Kayaking in Desolation Sound

Desolation Sound Marine Park

Park Size: 8,449 hectares

District Encompasses:
Desolation Sound
The Copeland Islands
Malaspina Provincial Marine Park

Prideaux Haven
Tenedo’s Bay
Grace Harbour

Squirrel Cove – Cortes Island
Lund – Powell River
Okeover Arm – Powell River

Campsites within the Desolation Sound Park boundaries: 11
Note: Camping is only permitted in designated campsites
Fees apply

Desolation Sound is Managed by: BC Parks 

For more information: BC Marine Trails 

 A Kayak Trip into Desolation Sound

I am bewildered as to why the first explorers named this small piece of paradise Desolation Sound. They must have been in a bad way to be thinking along those lines because there is nothing desolate about this pocket of Eden. The rugged surroundings, the dramatic mountains and the scattered islands don’t illicit a feeling of emptiness or dreariness, they are by any stretch of the imagination rugged, raw and extreme that is for sure, which instills a sense of wonder and oneness with the surroundings, maybe these first white explorers were tired of the endless coastline, suffering from homesickness or scurvy, who knows.


Serrated oyster shells blanket every inch of the surrounding shoreline up to the weather beaten rock that culminates in a dense understory so full of ancient foliage that would make it virtually impossible to navigate these small land masses on foot.

bleached bones of a seal desolation sound BC

The simple act of stepping ashore, requires extreme caution, you are taking your life into your own hands. Don’t fall, the rocks are slippery. The encrusted oyster and barnacle shells are razor sharp and they are everywhere. Rocky shorelines are not your only respite from the intense primeval ambiance this remoteness represents. Even at sea level, the trees appear as if they belong in the alpine, fibrous and strong, surviving centuries of continual and powerfully harsh winds, pelting rain and snow storms. I love it.

tied up boats desolation sound

Every minute of it, even the long passage crossings where no protection from the wind is available, where we found ourselves navigating 3 foot swells that seemed to be approaching from not one direction but from all directions at once.

the classic shot of mt denman in desolation sound bc

Day 1 – Heading to Desolation Sound:

Up early to catch the Quadra Island Ferry, kayak on the roof of the truck, gear in totes in the back and an attitude of adventure. Its early in the am in order to connect to the sailings to Cortes Island. I meet the girls in the ferry line up on the east side of Quadra Island.

cath and linda with just a little wind desolation sound 2018

Quiet ferry crossing, a short jaunt across the island to Squirrel Cove, where there is a good blow on, which was expected, but it was suppose to settle down to a slight breeze mid day, so we decide to hand around and wait a bit. You know what they say about the weather around here “If you don’t like it wait five minutes.”

linda paddling in Desolation sound

That didn’t work, the day was worrying on and we saw a small window and decided to take it. Needless to surmise the wind picked up shortly after launch and we had a hairy crossing. I was not so uncomfortable with the chop because I have been there, done that. But I was using a friends gear which presented a few challenges.

First night arrival Desolation Sound BC

Lesson number one, try your gear out before you go. My rudder would not go completely down (my fault) so I had to track with my paddles and let me tell ya that is hard work in an 18 foot fully loaded expedition kayak. But more than that the life jacket was way too tight and that added to my already uncomfortable state, chaffing my chin and my underarms with every stroke of the paddle. Add them up and it was a good thing it only took us about an hour and a half to paddle to our first camp spot on the Martin Islands. I ripped the life jacket off like my life depended on it as soon as I hit the beach. With some serious adjustments the next run would be much easier.

eagle at prideux haven desolation sound 2018

The Martins are a lovely spot, out of the wind, our camp tucked away on the spit between two islands. Shortly after we arrived the crew from Spirit of the West who were launching at the same time as we did, arrived at our camp site. They were primarily nubies and a few were a little uncomfortable with the crossing so this was an excellent choice of camp for them. Did we have room? You bet we did, and a good choice that was, they were a wonderful group of people from all over. What a delight to see our home surroundings through their eyes.

First campsite Tent Desolation Sound

Day 2 – Arrived in Desolation Sound:

Off to the Cerme Islands. A couple hours of calm waters and relaxed paddling to an amazing spot with a view of Homfray Channel, East Redonda Island and the Coast Mountain Range. Now we are truly within the boundaries of Desolation Sound Marine Park with an outhouse as well as tent platforms. Never underestimate the value of a tent platform, very upscale. And low and behold an hour or two later, around the corner arrive our compadres from the night before. Will we share. Yes we will.

the cermie islands desolation sound bc

After a safety lecture and a set return time, thank you mother hen Joanne, safety first, I get it. I took a bit of a foray on my own to the surrounding islands on a picture taking expedition, I loved it, the resting seals let me drift so close I could almost touch them. I certainly smelled them that is for sure, but I didn’t want to disturb their slumber and as you can see by the shots they were not concerned, mission accomplished. I’m smiling and they were so cute. Then back to camp.

