Frequently Asked Questions

Got a question about kayaking in Powell River & Desolation Sound? We have the answers!

Since 1995 we have been the Desolation Sound sea kayaking company, offering kayak rentals, day tours, multi-day camping tours and now eco-resort packages into Desolation Sound. Over this time, we have been asked (and answered) just about every question imaginable regarding Desolation Sound, Powell River, and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

Read on to learn the answers to many of the most common of these frequently asked questions about kayaking, our tours, and Desolation Sound!

Why is Desolation Sound One of the Best Places to Kayak In British Columbia?

Desolation Sound is considered to be one of British Columbia’s premier kayaking destinations, and for good cause! Let us list the reasons:

  • Warm ocean temperatures (up to 24 degrees celsius in the summer!)
  • Relatively calm and protected conditions inside Vancouver Island.
  • Exceptional mountain scenery of the Coast Mountains, especially Mount Denman rising 7500 feet straight out of the ocean!
  • Great year round wildlife viewing, including an increasing number of orca and humpback whales each year!
  • Remote, yet close to Vancouver – easily accessed in  half a day from the city.
  • Consistent summer weather from June to September due to being located in the rain shadow of the Vancouver Island mountains.
  • Intriguing natural and cultural history makes for some great campfire reading & discussion (if you’re into that).

To learn more about why Desolation Sound is a top kayaking destination in BC, read our blog post here!

Why is a Kayak Tour a Great Active Family Vacation?

Every summer there are families – often with children as young as 4 or 5 years old – that join us on multi-day camping tours in Desolation Sound. These trips are always incredibly rewarding for parents, children, and our guides! A sea kayak tour with your family is fun, educational, stimulating, and surprisingly relaxing for parents. Children will invariably experience and explore the beauty and wonder of nature and Desolation Sound in a safe and controlled environment.

Our sea kayak vacations are designed to be immersive and relaxing, as well as adventurous. Our guides are experts at curating an experience for the entire group, including routes, campsites and activities of focus throughout the tour – such as intertidal beachcombing during low tide to teach and inspire young paddlers. Most importantly, our guides are professionally trained and committed to the safety and comfort of all our guests!

Read more about Family Kayak Tours here.

Why is Kayaking the Best Way to Travel in Coastal British Columbia?

A kayak trip in coastal British Columbia is all about taking it slow, immersing yourself in this beautiful natural environment, and living in each moment as it comes. It is less about the destination – however beautiful it may be – and more about the journey and the adventure along the way. So many details and intricacies of the coast are missed speeding along far from the shore, and staying in a hotel room or a cabin is no substitute for tenting under the stars (or in our comfortable but immersive eco resort!).

We may be biased, but time and again we speak with guests and friends who say that a kayak trip in Desolation Sound was far more influential and memorable to them than any other vacation.

What is the Best Time of Year to Kayak Desolation Sound?

While July and August are considered by many to be the optimum months to kayak in Desolation Sound due to the weather, all months in the spring and summer are notable for their own reasons.

In May and June, paddlers will experience true solitude on the water, and the fresh ‘green season’ landscape is a true representation of the classic west coast experience, with pleasant temperatures and occasionally moody skies. The wildlife in May and June is also unique, with many winter birds still present in the area, such as surf scoters and common loons, while enormous California and Steller sea lions are still often spotted in good numbers before they head off to their summer rookeries to mate.

In September the relatively sunny days of summer usually continues throughout most of the month, with the temperatures cooling, the days pleasant for paddling, and the feeling of true peace and quiet amplified as the shoulder season returns. September is also the best time of year to view whales in Desolation Sound – especially humpback whales – that in recent years have tended to congregate in the Sound and the northern Strait of Georgia before heading south for the winter!

What are Kayak Vacations?

