Paddle BC's Inner South Coast

The following is a description of regional overviews drawn from the paddling experiences and personal website of author and Wavelength publisher John Kimantas. Jump to the various regions discussed by clicking on the map. To jump straight to the archive of Wavelength articles on BC's south coast, click here. To find tour operators for this region, click here.

Description

B.C.'s south coast is a favourite boating and kayaking destination due to its amiable climate, protected waters and easy access from major urban centres. It is widely varied, with popular options including the serene Gulf Islands, the mountainous scenery of Sechelt Inlet, the dramatic wilderness of Desolation Sound, the annual killer whale migration into Johnstone Strait and the myriad of islands to explore in the Broughton Archipelago.

Highlights

The creation of the Gulf Islands National Park in 2003 means a whole new reason to explore the intricate island groups off the southeast shores of Vancouver Island. While the most visited of B.C.'s island clusters, it is not necessarily the best, due mainly to the residential nature of many of the island and busy marine traffic. A growing alternative is Lasqueti, Texada and Jedediah islands, located in the northern mid-section of the Strait of Georgia. Slightly more remote, the two larger islands, Lasqueti and Texada, shelter a plethora of islands perfect for exploring by kayak. On the B.C. mainland side, Sechelt Inlet cuts through the coastline forming Sechelt Peninsula. Within it a network of marine-oriented campsites offer the best organized kayaking venture on the B.C. coast. Nearby Jervis Inlet is rarely visited by paddlers, with world-famous Princess Louisa Inlet near its head.

Slightly farther north is Desolation Sound, another famous cruising destination equally popular in recent years as a kayaking location. Off Desolation Sound is a group of large islands known as the Discovery Islands that offer a less-visited alternative, with possible destinations including the Octopus Islands, Hathayim Marine Park and the Rendezvous Islands. Many tidal rapids make this a potentially difficult place to explore.

Johnstone Strait is most famous for Robson Bight and the annual migration of killer whales, which in turn attracts a huge number of kayakers, boaters and tourists. Venture away from the strait and you'll find yourself in the Broughton Archipelago, a group of hundreds of islands that sit on the south entrance to Queen Charlottle Strait. Popular kayaking destinations include the former native village of Meem Quam Lees (Mamalilikulla) and Broughton Archipelago Marine Park. Rarely visited are wonderful locations such as Grappler Sound and Kingcome Inlet.


Kayaking the Broughton Archipelago

Description

This region is usually defined by Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, but in actual fact the archipelago is significantly larger, including Gilford Island and the northern Broughton Islands bounded by Sutlej Channel and Grappler Sound. This area is most famous for the summer migration of killer whales that head into Johnstone Strait, making this the most popular kayaking destination on the B.C. coast. This is reflected in large numbers on any given summer day at key campsites like Kaikash Creek. But travel just a smidgeon outside the key areas, and the numbers fall off substantially. The Broughton Islands make a perfect kayaking circuit (for longer trips, a week or more), but few actually go that far. It's a shame. For all the kayakers who cram into Johnstone Strait to see the whales, I sat on a beach in Penphrase Passage at the entrance to Simoom Sound and watched a humpback whale play all evening just offshore in the best show by a whale I've ever seen. And there I was the only caper in the passage. Go figure.

Highlights

Most kayakers will head to places like Hanson Island and popular campsites like Pig Ranch on West Cracroft Island for the killer whale viewing in the summer. If you choose to do this, expect competition for the best sites, and monitor VHF Channel 7 for the killer whale migration reports. For those venturing toward Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park, a huge draw is Meem Quam Leese on Village Island, where you can tour an old First Nation village and see the remnants of house posts and a long house. Intricate paddling is possible in the Carey Group and Indian Group just northeast of Hanson Island, making this a reasonably simple area to reach for some wonderful island meandering. Campsite are numerous, with a few likely to be unpopulated (most kayakers tend to cluster at places like Mound Island). For those who can get farther afield the rewards become greater. Excellent paddling is possible in the more northerly island clusters like the Fox Group and the Burdwood Group. Both have excellent campsites as well.

