canoeing-an-estuaryYour paddle breaks the still waters of Elk Lake, a popular recreation site on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria. Earlier, watched by a bald eagle in a snag, you shared your picnic lunch with a family of mallard ducks.

Paddling away from the northeast beach, you head counterclockwise, through the patch of water lilies, past the windsurfers and down through the narrow passage to Beaver Lake. Two sleek boats silently speed by, members of local rowing clubs practicing for the next big meet. Back in Elk Lake, you paddle adjacent to the Patricia Bay Highway, your route back to Victoria and from there up island.

On central Vancouver Island, west on Hwy. 4, you launch your canoe into Kennedy Lake, the largest body of freshwater on the island. The shore is lined with second-growth forest, and prints of a black bear tell you to keep your eye open for wildlife. You toss your line overboard, savoring the thoughts of a trout grilled over a firepit. You spend two days paddling the lake, stopping now and then to explore some of the many trails.

Your Vancouver Island canoe exploration takes you to the north end of the island and the Sayward Forest Canoe Route near Campbell River. You launch at any of a number of sites, heading counterclockwise into the multi-lake, 50-kilometer trip. Somewhere ahead in this three- to four-day trip is the first of four small sets of rapids. Slightly further ahead, identified by an orange marker, is the first of a number of easy portages.

The shores of the lakes, Campbell, Gosling, Higgins, Amor, Surprise (there’s 12 altogether) are lined with second-growth forest, much of it planted following the Great Fire of 1938. The gnawed alder trunks are evidence of beavers, while the shoreline mud is puckered with the tracks of deer.

Canoeing Routes on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Lake – West of Duncan, Cowichan Lake is great for all skill levels. You can paddle for a few hours or spend a few days exploring the 30-kilometer long lake. With campgrounds and villages ringing the lake, it is possible to launch your canoe anywhere along the shore. Be aware that the lake can be windy. Keep an eye open for motorized boats and windsurfers.

Main Lakes – This chain of lakes (Village Bay, Main, Little Main and Mine) on Quadra Island offers sheltered waters, camping and good trout fishing. You can launch at the bridge on Village Bay Lakes Road.

Sayward Canoe Route – One of the most popular canoe routes on Vancouver Island is this 12-lake chain near Campbell River. With numerous starting points, the preferred direction of paddling is counterclockwise. Three to four days are needed to cover the 50 kilometers which includes, if you do the whole route, 7.5 kilometers of portages ranging from 100 meters to 1.1 kilometers. Orange markers and signs indicate the portage trails. There are numerous campsites along the way. The main access to the route is Lower Campbell Lake Road.

The Gorge – The Gorge is a narrow, well protected tidal channel that starts near Victoria Harbour and extends into the neighboring city of Esquimalt. Lined on both sides by residential areas, the waterway is good for a day’s outing, with parks along the way for picnicking. There’s lots of birdlife.