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A Kayaking Trip in Clayoquot Sound, BC

My first ever kayaking trip took place in Clayoquot Sound, on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. 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.

Clayoquot Sound is a remarkable spot for a kayaking trip. It’s ruggedly beautiful with classic west coast mountain and ocean scenery plus 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.

"Central Clayoquot Sound from the air"

Central Clayoquot Sound from the air – Photo credit: Leigh Hilbirt on Flickr

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 at sunset"

Tofino Harbour at sunset – Photo credit: Fred von Lohmann on Flickr

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.

"Paddling in Clayoquot Sound off the west coast of Vancouver Island"

Paddle in scenery like this – with the mountains and rainforests always in view – Photo credit: KCXD on Flickr

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 Orcas - in Clayoquot Sound"

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

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: David J. Laporte on Flickr

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 Clayoquot Sound Kayaking Information

  • 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.

Have you ever done a kayaking trip into Clayoquot Sound?

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Leigh McAdam

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Jackie Smith says:

    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.

  • Rouven @ yarnsofwhalesandsnow.com says:

    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.

    • @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.

  • 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!

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