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!

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.

What is the Best Length of Time to Kayak in Desolation Sound?

While it’s true that you can spend weeks in Desolation Sound and its surrounding waters and still have more to see, we find that between 4-6 days is the best amount of time for an average kayaker to truly immerse themselves in this wonderful landscape.

Desolation Sound can be enjoyed in an infinite number of ways, but one constant we often notice is that many of our guests – whether on tour or renting kayaks and going out themselves – are looking primarily to destress, unplug, and relax in a beautiful corner of the BC coast.

The following 5 day kayak route has thus been developed to facilitate the above desire. Please note that in order to reach the best spots, you do have to work a little to get there! We are strong believers that the best rewards are earned through a little effort first, and so our recommendation below involves three ‘paddling’ days of moderate activity, and two ‘rest and relaxation’ days where the script is up to you. Two base camps allow a good blend of relaxation and exploration.

Day One: Okeover Inlet to the Curme Islands
Pick up your kayaks and equipment from our waterfront location on Okeover Inlet and paddle north through these protected waters to access Desolation Sound. Check out Grace Harbour on your way north and continue up the eastern shore of Malaspina Inlet to Hare Point, where you will find a campground and picnic area on a stunning bluff for a shoreline lunch.

There are minor currents in the waters immediately to the south and north of Hare Point that can run up to 3 knots at their maximum speeds, so be sure to plan your route through this area appropriately if the current is indeed working against you on this morning. Typically, keeping close to shore utilizes a number of large eddies found in Malaspina Inlet and minimizes he amount of time you need to spend fighting against the flow!

After lunch, get  back in your kayaks and continue north along the coast for another 25 minutes or so until you round Zephine Head and enter Desolation Sound. The Coastal Mountain Range will slowly fold into view as you come around the corner, including the dramatic peak of Mount Denman rising 7000 feet high.

Depending on the wind conditions, you may choose to cross straight to Mink Island in the middle of the sound or follow the coast past Galley Bay before crossing in the lee of Gifford Peninsula for protection. Once you reach Mink Island, skirt along its southern shore until the Curme Islands come into view on the eastern side.

There are three islands in the small chain that you can camp on, with more than 30 tent pads, 3 pit toilets, and a handful of kitchen areas between them, and the pads are set up so that large groups and small can share the islands together without even being aware of each others existence.

The Curmes are a popular site for kayakers due to its beautiful location at the foot of the mountains and its central location in Desolation Sound, making it the perfect place to base camp for a couple of nights of rest and relaxation.

Day Two: Curmes Base Camp
From your Curmes camp you can radiate in any direction for a relaxing day paddle, or choose to stay put and enjoy a warm swim and snorkel in the warm, bright blue waters of Desolation Sound.

Popular day trips include visiting Black Lake in Roscoe Bay or Unwin Lake in Tenedos Bay, both about an hours paddle from camp in different directions, and exploring the spectacular island chains in Prideaux Haven to the northeast.

Personally, we like to combine an exploration of Prideaux Haven with a freshwater dip and lunch at Unwin Lake. Paddle northeast from camp into Prideaux Haven and choose your own route through the islands and islets, being sure to look for intertidal marine life and sunbathing seals and sea lions as you go.

The deeper you go into Prideaux Haven, the more yacht and sailboat traffic you will encounter, so return via the small channel between Otter Island and the mainland (hint: check out the zunga, or ropeswing, on a hot day) and continue round Bold Head to the south and into Tenedos Bay. At the far end of the bay you can land your kayaks and continue to walk about 5-8 minutes along a trail into the cool forest, until you reach Unwin Lake, which is an awesome spot to swim, eat lunch, and explore the rock ledges for the ultimate cliff jumping locations. This lake warms up on hit summer days to delightful temperatures.

From here, it is an easy 45 minute paddle back to camp, and a delicious meal and glass of beer or wine in the evening light.

Day Three: Curme Islands to North Copeland Island
Pack you gear and get a good breakfast, because it’s moving day! Launch from the Curmes and follow the northern shore of Mink Island this time as you head west away from the mountains in the direction of Vancouver Island far in the distance.

From the western tip of Mink Island, cross back to Zephine Head on the mainland and cross the mouth of Malaspina Inlet until you reach the shore of Malaspina Peninsula. There is a large beach facing Kinghorn Island on the northern shore named Feather Cove, which is an easy place to land and a great spot for lunch after an active morning.

