Desolation Sound is my favorite kayaking destination. It is a kayaker’s paradise at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast in BC, in the Salish Sea. Whether you are planning a weekend trip or a longer expedition, here is a guide to help you prepare for your paddling adventure.
- Why choose Desolation Sound?
- Camping in Desolation Sound
- How to plan your paddling route
- What to pack?
- Safety basics
- How to get there?
- Additional Information
Why choose Desolation Sound?
Desolation Sound is a good place for beginners. It is known for its calm, secluded, and warm waters. People say it’s the warmest water north of Mexico, and it’s common to see people swimming in summer. There are 11 designated campsites in the area; therefore, it is a good choice for camping newbies. Once, I had to face a 30 km/h wind in Malaspina Inlet for 3 hours. So I would be cautious with the term “calm waters.” Always check the weather forecast and tide tables before heading out.
The area is also rich with wildlife, and the scenery is dramatic, with the South Coast mountain range in the background. You’ll likely see many harbor seals and bald eagles, but also river otters, sea lions, and even killer whales. Watch out for colored sea stars, oysters, and mussels along the rocky shore.
When to kayak Desolation Sound?
The best time to go is from May to early October. July and August are the busiest, so finding a campsite is challenging, especially on weekends. Start early to maximize your chances. I prefer to go off-season, in May, June, or October, even if there is a higher chance of rain.
Self-guided or guided tour?
It depends on your experience, confidence, and risk tolerance. In my opinion, Desolation Sound is one of the best places in BC for beginners and does not require a guide as long as you follow some safety basics and prepare. For overnight trips, rental companies ask you to have at least one person who knows the basic rescue techniques in the whole group.
The benefits of having a guide with you are that you will learn about the land and the wildlife. If you can afford it, consider taking a guided tour with Klahoose Wilderness Resort, it is indigenous-owned, they have the best location in Desolation Sound, and offer trips to watch the grizzlies in Toba Inlet.
The parts I enjoy the most are planning my trip and paddling in quiet remote areas, so going with big guided groups is not appealing to me. If you want to plan your self-guided adventure, stay with me!
Note: There are no affiliate links in this blog post, and I only promote companies I either tested and loved or have many positive feedbacks.
Camping in Desolation Sound
There are 11 designated campsites in Desolation Sound, split into three areas:
- Malaspina Provincial Park: Feather Cove, Sarah’s Point
- Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park: Hare point, Grace Harbour, Bold head, Tenedos bay, Curme Islands (South, East, and West Curme Islands)
- Copeland Islands Marine Provincial Park: North and Middle Copeland Islands
Map of the designated campsites
All the designated campsites have wooden tent pads where you can pitch your tents and pit toilets. Campfires are forbidden within the Marine Parks. I visited all the campsites except for Grace Harbour, which is a bit isolated from the usual paddling route in the area. All the campsites are nice, but Curme Islands and Copeland Islands’ campsites are gems. Unfortunately, that also means they are crowded in summer. Feather Cove, Bold Head, and Tenedos Bay make great alternatives during the busiest times. If you have time, I recommend going north, out of the marine park’s boundary, and trying the unregulated campsites.
If you camp outside the Marine Parks, you’ll have to be careful where you choose to land. Finding a flat area to pitch your tent can sometimes be tricky, and you could be forced to stop sooner than expected because of fatigue or weather conditions. Therefore, I suggest you always have a plan B if you can’t reach the spot you have decided to land. Whether you camp within a marine park or not, please follow the Leave No Trace principles and be respectful of the wildlife and people who live on the land.
Finding fresh water
Most of the designated campsites don’t have a water supply nearby, so you’ll need to carry water with you. Unwind Lake, in Tenedos Bay, and Black Lake, in Roscoe Bay Marine Park, are both accessible via a short hike and make great options to fill your water tank and take a dip. Outside the Desolation Sound Marine Park area, further north, it’s easier to find fresh water as many waterfalls are accessible from the shore.
How to plan your paddling route
How long do you need for a kayaking trip in Desolation Sound?
There are many options, from a day trip to a week-long excursion. Consider allowing at least 2 full days and one night to enjoy the area fully. Also, unless you live on the Sunshine Coast, it would be quite a long trip for just one day on the water. When planning your trip, consider the tide’s times and wind direction because they can make a difference in your paddling pace. Allow enough time during the day to take breaks, explore the coves and go for swims.
The beauty of sea kayaking is that you have endless possibilities of routes, you just need a map and a bit of imagination, and there it is. You have to consider your paddling pace and how long per day you are willing to paddle. The following routes are easy paddling suggestions.
2 days: a glimpse of Desolation Sound
- Day 1: Okeover to Feather Cove.
- Day 2: To Curme Islands and back to Okeover.
Launch from Okeover and stop for lunch at Hare Point campsite, whose picnic tables offer great views over Malaspina Inlet. Get out of Malaspina Inlet into Desolation Sound and go west to Feather Cove. The campsite in Feather Cove has excellent kayaking access and offers good views over the sound.
