Pedal power on Haida Gwaii

Photo: Andrea Wilhelm

When it comes to great beach destinations, there aren’t many as beautiful—or as rich in culture—as Haida Gwaii. With fewer than 150 kilometres of paved road, the famed islands off British Columbia’s northwest coast are also a prime place to pedal.

When I started researching places to try bike touring, I discovered that taking a bicycle on the BC Ferries trip across Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert to Skidegate adds only $5 to the $41 adult passenger fee. Taking a vehicle—at least $147 extra. I selected Graham Island for my first destination as a bike tourist.

My journey to Tlell, about halfway up the island’s east coast, begins in Skidegate, where the ferry from Prince Rupert arrives and departs.


Fresh off the ferry, I start by deeply inhaling the heavy sea air and promptly lose control of my bike. My bike’s overloaded frame clatters at my ankles, and I dance around in an attempt to stay vertical.

Climbing aboard again, I weave down the highway, my brakes objecting. Haida Gwaii is notorious for its wet weather, but today brilliant sunshine sparkles across the water. “We try to maintain the myth that it rains here all the time,” a local told me with a grin. “It cuts back on the tourists.”

At Skidegate’s Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay, I carefully hop off, lock my bike, and retreat into airy hallways inspired by traditional Haida longhouses. Observing towering totem poles, Northwest Coast art, traditional canoes, and an open-air carving house offers me a relaxing way to pass the morning.


From Skidegate, the highway turns north, and I remember a little piece of local advice: When the sun shines, the wind blows south. Despite a headwind, the highway is quiet, and tiny Sitka black-tailed deer—which proliferate on the islands—stand by the roadside like garden ornaments and seem to outnumber cars.

The perpetual spin of bike pedals becomes meditative, but the ocean air is refreshing. It sweeps across rocky beaches, carrying with it the scent of spruce trees and seaweed. To my right, the Pacific’s pounding surf can be heard even when it’s obscured by trees.

Mid-afternoon, I enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach, leaning against a bleached log. Before my final push to Tlell, I reflect on my day so far. I’ve managed to stay vertical. I’ve learned to dismount gracefully. Next time, I’ll even remember sunscreen.

Getting there

Travel by BC Ferries from Prince Rupert, on the Northwest Coast, to Skidegate, on Graham Island. The ferry passage takes about seven hours; it’s about another 3.5 hours to Tlell by bike.


Haida Heritage Centre (250-559-7885;

  • BC Ferries (
  • Haida Heritage Centre (250-559-7885;
  • Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre (250-559-8316;

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