The Suquash section of the Vancouver Island Trail links the communities of Port McNeill and Port Hardy and passes through the traditional territory of the Kwakiutl/Kwagiulth First Nation and their community of Fort Rupert (Tsakis).
In the short term, the VIT route follows Highway #19 to and then down a side road to the Cluxewe Resort at the mouth of the Cluxewe River. Eventually VITA hopes to link up and clear an interconnected trail between town and the Cluxewe.
The Cluxewe Resort is a First Nations business offering campsites just behind the beach, beachfront cabins to rent, as well as a restaurant. From the resort/campground, walk the beach (best at mid to low tide) on the outside of the prominent sand-spit that encloses the Cluxewe estuary and saltmarsh complex. The Cluxewe River is wadable at low summer flows at a shallows just upstream of the final bend in the river before it merges with the ocean. Once across, you can walk along the margin of the salt-marsh vegetation at mid to low tide levels to a second smaller stream. Across this stream, follow along a beautiful sand beach to the Cluxewe Beach Trail at the northern end of the saltmarsh. Be sure to stay off/out of the sensitive saltmarsh plant communities which are inundated during high tides. The Cluxewe estuary and saltmarsh complex is a truly outstanding example of such BC coastal ecosystems. Thankfully, most of the estuary and saltmarshes plus a fringe of forest comprises a Nature Trust of B.C. property protected and managed by the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy as a wildlife management area. Find out more about the Cluxewe Wildlife Management Area.
Northwards from Cluxewe Beach, the VIT route follows a combination of inactive logging roads and trails. Most of this section is located atop/behind a short steep slope (an old sea-cliff) or just behind the shoreline of Queen Charlotte Straight.
First walk inland on the Cluxewe Beach trail to the trailhead/parking area; then follow the access road back for 300 m to turn right onto an inactive road (growing in) and follow it to its end (turn right at one junction). Follow a rough trail off the end of the road towards and then along just behind the coastline.
Except for a couple of hours around high tide, hikers can walk the combination of sand beach and rock-shelf from the Cluxewe Beach almost all the way to the Keogh River. Be sure to go inland and explore in the section around the long abandoned Suquash Coal Mine – B.C.’s first coal mine. Coal was initially mined here by the Kwakiutl and sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company to fuel the first steam-powered vessel on the west coast, the Beaver. Intriguing relics of later industrial coal mining operations can be seen both on the beach and atop the sea-cliff – remains of machinery, house chimneys and building foundations.
From the Suquash mine site either follow the shoreline to the NW or follow the Suquash Main logging road 4.8 km to its end. It is rapidly growing in with red alder, so much so in places as to become tunnel-like. (The first part of this road may have been recently cleared and reactivated.) Off the end of the road, a light trail continues to near the mouth of the Keogh River through forest fringe-shoreline habitat frequented by black bears. About a kilometer SE of the Keogh, the route turns left across a recent cutblock to join a logging road. Follow it NW 860 metres to its end. Off the end of the road, follow a rough ATV track (200 m) onto another road that after 100 metres brings you to a recently installed vehicle bridge over the Keogh River immediately upstream of a fish counting weir. The diverse fisheries of the Keogh have been the subject of research for several decades. Here, you are directly under the flightpath of the main Port Hardy Airport runway.
Across the bridge, go straight along the road to the airport perimeter fence, passing a fishery building on your right. The Kwakiutl First Nation asks that hikers do not hike downstream to the estuary as this area is used for spiritual events and is sensitive bear habitat. When you reach a fence-line gate leading onto the runway, continue on a trail that runs closely along the outside of the perimeter fence on the NE side of the Airport. The trail bends towards the shoreline and for most of its length is 10-30 metres off the beach. This fishermen’s trail is flanked and encroached by lush vegetation and although shrubs/brush often lean in over the trail, the trail tread is well-defined, so just push through. At the end of the fence-line, follow rough roads parallel to the shore leading onto Tsakis Way through the Kwakiutl/Kwagiulth community of Fort Rupert. You will have the opportunity to see some impressive carvings and artwork. Be sure to respect the privacy of the community as you pass through.
Follow Tsakis Way, turn right onto Beaver Harbour Road and just past the elementary school watch for signage at the start of the “Fort Rupert Trail” (aka “Commuter Trail”). This trail cuts across a peninsula over to the Bear Cove Road that provides access to the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry terminal. From here, follow shoreline trails around the Quatse estuary to Port Hardy.
Port Hardy provides a full range of services and allows the hiker to replenish supplies before tackling the next section of their journey. To stay over in Port Hardy, in addition to several motels/hotels, the North Coast Trail Backpackers’ Hostel is located at #101- 8635 Granville Street.
During the pandemic, the Kwakiutl First Nation requires hikers to avoid going through Fort Rupert by using local roads from the north end of Port Hardy Airport into Port Hardy.