Your Complete Guide to Kayaking Desolation Sound 

Abnormally warm clear blue waters, a chance of seeing Orca whales, ocean kayaking and camping with sunrise views over the water? That is Desolation Sound kayaking and it sounds like a dreamland to me. Does it sound like a dreamland to you!? 

Located in British Columbia, Canada, Desolation Sound is a marine provincial reserve, teaming with wildlife, the most birds Ive ever seen in Canada, the warmest water north of Mexico(!) and a magical slice of Canadas ocean.

Everything you need to know to kayak Desolation Sound 

While there are many ways to explore, kayaking Desolation Sound is a must do adventure. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know for your Desolation Sound kayaking trip! 

Where is Desolation Sound?

Desolation Sound is on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia Canada, 30 minutes from Powell River.

How do you get to Desolation Sound?

The glorious BC Ferries system!! 

If you are coming from the mainland, the best way to get there is by taking ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale (Sunshine Coast), drive up to Earls Cove and get the ferry to Powell River. 

The Sunshine Coast ferry is reservable. If you haven’t had any experience with BC Ferries – I would strongly recommend you book your ferry as far in advance as possible. The Powell River ferry is first come first served. The Powell River ferry timings line up with the Sunshine coast ferry sailings. If there are delays on your ferry coming over from the mainland, make sure to talk to the steward on board your ferry to inform them you are wanting to get the Powell River ferry – they will often hold the Powell River ferry to allow people to get from the Sunshine Coast ferry across. 

If you’re travelling over the night before your trip, I would recommend camping at the Saltery Bay Provincial park ($20 per party per night). They have both reservable and first come first serve camp (FCFS) sites available. If you have a little more time the Okeover Arm Park campsite is also a great option. It’s right on the water, $18/night but is only FCFS. 

When is the best time to kayak Desolation Sound?

The decision on when you want to kayak desolation sound will depend on how you rate the importance of weather over crowds.

We kayaked Desolation Sound over the May long weekend and were pleasantly surprised with decent weather (despite dreary forecasts), and almost empty campsites. 

Earlier in the season the weather is a lot more unpredictable. You can have 25 degree days and perfect sunshine, or be freezing your little titties off in rain and single digit temperatures. But, it’s ALOT quieter. It is much easier to get reservations (if you need them at all) and youll not only have your choice of campsites, but also of tent pads. 

The most stable and warmest weather is July and August. Which unsurprisingly is also the busiest time of year. May can be quite cold. June can be very rainy, and September is leaning back into the rainy and cold. 

Where to rent Kayaks to paddle Desolation Sound? 

The decision on where you rent kayaks from will be determined by the route you want to take. 

There are two main routes when Kayaking Desolation Sound. You can leave from the Okeover harbour, paddle up the protected waters of the Malaspina Inlet and out to the sound. Or, you can start at Lund, paddle up the Thulin Passage past the Copeland Islands and around Sarahs Point. 

If you choose to go from Lund, and visit the Copeland Islands on the way, you will actually be ticking off another marine park! 

Rental options: 

Okeaover Harbour: Power River Sea Kayaks 

Lund: Terracentric Adventures

IMPORTANT INFO: 

It is a requirement by all companies renting kayaks in this area that one out of three or out of four (depending on the company) members of your group must have completed a kayak rescue course. Talk to the company you are renting from to find out exactly what they require, and double check that whatever kayak course you are booking into, will fulfil their requirements. 

If you dont have the option to do a course before your trip starts, you can opt to do the course with the rental company the morning of your trip departure. 

We opted to do the course before the trip, so we didnt have to delay our departure, and also so we weren’t starting the trip wet after doing wet exit and rescue training. If you’re in the Sea to Sky or Vancouver area, we did this course with Deep Cove Kayaks

How do I plan a trip to kayak Desolation Sound?

The fun thing about kayaking Desolation Sound, is that there are no paths to follow like when you are hiking. However there are alot more safety, weather and decision making considerations when ocean kayaking versus hiking. 

If you’re used to multi-day hikes on well established trails, kayaking trips are like a choose your own adventure. There is no set path or route, you can go wherever you want to go. However, unlike hiking where the worst the weather can do is get wet and cold, weather really impacts your decision making and route choice when kayaking, and is something you need to stay up to date with and aware of. 

For the backcountry skiers here; I liken kayak trips to backcountry skiing. You have the freedom to go wherever you want, but your decisions are dictated by weather and risk.

