5 reasons to visit Telegraph Cove and best things to do

Last Updated on June 28, 2022

Telegraph Cove is a small community and resort tucked away on remote Northern Vancouver Island that is a stunning place to get away from it all while exploring on foot, by kayak or by boat looking for whales and bears. This is a truly special and unique place to visit on Canada’s west coast.

Where is Telegraph Cove?

The entrance to Telegraph Cove, an inlet with rocky land and forest above and forested islands and mountains in the distance
The entrance to Telegraph Cove from the end of the boardwalk

Telegraph Cove is located on Northern Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, relatively near Port Hardy and Port McNeill. It is on the land of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations.

How to get to Telegraph Cove

Most people get to Telegraph Cove by driving as part of a Vancouver Island road trip, though it is on the route of some organized bus tours and RV tours across British Columbia.

It’s a long drive, but the drive is beautiful and totally worth it. It’s a four lane divided highway from Victoria to Campbell River and then a two lane highway from Campbell River north. The road is paved the whole way.

Driving time is a bit over 5 hours from Victoria (466 km or just under 300 miles) not including stops or traffic delays (which happen in Victoria and Nanaimo). It’s about a four hour drive from Nanaimo and a bit over two hours from Campbell River.

What time of year is good to visit Telegraph Cove?

The Telegraph Cove Resort is open May through September. I recommend visiting in early season (May and early June) as it’s a bit less busy and possibly less rainy (it’s still quite rainy so be prepared for rain no matter when you’re there).

There are plenty of people around in early season and late season, but the marina is usually not filled up until summer fully comes (late June).

Why Telegraph Cove is worth visiting

There are so many reasons why Telegraph Cove is worth visiting and such a special place on Vancouver Island including

  • It’s a bit off the busy tourist circuit so it doesn’t get as busy as many other places. It does get busy at times with tour buses, but in the evenings it will mostly just be those who are staying there.
  • It’s a unique place with a tiny cove mostly filled by the marina, historic buildings built on pilings, every room is a bit unique and the scenery is stunning
  • There are plenty of opportunities for adventure (whale watching, bear viewing, kayaking, fishing) but not so many that you get completely overwhelmed!
  • It’s an extremely friendly place, both locals and visitors
  • Without TVs and limited cell service and wifi, you can really get away from it all here

Put simply there is nowhere else like it and for those who like those kind of travel experiences, Telegraph Cove is not to be missed when you’re on Vancouver Island. It’s just one of the reasons it’s worth extending your Vancouver Island road trip up to the north part of the island.

Things to do in Telegraph Cove

Exploring historic buildings

Telegraph Cove featuring a marina with a few boats in it, surrounded by historic buildings on stilts above the water and surrounded by forested hillsides with the ocean in the distance
Historic buildings line the sides of the cove

Telegraph Cove is made up of historic buildings from different eras and with different stories. Make sure to walk all the boardwalk areas and read all about the history of each building from the floating hospital to the laundry to the “retired truck”

An old rusty truck on a wooden boardwalk in front of a wooden building
The impossibly photogenic retired truck

Watch the tide go up and down

This may not sound exciting, but one of the really fun things about Telegraph Cove is watching the water level change under the pilings and in the small cove. At extremely low tides the pilings may be completely out of the water and at high tide the water comes around them and closer to the bottom of the buildings.

Explore the trails

Telegraph Cove, a marina that is mostly empty and surrounded by historic buildings. There are forests leading up to the small entrance to the cove and ocean and more forested hillsides in the distance
View of Telegraph Cove from the hillside above

The boardwalk goes around both sides of the cove and there are some additional trails on the small hills next to it. If you want to get into more of a hike, the Blinkhorn Trail is nearby, starting from the Telegraph Cove campground. This trail is challenging and very rough with lots of roots and mud so don’t underestimate it! After about 5 miles with 1500 feet of elevation gain you come to an excellent view over Johnston Strait. The end of the trail becomes an island at high tide so make sure to check the tide chart before venturing out.

