You might have heard rumours of the warm water in Desolation Sound, often described as “the warmest ocean temperature north of Mexico”. But why is this the case, exactly, and what does that mean for your kayak vacation?

First, the facts: In the summer months Desolation Sound can have water temperatures reaching up to 24 degrees celsius (or 75 degrees Fahrenheit)! This is exacerbated by shallow bays and rising tides coming in over sunbaked rocks, and creates swimming and snorkelling conditions previously unimaginable in coastal British Columbia – wetsuits are certainly not required!

For 25 years, guests on our multi-day camping tours and eco-resort packages have revelled in these comfortable conditions. It is not uncommon in the heart of summer to have people swimming and sunbathing right up to the moment the sun sets over Vancouver Island, and there is nothing more rewarding than landing after a full day of exploring the coast by kayak and throwing yourself in the ocean to refresh yourself.

Snorkelling sans wetsuit is very common – but if you’re worried about the chill then packing along a shorty wetsuit is also an option – and opens up a world of colourful and prolific marine life just below the surface. Sea stars, anemones, urchins and sea cucumbers are all common in these waters.

And for the truly adventurous – a night time swim amongst the glowing phosphorescence is often a truly once in a lifetime moment!

The main reason for these tropical-like warm ocean temperatures is due to a fortunate quirk of geography. Located on the inside roughly halfway between the northern and southern points of Vancouver Island, Desolation Sound lies at the convergence of the tidal flow from both directions. 

This means that there is much less tidal movement or major currents in the Sound, and allows the relatively stationary ocean water to be warmed by the hot sun throughout the summer, leading to much higher seasonal temperatures.

Desolation Sound and the Salish Sea is also situated in a minor rainshadow in the lee of the mountains of Vancouver Island, often called the Georgia Depression, that is generally much drier and clearer in the summer months than other parts of the BC coast, which means we get plenty of sun from May to September to warm the ocean to perfect swimming temperatures!

And it’s not just the ocean, the upland areas of Desolation Sound Marine Park are home to many hidden freshwater lakes that are even warmer than the sea, and are popular day trips from places like the Curme Islands for kayakers.

When is the best time to visit Desolation Sound?

Many will argue that summer in British Columbia is when this beautiful part of the world really shines, and away from winter sports in the mountains – and certainly in Desolation Sound – this is certainly true for us at Powell River Sea Kayak.

While the midsummer months of July and August are often considered to be the optimum months to kayak in Desolation Sound due to the greater certainty of perfect weather, all months in the spring and summer – from May to September – are fantastic for their own reasons.

Here are some of our favourite reasons to visit at each time of year:

 

Early Season (May & June)

At PRSK we call the early season months the ‘green season’ – but that doesn’t mean it’s always wet and gloomy. Early season trips into Desolation Sound are when the rainforest trees and mossy bluffs are at their freshest and greenest, and the temperatures are pleasant on even the sunniest days.

For wildlife lovers, much of the varied and diverse marine wildlife is present during these months, including many birds that head inland to freshwater lakes during the summer months and others that are still showing their varied winter plumage, including surf scoters, marbled murrelets, and plucky Bonaparte’s gulls. This is also a good time to view massive sea lions before they head off to their summer breeding grounds in Alaska and California.

The days are long – meaning almost endless daylight for exploring, relaxing, and socialising in one of the most beautiful areas on the BC coast. After a full day of kayaking, swimming, snorkelling, and socialising, watching the sun set slowly and beautifully over Vancouver Island to the west is a quintessential coastal BC moment on our camping tours.

Finally, from a logistical standpoint, tours before the Canada Day weekend are usually free from some of the stresses associated with summer travel on the coast – from ferry traffic (and long waits at the terminal) to busy and fully booked accommodation providers. Plus, tours before June 14th qualify for some great off-peak ‘green season’ discounts!

 

Peak Season (July & August)

The two month period between Canada Day and Labour Day are considered the prime summer months for vacationing in British Columbia – and indeed the weather on the coast during these months is generally warm, the days are still long, and the winds are (relatively) predictable.

This is the time of the classic Desolation Sound kayak trip. Day trips to freshwater lakes and snorkelling with the sea stars and the sea urchins – no wetsuit needed! Endless sunsets throwing incredible shades of red, orange and yellow across the western sky. Paddling along varied shorelines and through intricate passageways with the warm sun on your arms and your face. Delicious food served with refreshing beverages at camp after a long and rewarding day of exploration and adventure.

