The Ultimate Kayaking Routes on Vancouver Island

Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a first-timer, Vancouver Island has literally thousands of spots where you can paddle away a day, a week or longer.

Before you put in the water, check for water conditions, skill level needed for specific routes, tides and currents. While you can put in anywhere, here are some of the hotspots:

The Gulf Islands – Stretching from Victoria north to Nanaimo, the Southern Gulf Islands offer numerous spots for kayaking. The inside waters between Vancouver Island and the outer islands is usually protected; however, you should know, understand and carry tide and current books. The Southern Gulf Islands teem with wildlife, including killer whales, seals sea lions and birds. The islands offer beaches, campsites, coves and bays. Please respect private property when picking a place to set up camp. Some of the more popular islands to kayak include: Saltspring, Mayne, Galiano, Saturna, and Pender, Gabriola and Newcastle.

Denman and Hornby Islands – South of Courtenay, these two islands offer sandy beaches, sea birds, seals and passing killer whales.

Quadra Island – Drew Harbor, on the east side of Quadra, is is protected from the ocean influence by Rebecca Spit. The harbor is a great place for anyone learning to kayak. A quick day trip is to head north of the harbor along the shoreline. More experienced kayakers may want to cross Sutil Channel to Cortes Island. Be aware and on alert: the winds and tides can be strong in the channel.

Johnstone Strait – Home to the killer whales, this narrows strip of water is one of the most popular kayaking places on Vancouver Island. Hundreds of paddlers put in at Telegraph Cove, usually heading south toward Robson Bight where the whales gather from May to October. You should not paddle into the Bight as this can disturb the whales. Allow three to four days for the trip. There is limited camping near the Bight and fresh water is scarce. Hazards include wind, strong tides, currents and heavy marine traffic.

Broken Group Islands – Part of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, this group of islands in Barkely Sound between Ucluelet and Bamfield is becoming more and more popular. Ranging from barren rocks to tree-covered, these islands offer lots of sheltered paddling and eight different campgrounds. The crossing to the islands can be rough and should only be attempted by experienced kayakers. Most set out from Toquart Bay, west of Ucluelet. Many others catch a passenger vessel out of Port Alberni, get dropped off at the Broken Group and then picked up when their trip is complete.

Other spots to kayak include Port HardyTofino (particularly around Meares Island) and Kyuquot Sound.

Whitewater Kayaking

Vancouver Island also offers numerous whitewater rivers that provide excellent (albeit seasonal) river kayaking opportunities.

In the winter months, small streams all over the island turn into technically challenging torrents for experienced whitewater paddlers. But please be warned and be careful: Winter white water kayaking on Vancouver Island can be extremely dangerous and should only be undertaken by the most experience paddlers.

The most popular year-round kayaking rivers include the Cowichan, Nanaimo, Gold, White, Salmon and Adam.