A ‘kayak vacation’ is what we at PRSK have named our classic Desolation Sound camping tours. They are either 4 or 5 days in length and focus entirely on the Desolation Sound region, including the northern Strait of Georgia and the Copeland Islands Marine Park. These kayak vacation tours are designed for everyone and aim to provide an adventurous exploration of Desolation Sound mixed with a good amount of rest and relaxation as well. Often – but not always – these tours will make a number of base camps in the area which allows guests and guides to explore one particular area of the Sound more intimately – and with less rush in the mornings – before moving on.

Learn more about our Kayak Vacations here.

What are Kayak Expeditions?

Kayak Expedition Tours are what we at PRSK have named our more adventurous sea kayak camping tours, exploring such areas as Toba Inlet and the Discovery Islands as well as Desolation Sound. These tours typically travel greater distance than our vacation tours, and guests can expect to move camp every morning to get to the next are to explore. They are designed for kayakers that are really interested in getting into remote parts of BC’s rugged mainland coast.

Learn more about our Kayak Expeditions here.

Why is the Water So Warm in Desolation Sound?

Desolation Sound is renowned for its warm summer ocean temperatures, which can reach up to 24 degrees celsius (around 72 degrees Fahrenheit) in August! But why does the water here reach such luxurious swimming and snorkelling temperatures compared to the colder temps featured elsewhere on the Pacific Coast?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, Desolation Sound is situated right around the mid point of the inside of Vancouver Island. Not only does this protect the Sound from higher winds and swell, but two distinct tidal flows – one south of Van Isle and one to the north – converge here. The water therefore has less opportunity to move around at the surface, and the long, warm summer days that we experience here in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island has plenty of time to heat up the ocean to exceptionally pleasant temperatures.

This is especially noticeable in protected bays and coves, the perfect places for a swim after a long day of paddling and adventure!

Are There Killer Whales in Desolation Sound?

In coastal British Columbia, on the inside of Vancouver Island, there are two specific types of orca – or killer whale – that can be seen. Transient orcas are ‘mammal eating’ killer whales, and they feed primarily on harbour seals, sea lions, and sometimes dolphins and porpoises. Resident orcas are fish eaters, with the majority of their diet consisting of chinook salmon. The resident orcas therefore spend much of their time in the north and south of Vancouver Island, where they are most likely to find their preferred food source as the salmon pass through the Juan de Fuca and Queen Charlotte Straits.

In Desolation Sound we are more likely to view transient orcas when kayaking. These mammal eaters do not tend to stay in one place for long, roaming up and down the coast in search of seals, which are abundant in the waters north of Vancouver! Therefore we do see orcas semi-regularly in Desolation Sound, though it is difficult to predict when they will arrive and for how long they will stay in the area before moving on.

Do You See Humpback Whales in Desolation Sound?

The return of humpback whales to Desolation Sound and the waters inside Vancouver Island in the last decade has been phenomenal. Once completely extirpated from this area, more and more humpbacks seem to return every year. In Desolation Sound, humpbacks are a regular visitor and common sight in the late summer and early fall months of July, August and September, and are also sometimes spotted earlier in the season in May and June as well!

Can You Kayak With Orcas or Humpback Whales in Desolation Sound?

While Desolation Sound is more renowned for its warm temperatures and striking mountain scenery than its concentration of whale sightings, there has been an increasing number of sightings of both humpback and orca whales in recent years, which has been awesome for our guests and guides alike! 

It is always a possibility to view and kayak with whales in Desolation – and many of our multi-day tours spot whales while they are paddling or at camp. Humpbacks are more likely to be spotted in the late summer (August and September), while transient orcas can be seen at any time of year as they come into the area in search of food and then leave again sporadically up and down the coast.

Learn more about the potential for viewing and kayaking with whales on our blog.

When is the Best Time to See Wildlife in BC & Desolation Sound?

Depending on your priorities, the wildlife viewing in British Columbia and in Desolation Sound specifically can be great at any time of summer.

Early season trips in May and June are more likely to be interesting for bird watchers, as many species that tend to migrate away in the summer can still often be seen in Desolation Sound, such as surf scoters, common loons and grebes, and many of the colourful male variations of waterfowl. Furthermore, bird species that change from winter to summer plumage can often still be seen in their winter garb, such as marbled murrelets and the plucky Bonaparte’s gulls.