Peak season is certainly popular – both in Powell River and on the water in Desolation Sound – but it is popular for a reason: idyllic summer days and nights in paradise that will be remembered by friends and family for years to come.

Powell River and the Upper Sunshine Coast is also a thriving small coastal town that shines in the summer months – with multiple festivals and street parties for all ages, a burgeoning restaurant scene, a bustling weekend farmers market, and one of the best microbreweries in British Columbia!

 

Late Season (September)

Perhaps the best kept secret of paddling trips in Desolation Sound, the late season period after Labour Day in September is constantly (and sometimes surprisingly) rewarding for those who want to squeeze one last adventure out of the summer.

Critically, the weather generally remains solid during this month, with just a noticeable cooling of temperature that can often be seen as a blessing after months of heat on the water. The days are slight;y shorter, but the sunsets are no less spectacular in the evening to the west.

There is a feeling of relief in the air, a collective catching of the breath as the summer winds down. Campsites are empty, anchorages are solemn and quiet, and tours go at their own pace to the beat and the rhythm of nature. 

For wildlife lovers, this may be the best month to visit. While transient orcas can be seen at any time of year as they roam up and down the coast in search of their prey, the re-emergence in the last 10 years of the inside passage of Vancouver Island as a migratory route for humpback whales has seen a surge of these amazing creatures in Desolation Sound, and they tend to congregate more often in the later months of summer.

California and Steller’s Sea Lions are often seen returning in September after a summer away at their respective breeding grounds, an impressive sight whether they are in the water or hauled out in the sun on intertidal rocks.

Finally, our off-peak rates are available for all tours running after September 10th, and those spending some time in the Powell River area before or after the tour really get to experience a more genuine slice of life in a coastal BC community – vibrant in the waning days of summer, but not bustling at the seams with touristic fervour anymore!

Can You Kayak with Whales in Desolation Sound?

A commonly asked question from guests planning on visiting us in Desolation Sound concerns wildlife: “What will we see and when is the best time to see it?! Is it possible to kayak with whales?!”

Whales and dolphins are some of the most asked about wildlife, and for good reason! These charismatic marine mammals have fascinated and excited us all for thousands of years. In Desolation Sound we commonly see several types of whale and dolphin, from orcas and humpbacks down to harbour porpoises.

While Desolation Sound is more known for its warm temperatures and striking mountain scenery than its concentration of whale sightings compared to the Johnstone Strait, the increasing number of sightings in recent years has been fantastic to see for our guests and guides alike!

Following is a brief description of each species and their migration patters through Desolation Sound.

  • Transient Orcas (Killer Whales)

Orcas are fascinating, well-loved, and occasionally feared apex predators that have a well-earned reputation for both astounding intelligence and devastating hunting methods. On the inside of Vancouver Island in British Columbia there are two commonly seen sub species of orca – the resident ‘fish eaters’ and the transient ‘mammal eaters’.

In Desolation Sound, we are far more likely to encounter the transient variety, named for their seemingly range-less movement up and down the coast in search of their preferred prey: the harbour seal. They will also prey on sea lions, dolphins and porpoises; but don’t worry, despite heir ‘mammal eating’ reputation, there has never been a recorded attack on a human by a transient orca in the wild.

Transients travel in groups of 4-6 individuals, while residents are usually seen in much larger family pods. They are slightly larger than residents and tend to have a dorsal fin with a more pointed tip.

We have the potential to see and kayak with orcas in Desolation Sound at any time of year as they roam through the area in search of prey, though it is definitely not a guarantee. We will often have multiple sightings of a group over a 4 or 5 day period, and then a period of no sightings for a while before the pod – or another pod entirely – returns briefly again.

A double kayak with whales in Desolation Sound - A humpback comes up for air  in the distance

  • Humpback Whales

After being fished out of the waters inside Vancouver Island early last century, humpbacks have made a stunning return to Desolation Sound and the Strait of Georgia in recent years. Many of our guests have had the opportunity to kayak with whales such as humpbacks in Desolation!

The typical migratory pattern of humpbacks is to head south for the winter to warmer climates to breed, and then return in the summer to feed in our nutrient rich waters. Anecdotally, we start to see more humpbacks in June in this area, and the numbers increase steadily and peak in late August and September, before the huge mammals begin their migration south en masse.

That said, a small population does tend to remain year round in the Strait of Georgia. The are also noted to be arriving earlier in numbers and leaving later, most likely due to the abundance of food!