After lunch, keep heading south round Sarah Point and into the northern Strait of Georgia. Follow the peninsula south now beyond a number of small bays and homesteads until you reach a small community called Bliss Landing. Directly west of here lies the northernmost of the Copeland Islands. Watch for boat traffic here while crossing to the island chain, and you will find a campsite with more than 10 tent pads, a pit toilet and a few separate kitchen areas with incredible views of the Salish Sea and Vancouver Island.

If this site is taken, there is a second site with 8 tent pads immediately to the south of the North Copeland Island which is just as scenic – and a little more protected from a northerly wind.

Day Four: Copeland Islands Day Trip
One of our favourite day trips, the Copeland Islands are an incredible place to view marine and bird life as you pick your own path between 4 large and multiple small islands and islets in the chain. Numerous small bays and coves are found throughout the protected islands for lunch with a view of Vancouver Island and Savary Island to the south.

The Copelands have a large number of bald eagles, as well as many species of shore birds and waterfowl, such as mergansers, harlequin ducks, and the tiny but diminutive marbled murrelet. The most southern island in the chain in particular has great marine life on display at low tide, including sea stars, sea cucumbers, big red spiny urchins and even gumboot chitons.

If you have time and the weather is calm, a quick circumnavigation of nearby Major Rock to the west is a fascinating side-trip. This bare rock jutting out of the Strait of Georgia houses many colonies of birds, seals, and even year round sea lions! Please do not get too close to sunbathing seals and sea lions during your paddle so as not to frighten them, but no matter, as you’ll no doubt hear (and smell) them before you get too close anyway!

Return to camp whichever way you choose and settle in for a spectacular sunset over Vancouver Island, and prepare for your return to reality tomorrow.

Day Five: North Copeland Island to Okeover Inlet
Cross back to the mainland from the Copelands and paddle north back around Sarah Point and beyond Feather Cove and into Malaspina Inlet. We like to visit the opposite shore on the way back to base, so continue down the inlet’s western side through the narrow portion (where there may be more currents) and into Cochrane Bay, which is opposite Grace Harbour and another nice place for lunch.

From here, you can cross the inlet to the top of Coode Peninsula at the Isbister Islets and continue south back to Penrose Bay, where you launched from 5 days and many wonderful memories ago.

Desolation Sound is world famous for it’s remarkably warm ocean temperatures, which routinely reach 22 degrees celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit) during those long, hot summer days of July and August.

As great as cooling off in the ocean can be, however, we know that nothing quite beats a freshwater soak in a warm, clean lake to wash away the salt of a mid-summer multi-day kayaking adventure.

Check out these incredible freshwater lakes easily accessible from Desolation Sound, perfect for a quick dip or an entire day or rest and relaxation.

Unwin Lake

This one is famous – accessed from the pullout in Tenedos Bay, a mere 45 minute paddle from the Curme Islands – Unwin Lake is a popular and attractive day trip paddle from your base camp in the heart of Desolation Sound.

From the campsite in Tenedos Bay, follow the trail for 10 minutes through an ancient temperate rainforest amongst humongous trees, and then choose your path to the left or the right hand side of the lake and find yourself a secluded corner to eat a lazy lunch, swim in the sun, or jump from a shoreline cliff into the warm water below.

The trail from the bay to the lake itself is a wonderful experience, with a number of side paths that snake away from the main trail and bring you to the base of an ancient old-growth cedar or a secret corner alongside a babbling waterfall flowing from the lake into the bay below.

Camping nearby include the Curme Islands, Tends Bay itself, as well as Bold Head at the entrance to Tenedos Bay – all of which are located within Desolation Sound Marine park and include tent platforms, pit toilets, and basic backcountry kitchen and picnic areas.

Black Lake

Another centrally located lake, Black Lake is found at the head of Roscoe Bay on the south eastern corner of West Redonda Island, about 90 minutes paddle from the Curme Islands to the south.

Roscoe Bay itself is a beautiful, narrow fjord that is a popular anchorage in the summer months with sailboats and small yachts. At the head of the Bay is an easy landing at a small campsite with an obvious trail beside a rushing creek to the lake. The trail arcs off to the right hand side once you reach the lake, and splits off in a number of places to reveal secluded places for groups or couples to find some privacy and relax along the shoreline.

