to Beach

The path down to the beach from the parking lot has been groomed and made easier to travel on. Definitely less hot on bare feet like in previous years too which is great not only for us, but for the kids.

Exploring Tide Pools at Big Trib aka Tribune Bay

Tribune Bay aka Big Trib on Hornby Island

During a low-tide you can walk along the rocks on the west side of the beach looking at all the little tide pools that are left behind. We can and have easily spent a few hours at Tribune Bay with exploring the tide pools to building sandcastles to even looking for sand dollars at the water’s edge. One can easily spend a whole day there if you are properly prepared.

Other Places of Interest on Hornby Island

There is more to this little island that we normally check out and parts we have not yet checked out. Some of the other things we have done while on Hornby during this particular trip have been:

Enjoying coffees and ice cream from Lix Ice Cream and Espresso at the Ringside Market. There was a bake sale to support the local school that we bought some treats from too.

Lix Ice Cream and Espresso - Hornby Island

Flying kites at a very windy day at Grassy Point which is on the northern side of the island.

Flying Kites at Grassy Point - Hornby Island

Exploring the sandstone rocks at Ford’s Cove and watching the Stellar Sea Lions swimming past.

Exploring Sandstone at Ford's Cove - Hornby Island

As I’ve mentioned above, we enjoy going to Hornby Island multiple times a year and because of the time to get to the island it is best to stay at least 3 nights, especially if you are coming from the mainland. If you want more information about Hornby Island, you can always leave a comment below, ask me questions on Twitter or even check out the Hornby Island website.

So what are you waiting for? Make the trek over to Hornby Island this year!

You can check out some of my other photos of Hornby Island over the years here.

**Traveling Tip: If you plan on visiting any of the Gulf Islands, check out the BC Ferries Experience card. We have one and load it up for our Hornby Trip as it saves as over $35 on the ferry from Buckley Bay, Denman to Hornby. In our case our ferry costs are calculated with 2 adults, 2 under 5 years old (which is free) and our Toyota Sienna (regular car length).

Ferry Costs (2018) Card Savings
Buckley Bay to Denman $45.35 -$18.55
Denman to Hornby $45.35 -$18.55
Sub Total: $90.70 -$37.10
Total Cost: $53.60

The Experience Card does not cost anything to buy, but you do need load a minimum of $115 on it. You can also pick one up at the ticket booths of the larger ferry berths and it is only good for buying your ferry tickets and only good on the smaller sailings like the Gulf Islands.

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