We 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.
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.
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.