Black Lake is probably the warmest of the lakes in Desolation Sound, and another perfect day paddle from a base camp on the Curme Islands. A short portage with empty kayaks is also possible along the flat trail, opening up even more potential exploration and adventure!

Wednesday Lake

Little known to kayakers, but well known to summer hikers of the Sunshine Coast Trail, Wednesday Lake can be accessed via a 30 minute hike from Cochrane Bay in Malaspina Inlet, about 2 hours paddle north of our launch site in Penrose Bay.

Paddle into the small pullout in Cochrane Bay and follow the trail to where it intersects with the marked Sunshine Coast Trail, where you can take a left turn and follow the trail in a southerly direction up and down for half an hour to reach the lake – perfect for a refreshing swim after some physical activity!

Wednesday Lake is warm, clear, and remote – meaning that you will very likely have the entire place to yourselves while you are there, with the possible exception of the occasional through hiker on the trail.

The lake is most easily accessed as a day trip from the campsites at Grace Harbour or Hare Point, about 30 or 40 minutes paddle from each, and is often used by kayakers as a great way to stretch the legs and embrace a different form of exercise during a sea kayak expedition in Desolation Sound.

Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is each individual’s responsibility to mitigate risks from shellfish-related illnesses by doing their own personal research using official and scientific sources. 

Harvesting fresh oysters, clams and mussels on a kayak trip is one of those quintessential west coast experiences.

We have been harvesting shellfish on our guided kayak tours for more than 20 years, and it is a highlight of many of our guests trips. We’ve even converted our fair share of non-oyster eaters into shellfish connoisseurs! Though to be fair, with ingredients this fresh, it’s difficult to go wrong.

However there are some critical things to know before you collect, and with the recent outbreak of norovirus cases related to BC oysters throughout Canada, we’ve seen that you cannot be too careful when harvesting and ingesting shellfish in a wilderness setting.

Licensing and Permits

Every person that harvests shellfish of any kind in Desolation Sound must be in possession of a BC Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Licence. These can be purchased online from the Department of Fisheries website.

An annual licence costs $22.05 for Canadian residents, and $106.05 for non-residents (non-residents are probably better off buying a 3 or 5 day licence for their trip, at a fraction of the yearly price).

Daily limits exist for all shellfish harvesting. Among the more common species harvested recreationally, each licence holder can harvest 15 oysters, 75 manila and littleneck clams, and 75 blue mussels per day.

You need to carry the licence on you at all times, whether online (displayed on a smartphone) or a printed copy. Fisheries officers require that the licence be able to be shown immediately on request, so it is always a good idea to have a printed copy on you at all times.

Red Tide

The most famous cause of shellfish poisoning in British Columbia is from eating oysters or clams that are affected by ‘red tide’, or Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP).

Red tide is the result of an algal bloom, usually, but not always, occurring in the warmer months of the year. Bivalve shellfish (including oysters, clams and mussels) filter the microorganisms and accumulate the toxins at a level that can be fatal for human consumption.

When the toxins are concentrated in the ocean in high numbers, this bloom can appear as a red or dark cloud in coastal waters – hence the nickname ‘red tide’. However, just because you cannot see this phenomenon does not mean that the toxins are not present, and though these blooms are typically associated with warmer waters, red tide can be present in every month of the year.

It is critically important to check the Department of Fisheries website for red-tide updates before ingesting any shellfish harvested on a kayak trip. This information is collected by the DFO in conjunction with the commercial shellfish industry, is updated regularly, and can change rapidly. An open shellfish area at the beginning of the trip can be closed abruptly by the end of the same week, and so bringing a smartphone to check for updates every day you are harvesting is ideal.

It is also important to correctly identify the species of shellfish you are harvesting. Clam species in particular can be difficult to identify to the untrained eye, and certain species hold the toxins for a much longer period than others.

Click this link to be taken to the updates for red tide on the BC coast. Desolation Sound is area 15-5.B, while Okeover and Malaspina Inlets are area 15-4, and the Copeland Islands and Lund are area 15-3.

Alternatively, you can call 1-866-431-3474 for a telephone update with a pre-recorded message on constant loop.


As of March 7th 2017, there have been 289 confirmed cases of gastrointestinal illness connected to eating BC oysters across Canada. Testing of several of these cases has confirmed the presence of norovirus infection, a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis commonly found in oysters that have been contaminated before being harvested.