For those seeking an adventure, I highly recommend Kingcome Inlet. The mountain scenery is breathtaking and the First Nations history wonderful. Look for petroglyphs all along the inlet, and visit the village of Kingcome at the head of the inlet. A great trip would be a water taxi to the village and a week-long paddle back to Telegraph Cove (the traditional launch site for kayak trips into this region; another option is at Naka Creek). Or you could circumnavigate Gilford Island or the two northerly Broughton Islands. The latter will put you into Grappler Sound, with numerous islands and lots of wildlife.

With so many options you can't go wrong in this area. Just remember, the more time spent and the farther you go afield, the better your trip is likely to be.

For full information about this region, including a comprehensive list of campsite locations, be sure to read The Wild Coast, Volume 3, chapter eight.

Featured article:

Village Island revisited

Village Island revisited

June 18, 2013 by Coast&Kayak

Many kayakers will remember Tom Sewid's traditional welcome upon reaching the shores of Village Island, an abandoned native community off Vancouver Island's Johnstone Strait. This year he returns as part of a revitalization and tourism inititative aimed to give new life to an old traditional village site.

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Kayaking the Broughton Archipelago - Matthew Bowes visits Bill Proctor, Echo Bay and a few other Broughton favourites.

 


Kayaking Johnstone Strait

Description: The north entrance to Johnstone Strait at Telegraph Cove is one of the most popular kayaking destinations in British Columbia. The main draw is the annual migration of killer whales. Hundreds arrive annually during the summer months to feed in the nearby waters, creating an industry of whale watching boats and kayaking tours. Convenient campsites are located along both sides of the Strait in places like Boat Harbour, Kikash Creek and Hanson Island.

The remainder of Johnstone Strait and the neighbouring waterways are largely off the kayaking routes, and is used mainly by those transiting the region. Access points to the water here are few. Look to Little Bear Bay, the village of Sayward and, toward the north end just east of Robson Bight, Naka Creek. This can be a difficult place to explore due to strong westerlies in the summer and strong currents throughout most channels. Johnstone Strait east of Sayward is noted for its rapids at Current and Race passages and Ripple Point, for instance. The northern channels, Chancellor and Cordero, and also crossed by rapids, though they remain a sheltered alternative to the more exposed Johnstone Strait.

Highlights: Rarely explored by kayak, the central and south portions of Johnstone Strait contain some intriguing kayaking. Gravel beaches - and the occasional sandy ones - suitable for kayaking far outnumber established sites. Island groups dot Johnstone Strait, making Walkem Islands, for instance, a great place to dally (though currents can be strong). Helmcken Island, in the middle of Race and Current passages just east of Sayward, is another attractive island. A more serene option is Sunderland Channel, with good camping on Poyntz Island and a chance to explore the old World War Two gun bunker on Yorke Island. Loughborough Inlet, meanwhile, is among the least visited of B.C.'s major coastal inlets, yet it is well-suited to kayaking with numerous sandy beaches along its length, plus many grizzly estuaries for bear watching. With careful attention paid to the time of currents, this can be a rewarding place to visit.

The complete history, ecology, attractions and camping locations for this region can be found in The Wild Coast, Volume 3, Chapter 8.


Kayaking Desolation Sound and Discovery Islands

Description

Desolation Sound has long been a cruising haven for boaters, with kayakers in recent years growing in numbers to equal boaters. The scenery is the main draw, part of a region rife with contrasts. For instance, rock beaches are the norm, though Savary and Marina islands are fringed with beautiful sand beaches. Low rolling islands are in contrast to the high glacier-capped peaks of Toba and Bute Inlets. And kayaking destinations such as the Curme and Copelands islands in Desolation Sound Marine Park can be filled to capacity, while passages to the north rarely experience the dip of a paddle.

Highlights

Desolation Sound will likely remain the most popular destination due to its accessibility. You can follow Highway 101 from Vancouver to Lund, where you can launch and be at the Copeland Islands in just a few minutes. Or you can launch from Okeover Arm Provincial Park and navigate the inner passages, taking Malaspina Strait to the outer islands and campsites such as Feather Cove. However, there is much more to see in the wider region, including smaller island clusters such as the Rendezvous Islands and the campsites on South Rendezvous Islands Marine Park, Octopus Islands Marine Park off east Quadra Island and the various parks and beaches around Cortes Island, including Hathayim Provincial Park.