When route planning here are a few things to keep in mind: 

You might be used to hiking for an entire day, but if you’re new to paddling, I hate to break it you, that you likely wont be able to paddle quite as far as you’d like. The experts say that 2-3 hours a day for beginners is about what you should aim for.

We did paddle longer than this some days, with our longest day being just over 4 hours, but the experts were more right that Id like to admit. While the 4 hour mark was totally doable for us, not everyone in our group loved paddling that far. So lower those expectations of paddle times, and be prepared to relax at camp, swim in the warm water and read your book! 

The other thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want to stop and get out of your boat for lunch/breaks to stretch your legs. Be prepared for your legs to be more sore than your arms!! This surprises me every time I go kayaking. I expect my shoulders to be dying (which they low key still are), but it’s mostly my hips and legs that get the most sore. If the wind is against you, you might want to stop more often to have a snack and water break, because if you stop paddling in the wind, you just go heartbreakingly backwards! 

Finally: Weather!! The open crossings, like over to Mink Island, are alot more dangerous in high wind. Where possible stick close to the coast and in sheltered areas when the winds are high. In general, you’ll find the water alot calmer and easier to paddle through when you’re snug into the coast line. 

The Best 4-day Desolation Sound Kayaking Itinerary: 

Day One: Lund to Kinghorn Island via the Copeland Islands: 

Rent your Kayaks from Terracentric Adventures in Lund! 

Youll leave from their launch site right in the picturesque Lund harbour and head north. According to Terrracentric leaving the harbour can be some of the worst waves of the trip! 

Once you reach the edge of the Copeland Islands, you’ll be protected from the wind for a while as you paddle up the Thulin Passage.  

Funny story, watch out for float planes!! 

Stop at one of the Copeland Island for a snack, and to scope out your campsite for your last night. 

Following the mainland closely you’ll pass the Sarahs point cabin and the Sarah’s point campsite. These are good options to stop at, if youre done paddling for the day.

Hannah’s Tip: the Sarahs point campsite has a pretty difficult landing that is quite exposed, so be prepared to continue on to Feather Cove if the landing doesnt look manageable to you.  

Decision Point! Once you reach the end of the point, you can either decide to follow it around to Feather Cove – a great option if the crossing is too hairy, or you want a shorter paddle. 

If you’re up for it and the weather is in your favour, make the crossing here to the right hand side of Kinghorn Island. Follow the island around on the west side, past the Cabana Desolation Eco Resort (link), until you see a make shift bench/kitchen area on the next headland – you’ve made it to the wild camp! 

Really important: this is a WILD camp! It is actually outside of the Desolation Sound Marine Park (there is no wild camping permitted in the Marine Park itself). Because it’s a wild campsite, there are NO FACILITIES! So be prepared to pack everything out, dig appropriate cat holes and LEAVE NO TRACE

Day Two: Kinghorn Island to the Curme Islands via Martin and Mink Islands 

When deciding whether you will stay at Kinghorn on your first night, consider the weather for the following day as well. Theres no way to completely avoid a pretty decent crossing from Kinghorn, so you want to make sure the weather is going to be in your favour! 

To reduce the distance of our crossing and our exposure, rather than crossing straight to Mink Island, we crossed to Martin island, worked our way up north before making the crossing to Mink. 

Paddling up the shore of Mink, keep an eye out for seals and bright purple and red starfish on the rocks. As you round the top of Mink Island you will be greeted with a stunning view of East Curme Island! Now is the time to paddle around these gorgeous islands and decide where you want to pitch your tent for the night! 

Now relax, swim, maybe even go for an evening paddle, and enjoy this little slice of pure paradise! 

Hannahs Tip: If you’re visiting in peak season, theres a good chance the Curme Islands could be completely full! If they are, you can continue north to Bold Head campground. 

Day Three: Curme Islands to Copeland Islands via Feather Cove 

Say farewell to the Curme Islands, paddle along the south east side of Mink Island, before making the crossing back to the mainland. From here you will cross the entrance to the Malaspina Inlet. 

Warning! About halfway across the Malaspina inlet entrance, the water gets really rough! So have your wits about you! 

Stop at the Feather Cove campsite for a break and snack, before following the mainland all the way back around to the Copeland Islands! 

If you have an early start this day, you could even make it to the Copelands in time for lunch and a relaxed afternoon in the hammock. Unfortunately as this is outside of the Desolation Sound area, the water is not as luxuriously warm here, but it is still stunning! 

