You could spend months, even years, exploring the coasts and the unspoilt wilderness of Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, stopping to investigate the many onshore and inland attractions, and still not feel that you know the place. But that’s part of the magic and appeal of Haida Gwaii, where every place is as magical as the next. The entire east coast of the Haida Gwaii Islands offers prime exploration, but the southeastern side of Haida Gwaii, rife with tiny islands, secluded coves, and lots of sheltered coastline, is the most popular boating and kayaking destination.
Because the Haida Gwaii islands are perched on the edge of the Americas, the exposed west side of the islands receives the brunt of the open ocean, but any place can suffer a good buffeting by severe weather. Flexibility and spare time are two of the most important safety features you can bring with you.
There are 1,884 islands in the archipelago, a mixture of snow-top mountains and fjords that plunge into the sea, mist-enshrouded forests and windswept sandy beaches. The seven largest of the islands are – from north to south – Langara, Graham, Moresby, Louise, Lyell, Burnaby, and Kunghit Island. They rise as peaks of a submerged mountain chain, with the tallest peaks perpetually capped in snow. Just 2 or 3 kilometres offshore, the continental shelf falls away dramatically to the immense depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Strong currents, unpredictable weather patterns, thick kelp beds, and submerged rocks or reefs are common. The Coast Guard does not issue small-craft warnings for this area because small-craft-warning conditions are considered to be present at all times.
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The coastline of Haida Gwaii is punctuated by many bays, sounds and inlets. The largest of them are Masset Sound, which leads into Masset Inlet, Naden Harbour, Rennell Sound, Skidegate Inlet between Graham Island and Moresby Island, Cumshewa Inlet, and Juan Perez Sound.
Masset Sound (25 miles/40 km long) is a fast-flowing connection between Dixon Entrance, the body of water between Haida Gwaii and Prince of Wales Island in Alaska, and the ecologically unique Masset Inlet. The village of Masset is located at the mouth of Masset Sound, and Port Clements sits on the eastern shore of Masset Inlet, which leads into Juskatla Inlet, and the logging camp of Juskatla on the eastern shore. Masset harbour, located on Delkatla Inlet, provides safe moorage in Masset. Take a stroll down to the Government Wharf and watch the comings and goings, with boats docking, fishermen preparing for trips or unloading their catches – there’s always something of interest happening.
An 80-berth small craft harbour and boat launch ramp at Haans Creek, 2 miles (3.5 km) west of the Sandspit village centre, caters to commercial and recreational boats and serves as a good base for fishing.
Queen Charlotte City also has a safe marina catering to recreational boats and commercial fishing vessels, and nearby Lina Island and Kanga Bay offer sheltered anchorages. Skidegate has a small public float and moorage facilities for pleasure craft.
Gwaii Haanas National Park is the most popular boating and kayaking playground in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), with beautiful and interesting islands, cultural and heritage sites to visit. Such destinations include Hotspring Island, Burnaby Narrows, Windy Bay, Anthony Island (Ninstints), Tanu, All Alone Stone, Rose Harbour, St. James Island, Flatrock Island, Echo Harbour … the list goes on and on, and so does the adventure in Haida Gwaii, islands of the people.
With the exception of a few mooring buoys and navigational aids, there are no visitor services or facilities in Gwaii Haanas, so boaters obviously need to be self-sufficient. Gwaii Haanas is remote so you cannot rely on other people if you get into trouble, and even with a radio, it is still likely to take several hours, even in good weather, for help to arrive. Many commercial operators are licensed to operate in Gwaii Haanas National Park.
Moresby Camp is the closest road access point to Gwaii Haanas National Park, the northern edge of which is approximately 30 miles (50 km) to the south. The small float at Moresby Camp serves as a floatplane departure spot for those venturing into the park, and a boat launch on the shore of Cumshewa Inlet provides water access to the park and the surrounding inlets and islands. Nearby Gordon Cove also has a public mooring buoy and float.
If you are not travelling with a guide or guided tour, file a trip plan with the Canadian Coast Guard in Prince Rupert. Be sure to contact them as soon as you return. If you don’t, you may be held responsible for any unnecessary search and rescue initiated on your behalf.
The crossing of Hecate Srait, which separates the Haida Gwaii Islands from the BC mainland, requires careful planning and monitoring of the weather forecasts – standard procedure for experienced boaters. Leave in the early morning on a good weather window. Beaver Passage and Larsen Harbour on the northern tip of Banks Island (Browning Entrance) are good departure points for Haida Gwaii (63.5 nautical miles).