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Dakota Crash Site

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Port Hardy
1.45 hrs
4.5km (2.8mi)


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Challenging Hike to a Historic WWII Plane Crash Tragedy

Where to this weekend, Vancouver Island: Hike to the WWII Crash Site - Trail Information

Experience a challenging two-hour in-and-out uphill climb as you make your way toward the historic WWII crash site of a Dakota transport plane in Port Hardy.

We’ve been all over the island, and this hike offers a very unique experience unlike any other trail on Vancouver Island.

Follow ropes sections and traverse lookout points encased by dense forest for stunning views of the town across the Bear Cove and when you reach the end of the trail, walk around the remains of the tragic 1944 plane crash.

This hike is a bit of adventure and a lot of tragedy leaving a scene that is both amazing and haunting simultaneously.

To start, park your car at Bear Cove Park and walk toward the ferry terminal. On the right side, just before the bend, you will notice a paved non-marked narrow road heading up the hill. The first 10 minutes start off paved, then turns to gravel. The hiking trail breaks off to the left just before the large storage bins with the “explosive” markings. The trail then heads back down towards a small creek bed.

After crossing the creek, the trail turns up toward the mountain and the hike becomes a bit of a push on the old legs. The trail continues up, where the trees part for a fantastic lookout point where you can see the small town of Port Hardy across Bear Cove.

As you reach the hike’s highest point at 110 meters (360 feet), the trail starts to descend toward the crash site. A few steeper sections have ropes installed during the descent to make it easier–although it’s overly challenging in weather, but along portions of the trail, the ropes prove to be helpful when raining and during the climb back up.

It’s at the 2km point where the forest opens up, and you start seeing signs of the airplane.

Tips and Suggestions

Amenities: Bear Cove Park has picnic tables and outhouses

Parking: Park at Bear Cove Park

Winter Hiking: Be prepared for a muddy hike and slippery rocks during the rainy season

Trail Head: The trail is not marked, so walk down the road towards the ferry, and it’s a narrow paved road on your right.

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What to Expect at the Crash Site

The first thing you see is a small yellow sign stating it is a protected Provincial Heritage Site asking to respect those who perished in the crash. It also notes it is illegal to damage, desecrate or alter the site or remove any object or material, or face a high penalty.

Overall the site is humbling, the cockpit is missing and the fuselage is open, with a memorial placed at the front of the plane. Everything is in surprisingly good condition since it has been exposed to the elements since 1944. The shell of the plane is all that’s left. There are no engines, cockpit or even seats or windows, one could presume that the rest had been salvaged by the military after the crash.

The actual site is quite large as the area behind the plane has been cleared of trees with a temporary helicopter landing pad. It’s unclear when the trees were removed. Was it during the rescue in 1944 or during one of the dedication ceremonies, including in April 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of the Dakota 576, where family members and guests were flown in by helicopter?

The Dakota wreck in Port Hardy isn’t the only crash site located on Vancouver Island, but the only one with a tragic ending, with so much to see. The Tofino Plane crash has easier access and had a better outcome for the crew, the Canso Bomber crashed on take-off and happened less than one year after the Port Hardy crash.

A challenging 2-hour hike to a WWII Dakota transport plane heritage crash site with rope sections and lookout points along the way.

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The History of the Dakota 576 Crash Site in Port Hardy

Several crews from 32 RAF OTU were briefed on a cross-country navigation mission on April 19, 1944. Their task was to fly from Pat Bay, complete several legs and an approach at Port Hardy, and return to Pat Bay. Despite encountering squalls and strong winds, most of the crews successfully made it back to Pat Bay. However, the crew of Dakota 576 realized they did not have sufficient fuel, so they chose to land at Port Hardy.

The pilot, Officer JM Talbot, missed the initial approach due to bad weather and had to make a second attempt. However, while on the centerline and approximately five miles away from landing, he exhausted his fuel and had to make a crash landing in a patch of scrub trees.

Unfortunately, the nose of the aircraft hit hard and killed the pilot and the navigator, Pilot Officer TS Wardlow and Pilot Officer J.M. Talbot.

The wireless Air Gunner, Sgt TR Moss, survived and was found by a search party several hours later dazed but not injured. The two deceased men were buried in Victoria.

Reference: 101 Squadron (North Island)

This knowledge of the tragedy made for a more somber hike over that of another popular crash site in Tofino, where you learn all the crew survived. The site serves as a memorial to the lost and is a protected Provincial Heritage Site.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum website has more information on the Douglas C-47 Dakota 

Our Personal Experience

Story from our weekly newsletter, sign up here.