The next day, start early and head north to Curme Islands. The crossing to Mink Island is quite long, but the waters are usually calm. There, enjoy the beautiful transparent and warm waters, go for a swim and have lunch while looking at the coast mountain peaks in the far distance. After a break, head back following the shoreline of Gifford Peninsula and enter Malaspina Inlet. Note that the narrower parts of Malaspina Inlet can get stronger currents, so pick your time wisely.
3-4 days: the jewels of Desolation Sound marine park
- Day 1: Lund to Sarah’s Point via Copeland Islands
- Day 2: Sarah’s Point to Curme Islands
- Day 3: Roscoe Bay and Martin Island
- Day 4: Martin Island to Lund.
This route takes you through the two most beautiful island groups of Desolation sound. Start with the Copeland Islands, about one hour paddle from Lund. You can choose to set up your camp there or stop for lunch and continue your way to Sarah’s point, where sunsets are stunning.
The next day, head out to visit the lovely Curme Islands. The campsites on Curme Islands are the most popular in the area, and it’s easy to understand why: transparent and warm waters, gorgeous views of the mountain peaks, and secluded coves.
On the third day, start early and visit the set of islands northeast of Curme Islands: Otter, Morgan, and Melville Islands. Continue north, cross the channel heading north towards Roscoe Bay Provincial Park. There, you can walk to Black Lake and swim or fill your tank with fresh water. The hike to Llanover Mountain offers beautiful views over the sound and makes the perfect paddling break. Then, head back south following the shoreline of West Redonda Island and stop at Martin Island. Set up your camp on the beach, which is an informal campsite.
On the last day, head back to Lund via Station and Kingborn Islands. Remember to stop by the Copeland Islands if you didn’t go on your way in.
6 days+: up north to Toba Inlet
- Day 1: Okeover to Curme Islands
- Day 2: Curme Islands to Walsh Cove via Waddington Channel
- Day 3: Walsh Cove to Gatineau Bay via Pryce Channel and Toba Inlet
- Day 4: Toba Inlet to Homfray Creek
- Day 5: Homfray Creek to Bold Head via Homfray Channel
- Day 6: Bold Head to Okeover
This route will take you to the mouth of Toba Inlet, one of the most beautiful areas I got to paddle. I chose to make a loop from Okeover and circle clockwise around East Redonda Island.
What to pack?
In addition to your usual camping gear, here are the things you should pack when going on a kayaking adventure.
If you have your own kayak, you’ll need to bring the following items required by Paddle Canada along:
- A life jacket or PFD (personal floating device) per person
- Buoyant heaving line (or floating rope), at least 15 meters long
- Sound signalization device – usually a whistle attached to the life jacket
- Paddle float for self-rescue
- Navigation lights (if paddling by night) + spare batteries
If you rent a kayak, the company will provide you with the required safety gear.
- GPS or Satellite Phone: not mandatory if you stay within the Marine Park boundaries as there is good cell coverage.
- VHF radio (+ learn how to use it): optional but recommended.
- Compass: essential to navigate in the fog
- Waterproof Marine Chart or Marine Map
- Tides Chart of the area (you can find them online and print them or keep them on your phone.)
I tend not to rely on electronic devices as they can get flooded or run out of battery. Therefore, I always bring a compass and a paper map.
- Waterproof jacket: keeping your upper body dry is the most important, as you will have the skirt to protect your bottom.
- Quick-dry pants or waterproof pants + shorts for warm weather
- Spare dry clothes: always keep them in a dry bag. If you fall into the water, you’ll have to change quickly to avoid hypothermia.
- Warm layers: avoid cotton, which is extremely long to dry.
- Water shoes: with the thousand of sharp oyster shells covering the coast, good water shoes are a must-have
- Runners or camping spare shoes
Even in summer, you can get cold very quickly when on the water, and the weather changes fast in the ocean.
- First Aid Kit
- Dry bags
- Waterproof phone case
- Water tank
- Tarp if going on rainy days
- Power bank (if you use electronic devices)
One of the most challenging parts of planning a multi-day self-guided kayaking trip is planning the meals. Here are a few tips to help you prepare.
- Along with food to cook, bring dehydrated meals. They are great when you are tired and don’t want to spend much time cooking or when it’s cold and raining and you don’t want to stay in the cold for too long.
- Bring fruits and veggies to cook, which can last days before getting bad.
- Keep bars, nuts, and dehydrated fruits for snacks in your easily accessible dry bag.
- Bring an extra day of food, at least. You could stay stuck on the shore for a whole day if the conditions are bad or underestimate how many calories you need after a long paddling day if you are new to long trips.
- Remember that you can carry a lot of weight in a touring kayak (it will make your kayak more stable, but you’ll be slower), so you can have fancier meals than when backpacking. Nothing is better than a bottle of wine after a long day paddling (I’m french; I can’t help it).