For those looking for mountain scenery, some of the best on the B.C. coast can be found along Toba and Bute inlets. Both make difficult kayaking destinations due to their length and the possibility of funneling winds. Both may be best enjoyed by visiting the entrance, where the scenery is arguably best anyway, and perhaps entering by way of a day-trip instead of a full-fledged expedition. Another option is a water taxi to the head, and using the stronger ebb current to ride back down.

The main difficulty of this region is the various tidal rapids. Seymour Narrows at the south entrance to Discovery Passage is highly problematic, with strong currents between the narrows and south of Cape Mudge (the southern tip of Quadra Island). Another string of rapids can be found on the east side of Sonora Island, where Yaculta Rapids, Gillard Passage and Dent Rapids form a chain of hazards. These are suitable for passage by only veteran paddlers and mariners.

More benign, in many respects, is Surge Narrows off east Quadra Island, where kayakers can sneak through the north or south passages to avoid the rapids in Beazley Passage. This will take you into the kayaking destination of Octopus Islands. Other must-see locations in this region are Roscoe Bay Provincial Park, Hathayim Provincial Park, Teakerne Arm Provincial Park and the many island clusters and mountain scenery of Nodales Channel. An unusual destination on the north end of East Thurlow Island is a trail to a scenic viewpoint and historic gold mine off Shoal Bay.

The complete history, ecology, attractions and camping locations for this region can be found in The Wild Coast, Volume 3, chapters 6 and 7.

Featured articles:


Desolation campsites

New Desolation campsites unveiled

June 18, 2013 by Coast&Kayak
Tent pads at designated camping areas are a new element this year to Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park, along with historic Sliammon and Klahoos place names to match them.
Read more

 

Sechelt Inlet

Sechelt Inlet: the postage stamp park

June 18, 2013 by Coast&Kayak

As British Columbia moves towards an official paddle trail, Sechelt Inlet Marine Provincial Park could easily be looked at as the template for how to manage the hundreds of necessary campsites. The park offers a selection of postage stamp-sized destinations perfect for camping or picnics along the entire length of the inlet and its tributaries.

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Desolation Sound

Enchanting Desolation

Nov. 7, 2011 by Joan Boxall

What’s in a name? Some history apparently, as surveyor Captain George Vancouver came to the British Columbia coastline from Hawaii in 1792 to update Captain James Cook’s charts. Vancouver idolized Cook, and he modeled and later adapted much of his own leadership style after the famous British explorer and cartographer.

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Cortes

Destination: Cortes

When wind keeps you off the water, the right venue makes all the difference. (Fall 2009)


Bute Inlet Grizzlies - by Alex Matthews.


Kayaking North Georgia Basin

Description: The Georgia Basin is essentially a huge inland sea that encompasses Puget Sound, Juan de Fuca Strait and the Strait of Georgia plus its associated watersheds. The northern extent ends where Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands begin, and is dotted with a few large islands, some smaller archipelagos and a few large inlets, most notably Sechelt and Jervis inlets. Together these combine for a varied mix of destinations. For those departing from Vancouver Island, the main attractions are Denman and Hornby islands. They sit off Baynes Sound, the largest shellfish producer on the B.C. coast. Kayakers will be drawn to the picturesque cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island and the sandy beaches of Sandy Island Provincial Park on the north end.

For those departing from Vancouver and the B.C. mainland, the islands and inlets near the community of Sechelt are a natural attraction. Slightly more difficult to reach are Lasqueti and Texada islands. Together they sandwich Jedediah Provincial Park and a cluster of other islands, including Sabine Channel Provincial Park.

Highlights: This region offers arguably the greatest range of options for visitors, as well as probably the best accessibility for those arriving from the B.C. mainland. As well as the attractions of Denman and Hornby islands, both spectacular kayaking destinations, kayakers from Vancouver Island will enjoy the numerous islets and islands that make up the Winchelsea-Ballenas archipelagos off Nanoose. A great range of rare plant communities, a large sea lion colony and wilderness campsites make it an ideal destination.

