Saturday, March 5, 2011

The West Coast Vancouver Island North BC Marine Trail section: Leg four, Clayoquot Sound

Kayaking Clayoquot Sound

The West Coast Vancouver Island North BC Marine Trail section:
Leg four, Clayoquot Sound

March 4, 20111 Commentby John KimantasSpring 2011issue
Clayoquot Sound is the most accessible of the regions of the West Coast Vancouver Island North marine trail, but don’t hold that against it. The bustling little surf, resort and tourist trap of Tofino, blessed by paved highway access (tumultuous as it is), is the obligatory starting point, but once on water you are quickly immersed in wilderness. Turn right at the kayak launch (yes, Tofino actually has a designated kayak launch), and head into some brilliantly mountainous passages that run between Vancouver and Meares islands, or any number of smaller islands that dot the region for a journey through protected waters. Turn left from Tofino (that’s west, by the way) and head out towards incredible open ocean, storm-battered, reef-strewn shoreline and sprawling beaches that mark Vargas Island and other smaller camping options. Head straight north and leave everything behind, either taking the easier waters on the inland of Flores Island to reach the pristine beauty of Shelter Inlet or take the outer waters of Flores where the humpback and grey whales frolic year-round.
Head far enough and reach Hot Springs Cove, a renowned attraction with a heated mineral spring that feeds a rocky channel set just above the waterline for a perfect soak. Water taxis and floatplanes feed a steady supply of tourists, though, and make the shore of Maquinna Provincial Park toward Hesquiat Harbour a better wilderness option for kayakers.
Several remote trails offer opportunities for land access, from the short, pleasant and civilized Big Cedar Trail on Meares Island to the wild mountain climb of the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island. For the most adventurous, there’s the rarely visited beach walk of Hesquiat Peninsula. Take your pick of hikes and/or paddles to suit your ambitions and interests. There’s always something for the adventurous spirit in Clayoquot Sound.
Access points: Tofino is the only town that borders the waters of Clayoquot Sound, making it the de facto starting point for almost any trip into this region. The kayak launch is located next to the main government dock off First Street. Parking is available nearby, though a fee may apply. One alternative is within Pacific Rim National Park at Grice Bay, but parking is restricted overnight at the launch. Water taxis cater mainly to the tourist trade here, not kayaks, though kayakers may be accommodated by some service providers. A regular and reasonably priced passenger shuttle runs to Ahousat on Flores Island, solving access for hikers of the Wild Side Trail.
Short trips: A traditional beginner’s adventure from Tofino is Lemmens Inlet set in Meares Island. It avoids the currents on all but the short crossing of Duffin Passage. A visit can be combined with hikes of either the Big Cedar Trail or an ascent of Lone Cone for spectacular views of the sound.
Moderate trips: Vargas Island is a great destination for intermediate paddlers. Though channels can have strong currents near Tofino, an easy route is on the inside via Maurus Channel to Dick and Jane Beach on the northwest corner of the island, or any number of secondary campsites on Vargas or nearby islands. A more demanding route is south of the island to spectacular Ahous Bay, noting the water around the La Croix Group can be tricky. A circumnavigation of Meares Island is a moderately ambitious agenda through mostly protected and serene passages with a few currents to watch along the way.
Advanced trips: Kayakers willing to brave a bit of swell on exposed water can reach Whitesand Cove on Flores Island, while veterans will enjoy the achievement of reaching Hesquiat Peninsula. The trip to Cow Bay can be a long weekend adventure (done as a Coast&Kayak Magazine trip in late September 2008, pictured here), but a week is recommended. If Hesquiat Peninsula is too ambitious, Shelter Inlet is scenic with waterfalls and reef-strewn side channels to explore. While Hot Springs Cove is a worthwhile destination, crowds can be an annoyance during peak hours. Consider Hesquiat Harbour the better goal.
New BC Marine Trail sites: There are no designated sites for this region yet as the marine trail process works its way south. The sites shown here are already established, and will hopefully compose the backbone of this leg of the trail.

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