Whale watching, grizzly bear viewing, kayaking, boating, hiking, fishing and camping?
These are some of the incredibly fun things to do in Telegraph Cove – one of the best eco-tourism destinations in British Columbia, Canada.
We’re sure glad we set out recently from Victoria on a Vancouver Island road trip to Telegraph Cove.
Because Telegraph Cove is an absolutely charming place to go for an adventurous escape in the wilderness!
Adventurous things to do in Telegraph Cove
Contents: Telegraph Cove
Where is Telegraph Cove? | Telegraph Cove map
Hiking the Dave Farrant Trail (Blinkhorn Trail)
Where is Telegraph Cove?
Telegraph Cove is a pretty-as-a-picture boardwalk community – population less than 20 in winter.
It hugs a small harbor on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island on Johnstone Strait. (See Google location.)
Offshore are the wilderness islands of the Broughton Archipelago (protected by Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park).
You can get to Telegraph Cove by driving up Vancouver Island from Victoria or Nanaimo (two cities serviced by BC Ferries from Vancouver on mainland British Columbia).
Alternatively, you can fly to Port Hardy (about an hour’s drive north of Telegraph Cove), rent a car there and drive back down to Telegraph Cove.
Telegraph Cove map
Telegraph Cove history
Telegraph Cove started life as a one-room telegraph station in 1912 for a telegraph line from Campbell River up to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.
It then became a salmon cannery and a sawmill.
A number of timber homes and buildings were erected on stilts over the water, winched onto the heavily treed shoreline and connected by wood boardwalks.
In the 1930s, the community had a mill, post office, school and store, and steamships stopped at the port.
Much of the village was then bought up by the Graham family, who moved to Telegraph Cove in 1979.
They gradually turned the place into Telegraph Cove Resort, restoring the old buildings but maintaining the quaint boardwalk community vibe.
The mess and other buildings became rustic cabins, and they established a campground.
British Columbia’s first whale watching company was also established in Telegraph Cove in 1980 – putting the hamlet on the map as one of the best places in the world to see orcas (killer whales).
More recently, in 2018, a new timber lodge with 24 rooms was built on top of a hill overlooking the snug little cove.
Kayak with orcas
When planning what to do in Telegraph Cove, kayaking with orcas is often top of mind.
That’s because the 68-mile (110-km) Johnstone Strait is home to the largest resident pod of killer whales in the world – about 300 orcas in the summer months.
The waters of Johnstone Strait have been dubbed the “orca highway.”
Telegraph Cove is one of the few places in the world where you can kayak with whales.
The orcas are particularly drawn to an area called Robson Bight, about 12 miles (20 km) south of Telegraph Cove.
They come each summer to rub their bellies on the barnacle-encrusted rocks and pebble beaches.
Why? Researchers don’t really understand the reasons, but they know the belly-rubbing is important orca behavior.
The site is now the protected Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve (named after Dr. Michael Bigg, the marine biologist who pioneered modern killer whale research).
And while you can’t get close to the rubbing beaches, there’s great paddling in the Broughton Archipelago and the area around the reserve, with excellent whale watching opportunities.
Telegraph Cove kayaking:
North Island Kayak has been offering guided sea kayaking trips from Telegraph Cove since 1991.
They’re the largest kayaking tour operator permanently located on northern Vancouver Island. Their trips range from 2-hour to multi-day kayaking adventures.
We booked a 2-hour trip that left at 5:00 pm in the afternoon.
“Will we see whales?” we asked our guide.
“There’s always a good chance you’ll see orcas, so keep your eyes peeled!” he replied.
As it turned out, we didn’t see any whales.
But no matter.
Gliding silently through the water – past colorful floating jellies and rocky shores with plump purple sea stars and other inter-tidal critters – was pleasure enough.
Seals also bobbed up to check us out.
Best time to see orcas when kayaking Johnstone Strait:
Our chances of seeing orcas would have been better had we gone out during the prime whale watching season – which is late July to early September.
A full- or multi-day kayaking trip would also maximize the chance of seeing whales.
Other kayak operators
You can kayak with orcas in the Broughton Archipelago with the following tour operators (in addition to North Island Kayak):
Discovery Expeditions | This outfit has been offering orca kayaking expeditions for more than 25 years. Trips with Discovery Expeditions range from full-day to 6-day, fully-serviced camping adventures.
Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures | Based out of nearby Port McNeill (a 30-minute drive from Telegraph Cove), Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures has been in business for 22 years. They offer several different multi-day expeditions, including kayaking with whales from a base camp and a combo whales-and-grizzlies trip.