seal sleep fest cermie islands desolation sound

Note to self: When exiting a kayak, keep your center of balance low and make sure your feet are underneath you at all times. I tumbled out of mine (had a swim) and ripped a few gaping holes in my legs and hands, I bleed like a stuck pig for quite a while, what I didn’t notice until a few days later, was the massive bruising all along the left side of my leg. Silly me. New war wounds.

blood desolation sound bc

A gourmet dinner of prawns and pasta, coupled with a glass of Pinot Gris and the donation of carrot cake from our company.

gourmet dinner desolation sound 2018

My paddling partner had the foresight to freeze a bladder of wine and leave it in the bottom of her boat. Smart move, cold wine. My contribution was the après scotch. A bit of a swim for some of us then bed time.

a cool off swim in desolation sound bc

at the end of the day cermie islands desolation sound 2018

Slept like a baby, tired and satisfied. Apparently I snore, who would have thought. I personally don’t believe that I do. They just made that up.

Day 3 – Playing in Desolation Sound:

Off to Prideaux Haven. A long day in the saddle covering a substantial distance, weaving in and out of the small islets and islands with numerous ah ha moments, coupled with a fabulously sunny day that for some reason did not feel too hot. I now have a rather dark sun tan though.

another cove in desolation sound bc

The striking element on the route back to camp was in the hidden bays of Prideaux Haven where a number of massive yachts were anchored. A small city of the super rich, tucked away out of sight. Generators humming, music playing, jet skies screaming. Not what I expected at all.

Yaught haven Desolation sound 2018

Back to camp looking forward to another fabulous dinner of spaghetti, ceasar salad and garlic toast. Yummy.  Your taste buds are sharpened when you are in the wilderness, along with all your other senses. I am sure of it.

I love living here desolation sound bc

Dinner went off without a hitch, we all seem to share well. Apres dinner, relaxing with a small glass of the amber nectar, we saw or more accurately heard a storm advancing up the inlet. The first burst of lightening took 30 seconds to resonate with thunder, the second which was only about three minutes later was 20 seconds. Alert – the storm was advancing – rapidly. The third lightening strike was right on top of us and the thunder was virtually only a second later so the alarm was sounded. Baton down the hatches “NOW” screamed Joanne. She was right, smart move because we got nailed.

Beverly warrior princes desolation sound 2018

As I turned to the west towards my tent, I witnessed one of the most amazing and bizarre sunsets I have ever seen. The entire sky was on fire. I had just enough time to take a few pictures when it began to rain. Slow at first, no big deal, then the wind. I figure we went from dead calm to hurricane force winds in less than 15 minutes, the storm just kept building and building.

the sunset before the storm desolation sound bc

no this picture was not tappered with, these were the real colours desolation sound 2018

The rain didn’t last long the first time, but when it was raining it was pelting like it was punishing the earth. I wasn’t worried as I have a four season North Face tent that was built for the extremes of Everest, so I was completely relaxed through the whole thing, rejuvenated really, almost excited and fell asleep in a matter of minutes. I was warm, I was dry and I was safe, thanks for the tent platform BC Parks.

our roomies return desolation sound bc

And woke up to another beautiful morning.

It is fair to note that before the storm hit we had discussed the weather and noted that there may be wind in the forecast so the ruling was made to pull the boats completely out of the water anchoring them 15 feet above the high tide line. Good call girls, they would have been smashed to smithereens had we left them tethered in the lagoon, no matter how well anchored they would have been.

relaxing bliss desolation sound 2018

up close and personal desolation sound 2018

Day 4 – Heading home from Desolation Sound:

The forecast was for drizzle in the morning with increasing winds and showers for the next two days, so we made an executive decision to take our chances on the day and paddle out. Another shrewd decision.

Cath paddling desolation sound 2018

We did get wet on the paddle out, but it was worth it. The experience of paddling on glass calm water in the middle of the strait with rain pelting all around you cannot be described by mere words, it is a surreal experience. When I pulled my paddles out of the water and just sat there in the boat and listened to the rain hitting the water it was like a song with a chorus of millions, gently in tune with each other. A mesmerizing experience. The wind did pick up and by the time we made the shoreline we knew we had done the right thing as it was already gusting 15 to 20 knots. We were wishing good luck to our new buddies from Spirit of the West, who ventured forth for another days adventure before heading back.

watching the ducklings waiting for the opportunity desolation sound 2018

Off to the Heriot Bay Inn for some choice comestibles and a cold brew, then home for a much needed shower and to unpack. We are so darn lucky to live here. Where else in the world do you have the opportunity to transport yourself into a whole new world for a time and still be so close to home.

I am looking forward to the next adventure that is for sure.

a lesson from spirit of the west desolation sound 2018

our private bay with guests cermie islands desolation sound 2018

Joanne kicking back desolation sound 2018

arbutus trees desolation sound bc

oyster catchers really loud birds all day desolation sound 2018

rugged beaches desolation sound 2018

prideaux haven desolation sound bc