Of the 1,884 magical islands that make up Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, two islands comprise the majority of the land mass; Graham Island to the north and Moresby Island to the south.
Graham Island is the largest of the Haida Gwaii Islands, with a low and flat east coast, covering 2,500 square miles (6,500 sq km), and is the most accessible and populated of the islands, with numerous significant communities (12 communities in total), the larger of which are listed below.
When you stand on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, nothing lies between you and Japan except the great expanse of the North Pacific. Currents from across the ocean kiss the shores of Haida Gwaii, and fierce winter storms that originate in Alaska mercilessly lash the remote west coast of the islands, pummeling the rocky shoreline and tossing bark-stripped logs ashore like toothpicks.
These sparsely populated, beautiful islands offer an escape to a rough-edged (and often rainy) paradise, with countless beaches, pristine streams, fishing holes, isolated coves, and sheltered bays.
Location: Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, is located off the west coast of British Columbia. Access to Haida Gwaii is by ferry from Prince Rupert to the Skidegate Landing Ferry Terminal on Graham Island, by air from Vancouver to Sandspit (770 km), and by air from Prince Rupert to Sandspit on Moresby Island. Masset is located at the northern end of Graham Island and there are also direct flights to the Masset Municipal Airport from Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Other commercial air services (including float planes and helicopters) are available at Sandspit, Queen Charlotte City and Masset. A 20-minute ferry ride connects Graham and Moresby Islands.
A paved highway that runs from Sandspit on Moresby Island to Masset and Old Masset on Graham Island connects the two main islands. On the way it passes through Queen Charlotte City, Skidegate and Port Clements. Each community has its own unique features that reflect the richness of the culture of the Haida people, and the geography and history of Graham Island.
Queen Charlotte City
The first registered town site on the Queen Charlotte Islands, as they were called then, the laid-back fishing village of Queen Charlotte City is located along the shores of Bearskin Bay, 5 kilometres west of the ferry terminal at Skidegate Landing. Known as Charlotte by the locals, the administrative centre for Haida Gwaii is a small thriving village of government offices, a hospital and a variety of shops and accommodations.
The Haida community of Skidegate, on the shores of Rooney Bay, was known for years as Skidegate Mission. Located 2km north of the ferry terminal at Skidegate Landing, Skidegate is the cultural centre of the Haida, where the visitor can examine art and cultural artifacts first hand. The two ferry docks at Skidegate Landing serve ferries to Prince Rupert on the BC mainland and to Alliford Bay on Moresby Island.
Originally a Haida fish camp, and eventually established by ranchers and farmers from England, Tlell is now home to a colourful collection of artisans, earning the reputation of being the heart of the islands’ art community. Located 43 kilometres north of the ferry terminal at Skidegate Landing, Tlell is a scattered settlement along the east coast of Graham Island, marking the southeast corner of Naikoon Provincial Park.
At the estuary of the Yakoun River, on Masset Inlet, the logging and fishing village of Port Clements is a wonderful place to observe the giant trees of the temperate rainforest. Established in 1907, Port Clements became the first incorporated town in the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1914. Port Clements became the supply centre for giant spruce trees used in the construction of First World War military airplanes.
Located off Masset Sound on Graham Island, south of Port Clements, the logging camp of Juskatla was established on Mamin Bay in Juskatla Inlet in the 1940s, to supply spruce for warplanes.
The small village of Masset is the largest town on Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands. Originally known as Graham City, it eventually became known as New Masset, as it was located a few kilometres south of the Haida village of Old Masset. The northern gateway to Naikoon Park, Masset is located at the northern end of Graham Island, the largest of the more than 150 islands that comprise the Haida Gwaii islands.
The ecologically unique Masset Inlet is a large protected saltwater inlet with a rocky shoreline located to the south of Masset Sound in the centre of Graham Island. Connected to Dixon Entrance by Masset Sound, Masset Inlet features many rivers, estuaries and bays, including Juskatla Inlet and Delkatla and Kumdis Sloughs.
Located on the east shore of Masset Inlet on the site of three ancient Haida town sites, five minutes up the coastal road from Masset, is the Haida village of Old Masset, also known as Haida. Old Masset is the administrative seat of the Council of the Haida Nation, and is home to about 600 Haida, including some well-known native carvers.
The fabulous North Beach in Naikoon Provincial Park is accessed from Masset, along scenic Tow Hill Road that cuts through a rain forest. At North Beach, according to Haida legend, raven first brought people into the world by coaxing them out of a clam shell, making North Beach the site of creation.
At the head of Virago Sound on the north coast of Haida Gwaii, is pristine Naden Harbour, the remote location favoured by fishing lodges that attract sports anglers to the world-class salmon fishing offered by the islands.
