Level: Moderate

Tide Table: Prideaux Haven

Time: 1-7 days

Marine Chart: 3312 Desolation Sound

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Warning: Water Scarce


 Lund - Copeland Islands: 3 km  Lund - Tenedos Bay: 25 km
 Tenedos Bay - Prideaux Haven: 9 km  Prideaux Haven - Refuge Cove: 15 km
 Prideaux Haven - Grace Harbour: 19 km  Okeover Arm - Grace Harbour: 9 km
 Okeover Arm - Wootton Bay: 11 km  Okeover Arm - Prideaux Haven: 25 km


Desolation Sound is one of the crown jewels of kayaking in British Columbia. A week most certainly will not be enough to explore all the nooks and crannies of this vast Provincial Marine Park. The park itself encompasses more than 60 km of shoreline. Arrange for pick up with your kayaking outfitter upon arrival at the Powell River bus depot or take a thirty-dollar taxi ride to either Okeover Arm or Lund 23 km north of town. If arriving later in the day you'll find camping at both departure points. The cramped conditions at Okeover Arm Provincial Park are somewhat less than what one has come to expect from BC Parks. Private camping and showers can be found at nearby Y-Knot Camping & Charters.

Snapshot: Plying the sun-dappled waters of Desolation Sound near Galley Bay. Salt water is anathema to the fine micro-electronics of a camera. Keep it well-wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. A large tupperware container securely bungeed to the deck will keep photo tools handy while paddling.

Though catering to the RV crowd, the private walk-in campsites at Lund are well-situated, overlooking picturesque Lund Harbour. Expect to find showers, laundry facilities and plenty of mosquitoes at SunLund By-The-Sea. If looking for something to do while swatting the bugs away head for the patio at adjacent Lundlubber's BBQ where you can find a mean burger and frosty brew. Lund, with a population of just 800, has more than its share of funky cafes, coffee shops and gift boutiques. Keep in mind though that the sidewalks vanish rather early hereabouts. The general store doubles as a licensed liquor outlet for those who forgot to pack "provisions." With luck you can even catch some culture before dipping your paddle as an active theatre group regularly mounts amateur productions in the local community center.

Hot Tip

Powell River Visitors Bureau has produced a brilliant map of the entire region detailing, the Sunshine Coast Trail, the Powell Forest Canoe Route and Desolation Sound. The full-colour map includes topographic information, logging roads, and other routes of interest to mountain bikers, horseback riders and hikers. Key scuba diving, kayaking, climbing and camping locations are also highlighted. Download the map in PDF format here.

Upon awakening in the morning, coffee hounds will want to head directly for Cinnamamma's Bakery in front of the Lund Hotel and Pub. The boat launching ramp behind the hotel is as good a place as any to meet up with your kayak outfitter if you went the taxi route.

One of the four outfitters which service the Powell River area calls Lund Hotel home. Ironically-named Good Diving & Kayaking, though ideally situated, offers the worst, surliest service on the coast. Only clunky plastic kayaks are offered for rent here though it is doubtful you will be told of that prior to renting. If you ask however, the owner will assure you that nobody uses fibreglass any more. Having rented kayaks at nearly every outfitter in British Columbia I can assure you that once again the exact opposite is true. Good is not equipped to transport kayaks back across Malaspina Peninsula so a circuit starting in Lund and ending in Okeover Arm is out of the question.

Y-Knot Camping & Charters, situated at Okeover Arm, offers a good selection of fibreglass boats but lack of a shuttle service also precludes the circuit as described below. Only Powell River Sea Kayak and Mitchell's Canoe & Kayak will transport boats to your destination of choice. Both of these latter outfitters will also pick customers up at either the bus depot or airport in Powell River for a modest fee. No matter which outfitter you choose be sure to arrange to leave your backpacks with them before booking your boats.

Catching the first bus out of Vancouver will enable paddlers to be on the water by late afternoon if everything goes according to plan. From Lund Harbour turn north and if the prevailing winds are blowing, ride the breeze to the Copeland Islands just half an hour away. Some may be tempted to skip this 437-hectare Provincial Marine Park, taking advantage of the long evenings of summer to reach deep into Desolation Sound itself. Missing this charming archipelago would be aesthetic folly however. Set up camp early instead and use the extra daylight to explore the many rocks and islets in and out of the park known collectively as the Ragged Group. A word of warning: one of the islands we camped on had an inordinate number of wood ticks. Be sure to keep the mosquito netting on your tent closed all times.

