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

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound in BC

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound, on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island was my first ever sea kayaking adventure. That trip was the start of my love affair with the sport. Since then I, along with my husband, have done countless kayaking trips, primarily to spots off of Vancouver Island, though we’ve done some inland paddling as well.

It’s a memorable experience kayaking Clayoquot Sound. To start with it’s ruggedly beautiful with classic west coast mountain and ocean scenery. In addition the area is home to a number of stunning white sand beaches, though most are accessible via surf landings or a walk across an island.

It’s also the site of one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests. Back in 1993, Clayoquot Sound was the staging ground for the largest-ever act of civil disobedience in Canada.

Ten thousand protesters from both Europe and North America descended on the Peace Camp – set up to protect the massive trees of Clayoquot Sound.

Clayoquot Sound sunset - Photo credit: Andy Field on Flickr Creative Commons
Clayoquot Sound sunset – Photo credit: Andy Field on Flickr Creative Commons

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There are a number of ways you can explore Clayoquot Sound, depending on how much time you have and what kind of paddling skills you possess. In all likelihood your trip will start in Tofino – a great seaside town that deserves a few days as well.

Tofino Harbour
Tofino harbour – Photo credit: Jusuf111 from Pixabay

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound – route suggestions

Meares Island

If you only have a day, then plan to paddle to Meares Island. Do it on your own or with a guided group if you are new to paddling. Boat and sea plane traffic as well as currents can be challenging in Tofino’s harbour. The goal of this short trip is to marvel at some of the oldest and biggest trees in British Columbia.

Once you’ve kayaked to the trailhead, it’s a 3 km (2 mi) round-trip hike through the forest on a boardwalk to the famous Hanging Garden Tree, a western red cedar with a massive 18.3 m (60 ft) circumference.

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound 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

Circumnavigate Meares Island

If you have three days, a circumnavigation of Meares Island is possible. Or you can head to Milties Beach on Vargas Island and set up camp for a few days.

From there, walk across the island and enjoy the spectacular beach and the wildness of the area without any of the risk of a surf landing.

If you're lucky you might see some transient killer whales - Photo credit: David Stanley on Flickr
If you’re lucky you might see some transient killer whales – Photo credit: David Stanley on Flickr

The best kayaking trip 

But the best trip, providing you have at least five days is to head to Hot Springs Cove. There are two ways to do this trip. Either paddle on the mostly calm backside of Vargas and Flores Island, so as to avoid heavy swell and surf landings, or paddle the very beautiful outer coast.

But the outer coast requires excellent kayaking skills and it’s not for the faint of heart. Don’t attempt it if the seas are above 2 m (6.5 ft) or the wind is blowing more than 15 knots; definitely don’t do it if it’s getting dark or its foggy. There are not many safe landing spots.

As a staging area for Hot Springs Cove, aim for beautiful Halfmoon Beach on the northwest side of Flores Island. It’s a great place to set up a camp for a few days.

From there, it takes about an hour to paddle to the Hot Springs. Bring money for a coffee and a baked goodie at the government wharf and a towel and bathing suit for the hot springs.

From the wharf, it’s a 2 km (1.2 mi) walk along a most interesting boardwalk – inscribed with the names of boats and people that have visited – to the hot springs. Enjoy a long soak before retracing your steps.

The boardwalk into the Hot Springs
The boardwalk into the Hot Springs – Photo credit: Patty-OH! on Flickr Creative Commons

Clayoquot Sound is the sort of place that will call you back repeatedly over your lifetime. I know I’m overdue for another visit.

Useful information for a kayaking trip

The kayaking is moderate to difficult depending on if you paddle the inside passage or the exposed coast. Paddling against the current or in big swells increases the level of difficulty.

Start in Tofino on Vancouver Island located 315 km (196 mi) northwest of Victoria, and 200 km (124 mi) west of Nanaimo via Highway 4.

The kayaking is best in the summer but you can comfortably do it between May and October if the weather cooperates.

You can rent sea kayaks in Tofino right at the water’s edge.

Do not land on Indian Reserve, marked IR on charts, without permission from the band office.

Bears are common on the mainland.

A number of companies offer tours in the area including Tofino Sea Kayaking, Majestic Ocean Kayaking and Paddle West Kayaking.

For more information visit the Tourism Tofino website.

It can get wavey and you need to watch for rocks
It can get wavey and you need to watch for rocks

Things to take on kayaking trips

I’d highly recommend the following that I always have with me on multi-day paddling trips include the following:

For a full list of what to take check out The Kayaker’s Checklist – 100 Items to Pack

Where to stay in Tofino before or after your trip

Tofino has loads of great places to stay. Some of my favourites include the following properties – Middle Beach Lodge, Long Beach Lodge Resort and Pacific Sands Beach Resort.

For more affordable alternatives try Meares Vista Inn (my friend swears by this place) or Tofino Paddlers Inn right in town.

Further reading on kayaking trips in BC

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A kayaking trip in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I am a few posts behind and catching up on your blog, Leigh. We got up into Tofino for the first time last year and loved it. I did take photos but haven’t looked at them for awhile don’t know if anything I have would be useful but I’ll look and shoot you an email with attachments if I find anything.

  2. Very nice. I’m going to Vancouver Island in August/September and will of course be visiting Clayoquot sound. But I choose the north (Johnstone strait / Broughton archipelago) of VI for a kayaking trip. From what I heard, there’s better chance for whale spotting in that area.
    Vancouver Island must be a fascinating place. Can’t wait to get there.

    1. @Rouven You’ve got a very high probability of seeing Orca whales in the Johnstone Strait. The water temperature is cold and the area in summer always seems rainier than the Tofino area – though I still love it. Both are equally great trips in a different way.

  3. Wow, what a beautiful area! I have never been kayaking in the Clayoquot Sound, but after reading your post I am eager to visit! Hot Springs Cove definitely sounds like a wonderful destination– definitely worth the extra time it takes to get there. Great post, and thank you for introducing me to this area!

  4. Hey! Awesome blog. What do you think about kayaking the broken island group? I’ve limited time on Vancouver Island and I need to decide between broken island or hot springs cove

    1. Isabelle – The Broken Group in summer is lovely but very busy. If it was May, June or September I’d say do the Broken Group. If its the summer I’d recommend hot springs cove.

  5. […] Kayak Clayoquot Sound. Take a boat ride to Hot Springs Cove and immerse yourself in natural pools. The boardwalk to get to the hotsprings is itself an interesting attraction. Boaters from all over the world have carved their names in individual boards so you can see the history of who has visited. Fish. Dine well. Sleep on the beach. […]

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