Adult humpbacks range in length from 12-16m and weigh 25-30 tons! They have a black body with a stubby dorsal fin, and are usually seen solo or in small groups of 2 or 3. They will usually surface 5-10 times before raising their flukes and diving for up to 20 minutes.

However, lucky guests have spotted these huge mammals breaching and throwing their entire body out of the water at one time. Despite this, biologists are still not quite sure why whales exhibit this exciting behaviour!

  • Pacific White Sided Dolphins

Pacific White Sided Dolphins are usually spotted in pods of up to 50 members, but sometimes they are seen in larger pods of several hundred dolphins or more!

They can be easily identified by white and grey markings underneath and at the tip of their dorsal fin. They are much larger than porpoises, and they often exhibit flamboyant behaviour such as constant breaching and surfing in the wake of ferries and power boats.

Dolphins spend most of their time on the inside of Vancouver Island in the passageways north of Desolation Sound – the Discover Islands, mainland fjords, and into Johnstone Strait. However a couple of times a year there are sightings of large dolphin pods in the Sound and even in Okeover and Malaspina Inlet. Our 5 and 7 day Expedition Tours have a greater chance of sighting dolphins as they head further into these passageways and mountains fjords.

  • Porpoises

Two kinds of porpoise can be spotted in Desolation Sound – the Harbour Porpoise and Dall’s Porpoise – and for the layman it can be hard to tell them apart. The Dall’s Porpoise shows a white dash on the dorsal fin, and is slightly larger than the Harbour Porpoise.

Porpoises can be seen year round and tend to be seen in small pods of 2-5 ‘porpoising’ along at the surface. They rarely – if ever – breach or play, and are far less gregarious than their larger dolphin cousins.

For more information on kayaking with whales, dolphins, porpoises and all other wildlife in Desolation Sound, please check out our Wildlife Page on this website!

Desolation Sound is renowned as a premier sea kayak destination on the British Columbia coast, but few people know that there are a number of great hikes – only accessible by boat in Desolation Sound – that are perfect to break up the paddling.

These Desolation Sound hikes have differing features and difficulties, from forested strolls to freshwater lakes, to uphill slogs to breathtaking vistas. Below are three of our favourites, all easily accessible for kayakers on a Desolation Sound adventure!

  • Sunshine Coast Trail to Sarah Point or Wednesday Lake

The Sunshine Coast Trail is gaining in notoriety among hikers in British Columbia, with 180km of trail and 14 backcountry huts along it’s route.

Few people are aware however that the trail starts at Sarah Point, in the SW corner of Desolation Sound, and can be used for a number of distinct day hikes while you are visiting!

The easiest place to access this trail is at Feather Cove, which is at the tip of Malaspina Peninsula close to the entrance to Okeover and Malaspina Inlets. From the easy landing on the beach the trail heads off in two directions – west to a beautiful viewpoint over Desolation Sound (and eventually the trailhead at Sarah Point), and south through sections of old growth cedar and Douglas fir to a number of freshwater lakes that are perfect to jump into on a long, hot summer day.

  • Llanover Mountain from Roscoe Bay

A rarely travelled trail – by kayakers at least – is the climb to the peak of Llanover Mountain that is accessed by an easily accessed trailhead in Roscoe Bay. The trail is mostly uphill, easy to follow, and takes from 1.5-2 hours one way.

The views from the top, however, are spectacular! From the viewpoint at the end of the trail you can see right back west over Desolation Sound, the Strait of Georgia, Cortes and Quadra Islands, and the peaks of Vancouver Island way in the distance.

Head there early in the morning to beat the heat, and then paddle over the Black Lake at the head of Roscoe Bay afterwards for a well earned swim in a beautiful freshwater lake before paddling home.

  • Unwin Lake from Tenedos Bay

With its location in Tenedos Bay – an easy hour’s long paddle from the Curme Islands – Unwin Lake is a very popular day trip for kayakers base camping in Desolation Sound.

The easy trail from the campsite runs straight and wide through a beautiful, mossy forest. Occasional side-tracks veer off from the main trail and visit the creek leading to the bay. After about 15 minutes the trail meets Unwin Lake, and you can follow it clockwise around the lake and choose a private nook that speaks to you for lunch and a swim in the warm fresh water.

The trail continues further, past great spots for cliff jumping and further away from other visitors. Returning to your kayaks the way you came, another 45 minutes is all it takes to return to your base camp on the Curme Islands.