Early summer marine mammal sightings are far more likely to include the impressive California and Steller sea lions, both of which head off at the end of June – some north and some south – to their summer breeding grounds.

As the summer goes on, larger marine mammals – particularly humpback whales – are seen with more regularity. Humpbacks in particular tend to congregate in Desolation Sound and the northern Strait of Georgia in great numbers in late August and September (and into October) before they head south for the winter.

Throughout the summer, many species are spotted with regularity no matter which month. Bald eagles, seals and porpoises, and intertidal critters such as sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins are spotted all year, and transient orcas will pass through the area intermittently throughout the year, always a treat from the seat of a kayak!

Learn more about Wildlife in Desolation Sound here.

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

While the very adventurous and curious paddlers can spend weeks in Desolation Sound and the surrounding area and still feel that there is more to see, we have found that somewhere between 4-6 days is the optimal amount of time for the average kayaker to immerse themselves truly in this wonderful landscape and leave again before they start to miss all the luxuries of civilization!

We find that 2 and 3 day tours and excursions into Desolation Sound – while certainly wonderful – are not quite enough for most people to truly unwind and relax, and many guests that return after such a short amount of time express regret that they could not have remained for a day or two longer.

Read our blog post about The Best 5 Day Kayak Route in Desolation Sound here.

Where should I Camp in Desolation Sound?

Desolation Sound is vast, and has many great campsites that are perfect for short overnights or extended base camps while kayaking in the area.

In 2013, BC Parks created 11 distinct designated campsites in the Desolation Sound and the Copeland Island Marine Parks, complete with tent platforms, pit toilets and basic kitchen and seating areas. These campsites are strategically located to access Desolation Sounds best and most popular kayaking areas. While all these sites are excellent and convenient, particularly popular sites due to their proximity to key areas and for their natural beauty are the Curme Islands (which has 3 distinct sites) and Bold Head. For those looking for a great park site close to our base in Okeover, Hare Point is located just inside the mouth of Malaspina Inlet and is particularly picturesque!

It is also possible to camp on crown land outside of the provincial park, but please note that the sites found in these areas have no improvements (such as tent platforms and pit toilets) and are not marked, and may be confused with commercial tenures or private land.

Learn more about our favourite sites on our blog here!

Where is the Best Place to Rent Kayaks in British Columbia?

Desolation Sound is protected by Vancouver Island and the Discovery Islands from the swell and majority of the winds experienced on the outside coast. While strong winds can and do occur at any time of year, Desolation Sound is a great place for less experienced kayakers to come with more experienced friends to experience kayaking on the BC coast. It’s also a fantastic area to gain experience about important coastal paddling topics such as weather, winds, tides and currents, and practice rescues with experienced friends in warm summer waters!

Head over to our Kayak Rentals page here.

How Do I Pack For a Kayak Trip in British Columbia?

It can be easy to bring too much on a sea kayak trip, especially on a personal trip if you are not familiar with the experience! Any trip more than a couple of days will likely have restrictions based on the volume of the hatches in the kayaks you are taking – it’s bad form (and can be dangerous for a number of reasons) to not store personal items securely in these hatches and simply strap them to the deck of the kayak if they don’t fit. Luckily we have a few resources for paddlers on both our guided tours and on self-guided excursions to make the decisions easier!

Our guided tours will supply all the food, cooking and kitchen gear, and most of the camping gear (minus the sleeping bag). For your personal requirements, we have an extensive packing list that we have developed over the years, and can be found here in our pre-trip document.

For self-guided kayak renters, obviously you need to provide everything you need for a self-contained trip. One of the best resources we have found over the years is this extensive packing list provided by the Sea Kayak Guides’ Alliance of BC. Note that this packing list is designed for guides and may be more comprehensive than you feel you need, but it is a great place to start when planning your trip.

What Should I Cook on a Kayak Trip?