For those who don't mind a bit of open water, Jedediah Island is a kayaker's paradise. Getting there can be the challenge. While it is possible to take a vehicle ferry to Texada Island or a foot ferry with limited kayak capacity to Lasqueti Island, it is also possible to kayak directly. From the mainland kayakers can launch from near Sechelt and jump from the Thormanby Islands to south Texada, distance involving about 8 km of open water. From Vancouver Island it would be possible to launch from the Nanoose area and cross from the Ballenas Islands to Sangster Island off south Lasqueti, a distance of about 8 km as well, though through potentially more exposed water. Water taxis are a third option for arriving here.

For kayakers wishing to stay closer to home, the islands off Sechelt offer a simpler destination. Campsite options are the Thormanby Islands (Simson Provincial Park), Smuggler Cove or diminutive Buccaneer Bay Provincial Park. In lower Jervis Inlet Nelson Island makes a good place to kayak, with rugged wilderness camping on Harding Island Marine Park (formerly Musket Island Marine Park).

Most kayakers are drawn to the campsite network of Sechelt Inlet, even though the scenery is arguably second rate (though Narrows Inlet compensates for what lower Sechelt Inlet lacks). At its north entrance is dramatic Skookumchuck Narrows, where tidal rapids of 16 knots make it among the world's fastest. Its waves make it a world-class saltwater whitewater kayaking destination.

Rarely visited in comparison by paddlers is upper Jervis Inlet. Its patches of good beaches allow camping opportunities rare for a coastal inlet, with the crowning glory being Princess Louisa Inlet, a location famous for its mountainous scenery. Here established campsites and trails augment the spectacular scenery.

The complete history, ecology, attractions and camping locations for this region can be found in The Wild Coast, Volume 3, Chapter 5.

 

Featured articles:

Princess Louisa Inlet

Chasing a princess

Oct. 26, 2012 by John Kimantas

There is no better inspiration for a trip than to be told it can’t be done. Coast&Kayak editor John Kimantas returns to Princess Louisa Inlet a second time to experience by paddle the location that has captivated cruisers for decades. It’s not a major kayaking destination, though. Should it be? Read and decide.

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Kayaking the Gulf Islands

Description

This is the most popular day-trip destination for kayakers in British Columbia, with a multitude of accessible options. With frequent ferry service from Vancouver and Washington state, southeastern Vancouver Island makes a wonderful staging ground for trips to island clusters made beautiful from etched sandstone cliffs and draping arbutus and Garry oak trees. A downside is the growing residential nature of many of the islands, particularly Saltspring, the Penders, Mayne, Galiano and Gabriola. But the more isolated smaller islands compensate, many of which are either provincial parks or within the new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Highlights

The boundary of the Gulf Islands National Park stretches throughout the southern Gulf Islands, most notably Saturna Island, which includes about half the land mass of the national park created in 2003. Many of the former provincial marine parks in that area have been folded into the national park reserve, putting popular camping areas such as D'Arcy Island, Sidney Spit, Rum Island, Portland Island and Cabbage Island under federal jurisdiction.

The national park protects much of the best scenery in the Gulf Islands, particularly along southern Saturna Island with attractions such as the cliffs at Monarch Head, Taylor Point and Narvaez Bay. On the north side of Saturna Island Tumbo and Cabbage islands are now part of the federal reserve, with camping possible on the sandy shores of Cabbage Island. Many smaller islands and islets have been added to the national park. Many were formerly used as wilderness camping areas, but that is no longer allowed, reducing the camping options in the southern Gulf Islands by banning camping at places like Red Islets, Hawkins Island, Dock Island, Reay Island and the Belle Chain Islets.

Parks within the northern Gulf Islands remain in provincial hands, with popular kayaking destinations including Wallace Island and Pirates Cove on De Courcy Island. Another option is Tent Island off Kuper Island, a Penelakut reserve open for use as a camping area. Payment is by donation to the First Nation band.