Look for a small collection of pictographs on the cliffs of Thulin Passage including one of a clearly discernible dolphin or orca-like creature. The prehistoric rock paintings are easy to find, just look for graffiti on top of them. That's right, some moron splashed the word ACTIVE in bold, black letters across this priceless, irretrievable rock art. How someone could commit such an atrocity may be beyond comprehension but, if in your travels around the coast you ever happen upon a boat called Active, feel free to drill a few holes in the hull below the waterline.

Awaken refreshed and continue exploring northwards past Townley Island and the Powell Islets before rounding Sarah Point into Desolation Sound itself. If running short of water the Ragged Island Marina in Sharpes Bay is a dependable source. Sarah Point, named after one of Captain Vancouver's sisters, is the northern terminus of the recently completed Sunshine Coast Trail. stretching 180 km south to Saltery Bay ferry terminal. During inclement weather it is possible to haul kayaks out and even camp here though the location is somewhat exposed.

Sudden Surprise: The sun peeks out again, sheepishly, after delivering a surprise black squall. Never underestimate what the weather can deliver. This time, while kayaking in Desolation Sound, just ten minutes warning was enough time to set up the tent and stow the gear before the wall of water hit. Kinghorn and Station Islands in the distance are located at the tidal midpoint of Georgia Strait.

Nearby Kinghorn Island is the tidal midpoint of Georgia Strait. Water to the north of the island flows northwards rounding Vancouver Island at Cape Scott while that on the south shore is sucked by the moon past Victoria and out into the open Pacific. Being the last part of the inland waterway to feel the influence of the tides, the waters of Desolation Sound are not so thoroughly flushed and mixed by the tides as the waters on other parts of the coast. As oysters and swimmers alike can attest, the waters of Desolation Sound are considerably warmer than elsewhere.

Next scamper past Malaspina Inlet and the sometimes turbulent water off Zephine Head, making for a small islet at the far end of Galley Bay. This is one of the few spots beyond the Ragged Islands where kayakers can step out and stretch the kayak kinks out of their legs. Though a delightful place to camp, many will want to push on to Tenedos Bay.

From the Copelands to Galley Bay should take three to four hours depending on tides, winds and paddling ability. Continuing on to Tenedos Bay requires an additional two to three hours. Halfway there, the oyster-encrusted beaches of Portage Cove are a good place to stretch once again. Don't be bullied by the "No Trespassing" signs here. While the land above the high tide mark may well be private property, the foreshore belongs to you and me. At some point in your explorations of Desolation Sound you may be tempted to sprint across the narrow isthmus at the head of enticingly named Portage Cove. Don't even dream of it. Once a convenient short cut for native Indian paddlers, hence the name, Portage Cove is now a dead end. In spite of the best efforts of BC Parks negotiators, the owner has an unwavering faith in the supremacy of private property. Fortunately for him the law is on his side. You, however, have to paddle around Gifford Peninsula. Kayakers have no other option but to respect that privacy.

Pearly Stowaway: Can you spot the Japanese import in this photo? Actually, it’s a trick question as both the woman and the giant oyster came from Japan. The introduction of oysters however predates the Sony Walkman by more than a century. Sailing ships carrying lumber to Japan had to fill up with ballast for the return voyage. Crews scooped up sand and rocks and everything else including oyster spawn from Japanese beaches, carried it across the ocean then dumped it overboard before loading up with BC forest products again. The oyster obviously liked what it saw, proliferating rapidly along the coast and supplanting the indigenous Olympia oyster as it did so. Screw shells and oyster drills likewise stowed away then multiplied, with the latter predator becoming somewhat of a pest. As their name suggests these sea snails bore through the protective shells of their prey, slurping up the delicacies inside. Oyster drills can wreck havouc on mariculture.

There is however, no better place -- perhaps in the world -- to collect oysters, keeping collection limits and red tide warnings in mind. Let's hope someone remembered to pack the soy sauce and wasabi.

At Tenedos Bay, also known as Deep Bay, you'll find a number of rustic campsites, fire pits, outhouses and all the water you could ever want to drink. Unwin Lake, just a short, 5-minute hike away, is a great place to swim and wash the salt scum away. Though lacking similar amenities, the nearby Curme Islands are an exceedingly popular place to pitch tents as well. The northern grouping of islets offers the most accessible camping.

Further on, Prideaux Haven is paddlers' heaven. This intricate maze of islands, rocks and deep narrow coves is just the sort of place the yachting set have in mind when they talk about "gunkholing." Sadly, because of sewage from the many yachts and kayakers alike, the waters of Melanie Cove and Laura Cove are closed to the harvesting of bivalve molluscs.