None of the reported cases have been fatal, and most people report feeling better in one or two days, however these cases reinforce the importance of proper food preparation, especially in a wilderness environment. A Desolation Sound kayaking adventure is no place for a sudden gastrointestinal illness!

Despite the recent outbreak, risk to Canadians is very low, and norovirus illness can be avoided if oysters are cooked to an internal temperature of 90 degrees celsius (195 degrees Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 90 seconds.

Some other tips for avoiding infection:

  • Discard any oysters that do not open upon being cooked (for example, over a campfire)
  • Eat oysters immediately after cooking them
  • Always keep raw and cooked oysters separate
  • Wash your hands with soap and disinfect with hand sanitizer before handling any food. Norovirus is very contagious and can spread quickly from person to person. Make sure all hands, cutting boards, counters, plates and cutlery are washed and disinfected after use.

What Should I Cook on a Kayak Trip?

Compared to hiking, overnight sea kayak trips can be luxurious.

Seriously, you can fit a lot in a sea kayak. On our guided trips we frequently bring – along with clothes, tents, sleeping pads and bags, and group tarps – well, everything but the kitchen sink.

Two burner stoves, pots and pans of all sizes, 5lb propane tanks, assorted coffee making devices (“Do you want espresso or french press?”) and of course bags and bags of fresh food.

You don’t have to go as far as we do, but what we’re saying is, you don’t need to eat badly on a sea kayak trip.

While it may be easier to pop into MEC and pick up a whole bunch of those bags of freeze dried Pad Thais and powdered egg breakfasts, with just a little bit of planning beforehand you can whip up all manner of tasty, simple, and damn right impressive meals for your friends, partner, or family with a minimum of fuss.

To get your creative flowing, we’ve included here three relatively easy meals that are sure to win you all sorts of brownie points when you’re in Desolation Sound next summer.

Breakfast – Savoury Oat and Lentil Breakfast Bowl

Quick, tasty … and healthy. This breakfast is far more exciting than regular ol’ oatmeal, and the veggies add colour and freshness to this hearty breakfast bowl.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

3/4 cup rolled oats

2/3 cup red lentils

3-3.5 cups vegetable broth

2 small shallots diced (or 1 small onion)

3 cloves garlic minced

2 chopped green onions

150g white mushrooms sliced

150g cherry tomatoes halved

2 avocados sliced thinly

Salt & pepper to taste

Put the oats, lentils, shallots and garlic in a camp pot with the broth and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer without a lid until the lentils and oats become soft and the broth evaporates, about 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile chop up the mushrooms and the tomatoes and saute briefly in a small pan until the mushrooms become golden brown.

Ladle the lentils and oats into individual bowls and throw the mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado and green onions on top. Serve immediately.

Lunch – Mango Black Bean Salad

This is a classic! You can make this at home if desired for a quick first day lunch, but it is easily put together in the morning while making breakfast to take with you on your daily paddle in a Tupperware container. Hint: completely drain the beans before adding them, otherwise the salad takes on a washed out grey appearance (though it still tastes great).

Ingredients: (serves 4+)

2 cans black beans

2-3 mangos, peeled and diced

1 red pepper, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped finely

1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely

1 cup corn kernels, roasted (optional)

2 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp cumin

Juice of 1 lime

Dash of olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Roast the corn in a pan until they are golden brown (and throw the garlic in there too while you’re at it) and then throw all the ingredients in a container and you’re good to go!


Dinner – Mediterranean Pesto Pasta

This is simple meal that can be switched up and created in almost endless ways with whatever ingredients you choose. Spicy salami or Italian sausage along with the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes gives this a Mediterranean vibe, but can easily be omitted or left out till the end to make it vegetarian.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

Olive oil

400g rotini pasta

4 Italian sausages, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp chives, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 can artichoke hearts

1 can chickpeas, drained

1 small can or bottle sun dried tomatoes

1 bunch spinach, chopped

150g olives (optional)

1 200g bottle green pesto

Splash the olive oil and the pepper and garlic in a pot over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. When peppers are soft, throw in the artichoke hearts, and chickpeas and cook for 5-8 minutes, then add the sun-dried tomatoes and reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes more.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. If you are using them, tae the sausages and fry them up separately so that you can leave it out for any vegetarian paddlers.

Just before the pasta is cooked, add the chopped spinach to the pot with the pesto. Drain the pasta and mix it all together with the sausage. Serve!