Amidst unparalleled scenic beauty, and some of the most rugged shoreline on the west coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, Port Louis serves as a comfortable home base for adventurers seeking world-class sports fishing.
Rennell Sound is the largest sound on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, cutting 18 miles (29 km) into Graham Island, the larger of the two main islands that comprise Haida Gwaii. Bounded by the snowcapped Queen Charlotte Mountains, the deep inlet offers wonderful recreational and sightseeing opportunities. The rugged coastline, beautiful crescent beaches and excellent beachcombing along the gravel shoreline, great hiking, camping, fishing and kayaking make the trip very worthwhile.
The beautiful Kano Inlet is located on the west coast of the Haida Gwaii islands, near the southwest end of Graham Island. There are no communities in this area, which includes the western portion of the Queen Charlotte Mountains.
Naikoon Provincial Park on the northeast coast of Graham Island gets its name from a corruption of the Haida term for ‘long nose,’ the Haida name for Rose Spit, one of the most prominent features in the park. There are two campgrounds: Misty Meadows Campground (30 vehicle/tent sites and 10 tent pads) near park headquarters in Tlell, and Agate Beach Campground. The interior of the park remains undeveloped, and wilderness camping is permitted throughout the park. Three rustic wilderness shelters are located along East Beach near the mouths of Cape Ball and Oceanda Rivers, and at Fife Point.
Graham Island has a number of ancient and uninhabited Haida Village sites: Hiellan (Hiellan River, northeast coast), Yan and Kayung (Masset Inlet), Kung (Virago Sound), Yaku and Kiusta (north coast), and Tian (northwest coast). The village of Dadens is located on Langara Island, located in Dixon Entrance off the northwest coast of Graham Island, and the Cha’atl site is located on Chaatl Island in Skidegate Channel, between Graham and Moresby Islands.
The mature stands of Sitka spruce, western hemlock and red cedar on Hippa Island, just north of Rennell Sound on the west coast of Graham Island, provide a site of global significance for about 40,000 breeding pairs of Ancient Murrelets, the second largest colony in BC. Many other seabirds breed on the island, including tufted puffins, as well as bald eagles and several pairs of Peregrine falcons. Ancient Haida camps can still be found on Hippa Island, as well as the wreck of the US Army transport ship Clarksdale Victory, which ran aground and broke in two on Hippa Island in November 1947.
Wildlife: The marine waters between Tian Head in the north and Louis Point to the south, including Port Louis, Otard Bay and Tian Bay, are an important feeding area for the threatened Marbled Murrelet. Concentrations of feeding Marbled Murrelets have been reported in Tian Bay. The islands and islets between Frederick and Hippa islands also support black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, Cassin’s auklets and storm petrels.
Fully one third of the province’s sea lion population calls Haida Gwaii home. A large colony hauls up on Joseph Rocks, off the west coast of Graham Island, miles away from the nearest point of road access. This is a trip best made by boat or kayak. Only experienced paddlers should attempt travelling along the exposed west coast of Haida Gwaii, though.
Parks and Camping: There are two provincial parks on Graham Island; Naikoon Provincial Park in the north, and Pure Lake Provincial Park between Port Clements and Masset. There are two campgrounds in Naikoon, two near Queen Charlotte City, and two in Rennell Sound. There are no camping facilities at Pure Lake Park.
Camping in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Beachcombing on the west coast of Graham Island can be very rewarding for those seeking to combine the excitement of searching for treasures with the exercise of hiking along the remote shoreline. Top treasures include Japanese glass fishing floats, sperm whale teeth, shells, sand dollars, and agate gemstones.
Beachcombing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Fishing is the most common sport in Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, and fishing is exceptional year-round fishing. Anglers are drawn by the world-class salmon fishing, as the island archipelago is the first land mass on the migratory path of the Pacific chinook, coho, and chum salmon as they journey from the Arctic feeding grounds to their spawning grounds in the Pacific Northwest. Fishing guides abound, and luxurious fishing lodges, floating lodges and sportfishing motherships provide the ultimate fishing experience in this last frontier.
Hiking: There are four trails running through Naikoon Provincial Park, and hiking time ranges from a few hours to a few days. Many of the Forest Service recreational sites on Graham Island are located along beaches, with long stretches of open sand before your wandering feet. If level, sandy beaches aren’t your cup of tea, try the Sleeping Beauty Trail, which leads up to the top of Mount Genevieve near Queen Charlotte City. It’s not a long trail, but it is steep.
Hiking & Backpacking in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Circle Tours: See the best of Northern BC and Haida Gwaii on one of the Circle Tours that capture the wonders of the north. The Inside Passage Circle Tour and the Native Heritage Circle Tour include Haida Gwaii by catching a ferry from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).
Circle Tours in British Columbia.