5 Outstanding BC Kayak Trips

Paddle in scenery like this - with islands, mountains and rainforests always in view
Paddle in scenery like this in Clayoquot Sound - with islands, mountains and rainforests always in view

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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View from a rocky beach in Desolation Sound
View from a rocky beach in Desolation Sound

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.

Looking up Desolation Sound - one of the outstanding BC kayak trips
Looking up Desolation Sound – one of the top BC kayak trips
The Curme Islands are worth a stop for a night
The Curme Islands are worth a stop for a night

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.

Kayaking from Bowen Island - one of the outstanding BC kayak trips
Kayaking from Bowen Island

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.

Rum Island, near Sidney, BC is a beautiful place to camp
Rum Island, near Sidney, BC is a beautiful place to camp
The Sidney - Anacortes ferry - with Mount Baker in the distance
Watch out for the Sidney – Anacortes ferry – with Mount Baker in the distance when you head to Rum Island

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.

Looking out across Johnston Strait - a sea kayaking adventure in BC
Looking out across Johnston Strait – some of the more challenging and cold waters of the BC kayak trips

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.

Start the kayaking trip to Clayoquot Sound in Tofino - one of the outstanding BC kayak trips
One of the most beautiful of the BC kayak trips starts from the dock in Tofino – Photo credit: Hedda Werner from Pixabay
Paddle in scenery like this - with islands, mountains and rainforests always in view
Paddle in scenery like this – with islands, mountains and rainforests always in view

Some items to take on any one of the BC kayak trips

Location map of the BC kayaking trips


Further reading on paddling in Canada

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5 outstanding sea kayak trips in British Columbia including Desolation Sound & the Johnston Strait

  1. Which of your above destinations had the most abundance of wildlife? I am coming this summer with my 13 year old daughter. I have paddled from Bella Bella to Port Hardy and it was amazing. My daughter has been paddling since she was two but we now live in Ontario. I’m looking to give her the best marine ecosystem kayak adventure but think the Johnson Straight might be too much. If you had to choose between Desolation Sound or the Broken Group of Islands, which would you suggest? We would love to get out and snokel in wet suits as well.

    1. @Tim When I kayaked the Broken Group – in June years ago – we had very little wildlife. Having said that I’m going back in May and hoping for better luck. Desolation Sound as long as you stay away from Prideaux Heaven is wonderful for its swimmable waters without wetsuits. Again lots of bird life, and some seals but nothing else. The best has been an “out there” paddle in the Broughtons where we had bears and a mile long pod of dolphins. That took some serious paddling skill and I wouldn’t recommend it yet. There is the possibility of kayaking in the Johnstone Strait without crossing the strait. We have seen orcas from a small campsite just a few miles down from Telegraph Cove and black bears. How’s that for a wishy-washy answer.

  2. Hi,
    Sounds like we have similar interests and priorities, so I’d love to know your opinion on Haida Gwaii kayak tour operators. We’re considering either Ocean Sound or Tofino expeditions. Suggestions?

    1. @Barbara I have used Tofino Expeditions with great results before. I can also recommend Green Coast Kayaking – if you’re prepared to do some cooking. I have never used Ocean Sound but you could contact them and ask for references.

  3. Nice Roundup of kayaking destinations. Just wanted to add that if you plan on kayaking in Johnstone Strait it is imperative that you know and understand the Whale watching guidelines as published by the DFO.
    The guidlines are enforced by Fisheries and violations can be met with huge fines. (See Karl Peterson from Quadra Island convicted of whale harassment -google search).
    But the law aside, its imperative that we do everything we can to protect this threatened species.
    Know the facts ahead of time and then paddle, be safe and enjoy.

  4. I feel that you haven’t had enough time to explore B.C.. If you had you may have other destinations on your list. Have you ever been to the west cost of Vancouver Island or Hadia Gwaii. I would suggest that you take a closer look at the Broken Group Islands, Nootka Sounds, Nuchatlitz, Hakai, or Hadia Gwaii (Queen Charlottes). All of these destination have as much or more history, beauty and charm then Johnstone Straight and Clayoquot Sound.

    Enjoy exploring B.C.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve kayaked in the Broken Group – pretty but not neat the wildlife of other spots I’ve been too and the campsites themselves all felt over used.But I think it’s a good place for beginners to get a feel of the ocean. I’ve kayaked Nuchalitz and loved it – feels wild and there is more territory north of there that’s great but I don’t want to sing its praises too much as I don’t want it to get over run. Haida Gwaii is a good one and on my wish list. I love exploring BC and see a lot more kayaking there in my future.

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