Telegraph Cove whale watching by boat
For dedicated whale watching in Telegraph Cove, you can book a wildlife and whale watching tour with Prince of Whales.
This adventure company offers half-day whale watching tours aboard two types of vessels.
The boat for the fully guided whale watching and wildlife adventure is a 62-foot (19-meter), custom-built express cruiser. It has open seating on the top deck and seating inside below on a lower deck.
You’ll also find two airline-style washrooms. Dress warmly – it’s cold out on the ocean!
If you’d like a more thrilling, closer-to-nature experience, you might prefer the whale watching tour in a Zodiac-style boat.
Gear up in red all-weather exposure suits (which act as life jackets), hats, gloves and goggles, all provided.
Then you zip out in a 12-passenger rigid inflatable boat in search of seals, dolphins, orcas and humpback whales. (Note: This open-air vessel doesn’t have a washroom.)
Prince of Whales offers a “whale sighting guarantee.”
If you don’t see whales, you get another whale watching tour for free. (Their whale sighting success rate is about 95%.)
Hike Blinkhorn Trail
It’s no secret that we love hiking. Hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town. Hiking on Hong Kong on Lantau Island. Hiking in the Canary Islands.
So another of the Telegraph Cove activities we got up to was hiking the Blinkhorn (Dave Farrant) Trail.
The Blinkhorn Trail was renamed the Dave Farrant trail in tribute to the man who spent thousands of hours hacking out the trail and maintaining it.
To build the trail, Dave Farrant (who was in his 70s!) had to rope himself to a tree and hang off a cliff to cut down the trees interfering with the views.
Today, this fun (and challenging) hike climbs up through rainforest, dripping with lichen, to a fabulous viewpoint. Log bridges over streams, and rope ladders up boulder slopes, add interest.
We hiked up the rooty path to the viewpoint, where a bench has been placed with a gob-smacking view of Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of orcas out in the water!
It took us about an hour to reach the viewpoint, and the same amount of time to get back down (2+ hours return). Good hiking shoes or boots are needed.
For a longer hike, you can continue on past the viewpoint to the Blinkhorn Peninsula (about a 4- to 5-hour roundtrip hike).
The start of the Blinkhorn Trail is at the Forest Campground – campsite #94 – within Telegraph Cove Resort.
Sign your name on the blackboard at the camp manager’s house at the campground entrance before heading out (and be sure to cross your name off on the return).
Grizzly bear tours, Vancouver Island
One of the most epic things to do in Telegraph Cove is grizzly bear viewing.
Telegraph Cove is a 2-hour boat ride from Knight Inlet.
The longest inlet on the west coast of North America, this remote and protected wilderness fjord cuts through British Columbia’s “Great Bear Rainforest.”
World-renowned for its grizzly bear viewing, Knight Inlet is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzlies (brown bears) in British Columbia.
About 40 bears roam the area around Glendale Cove.
Best time for Knight Inlet grizzly bear viewing:
Different seasons bring with them different experiences when it comes to watching grizzlies feed.
In spring, the grizzly bears wake up from hibernation and, hungry, head to Glendale Cove to graze on nutrient-rich sedge grasses at the edge of the estuary.
At low tide, the bears feed on crabs and mussels on exposed inlet beaches too.
Spring is when you can watch the young cubs born from the previous year’s mate.
The salmon arrive in August. That’s when grizzlies swim through shallow channels to eat the fish.
September is when millions of pink salmon return to spawn up the inlet channel.
This is the time to see grizzlies scoop up the salmon from rock pools and feast on the roe.
Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures:
Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures offers all-day boat tours.
The group size is small (no more than 11 guests). The 2-hour ride to Knight Inlet is via a 12-passenger aluminum water taxi (with a toilet). You may see Pacific white-sided dolphins and porpoises along the way.
Once in Glendale Cove, you transfer at a float dock to a flat-bottom skiff for the actual bear viewing. A picnic lunch is provided on the float dock.
And then it’s back out on the skiff for more bear viewing!
Knight Inlet Lodge
For a more intensive bear viewing experience, consider staying at Knight Inlet Lodge, the premier place in Canada to see grizzlies.
In the spring and summer, small skiffs are used to take you out into the estuary.
In late summer and autumn, you watch the bears from raised viewing platforms overlooking the river holes where the bears gather to eat the salmon.
It’s not uncommon to gawk at up to 15 bears at a time.
On a previous trip, we flew into Knight Inlet Lodge (by float plane) for a 3-day stay – and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Anchored right in pristine Glendale Cove, the floating lodge is a former fishing lodge dating back to the 1920s. Basic but comfortable, it has 18 cozy guest rooms with queen size beds and private washrooms.
It’s the kind of warm and friendly place that fosters an easy intimacy between guests, guides and staff, who dine communally around two large tables. Over jugs of wine and superb dinners of fresh crab, salmon and lamb, we enjoyed lively conversations with guests from around the world.
After dinner, evenings can be spent relaxing in the quiet on the deck outside, or inside taking in nature shows (on bears, of course).
Rated the world’s fifth most exotic destination by the Arts & Entertainment TV channel, Knight Inlet Lodge is expensive.
But the grizzly bear viewing is unforgettable and out of this world.
One afternoon, we enjoyed watching nine bears, including three cubs. From the vantage point of our skiff, we were close enough to hear one particularly voracious grizzly claw and chew on the grass. We even saw a male and female couple who playfully batted each other, rolled around together – and mated!
Fishing at Telegraph Cove
Whoa. You can catch some big fish at Telegraph Cove!
Those same calm waters that surround the sheltered islands and inlets offshore are home to five species of salmon plus halibut, ling cod, black cod and rock fish.
Guests at Telegraph Cove have caught (and released) massive halibut weighing up to 264 pounds (120 kg), ling cod over 70 pounds (32 kg) and a resort record spring salmon of 68 pounds (30 kg).
You can also go crabbing and prawning.
Whale Interpretive Centre
There’s a 60-foot (18-meter) skeleton of a fin whale hanging from the ceiling. And you can walk between the jawbones of a blue whale.
Oh, and is that the skull of a sperm whale with its giant teeth?
Say hello to the Whale Interpretive Centre!
If the weather is dreary, or you need a break from all that outdoor adventure, one of the welcome indoor things to do in Telegraph Cove is to visit this excellent non-profit whale museum.
Housed in an old freight shed, the interactive museum’s goal is to increase public awareness about whales and other local marine mammals and the threats they face.
As well as whale skeletons, you can see whale teeth, baleen samples and skeletons of other local creatures, including seals, bald eagles, Dall’s porpoises, cougars and otters.
You can also learn about the whale research conducted by Dr. Bigg and the importance of the whale rubbing beaches at the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve.
Where to stay in Telegraph Cove
Telegraph Cove Resort spreads out over Telegraph Cove – it pretty well makes up most of Telegraph Cove.
The resort comprises a collection of historic cabins, Dockside Suites in a building by the marina, new lodge up a hill, general store, restaurant, pub, coffee shop, campground and adventure tour offices.
Historic cabins and houses:
The cabins and historic houses are scattered on or around the boardwalk. Featuring fully equipped kitchens, they sleep from 2 to 10 people.
We stayed in the smallest cabin at the resort – Cabin #13 – which has two single beds. While super snug, it was cute as a button, and very clean.
Some of the Telegraph Cove cabins are over 100 years old.
The cabins and houses are the most atmospheric place to stay in Telegraph Cove – we’d recommend staying in one of them. (Just be aware that they are quite rustic.)
To be more comfortable, we phoned ahead and asked for extra sheets to be placed on top of the bed comforters.
And we brought a large black beach wrap to hang over the window at night; the thin cotton curtain in the cabin doesn’t block the early morning light.
The more modern Dockside Suites, in a two-storey building built over the water, also have full kitchens.
Most have satellite TV.
Telegraph Cove lodge rooms:
The 24 rooms in the new, two-storey timber lodge at the top of the hill overlook Telegraph Cove.
They have 2 queen beds each, a mini-fridge and bathroom. (These rooms don’t have their own kitchens.)
Hidden Cove Lodge:
Located on a small cove about a 15-minute drive from Telegraph Cove, Hidden Cove Lodge is a peaceful eco-friendly lodge, with rooms and a handful of cottages.
Other places to stay in Telegraph Cove:
You can find other accommodations around Telegraph Cove in Alert Bay, Port McNeill and Sointula.
Experience more of Vancouver Island!
Great Bear Rainforest | Tucked away in the Great Bear Rainforest, Nimmo Bay Resort is a wonderfully secluded wilderness resort, with just 9 luxurious cabins. Activities range from heli-fly fishing to bear spotting on hikes.
Parksville area | From swimming at warm shallow beaches to caving to spying the goats on the roof, you’ll love these crazy fun things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
Victoria | Lace up your sneakers and check out these easy scenic walks in Victoria.
Tofino | When the weather is wild and bad, head to Tofino for storm watching!
Here’s a good pin for Pinterest
Photo credits: 6, 16, 17, 26 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1 to 5, 22, 27 to 29 Telegraph Cove Resort | 8 to 12 North Island Kayak | 13, 15 Prince of Whales | 18 to 21 Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures | 23 to 25 Whale Interpretive Centre
About the authors
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!