The North Island is all adventure and pure wilderness heaven. From dedicated whale zones to beaches that rank in the world’s top 50, the whole area from Campbell River up has a fascinating array of adventure possibilities.

Today’s adventure story however, comes from a place of tragedy, leaving a scene that is both amazing and haunting at the same time.

Taking Highway 19 as far north to just before the ferry terminal is the start of the hike to the fatal Dakota 576 crash site where unfortunately two servicemen lost their lives in a routine training navigation mission.

As the story goes, during a storm the pilots overshot the runway and had to circle back around in an attempt to land again, only to run dry of fuel and crash atop the mountain—fortunately, SGT. T.R. Moss survived the crash but P.O. J.M. Talbot and P.O. T.S Wordlow both died on that fateful night in 1944.

This knowledge made the hike slightly more somber in mood from that of another popular crash site in Tofino, where you learn all the crew survived. The site serves as a memorial to the lost and is a protected provincial heritage Site.

The Climb

The hike to the crash is actually quite tough for a short 45 mins. The trail is straight up for the first 10 minutes through a logging access road to a split, where it veers off to the left toward the smallest river ever. Don’t let All Trails fool you as it did with me as the stream looks like quite the river crossing on the map but in reality, it’s nothing but a dried-up creek which was disappointing but not a game changer.

The trail once again turns toward the mountain and the hike becomes a bit of a push on the old legs with a savage climb to the first of a few cool lookout points where you can see the small town of Port Hardy across the bay. Through the trees the trail gets quite enclosed and having read about the presence of a grizzly bear in the area my heart rate was somewhere elevated through this portion. Again being from England, I’m still only getting used to the idea of the smaller, less aggressive black bears on the south island so the thought of a huge angry, hungry Grizzly did worry me.

The next challenge comes in the form of ropes… yes there is a small section where you have to repel down, bringing back old memories of the original Batman series (if you know, you know). Nearing the top of the climb the plane starts to come into view and the devastation is quite staggering as the area opens up.

Memorial to the fallen

The aircraft is still pretty intact albeit deformed with no real wings anymore. The cockpit is gone and one can only assume that the two fatalities from the crash were those who sat in the front seats, which is now the place where an impressive stainless steel memorial stands, giving a short overview of the site and the crew from the aircraft.

The majority of the plane can be explored and if you’re brave enough, you can actually climb in although I wouldn’t advise this as some of the panels are in rough shape and probably ready to collapse. Searching around the site, you can find other parts scattered from the crash including the door and the rear wings that thankfully haven’t been stolen. Amazingly the RAF logo on the side of the aircraft is so well preserved on both sides.

Although it’s not confirmed, it looks like the engines and cockpit are gone leaving me to think that as part of the mission to the crash site they would have taken anything salvageable. I guess with the world being at war, parts and spares would have been scarce and if possible the engines probably went into another aircraft for use in the remaining months before the Nazis were overthrown and the war was ended.

Heading back

Leaving the site we were engrossed in conversations about how incredibly weird the world is and how as humans we don’t seem to ever learn from our mistakes. WWII should have been the war to end all wars, but sadly we do find ourselves constantly seeing new conflicts start.

The hike itself down the mountain was just as the sun was starting its descent, making the views even more spectacular until we realized that the repel we did was now a climb with a heavy backpack full of camera equipment that I had barely used. I do need to start thinking about how much gear I will need when remote hiking!!!

Seeing the car at the parking lot by Bear Cove Park was a welcome sight and after all the remote hiking we had done it was five minutes into the journey back to the campsite that we saw a bear on the side of the road!!! Crazy end to a crazy day.

Port Hardy and the north island in general is a wild remote place full of adventure that I will be exploring more. This trip saw us travel to a few more crazy spots that we will be sharing with you soon.

Make sure you put Port Hardy onto your own bucket list and take in the remote wild north for yourself.


How long is the Dakota crash site trail?
The hike is just over 4km, but with wandering around the crash site, expect to do about 4.5km

Is it a challenging hike? 
It’s a short hike but more challenging than most expect, with an elevation gain of 158m (518ft), scramble sections and mud in the winter. The hike is considered moderate/strenuous.

Where should I park?
Park at Bear Cove Park and walk up the road for 200 meters

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Dakota Crash Site

A challenging 2-hour hike to a WWII airplane crash hertiage site with rope sections and lookout points along the way. Take a sombre visit to this protected heritage site as a memorial to the pilots lost that fateful night.
Undoubtedly, one of the most amazing things to see at San Josef Bay is the massive white sand beach and the sea stacks. From ...

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Modified: September 16, 2023
Last Visit: June 16, 2023
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