Eight Weeklong Sea Kayak Adventures

The sea kayak is the per­fect vehi­cle for explor­ing dis­tant arch­i­pel­a­gos and far­away coast­lines. Self-con­tained, built to han­dle long hauls and rough water, able to weave between impos­si­bly nar­row chan­nels and over bare­ly-sub­merged rocks, sea kayaks can go where no oth­er boat can on the sea. All that remains now is decid­ing where to go. Here are eight jour­neys per­fect for a week nav­i­gat­ing the watery parts of the world.

Around The Coun­ty: Cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the San Juan Islands
Sea kayak­ing is pop­u­lar in the San Juans: but not this way. Most vis­i­tors to take the fer­ries to the cen­tral islands of Orcas, San Juan, or Lopez, and pad­dle the pro­tect­ed waters between the large islands. To expe­ri­ence the wilder side of the San Juans, skip the inte­ri­or of the islands and make a big loop from the small­er islands in the open waters of Rosario Strait, Haro Strait, and Bound­ary Pass. Camps on James, Clark, Suc­cia, Patos, Stu­art, and Posey Islands give a feel of the taste of the great wide open. The sea cliffs on the south side of Lopez, bat­tered by win­ter swell from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, give a sense of a rugged, open ocean-type shore­line. The west side of San Juan Island offers the best chance to see Orca.

Plan­ning: This isn’t a leisure­ly, hang-out-in-camp route. Cur­rents are strong in the San Juans, espe­cial­ly around the out­er islands, so the abil­i­ty to read charts and the cur­rent tables are key. Cur­rents can inter­act with the wind to cre­ate chop­py seas. Cross­ing Rosario Strait from Ana­cortes also means keep­ing a sharp eye watch­ing for ship­ping traf­fic; the cross­ing of Cat­tle Pass should be done with an eye to the strong cur­rents that flood north into the pass from the Strait of Juan De Fuca. There’s a lot of route plan­ning, but you’ll expe­ri­ence a trip in the San Juans most peo­ple nev­er see.

When to Go: Sum­mer. Plan your trip with the currents.

The Broughton, British Colombia
The Broughton Arch­i­pel­ago is a string of small islands that rings the vast expense of Queen Char­lotte Sound, which sep­a­rates north­ern Van­cou­ver Island from the main­land. Armadas of kayak tours com­pa­nies patrol the waters near the launch point of Tele­graph Cove, fol­low­ing the famous Orcas of John­stone Strait. But if you leave the com­mer­cial tours behind and ven­ture a bit fur­ther, and you’ll dis­ap­pear into an island wilder­ness that ranges from the open waters of the Strait to tiny chan­nels, unchart­ed rapids enter­ing ocean lagoons, inlets pen­e­trat­ing deep into the moun­tain­ous BC inte­ri­or, and whales, wolves, and bears. Once you ven­ture beyond the traf­ficked waters of John­stone Strait, you’ll see an occa­sion­al fish­ing boat at best.

Plan­ning: Routes can encom­pass both the exposed expanse of Queen Char­lotte Strait or pro­tect­ed island pas­sages. Cur­rent plan­ning is key, and since cur­rent tables only exist for a few places, the abil­i­ty to intu­it cur­rent behav­ior from a chart is key. Expect tide races where bod­ies of water like Fife Sound glow into the Strait. Small groups will have more camp­ing options in the glac­i­er-carved land­scape than large ones. And bring good raingear.

When to Go: Summer.

Flo­res Island

North to the Hot Springs: Flo­res Island, British Columbia
The Coast High­way comes to an abrupt end at a dock in Tofi­no, British Colum­bia on the west side of Van­cou­ver Island. Where the road stops, an end­less string of islands begins in Clay­oquot Sound. Explor­ing the nooks and cran­nies of this seascape of islands, beach­es, surf, deep fjords, and mas­sive trees can take weeks. There’s no bad pad­dling in Clay­oquot Sound, but a great jour­ney is to work your way to Hot Springs Cove, off the north­west cor­ner of Flo­res Island. There are two routes to the hot springs: one on the exposed out­er coast and anoth­er on the more pro­tect­ed but longer fjords. The out­er route takes you past vast wide beach­es, off­shore reefs and rock gar­dens, giant kelp forests, and fre­quent pods of gray whales and sea lions. It’s also exposed to the open Pacif­ic. The inner route takes pad­dlers by Shark Falls and through Sul­phur Pas­sage and offers a pro­tect­ed route when the sea con­di­tions or group skills make dis­cre­tion the bet­ter part of valor.

Plan­ning: Pay atten­tion to fore­casts for swell height and direc­tion, wind, and fog if tak­ing the out­side route: there’s no shel­ter on the out­er coast. On the inside route, time your trav­el to with the cur­rents. Camp­sites on the inner route are best suit­ed to small groups: on the out­side, wide beach­es can accom­mo­date an army.

When to Go: June, July, or Sep­tem­ber. August is known as “Fogust” on BC’s west coast.

Bon­neville to the Sea: Colom­bia River
Bon­neville Dam is the begin­ning point of the Colum­bia Riv­er Water Trail, a 144-mile jour­ney that you can end at the Pacif­ic, at either Fort Stevens State Park in Ore­gon or Cape Dis­ap­point­ment, WA. The jour­ney fol­lows the trans­for­ma­tion of the mighty Colum­bia Riv­er through stages: from the steep walls of the Colum­bia Gorge, through the urban land­scape of Port­land and Van­cou­ver, as it widens through water­fowl and eagle-filled mazes of island refuges, and as it becomes a vast sea-like body of water, with tidal cur­rents, the rise of the dis­tant Pacif­ic, and, if you ven­ture far enough west, the com­plex­i­ty and skill required to pad­dle on the sea.

