Vacation Tours & Expedition Tours Explained

At Powell River Sea Kayak we have identified and created two distinct ways to experience Desolation Sound on a sea kayak camping tour.

Our classic ‘vacation-style’ tours run for 4 or 5 days and are designed to be a perfect blend between relaxation and adventure. Our ‘expedition-style’ tours on the other hand are 5 or 7 day trips designed for deeper exploration of the magnificent coastal inlets and passageways in this region.

Both options are unique adventures, and for most people the choice between the two will be clear for their circumstances. But for many the relative pros and cons can be difficult to choose between. Below we have highlighted the key differences between these two adventures to help make the decision

Routes & Area of Discovery

The first point of difference to mention is the scope of the tour. Our vacation-style tours focus on Desolation Sound primarily. This includes the protected waters of Okeover and Malaspina Inlet to the south (where we begin our adventure in Penrose Bay) and the islands north of Lund in the Upper Strait of Georgia (with particular emphasis on the beautiful Copeland Islands Marine Park).

While this is a vast area to explore, it allows for a blend of adventure and relaxation over a 4 or 5 day period. In one day’s paddle a group can meander from their camp in the lush rainforest at the edge of the Coast Mountains to an idyllic island base with a completely different ecology, showcasing the diverse nature of this part of the coast.

Depending on the group dynamic (see below), vacation tours will sometimes make a couple of basecamps over the length of the tour, spending two days in each place instead of moving each morning.

Expedition-style tours on the other hand are a lot more vast. While we do spend good time in Desolation Sound at the beginning and end of the loop, these tours quickly paddle north of Desolation into the channels and inlets that cut right into the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. They also usually plan to move camp every day, covering a considerable amount more distance (see below).

Such an area is a lot more remote, even than Desolation Sound! Of course, this presents new challenges and obstacles. While on a vacation tour there is plenty of flexibility concerning routes and camp locations, the loop of the expedition tours means that sometimes we have to push on through a little more rain or wind (or fatigue) to get to our camp for the evening! While our guides would never make a decision that puts the safety of the group at risk, it is important to note that the expedition tours often do require a little more tolerance for adversity than their vacation-style equivalents!

For many people of course, this is part of the adventure!

MSR tent set up at the Martin Islands in Desolation Sound


The campsites we use can range from developed provincial park sites – complete with tent platforms and outhouses – to private tenures with basic improvements, to undeveloped sites with no bathroom facilities and small clearings in the forest just large enough for a number of small tents.

Our vacation-style tours tend to stick to the first two options, though many factors can determine where our groups stop to spend the night. Most of our tours and guests prioritise solitude, which means that occasionally the luxuries of tent platforms and outhouses are sacrificed for peace and quiet, especially in the peak season. However, generally, vacation-style tours use comfortable campsites.

Expedition-style tours in contrast will stay at many varied camps. Those in Desolation Sound at the beginning and end of the tour will generally be more developed than the remote and rarely visited sites deep in the mountains.

Paddling Distances

To get to these wild places, of course, we have to put in a little more effort!

Vacation tours typically paddle 3-4 hours total each day, with a lengthy lunch break in the middle to recharge the batteries. This can result in anywhere from 4-10 nautical miles being covered in a day, and plenty of time for relaxing at camp.

Expedition tours on the other hand will generally spend a little more time in the kayaks, with a typical day being anything from 5-6 hours of paddling for distances between 8-15 miles. There is still plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful camp surroundings – especially in the long days of summer – and the grandeur of the surroundings tend to make the extra effort all the more rewarding for the right guests.


Wildlife is tricky to quantify in particular areas throughout a season. While we can say with a certainty that overall whale (especially humpback) numbers have increased dramatically in the Desolation Sound area over the last 5 years, it’s less accurate for us to say that our expedition tours – that paddle into more remote waters than the vacation tours – are more likely to encounter these cetaceans than the vacation tours.

Some of our guides would argue that they do, but many – especially those that paddled in Desolation Sound itself towards the end of August – would contend that the whales were so plentiful it didn’t make any difference!

One aspect of wildlife that expedition guests should be mentally prepared for, however, may not be immediately obvious. Our expedition tours – particularly our 7 day expeditions – are likely to travel and camp in areas that are home to bears, both black and brown.

Of course, our guides are all professional and experienced wilderness campers, and Powell River Sea Kayak has detailed policies in place for food management and bathroom policies for our tours that travel in bear country. Some people, however, understandably may have reservations selecting a tour that travels in such areas.

Two orcas in Desolation Sound

Group Dynamic

The group dynamic of a particular tour may play a factor in the type of camping tour a person is attracted towards.

Our vacation-style tours are our ‘classic’ experience, and it is safe to say that it suitable for all ages of guest. Family groups are perfectly suited to these tours, as are older paddlers, and of course everyone in between enjoys the balance between work and rest that the vacation-style tours afford.

The expedition-style tours however are definitely geared towards those looking for more of an adventure. The longer periods spent in the kayaks each day, along with the need for guests to lend a helping hand here and there at camp, can make these particular tours less appropriate for children. We have had older teens on expedition-style tours that have thrived with the experience, but parents should be aware that kids of this age do tend to tire at the end of the day, and double kayaks are mandatory for these guests on an expedition.

Finally, for those guests that are looking to perhaps avoid a tour with kids – which is a completely legitimate preference! – an expedition tour is more of a sure thing when making a booking, all other things considered above.

To view our availability for the 2020 season and make a booking for next summer, please visit our bookings page here!