On the far north coast of Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, the islands on the edge of the world, is the fabulous North Beach, situated in Naikoon Provincial Park. Access to North Beach is from Masset, along scenic Tow Hill Road that cuts through a rain forest with the trees draped in moss.
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.
Spectacular North Beach offers golfing, camping, great clam digging, crabbing and beachcombing for scallop and razor clamshells – the beach east of Tow Hill is considered one of the best razor clam beaches in the world. Locals drive their four-by-four vehicles along the beach on the firm sand after the ebb tide. The brave and adventurous can venture into the frigid waters and pounding surf.
North Beach has an important commercial razor clam fishery and a crab fishery for Dungeness crabs. Crab boats can frequently be viewed setting and raising their crab pots just off the shores of north Beach.
Location: North Beach is located east of Masset. The Haida Gwaii islands are accessed 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.
There are two large parks in Haida Gwaii: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the south, and Naikoon Provincial Park in the north, which attracts visitors with its almost 100 km of beaches. Naikoon gets its name from a corruption of the Haida term for ‘long nose,’ which was the Haida name for Rose Spit, one of the most prominent features in the park. Naikoon Provincial Park is largely low and flat. Most of its topographic features are formed by underlying glacial deposits.
Tow Hill: A prominent landmark on North Beach, at 109 metres (357 ft) in height, is Tow Hill, a huge outcrop of basalt columns formed when volcanic rock solidified into faceted basalt pillars about 2 million years ago. Tow Hill rises from the flat bogs of the Argonaut Plain at the mouth of the Hiellen River as the second highest point in the park, after Argonaut Hill (150 metres/492 ft). Enjoy the spectacular view along the curve of sun-drenched North Beach. It is from Tow Hill that legend says the cruel Tow threw boulders to slay the Haida warrior Hopi.
Ecological Reserves: There are two ecological reserves near North Beach: Tow Hill Ecological Reserve (5.14 square kilometres), between South Beach and North Beach, and Rose Spit Ecological Reserve, a common resting spot for migrating birds at the northeast tip of Graham Island, where the waters of Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance meet. Gray whales can be spotted from the beach at Rose Spit.
Camping: The interior of the park remains undeveloped, and wilderness camping is permitted throughout the park. There are two campgrounds in the park, one of which is located along North Beach. Agate Beach Campground is equipped with cooking shelters, pit toilets and water – located approximately 1.5 km west of the Tow Hill parking area.
Camping in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Get splashed at the Blow Hole, where sea water rushes up through gaps in the rocks to form a natural fountain, launching spray about 20 feet into the air – locally called ‘the gun’.
For something a little different, the adventurous can take a 2-hour Llama Trek along North Beach. Ask for details at the Visitor Centre.
Visitors can picnic at the Tow Hill Picnic Grounds on Hiellen River. The Hiellen River is also a good spot for anglers to try their luck.
Agate Beach near Tow Hill offers a campground and great beachcombing – watch out for agates, driftwood, shells and glass ball floats used on Japanese fishing nets that make great souvenirs. Occasionally you’ll find the bleached bones of a dead whale, a thick knot of rope, and sometimes enough jelly fish to make it look as if a freak snowstorm has hit the beach.
Fishing: Hiellen River, Sangan River and Chown River all offer good fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Clamming: If you don’t have a fishing rod, you can try your hand (and shovel) at digging for razor clams at low tide at North Beach. The clams are found between the high and low tide lines. Quarter-sized depressions in the sand show where clams most likely are. If the sand moves when tapped, there’s a clam below. The trick is to dig fast enough to catch up with the clam, which is burrowing for safety. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, and you have to be quick; these puppies are fast!
Beachcombing along North Beach can be very rewarding for those seeking to combine the excitement of searching for treasures with the exercise of hiking along the vast expanse of beach. Top treasures include Japanese glass fishing floats, sperm whale teeth, shells, sand dollars, and agate gemstones.
Beachcombing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Hiking: Two trails start from the 109-metre high Tow Hill on North Beach. The first leads to the summit of Tow Hill, an easy 0.6-mile (1-km) uphill climb, with a boardwalk of planks to protect the forest floor. From the top of this unusual basalt tower, the hiker is rewarded with expensive views of the ocean, Graham Island, and even Alaska away in the distance. Be cautious when the trail is wet. A second trail leads 6 miles (10 km) to Cape Fife on the east coast. From here it is possible to hook up with the East Beach Trail, and hike a two-day, 13-mile (21-km) loop back to Tow Hill.
You can hike to Rose Spit, a long finger of tidal sand on the northeast tip of Graham Island, but check the tides first! Rose Spit experiences frequent strong onshore winds and wave action during winter storms, as evidenced by the profusion of driftwood logs cast ashore.
Hiking & Backpacking in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
Golf: The delightful oceanfront Dixon Entrance Golf Club is located on Tow Hill Road, 3 miles (5 km) from Masset. The 9-hole public course is signposted from the highway and at the road entrance.
Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
West of North Beach is the village of Masset, the largest town on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the northern gateway to Naikoon Provincial Park. Masset is located at the northern end of Graham Island, the largest of the more than 150 significant islands that comprise Haida Gwaii, formerly the 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.