Plan­ning: the Low­er Colum­bia Water Trail iden­ti­fies camp­sites along the route. Short­ly west of Skamokawa, WA, you’ll need to decide if you want to end your trip on the Ore­gon or Wash­ing­ton side of the vast riv­er mouth. Wind and tide are major fac­tors on the low­er riv­er, and most pad­dlers try to make west­er­ly progress ear­ly in the day before west winds rise. Camp­sites can be scarce in the refuges.

When to go: May, when the riv­er is full of spring runoff, the days are long, and the sum­mer west wind aren’t at full strength.

Lake Pow­ell

Lake Pow­ell, Utah
A bit of a depar­ture from oth­er trips on this list, Lake Pow­ell is a conun­drum. Cre­at­ed by flood­ing Glen Canyon behind the infa­mous dam, it’s both an affront to riv­er lovers, and a stun­ning place to pad­dle a sea kayak. The open water of the lake nar­rows down to many nar­row, tight flood­ed canyons that serve as launch pads for hikes up nar­row slot canyons and to arch­es that are only acces­si­ble by boat. The Slick­rock, blue water, and intense blue sky offers and aus­tere land­scape crav­ing for a slow-paced exploration.

Plan­ning: the lake is mas­sive, and you’ll need to pick which region to explore. Once that’s been decid­ed, let the itin­er­ary be dic­tat­ed by what you enjoy most—hikes, side canyons, or the wide-open feel of the lake. You’ll need to pack out human waste, best done with a PVC-pipe and wag­bag set­up known to big-wall climbers.

When to Go: Spring and Fall. Avoid the mon­soon sea­son and flash-flood haz­ards, as well as sear­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures and house­boat traffic.

Hakai, British Colombia
The Hakai region of British Columbia’s cen­tral coast is very dif­fi­cult to access, and well worth it. Part of an even vaster region that extend­ing to the Alas­ka bor­der and beyond, this coast­line holds trip pos­si­bil­i­ties of lim­it­less scope. Most trips begin by tak­ing the fer­ry to the native vil­lage of Bel­la Bel­la, and from there, island-hop­ping begins. The “out­side” includes islands like Stryk­er, the Goose Group, and McMullin Group, as well as the west coast of Calvert Island. Inte­ri­or routes will lack the rugged­ness and sandy beach­es of the wave-worked out­er coast, but will make up for it with a maze­like series of islands, the occa­sion­al unchart­ed tidal rapid, and pro­tec­tion when the swell gets big. High­ly skilled pad­dlers can ven­ture as far south as Calvert Island.

Plan­ning: Most routes in the Hakai will require a few crux moves, with expo­sure to the open sea. The route from Bel­la Bel­la to Calvert Island requires three such moves: round­ing Super­sti­tion Point, Cross­ing Kli­didt Sound, and Hakai Pass, where cur­rent and swell mix. The clo­sure of the BC Fer­ries Queen of Chill­i­wack, which dropped off and picked up kayaks en route, makes this area more dif­fi­cult to access—and less crowded.

When to Go: June and July

Sun­shine Coast

Deso and Dis­co: Des­o­la­tion and Dis­cov­ery, British Colombia
The strange names don’t have any­thing to do with 70s dance moves. It’s a ref­er­ence to a com­bined tour through Des­o­la­tion and Dis­cov­ery sounds on the north­ern end BC’s Sun­shine Coast. Strings of moun­tain­ous islands and still-more moun­tain­ous coast range inlets are the back­drops for these two series of islands that are both sim­i­lar and dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter. They’re sim­i­lar in that they’re all moun­tain­ous and steep, and are eas­i­ly linked togeth­er by pad­dle trips. They’re dif­fer­ent in that Des­o­la­tion Sound is known for warm water and very mild cur­rents, and Dis­cov­ery, just to the north­west a few miles, has some of the strongest cur­rents in the world in dis­tinct tidal rapids like Arran, Dent, Yucul­tas, and Hole in the Wall. A tour through the region is a great way to spend a week, or more, regard­less of whether or not you seek the rough water of the rapids.

Plan­ning: A loop through the area can leave and end at either Quadra Island or Lund. In the Dis­cov­ery Islands, know­ing the times of the tidal rapids is key, as the win­dows of slack are nar­row, often as lit­tle as ten min­utes dur­ing a full moon. But see­ing them at full force is a treat, and sev­er­al camp­sites and calm pad­dles make this pos­si­ble. Tour­ing the Dis­cov­er­ies is a more flex­i­ble expe­ri­ence: the mild cur­rents require less plan­ning, but wind in inlets like Toba and Bute should be mon­i­tored with care.

When to Go: June through September

Puget Sound

Sur­round the Sound: Puget Sound
Puget Sound is a kayak­er’s dream: hun­dreds of miles of pro­tect­ed water, islands, and rich seago­ing her­itage. Most pad­dlers in the North­west over­look the pad­dling out their back doors to ven­ture to British Colum­bia of the San Juans. But many jour­neys of a week-or-longer exist in the Sound, hop­scotch­ing between islands and Cas­ca­dia Marine Trail camp­sites from Olympia to Point Roberts, tak­ing in every­thing from the glass tow­ers of Seat­tle to the tidal rapids of Decep­tion Pass. It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of expe­ri­ence, pad­dling often with­in an easy range of a fresh shot of espres­so, busy waters amongst the urban and sub­ur­ban as well as the wild. But it’s a jour­ney well worth doing.

Plan­ning: A range of routes are pos­si­ble through­out the sound, mak­ing use of Wash­ing­ton Water Trails camp­sites. Be aware of ship­ping traf­fic that plays the sound, and cross busy chan­nels with care. Plan the rest of your trav­el to ride the currents.

When to Go: When­ev­er you’re ready.