Those who want to stretch their legs a bit can walk between the two coves along an old logging road. Look also for the remains of Old Phil's homestead at the head of Laura Cove. Melanie Cove had its hermit hand logger too but time and forest have reclaimed the last vestiges of Philosopher Mike's cabin. The shallows of Prideaux Haven reach bathtub temperatures on a hot summer day, perfect for practising group and self-rescue techniques.

Places to camp abound throughout Prideaux Haven though drinking water can be difficult to find. A small, seasonal stream near the tiny island at the head of Melanie Cove may yield potable water. Numerous creeks beyond Prideaux Haven trickle into the salt chuck but the nearest dependable source is a brisk 1½ hour paddle up Homfray Channel at Lloyd Creek. Don't drink it all on the way back. Across the channel from Prideaux Haven water can also be found at Black Lake at the head of the Roscoe Bay on West Redonda Island. The warm waters of Black Lake attract an inordinate number of swimmers so you are advised to top drinking water up at the little spring that dribbles into the lake some 100 metres along the northern shore. There is also a waterfall on the northern shore at Roscoe Bay's widest point. Hereabouts you'll find plenty of evidence of bygone logging operations as well as remnants of an unsuccessful homestead. After topping up some paddlers may enjoy a hike up to Lianover Mountain [2240 metres.] Allow two hours round trip. At 5215 metres, Mt. Addenbroke, on adjacent East Redonda Island is the tallest point on any of the islands of BC's tattered coast.

Whether hiking, camping or paddling you may want to pause for a moment to wonder what it was that inspired Captain George Vancouver in 1792 to label this area "desolate." Was it a simple case of the blues or did Desolation Sound's peculiar doldrums oppress him somehow? Certainly calm would have been of great concern to a sailor dependent on the wind for locomotion. He complained about the fishing as well as the stillness of the air. Of course oysters could not have been on the menu but mussels and clams should have been a complement to the then abundant salmon, cod, snapper and other fish. Maybe he forgot to pack the "buzzbombs."

Naturally, at that time, Cap'n George couldn't just scoot over to Refuge Cove, civilization's nearest outpost in Desolation Sound. Present day explorers can find a range of services including telephone, water, groceries, liquor store, laundry and shower facilities, a restaurant, gift shop, post office and even "buzz bombs" and other fishing tackle. Those not craving a black cherry ice cream cone may want to explore the shores of Mink Island before setting a course for the protected waters of Malaspina Inlet. Be sure to keep together when crossing the open sound in order to heighten the visibility of your group. The nest of fjords hidden behind Malaspina and Gifford Peninsulas is home to extensive aquaculture operations. The first suitable beach camping will be found near Kakaekae Point. Delightful Grace Harbour beyond offers more developed facilities including water, pit toilets and a number of onshore campsites. A third alternative will be found at Edith Island overlooking the junction of Malaspina, Okeover and Lancelot Inlets. Allow four to five hours to cover the distance between Prideaux Haven and Grace Harbour.

Set aside at least a day for exploring Lancelot and Theodosia Inlets. The best water in the area will be found at Thors Cove so top up before heading deeper into the fjord. Thynne Island is one of just two spots that are ideal for camping in the area. Captain Vancouver is known to have breakfasted on the island more than 200 years ago following the disappointing revelation that Theodosia Inlet was not the beginning of the mythical Northwest Passage after all. You too can discover the massive tidal flats that broke his heart at the head of the inlet. Theodosia Inlet was home to a bustling logging community of 5000 in the early 1900s. The logging railway which eventually reached 50 km inland closed down during the Dirty Thirties though active logging continues to the present day.

Good camping can also be found on Madge Island in Isabel Bay. Expect to find artifacts dating to the days of hand logging on the island while on shore, at the north end of the bay, the remains of a number old cabins and a seasonal creek that in a pinch may provide water will be found.

The route as described should take from five days to a week though exploration could easily be broken down into a series of weekenders as well. Exploration of the Ragged Islands could be accomplished as an overnighter. Likewise a two or three-day weekend would be plenty of time to poke around in the various fjords adjacent to Okeover Arm. A similar amount of time would be needed to reach Tenedos Bay and Prideaux Haven though the pace would be far from leisurely.

The End

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Though not in themselves palatable, skunk cabbage leaves had a zillion uses around the aboriginal kitchen. The unusually large leaves were ideal for lining and covering containers, lining steam pits, making fruit leather and sun drying seafood. Bears are known to bung themselves up by ingesting copious quantities of mud just prior to settling in for that long winter nap. Come springtime they seek out the laxative properties of skunk cabbage to -- stand back -- flush the system.

Illustration by Manami Kimura