Recent additions to parkland in the Gulf Islands include Burgoyne Bay on east Saltspring Island and Wakes Cove on northern Valdes Island facing Gabriola Passage. Gabriola Passage is one among many tidal rapids in the region, making for challenging kayaking in places like Active Pass and Porlier Pass. While many of the inner channels are among the most serene on the Pacific coast, strong currents and frequent boat traffic, including large ferries, can make it a potentially hazardous area. But by keeping to the more protected shoreline areas, the Gulf Islands make probably the best exploring for novice kayakers anywhere.

The complete history, ecology and attractions including travel, launch and camping locations for this region can be found in The Wild Coast, Volume 3, chapter 1-4.


Featured articles:

D'Arcy Island

Island affairs, then and now

Oct. 26, 2012 by Lyn Hancock

In decades past Lyn Hancock had the rare experience to cuddle and cavort with cougars on the shores of D’Arcy Island, her private retreat near Victoria, BC. Fifty years later she kayaked there to retrace her footsteps to one of the coast’s most fascinating islands – where cougars were family and lepers were outcasts.

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BC Marine Trail

The Gulf Islands Marine Trail: Islands of serenity

May 12, 2011 0 Comments by John Kimantas

Coast&Kayak Magazine presents a world-exclusive preview of the new Gulf Islands Marine Trail, a new leg of the BC Marine Trail, to be officially opened Saturday, May 14 at Transfer Beach in Ladysmith.

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Gulf Islands Marine Trail

The Gulf Islands Marine Trail preview: Leg one, Saanich and Sidney

May 11, 2011 0 Comments by John Kimantas

A look at the features, launches, campsites and points of interest of the southernmost portion of the new Gulf Islands Marine Trail, part of the new BC Marine Trail. This area includes Sidney, Saanich and the surrounding waters including Saanich Inlet.

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BC Marine Trail

The Gulf Islands Marine Trail preview: Leg two, the South Islands

May 12, 2011 0 Comments by John Kimantas

There is no doubt the Gulf Islands straddle two worlds. The rugged wilderness and unspoiled vistas that define the islands are definitely at odds with those places tamed for residential use. The outer islands share the best and worst of both. If you are looking for untrammeled shoreline and mountainous scenery, Saturna Island is the beacon, made brighter with the inclusion of much of the island into the Gulf Islands National Park reserve.

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BC Marine Trail

The Gulf Islands Marine Trail preview: Leg three, Saltspring and Galiano

May 12, 2011 0 Comments by John Kimantas

To call Saltspring Island the heart of the Gulf Islands is to acknowledge not only its domineering physical presence (capped by the highest peaks in the region), but also the cultural spirit reflected in a bustling community of arts, boutiques and bed&breakfasts.

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BC Marine Trail

The Gulf Islands Marine Trail preview: Leg four, the North Islands

May 12, 2011 0 Comments by John Kimantas

The sandstone formations in these islands are remarkable, not just in appearance but also in history. Back in 1792 some sketches were made of one particular overhanging sandstone gallery by an artist on an expedition commanded by the Spanish explorer Galiano. The namesake Galiano Gallery on Gabriola Island, an overhanging sandstone shelf extending 90 meters / 300 feet, became famous as a result. It’s a local park today, but while the most famous it’s not alone for the dramatic sandstone rocks. Galleries, ledges and fretted “brain rock” sandstone abound throughout these islands.

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Kayaking Kitimat

Destination Nanaimo: One magical day in March

Good timing offers a glimpse of nature at its most robust. Arrow Read more.


Deception Pass day trip

Destinations: Getting to know Nanaimo

Chances are if you've traveled on Vancouver Island, you've passed through Nanaimo. After all, it's the travel gateway and ferry hub for most of the island's best kayaking destinations. So for everyone who's passed through Nanaimo but not stopped, here's some water-related trivia to think about. (Fall 2009)


Handle with care - New national park reserve protects fragile ecosystem. By Hans Tammemagi / Spring 09


The Last Fjord: Indian Arm - by Bob Putnam. Day Trips.


Launch from Nanaimo, turn left - Day trip #3. By John Kimantas. Fall 08


Discovery Islands - Lyn Hancock is your guide through Quadra, Sonora, Maurell and Read Island as we head off the radar. Summer 08


Kayaking in Paradise - Gulf Islands National Park - by Hans Tammemagi / Jan-March 2008


Archived articles: