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  • Helliwell Provincial Park Loop Adventure Guide

    Posted by Lisa Pedscalny April 26, 2014 - 879 views - 0 comments - 1 like - #family  #hiking  #Wildlife  #adventure  #vancouverisland  #familyadventure  #hornbyisland  #forest 



    Adventure at a glance:


    Distance - approximately 5km round trip
    Time - half day for little adventurers, relaxed 2-3 hours for our family/those with kids aprox. 7-12, 1-2 hours for seasoned adventurers or those with teenagers and beyond
    Difficulty – easy for most (moderate for little legs under 5 or 6)
    Highlights – stunning coastline, old growth forest, diverse eco-system teeming with wildlife, well established trail, outhouse bathroom facilities along the
    trail, many surrounding points of interest


    Although there are numerous, incredible little Islands surrounding Vancouver Island, Hornby Island is truly a gem, no matter what the season. While it does take a bit of time (and money, due to the cost of the ferry) to access this amazing destination, we highly recommend that visitors to the main Island consider the trip anyway. Though small in size, besides this particular adventure, there is a surprising amount to see and do on Hornby (and Denman) Islands, which can keep almost any party happily busy exploring, enjoying world class beaches, and camping for as much time as you have available to spend. Be sure to check back on, because we will share guides to additional adventures in this area in the coming weeks.



    The first of two ferries required to reach Hornby Island departs from the Buckley Bay terminal (which is located close to Fanny Bay – you can find a detailed map here),  and after a short trip to Denman Island, adventurers will drive across Denman to catch a second short ferry to Hornby. It is important to note that especially during the summer months, these ferries can be quite busy, so be familiar with the sailing schedules (which you can access here ) and arrive early to ensure you catch your desired ferry…otherwise, you may be looking at a wait, which can be especially challenging for those adventuring with young children (or even worse - impatient adults ;) ). We have always enjoyed arriving early and taking in the gorgeous views of the Salish Sea and Strait of Georgia, which surround these Islands.



    Once you have made your way onto Hornby, there is about a 15 minute drive across the small Island until you reach Helliwell Provincial Park, which is the jump off point for this hike (detailed directions can be found here). Adventurers should be aware that although you will have access to maintained outhouse bathrooms at the trailhead and along the trail, there is no potable drinking water available in the park, so be sure to pack your own drinking water. Smoking is also prohibited anywhere in the park, and for those adventuring with four-legged, furry family members in tow – park rules state that all pets must remain on leash. Helliwell Park is home to an amazing variety of sea birds and other marine wildlife, as well as several endangered plant & animal species, so it is especially important to obey the rules here to avoid disturbing any sensitive habitats.



    The trail is well described and mapped on signage posted at the park entry, and begins directly from the parking lot. One of the lovely things about a looped trail is that it allows adventurers the freedom to explore in either direction, without concern of missing any of the trail highlights, or having difficulty navigating back to where you began. We usually travel straight along the path until we reach the rocky bluffs overlooking the Georgia Strait, which provide stunning views of the Coast Mountains. Due to the sensitive habitat once you reach the bluffs, it is important to stay on the marked trails, and avoid crossing the roped off sections that are in the process of restoration.



    The trail continues to skirt the coastline, providing adventurers with incredible panoramic vistas, and frequently, the chance to observe a multitude of sea birds and marine life flourishing in their natural habitat. There are a remarkable number of eagles that call the park home for much of the year, and seals can often be seen swimming in the surrounding ocean, as well as star fish, sea anemone, gigantic flocks of glaucous winged gulls, cormorants, and buffleheads, just to name a few.





    If you happen to be visiting in late February to early March, Hornby Island is a fantastic place to witness the grand event of the annual herring run. Every year, millions of herring arrive along the coast of Vancouver Island to spawn. The waters of the Comox Valley (from the Comox Harbor to the waters surrounding both Hornby and Denman Islands) are where the run is often most abundant. This astounding influx typically lasts less than a week, and during that time, the water is temporarily stained a milky blue-greenish colour (that almost makes it look tropical) by the male herring milt (sperm). The females lay eggs in massive numbers that stick to kelp and seaweed and are fertilized by the surrounding milky water. It is truly astounding to take in the massive impact this natural event has on the ecosystem, and if you have the opportunity, it is an unforgettable experience to witness first hand.





    Once you have left the bluffs, the trail will take you through some towering old growth forest, with massive Douglas fir, giant Garry oaks, and even some of the largest Arbutus trees we have ever encountered.



    Adventurers seeking shelter from the often windy bluffs may find this section of the trail to be the perfect picnic spot (as long as you don’t mind plunking down on a blanket, as there are no picnic tables along the trail), and a little exploring in this area may lead you to some very cool discoveries!





    After you have had your fill of meandering through the forest, you can proceed along the trail, which will continue through the beautiful woodland, and eventually lead you back to the parking lot. For our family, hiking at a casual pace with stops included to take photos, inspect exciting or interesting discoveries of the plentiful plant/fungus/wildlife, and a couple water breaks, we were back at our vehicle about two and a half hours after we had departed. The round trip distance, according to our GPS, was just under 5km’s. Families with small children, or those just wanting to take their time, may choose to pack a lunch and make a relaxed half day of this hike. Those with older children (or hiking without kids) can probably complete the return trip in one to two hours. Overall, we feel confident that this adventure will provide you with amazing wildlife encounters, wonderful memories, beautiful photos, and a greater appreciation for the astounding natural beauty present here on Vancouver Island.