When summer arrives in British Columbia it means it’s time to dust off my sea kayak and head for the ocean. It’s one of THE reasons I moved to British Columbia. I absolutely love the beauty of the places I visit, the wildlife, the birds, the moodiness of the ocean, the sunsets, the campfires and the time to fully disconnect from the world. Continue reading to discover 5 BC kayak trips you’ll want to do – all personally tested.
If you have never done your own self-supported sea kayak trip before then it’s probably a good idea to head off with an outfitter and get some experience. I did my first week long trip with Tofino Expeditions. A trip with an outfitter allows you to learn a set of skills and develop your confidence. Then you can move onto more challenging water …or not.
A few summers ago I spent over three weeks kayaking in five different areas of coastal BC. It’s hard to choose favourites as all the trips I’ve done have some redeeming quality. A few of my secret places cannot be revealed – my brother would never speak to me again.
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You won’t go wrong with any one of these 5 BC kayak trips.
Kayak Desolation Sound starting from Lund
Desolation Sound offers sea kayakers of all abilities a majestic landscape. The towering Coast Mountains to the east and the Discovery Islands to the west entice a huge sailing and boating crowd too.
Still the majesty of the place is worth the trip. These waters warm up enough to allow pleasant summer time swimming. Campsites are at a premium and razor sharp oysters cover a lot of rock making access very tricky – especially if you’re trying to carry a loaded kayak.
Beautiful campsites can be found in the Curme Islands, in Copeland Marine Park, and on Martin Island.
Plan to spend at least three days on one of the top BC kayak trips – if you kayak only Desolation Sound and closer to 10 days if you plan to explore Toba Inlet and the Redonda Island – Cortes Island area.
The minute you leave Desolation Sound per se the boat traffic drops off and you probably won’t even see another kayaker. Beware of the high speed boaters and the anabatic/katabatic winds if you venture up Toba Inlet.
Kayak Bowen Island and the Pasley Islands
Bowen Island is less than an hour from downtown Vancouver but a world apart. This is a day trip only affair (unless you circumnavigate the island and stay at B&B’s) but what a trip!
Enjoy the beautiful scenery of Howe Sound – bald eagles, seals, tugboats, sailboats and ferries. If you have a full day then I highly recommend launching your kayak at the northwest corner of Bowen Island so you can investigate the Pasley Islands – a small chain of islands not far from Bowen.
Look for the island with a beautiful sandy beach- a perfect picnic destination and a great place for a summer swim. You can rent a sea kayak on the docks of Bowen, just where the ferry comes in.
Kayak in the Gulf Islands
The Gulf Islands don’t give you that wild remote feel that you find on the west coast of Vancouver Island but they make up for that with accessibility. There are countless islands to explore and many places to launch. Kayak for a day or a week but plan ahead. Boat traffic, including BC Ferries and currents in places can be a problem.
I particularly enjoyed Rum Island which got its name from rum running in the prohibition era. It also goes by the name Isle de Lis Marine Park. It’s a few hours kayak from Sidney.
Rum Island borders Haro Strait, a busy shipping channel but that can be avoided. Land on a steep gravel beach and hump your tent to a camping platform where the views are sublime. You’ll need to self register and deposit money in a box so bring a bunch of $5 bills with you.
Another short trip you can so in the Gulf Islands is to kayak over to Sidney Spit. There is overnight camping too.
Kayak in the Johnstone Strait – one of the tougher BC kayak trips
I’ve kayaked the Johnstone Strait on three occasions. I love it but sometimes it scares me half to death. This area is not for the novice kayaker. Currents of up to 3 knots and more in Blackney and Weynton Passages, winds and boat traffic all present hazards. Black bears abound. But the rewards are great.
Most people launch from Telegraph Cove where it’s easy to rent a kayak. Once you leave the safety of the cove, watch out. The currents become apparent very quickly.
Head east towards the Blinkhorn Peninsula and the world famous Robson Bight. It’s here the orcas congregate to rub on the beaches but it’s off limits to all boats. Be prepared to see a whale at any time from your kayak or from shore – which is always a thrilling experience.
There are several very good rock beaches for camping though campsites on the far side of Johnstone Strait are harder to come by. If you kayak to the beautiful Broughton Archipelago by way of Blackney or Weynton Passage, go with the slack tide unless you like the thrill of standing waves.
Also, beware of cruise and container ships. Even if you see one way off in the distance, wait for it to pass unless you fancy riding a bow wave or worse. Expect cloudier days, cooler temperatures and colder water. In fact bring a wetsuit for this trip.
Kayak Clayoquot Sound
Clayoquot Sound is famous for ancient rainforests and white sand beaches. Hot springs, whales, amazing fishing – even from a kayak and abundant bird life put this area into the not to be missed category.
I prefer it to the much more famous Broken Group of Islands. You can choose between sheltered, usually calm water or the wild west coast. One time we kayaked all the way up to Hot Springs Cove on the inside route – some 40 plus kilometres, but what a beautiful white sand beach we found just a short paddle across from the cove. We took a day off to paddle and then enjoy the hot springs, and what a treat that was.
It’s on the west coast that you’ll find the amazing beaches. Fortunately you can camp on the calm side of many of the islands and hike across them to enjoy the beaches. It’s easy to rent a kayak in the town of Tofino.
Allow a week to get the flavour of the Clayoquot area as there’s a lot of exploring to do. You’ll find this to be one of the top BC kayak trips you can easily access.
Some items to take on any one of the BC kayak trips
- Buy a chart – so you’re not dependent on your GPS. I’d also recommend a waterproof map case.
- a PFD like the one by Kokatat with several pockets
- Lightweight Neoprene gloves for those cold, windy days
- a throw-bag
- a paddle-float
- a paddling knife that can be mounted on your PFD
Location map of the BC kayaking trips
Further reading on paddling in Canada
- Powell Forest Canoe Route – The Full Experience
- A Week Long Canoeing Trip in Quetico Provincial Park
- 3 of the Best Canoe Routes in British Columbia
- 12 Great Canadian Canoe Trips
- Early Season Canoeing in Algonquin Park
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