Hannahs Tip: before picking your campsite, paddle around North Copeland – theres a surprising extra campsite on the western side of North Copeland island! 

Day Four: Copeland Islands to Lund

Just like that, it’ll be the last morning of your trip. It’s your shortest paddle day. Id advise taking your time and paddling though the islands and having a little explore on your way back. 

Important Information for paddling Desolation Sound

How do you get the Marine Weather forecast while paddling Desolation Sound? 

If youre used to backpacking trips where you get the weather before you leave, pack accordingly, and hope for the best, sea kayaking will be a little different for you. 

Because of the danger of high winds when in very small boats, you need to stay frequently up to date with the weather to know where and when to paddle, when to seek shelter, and what route choices might be safe or unsafe while youre paddling. 

Out here, you will quite likely have cell service for most of your trip. If you’re only going as far north as the Curme Islands you should be able to access the Marine Weather Forecast for “Strait of Georgia – north of Nanaimo” on your phone. It’s updated every 4 hours. 

If you’re planning to go a little further afield you will need a radio, programmed to the marine weather forecast channel. On this channel the weather is repeated constantly and updated every 4 hours or when an important warning occurs. 

Are there good water supplies in Desolation Sound? 

Water is a very important consideration! While you are paddling on salt water, access to fresh water is actually pretty scarce in this area. So you will need to carry enough water with you to last your entire trip. 

We took 3L each per day and this was plenty. This will be determined a little by how much water you need for your meals and how hot the weather is.  There is the option to get fresh water by hiking up to Unwind Lake, from the Tenedos Bay campsite or to Black Lake from the Roscoe Bay Marine Park. 

Because we weren’t entirely sure how far we would make it, we didnt want to rely on these lakes for water, and I’d advise you do the same. It would not be fun to run out of water part way through your trip! 

Collapsible water containers are the best. I used my hiking bladders, and my partner bought this five litre container from Canadian tire.

What clothing do I need to pack for kayaking Desolation Sound? 

I packed and wore pretty similar clothing to what I would hiking. 

  • Wool or synthetic base layers (no cotton) 
  • I mostly wore a windbreaker jacket while paddling, but had rain pants and jacket incase. 
  • All the sun things; sunhat, sunnies, sunshirt and sunscreen! 
  • Dry and warm clothes for camp
  • Water shoes for paddling in. I have these shoes and LOVE them (natives – link) 
  • Gloves for paddling – I used my biking gloves! 

For a comprehensive and super helpful packing list from the experts, use this one from the Sea Kayaks Guide Alliance of BC.

What food do you pack for a Kayaking trip? 

The fun thing about kayaking is that weight doesn’t matter (as much) but you still need to be mindful of volume. The heavier your kayak the lower it sits in the water resulting in it being more stable, but also a little bit slower. 

Take full advantage of being able to bring fresh and heavy food – it’s a luxury when you’re used to carrying everything on your back! 

While kayaks dont have an unlimited amount of room like a canoe, we always underestimate the volume and with we had taken some bulkier food to make the most of it! My recommendation is to have some extra things that you can leave out if you dont have the room like some extra snacks, a few beers etc. 

How do you pack a Kayak? 

While kayak hatches are somewhat watertight, they arent completely. With waves crashing over the front or back of your boat, or worst case you end up flipping your boat, some water will get into the holds. 

I used 10-20L dry bags to pack all of my clothes, sleeping gear, food and anything that needed to stay watertight. Be careful of the size of dry bags you are using, as you want to make sure they will actually fit in the hatches. 

It’s best practice to keep your heavier items closer to the cockpit with your heaviest items closest to the front of your back hatch. 

The Good and Bad of Kayaking desolation sound:

There is ample cell service for most of the lower portion of desolation sound. Depending on how you look at it, it’s both a good and a bad thing. It really helps for checking weather forecasts and staying up to date on the Marine weather forecasts without needing a radio. But it does take away some of the disconnection from the world that we normally treasure about backcountry adventures.

There is a decent amount of cabins, mansions and boat traffic. You’re not quite, out in the wilderness with nothing but you and your boat. Theres plenty of fancy boats passing by, and big houses dotting the shoreline. 

Out at Curme islands you’re out on your own, and depending on the tent pad you choose youll be looking out to wilderness! 

Final Thoughts

Desolation sound is a special and stunning place. It really doenst feel like you’re in Canada but instead on a tropical island somewhere. 

If you are up for the adventure I cant recommend adding kayaking Desolation Sound to your bucket list! 

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