Road cycling Hornby Island

On a sunny Sunday this past May long weekend, I wheeled my road bike off the ferry at Hornby Island, eager for a day of cruising the roads of this popular Gulf Island.

Located two ferry rides away from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, just south of the Comox Valley, Hornby is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches and warm waters, plus an extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails. It’s also a road cyclist’s paradise — at least for a day’s worth of riding and soaking up the Island’s artsy, laid-back vibe.

Off the ferry, my ride began with a pedal north up Shingle Spit Road, a delightful, mostly flat cruise past colourful homes, sprawling gardens, farm stands, fruit trees, flower stalls and one very rustic bus shelter (you’ll know it when you see it). Along the way, I luxuriated in swoon-worthy views of Lambert Channel, Denman Island and the sun-drenched, snow-capped mountains of Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Provincial Park, which peeked through the trees to the west.

A short 3.5 kilometres from the ferry terminal, the road doglegs right and becomes Central Road. Tree-lined and somewhat busy, Central Road cuts east through the top centre of the Island, then descends steadily down to the Island’s social and commercial hub, located 9 km from the ferry terminal. Along the way, stop to check out the uniquely constructed Hornby Island Community Hall.

At the four-way-stop where Central Road swings right and meets Shields Road (straight ahead) and St. John’s Point Road (to the left), you’ll find the heart of community life on Hornby: the Ringside Market, a collection of shops and cafes clustered at the intersection’s southeast corner. Grab lunch or a snack at Forage Farm & Kitchen, Lix Expresso & Ice Cream, Vorizo Cafe or the Co-op grocery store; browse through a handful of galleries and boutiques; or get your bike serviced at Hornby Island Outdoor Sports (aka “The Bike Shop”). You can fill water bottles at the Market’s communal sink; the water tastes a bit like sulpher, but it is potable!

From Ringside Market, I rode a short 500 metres north on St. John’s Point Road to the entrance to Tribune Bay Provnicial Park, then bumped 400 metres or so down the gravel access road to the park proper, where I ate lunch overlooking a scene worthy of any tropical island postcard. White sands stretched out to meet tranquil turquoise waters, paddleboarders and pleasure boats dotted the bay, and shaggy bluffs framed the picture on one shoreline, while undulating sandstone flowed gracefully on the other. No wonder Hornby is nicknamed “the Hawaii of the north!” This is definitely the place to relax, enjoy some beachcombing, or go for a swim if the weather is right!

Continuing north and east on St. John’s Point Road, I enjoyed a lovely, curving cruise over gentle hills, with tall trees hugging the road and providing welcome shade. Magical.

About 3.5 kilometres in, I veered right and followed signs up to Helliwell Provincial Park. Bring your walking shoes if you want to experience the treasures of this park: all you can see from the parking lot is the start of a five-kilometre loop trail that winds off through the fir trees, destined for what I imagine are magnificent ocean vistas from atop the bluffs circling St. John’s Point.

If you skip the turnoff to Helliwell Provincial Park and keep left along the last residential section of St. John’s Point Road, you’ll find some lovely beach access points well-suited to a road cyclist seeking a rest stop with a view.

St. John’s Point Road ends at Cape Gurney, about 4.5 km from Ringside Market. Here, the terrain flattens and the horizon expands to encompass 180-degree views of Georgia Strait looking northeast.

After backtracking to Ringside Market, I headed south along Central Road to Ford’s Cove Marina at the southwest tip of Hornby. This ride is the hilliest on the Island: you’ll climb a succession of stepped uphills as Central Road shoots straight south then skirts the base of Mount Geoffrey and its escarpment. After the climb, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of Georgia Strait to the south and a fun blast down to Ford’s Cove at sea level. The road twists and turns quite a bit, with some steep sections, but the tree cover and views are lovely. Ford’s Cove has a cozy general store and a few picnic tables for a break before you turn around and churn back up that breezy downhill, then zoom back down to central Hornby.

If you’re lucky, you can grab a scone or butter tart at the road-side bake stand on the last downhill before Ringside Market. Take some time to soak up the Market vibe, then spin back over to the BC Ferries terminal on Shingle Spit Road to catch the boat back home.

Hornby Island day trip, complete!

Ride details:

Total ride distance: approximately 40 km

Distance breakdown:

  • BC Ferries Hornby Island terminal to Ringside Market – 9 km
  • Ringside Market to Tribune Bay Provincial Park – 1 km (includes some gravel road)
  • Ringside Market to Helliwell Provincial Park – 4.5 km
  • Ringside Market to Cape Gurney (end of St. John’s Point Road) – 4.8 km
  • Ringside Market to Ford’s Cove – 5 km

Road condition: All paved, save the access roads to the parking lots at Tribune Bay Provincial Park and Helliwell Provincial Park. The roads do not have shoulders or dedicated cycle lanes.

Getting there: Hornby Island is accessible from Vancouver Island via Denman Island. The trip involves two short ferry journeys and a short drive across Denman Island.

From the BC Ferries terminal at Buckley Bay (about 20 km south of Courtenay on Hwy 19A), take the ferry to Denman Island West (10 minute journey), then drive across Denman Island to the Denman Island East (Gravelly Bay) terminal (11.5 km one way). From Gravelley Bay, catch the ferry to Hornby Island’s Shingle Spit terminal (10 minute journey).

Ferry information: Denman and Hornby Islands are served by BC Ferries’ Northern Gulf Islands routes. Ferries usually run in either direction every hour or so, but check schedules for seasonal variations. For more information, schedules and fares, visit BC Ferries.

You must walk your bicycle at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal, including on and off the ferry (you will be directed to walk down the passenger ramp for these routes). For safe loading/unloading, await direction from BC Ferries staff.

Optional extension: Walk your bike onto the ferry at Buckley Bay, then ride the 11.5 km across Denman Island to catch the ferry to Hornby.

Be advised that there are two significant hills heading east on Denman. The first is a short burn immediately out of the Denman Island West ferry terminal. The second is about 1.25 km in, and this one is steep (steepest at the sharp turn), so be ready to pound those pedals! The ride down East Road to the Gravelly Bay ferry terminal is an absolute joy.

Total riding distance, return, with this option: 63 km

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