Get the skills
Before planning a self-guided kayaking trip, I suggest you take a sea-kayaking course. A course will give you the safety basics like rescue and solo rescue, how to use the gear etc. But also, they will teach you how to paddle efficiently (thus how to save energy) and navigate. It is optional for beginner-friendly areas like Desolation Sound, but it is so worth it.
I took a course with Deep Cove Kayak, and it was excellent. The course is called Paddle Canada Level 1 Skills and costs about $350 before taxes. You have six lessons of 3 hours each, over two weeks. It gave me enough confidence to plan my first week-long self-guided trip and go on overnight solo trips shortly after.
The must-do: a Float Plan
Always leave a float plan when you are going out on the water. The float plan includes the following:
- Your intended route.
- The campsites you’ll stop by.
- People descriptions.
- Colors of kayaks and life jackets.
- An emergency contact.
They will ask you to fill out a float plan if you rent kayaks. If you ate going on your own, leave your plan to someone you trust.
Weather, Tides, and Currents
You can have years and years of kayaking experience and still don’t know how to “read the water.” It is a complex science, and you can hear the best kayakers argue about currents all the time. Yet there are a few basics any newbie can get a grip of and ensure the party’s safety.
The wind: It is an essential thing to check before going out with a kayak. In areas like Desolation Sound, where the currents are not strong, the game changer is the wind. Check the wind speed and directions. It all depends on your comfort level, the area features (if it’s a narrow channel or an open area), and the direction, but I would say that a wind blowing at 15 km/hour (8 knots) starts to be uncomfortable for me. I use several apps to get the wind forecast, like Windy App and Ventusky.
The tides and currents: the currents are influenced by the tides, among other things. When paddling, it’s good always to know when it’s a rising tide (flood) or outgoing tide (ebb). In Desolation Sound, if you are launching from Okeover Inlet and going north, you want to leave with the outgoing tide, when the water in the inlet is drained out into the ocean so that you can save energy and time. But as there is almost no current in Desolation Sound (the maximum you can see is 1.5 knots), the wind direction will have a more significant impact there. I use the app Tides, which gives you the tides chart of the area you are located in and works offline.
How to get there?
Where to launch?
You can launch from Okeover Inlet or Lund. I prefer to launch from Lund as I find the Copeland Islands more interesting than the inlet, but it’s slightly longer. If you rent kayaks with Powell River Kayak, you’ll start from Okeover Inlet, and if you rent with Terracentric Adventures, you’ll launch from Lund. If you have your own kayak, note that there is a launching fee of $4 at the public boat ramp in Lund, and the parking costs $10 a day.
Getting to the Sunshine Coast
From Vancouver or Squamish, it takes roughly 6 hours to get to Lund or Okeover, including driving and ferry times and ferry waiting times. The first ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (Gibsons) takes 40 minutes. Then, you have to drive north to Earls Cove (approximately 1h30 drive). There, take the second ferry to the upper part of the Sunshine Coast. This ferry is non-bookable and takes 50 minutes to reach Saltery Bay. I consider this route the most beautiful ferry route in BC. From Saltery Bay, it takes about one hour to reach Lund or Okeover. Powell River is the last town on your way. There is a general store (with ATM), a bakery/cafe, and a restaurant in Lund.
Find ferry schedules and fees on the BC ferries website.
Interesting stops on the way:
- Towns: get a beer and enjoy the stunning view from the Tapworks brewery patio in Gibsons. Try one of the many good Sechelt restaurants and go to El Segundo for delicious and creative cocktails.
- Wander on the many beaches and parks. Make sure you stop by Davis Bay, Smuggler Cove Provincial Park, and the Madeira Park/Garden Bay area.
- Try one of the excellent campsites along the way: Porpoise Bay, Katherine Lake, and Mermaid Cove are my favorites.
- Take a short hike to Pender Hill for great views and walk to the Skookumchuck narrows to watch the power of the Sechelt rapids.
- Are you a climber? Powell River offers one of the best climbing spots in BC. For the more adventurous, visit the Elder Valley.
- The Sunshine Coast Trail is the longer hut-to-hut trail in Canada (180km). If you have to pick a section, I recommend the Tin Hat Mountain loop.
Here are some frequently asked questions about kayaking trips in Desolation Sound:
Are there bears in Desolation Sound?
Black bears are present along the mainland shorline, fishing for herring spawn or salmon. Further north, in Toba Inlet, you can spot grizzlies in fall. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter black bears while camping on the islands, but in any case, always hide your food in bear caches.
Can you fish in Desolation Sound?
Yes, but there are limits and you need a license. Also, be aware of the fishing closures and restrictions in the province. they can be to protect the habitat but also to prevent poisoning due to red tides.
Can you canoe in Desolation Sound?
I’m not a canoer, but I know people do canoe in Desolation Sound. The currents being mild and the area protected, it is possible. For canoers, I would suggest having a look at the Powell Forest Canoe Route that might be more adapted
- BC marine trails website
- Water classification map by Sea Kayaking Alliance of BC
- Book: Sea kayaking, by John Down.
If you have any questions, think I forgot useful information, or need help with your upcoming trip preparation, let me know in the comments!