Best Places for Kayaking in British Columbia

British Columbia kayak locationsWe already talked about some tips for kayak­ing the beau­ti­ful waters of British Colum­bia, so now that you know what to do, where do you go? Read on for some of the best places to kayak in British Colum­bia and a few things to look out for.

The Strait of Georgia
The north­ern end of the Sal­ish Sea that reach­es south to Olympia—the Strait of Georgia—extends from the Gulf Islands (real­ly an exten­sion of the San Juan Islands) to the Dis­cov­ery Islands near Camp­bell Riv­er. In Van­cou­ver Island’s rain­shad­ow, the Strait has a mediter­ranean cli­mate with grassy hills and oak and madrone trees. Cur­rents and after­noon winds can be strong, espe­cial­ly in the moun­tain­ous inlets. In the glac­i­er-carved land­scapes, camp­sites for big groups can be hard to find, espe­cial­ly out­side of well-trav­eled areas. Expect some plea­sure-boat traffic.

High­lights: Dry sum­mers, great views of the coast range, and a good intro­duc­tion to pad­dling in B.C.

The Flip Side: Watch out for after­noon winds and learn to pre­dict and man­age ocean cur­rents. The air may be warm, but the water is cold.

Sam­ple Routes: A tour through the Gulf Islands from Nanaimo to Vic­to­ria, Des­o­la­tion Sound from Lund or a tour around Quadra and Mau­relle Islands (nav­i­gat­ing tidal rapids at slack) from Rebec­ca Spit.

The North­ern Straits
The Strait of Geor­gia is divid­ed from the north­ern straits by a series of fierce tidal rapids with leg­endary names: Surge Nar­rows, Upper and Low­er Okisol­lo, Dent, Arran, Yucul­tas, and Hole in the Wall. These rapids form near the mid­point of east­ern Van­cou­ver Island, due to the dynam­ics of tidal cur­rents wrap­ping around the island. North­wards, the land­scape is more remote, as well as fog­gi­er and rainier. End­less inlets and island chains extend in many direc­tions between Surge Nar­rows and Cape Sutil at the island’s north­ern tip. Cur­rents can be strong, and John­stone Strait—a pop­u­lar place for pad­dling with a res­i­dent pod of Orcas—is par­tic­u­lar­ly noto­ri­ous for its com­bi­na­tion of strong winds and as a high­way for ship­ping through the inside pas­sage. Camp­sites are small in the glac­i­er-carved inlets, so small groups will have more camp­ing and route options.

High­lights: Orca whales, inlets and island chains that stretch for­ev­er, and solitude.

The Flip Side: Watch out for wind and a few con­fined spots of strong tidal cur­rents, like Black­ey Pas­sage and Stu­art Nar­rows. Queen Char­lotte Strait can be rough when the wind is up.

Sam­ple Routes: Tele­graph Cove across John­stone Strait to the Broughton Arch­i­pel­ago, or the islands of God’s Pocket from Port Hardy, stay­ing south of the Nawhit­ti Bar.

Van­cou­ver Island’s West Coast
Van­cou­ver Island’s West Coast is a dif­fer­ent world. Exposed to the vast Pacif­ic, it’s a rugged, weath­er­worn, intri­cate coast­line of swell, surf, off­shore reefs and marine life. Skilled pad­dlers can often find intri­cate semi-pro­tect­ed routes on much of the out­er coast. The com­bi­na­tion of swell and off­shore rocks cre­ates an intri­cate seashore rare in the low­er 48, but there’s no doubt about it—this is coastal pad­dling, and pad­dlers should know what they’re doing. Com­plex nav­i­ga­tion and the poten­tial for fog add to the excite­ment. Camp­ing is most­ly on vast sandy beach­es, many cov­ered in the tracks of can­is lupus cras­sodon, a sub­species of gray wolf found only on Van­cou­ver Island. Some west coast pad­dling des­ti­na­tions, like Clay­oquot and Noot­ka Sound, offer both exposed coastal pad­dling and “inside” routes pro­tect­ed from ocean swell. The west coast rewards long, slow and not-in-a-straight-line exploration.

High­lights: Kayak­ing a rugged out­er coast­line with off­shore rocks, reefs, and the majesty and pow­er of a wilder­ness coast­line full of wildlife.

The Flip Side: This is exposed coastal kayak­ing. You’ll feel the rugged­ness of the Pacif­ic, even on semi-pro­tect­ed routes. Mon­i­tor the wind, swell and tide carefully.

Sam­ple Routes: The Bro­ken Group from Toquart Bay, Clay­oqout Sound from Tofi­no, or the north end of Noot­ka Island from Zebal­los or Lit­tle Espinoza Inlet.

The Cen­tral and North Coasts
If you think the west coast of Van­cou­ver Island is remote, try the cen­tral and north coasts. Acces­si­ble only by B.C. fer­ry or float­plane to the towns of Klem­tu, Bel­la Bel­la, Bel­la Coola or Prince Rupert, this mas­sive area is the def­i­n­i­tion of wilder­ness jour­ney­ing. Inside inlets and out­er coast routes abound. Griz­zly and black bears, includ­ing a rare white sub­species of Black Bear called the Ker­mode Bear, wolves, and oth­er wildlife out­num­ber humans. Rain is fre­quent, the miles are many and if you have the skills and time and can fig­ure out the logis­tics, it’s some of the best pad­dling on earth.

High­lights: Wilder­ness with a big W, rang­ing from wildlife to unchart­ed tidal rapids to end­less mazes of islands.

The Flip Side: This is remote wilder­ness, so self-suf­fi­cien­cy is para­mount. Many routes involve crux moves across big, unpre­dictable bod­ies of water with rep­u­ta­tions, such as Cape Cau­tion, Queen Char­lotte Sound, Hakai Pass, Super­si­tion Point and Mil­banke Sound.

Sam­ple Routes: Calvert Island and Hakai Con­ser­va­tion Area, Bel­la Bel­la to the Goose Group or, for the experts, Bel­la Bel­la to Port Hardy.