The kayaks in our rental fleet are large, touring kayaks. They have plenty of volume room in their hatches to comfortably transport food and cooking equipment for a week or more. Therefore you don’t need to plan to eat ramen noodles or reheated mac and cheese all week! If you take care to avoid leaving them in the sun, coolers should keep perishable items fresh in the hulls of the kayaks for up to a week or more. Kayaking is not like backpacking; the large storage of the kayaks mean you can put together surprisingly creative meals if you wish!

One key is to plan to use any quickly perishable items early in the trip. Chicken, fish, leafy green vegetables, fresh herbs, etc, are prone to spoiling and should be consumed early.

Learn more about some of our favourite easy kayak meals here.

Why is Desolation Sound the Best Place to Snorkel in BC?

Apart from its kayaking and sailing potential, Desolation Sound is also renowned as one of the best places to snorkel on the BC coast. While the marine life is abundant and colourful – with many different species of sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, anemones and more to be seen – the warm Pacific ocean temperatures are just as important. With summer water temps reaching as high as 24 degrees celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit) it is common on our kayak tours for guests to spend hours in the water – sans wetsuit – swimming and snorkelling in bliss and comfort.

To learn more about snorkelling in Desolation Sound, visit our snorkel page here.

Where is Toba Inlet in British Columbia?

Toba Inlet is a deepwater inlet or fjord about 30 kilometres north of Desolation Sound on the mainland coast of British Columbia. It is only accessible by boat or floatplane. It is about 35 km from the mouth of Toba Inlet to the head at the mouth of the Toba River, and averages 2.5 km in width. Toba Inlet is known for its beautiful turquoise coloured water, its many large waterfalls, and its stunning mountain scenery.

Powell River Sea Kayak runs a short number of expedition style kayak trips to Toba Inlet each summer. These guided tours are typically 7 days in length. To learn more, visit our Destinations page for Toba Inlet here.

Where are the Coast Mountains in British Columbia?

The Coast Mountains (or Coastal Range) are a major mountain range situated on the mainland coast of British Columbia. It is an extension of the Cascade Range in the US, and continues all the way north into the Alaskan panhandle. In British Columbia the Coast Mountains separate the humid coastal region from the much drier interior of the province.

The Coast Mountains frame the edge of Desolation Sound to the east and provide one of the most spectacular mountain backdrops in British Columbia. The iconic Mount Denman – which rises 7500 feet directly out of the ocean in Homfray Channel – is particularly noteworthy for its impressive profile.

Who was Nancy Crowther, the Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet?

Nancy Crowther’s family homesteaded on the land of what is now our waterfront launch site in Okeover Inlet in the 1920’s. For over _____ years Nancy’s family – and finally Nancy alone – farmed goats, chickens and even pioneered Okeover’s oyster harvesting industry on their property in Penrose Bay. During this time Nancy became known locally as the ‘Cougar Queen of Okeover Inlet’ due to the fact that she had to continuously be on the watch for cougars, bears and other predators that were trying to prey on her livestock. It is claimed that in her lifetime Nancy shot and killed 22 cougars – the first when she was only 13 years old – to protect her land!

Powell River Sea Kayak is now located on Nancy’s old property and many of the original buildings – such as her log cabin – remain standing and used to this day.

What are the Best Things to Do in Powell River?

Powell River and Lund on the Sunshine Coast is an emerging tourist destination on the British Columbia coast. Most of the best features of this area are related to the area’s proximity to a wide variety of outdoor activities. Some of these include:

  1. Sea kayaking in Desolation Sound
  2. Hiking a portion of the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail
  3. Canoeing the 7 lakes on the Powell River Canoe Route
  4. Fishing in the Strait of Georgia
  5. Climbing in the Eldred Valley, or at one of the local crags close to town
  6. Backcountry skiing in the Knuckleheads
  7. Mountain Biking in the Duck Lake trail system
  8. Camping at one of the countless lakes in the backcountry behind town

There is also an emerging food and live music scene to check out as Powell River moves on from a single industry town to a diverse and multi-faceted destination in its own right. Learn more about outdoor activities in Powell River here!