Go kayaking

North Island Kayak is located at the end of the boardwalk and they offer kayak tours of the area from a mellow sunset paddle to half day, full day and multi day kayak adventures. They provide all the gear you need so you just need to be ready to have fun on the water. Make sure to wear clothes you can get wet for a more fun day.

This is an exceptionally good place to kayak with the opportunity of seeing Orcas while paddling!

Go bear watching

Tide Rip Grizzly Adventures will take you from Telegraph Cove resort out for a full day of looking for Black and Grizzly bears along the tidal areas and estuaries of the nearby inlets and bays. Let your guides take care of safety and where you’re going and focus on enjoying the bears!

Visit the Whale Interpretive Centre

A hanging sign saying The Whale Museum with a whale skeleton on it

The Whale Centre at the end of the boardwalk is home to a collection of full whale skeletons as well as the skeletons of other marine mammals.

Go whale watching

The waters around Telegraph Cove in Johnstone Strait are some of the best in the world for seeing Orcas (Killer Whales). The half day tours leave at the end of the boardwalk and whisk you away for an exciting adventure looking for whales and other marine mammals and birds.

Go fishing

Telegraph Cove is a good place for salmon, halibut, ling cod, crabs and prawns. Make sure to know the fishing regulations and seasons and have a license (you can purchase a license at Telegraph Cove). Many visitors fish on their own but you can also hire a guide to get you to just the right place on your visit. The resort can connect you with one of the guides based there.

Relax and do nothing in particular

Telegraph Cove really invites you to slow down and watch the water, the birds and just be for awhile. Make some unscheduled time during your visit so you can just be an soak it all in for a bit.

Stop in for some amazing wood art including carvings, furniture, doors as well as pottery. There is also a super interesting Boom Boat (used in moving logs) salvaged and decorated to let you know you’re in the right place. You’ll pass the art gallery just as you head down the hill into Telegraph Cove

Where to stay in Telegraph Cove

Telegraph Cove doesn’t have a lot of options, and I would highly recommend staying at the Telegraph Cove Resort. While not fancy, everything is well taken care of and every room is a little bit different since the historic buildings are different. The views from the cabins are wonderful too! It’s charming and very unique. Many cabins also have kitchens or kitchenettes, which is helpful since there are only a couple of restaurant options (that are delicious, but you might want an alternative if you’re staying for awhile).

There is also a large marina, so if you’re traveling by boat that’s a great option. The RV park and campground is a good place to stay for campers and RVers. The Telegraph Cove campground is a short distance away and a good option if you want to be a bit further away from the resort.

A hanging flower basket in front of a sign with the number 18 in front of a green painted wooden wall
All the cabins are a bit different and all have a beautiful welcoming hanging flower basket

Where to eat in Telegraph Cove

The boardwalk at Telegraph Cove with historic red and white buildings on each side. The building on the right has a hanging sign with a picture of two Orcas that says The Killer whale cafe and restaurant

The restaurant options in Telegraph Cove are limited and fantastic! The Killer Whale Cafe (and Saltery Pub next door) do a fantastic job, especially considering it’s such a remote location. They are open at lunch and dinner and offer classic west coast Canadian cuisine. The building is beautifully light with windows that look out on the marina, the rest of the cove and the scenery beyond.

Make sure to order seafood here, which is all amazing. They also have BC beer and wine available to enjoy with your meal.

For breakfast, do not miss the opportunity to eat at Sally’s Food Bar. Lesley is amazing and he makes everything from scratch himself. Grab a breakfast sandwich, a pastry or a waffle and some incredible coffee and take it out to the porch to enjoy it. There’s no seating inside but plenty of outside seating.

A wooden patio with a cover and tables and chairs. Two people are ordering coffee from the coffee bar in the distance.
Enjoying breakfast outside at Sally’s
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!