Paddling a Warm Water Paradise
Everyone, focus on scenery and relaxed pace
* Kayaking trips & tours are priced and charged in Canadian dollars; prices in other currencies can be estimated by clicking here. Prices are subject to 5% GST and optional $20 sustainability fee. Please see our terms and conditions for full payment and fees information. "Family Friendly" indicates trip dates that welcome children under the minimum age of 12.
Kayaking Desolation Sound
Kayaking Desolation Sound, a sea kayaker’s paradise. Paddling amongst the towering mountains of the British Columbia Coast Mountain range is a truly awe-inspiring adventure. Desolation Sound has a Mediterranean climate which makes it our favourite place to paddle in May, June, early July and September where you can count on having the best weather on the coast.
Carved into the inaccessible wilderness of the Canadian mainland over the ages, the soaring peaks of the coastal mountains tumble to the waters edge in a jumble of river mouths and small islands, a perfect spot for sea kayaking. The rugged terrain has stopped any road access into Desolation; kayaks are the best way to visit this majestic and unspoiled area.
There are few places on earth as stunningly beautiful as kayaking Desolation Sound. This is a kayaking trip where you spend more time looking up than looking down. The calm waters make this ideal for first-time paddlers and the rugged mountain vistas make it suitable for anyone looking to experience some of Mother Nature’s most amazing works of art.
Camping & Dining
Our campsites In Desolation Sound are simply stunning. Most of our campsites will be on small Islands in the heart of Desolation Sound. 6000ft peaks will tower over us giving us the feeling of being rather small. Our food is fresh, wholesome and local when possible. Our shellfish, salmon or halibut come from Quadra Island fishermen. And our guides know how to prepare the meals just right.
Other activities include hiking, kayaking skills development, shellfish harvesting, and lots of opportunities to swim in the nearby lakes as well as the warmest ocean waters north of Mexico.
- Professional guiding service
- All kayaking equipment
(including kayaks, PFDs, paddles, pumps, ropes and sponges)
- Meals (lunch day 1 to lunch day 5)
- Cooking equipment
- Camping equipment including tents and Therma-rest sleeping pads
- Water taxi service
- Park and land use permits
If you are planning on bringing any of your own equipment please double-check the packing list to ensure you have the appropriate gear and please let our office know in advance of the tour to avoid us bringing duplicates.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?
Not included in the tour cost are accommodation before or after the kayaking portion of your trip;
- Flights, airport transfers, ferries, taxis,
- Travel/medical insurance
- Alcoholic or carbonated beverages
- Rain gear
- Sleeping bags
- Personal items (toiletries, clothing, etc.).
Sleeping bags and rain gear may be rented if you prefer not to travel with them (please reserve in advance; may be booked online with your trip reservation).
Spirit of the West operates in the unceded traditional territory of the Mamalilikulla-Qwe'Qwa'Sot'Em, 'Namgis, Tlowitsis, Nuu-chah-nulth, We Wai Kai, Homalco, Klahoose and Heiltsuk First Nations.
The Desolation Sound tour launches from the east side of our neighbouring Cortes Island. The details below should help give you a fuller picture of the day-to-day trip experience.
WHEN: DAY PRIOR AT 6 PM, WHERE: HERIOT BAY INN ON QUADRA ISLAND
This meeting gives us a chance to answer any questions you may have and for you to meet your guides and fellow kayakers. Your guides will go over the logistics of the tour and answer any concerns you may have. If you cannot make it to the meeting just be sure to call in the day before departure to confirm your arrival. This allows us to confirm the exact departure time and location, or to alert you if there are have been any last minute changes.
WHEN: DAY 1, WHERE: QUADRA ISLAND AT 8 AM OR Cortes island AT 10:15 AM
You can meet either on Quadra Island or on Cortes Island at the Squirrel Cove Store & boat launch. If meeting us on Cortes Island, please call our office to let us know.
Spirit of the West Adventures is based on Quadra Island (a 10-minute ferry ride from Campbell River) and this is where our tour starts. We highly recommend making Quadra Island a part of your vacation plans. Our beautiful island has a whole different and laid back feel to it, complete with endless opportunities for outdoor activities, beaches to relax, amazing accommodations and great local artisans.
Your guides will arrange meeting times and locations at the pre-trip meeting and will generally pick you up at your accommodation on Quadra Island (unless you prefer otherwise). Together we will catch the 9 am ferry to Cortes Island. We will then travel to our launch site at Squirrel Cove. After packing our kayaks we will spend some time reviewing kayaking skills and tips for comfort and of course safety procedures before our journey begins. Our route takes us on a paddle towards the fjords of Desolation Sound, providing us with a stunning mountain backdrop. There are a number of beautiful sites within an afternoon’s paddle. Keep your eyes open for harbour seals or dall’s porpoises along the way!
Savour our first hearty breakfast in the great outdoors before we pack up and head off on today’s adventure. We continue on into the enchanting islands, kayaking Desolation Sound where we take our time exploring as we head towards our desired camping site for the evening.
DAYS 3 & 4
These days may entail paddling through the scattered islands, interpretive forest walks, swimming in freshwater lakes, practicing some on-water skills, or simply lounging at our island campsites.
We will journey back to Cortes Island along the rugged shores of West Redonda Island. A visit to Refuge Cove or the lovely protected lagoon of Squirrel Cove will be our last stop of our 5-day kayak journey. A return in the early afternoon will allow for the time needed to return to Quadra Island between 3-5 pm.
Our approximate return time to Quadra Island is between 3-5 pm, however, due to the number of variables in wilderness travel we recommend that you plan to stay in the area for this night to avoid unnecessarily stressful complications should our return be delayed by something out of our control. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss your travel plans in more detail.
Below is a list of commonly asked questions. If you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to call us.
+ Where can I find updates to CORONAVIRUS from Spirit of the West?
Please click here to read through our current updates on coronavirus, travel disruptions, practices while on trip and more flexible terms & conditions due to the COVID-19.
To read our general Terms and Conditions, please click here.
We also published a Travel Insurance 101 which will help you answer basic travel insurance questions, such as ‘What is travel insurance?’ and ‘Why do I need it?’
Please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have any further questions. We are here to assist you every day from 9am onwards.
Breanne, Rick and the whole Spirit of the West crew
What is the minimum age required to join our tours?
We cater to all ages of adventurers. Kids age 5 to 12 are encouraged to join the Family Orca Tours which have been designed with the needs of younger kayakers. For most of our other regularly scheduled tours we prefer a minimum age of 12, except for the Great Bear Rainforest trip, which has a minimum age of 14. If your child is almost 12 or your family has a good deal of experience kayaking and camping we do occasionally make exceptions. We like to assess each case individually. We can also organize private, custom style adventures. Feel free to call us and we would be happy to discuss the options.
What is the average age of our guests?
We have guests from age 5 and up on our family tours and ages 12 to 85 joining our regularly scheduled tours. The average age ranges between age 30 to 65. Each tour and tour date is different, but we usually get a good mix of ages. For those concerned with being in ‘their older years’ or anyone unsure of which tour fits them best, we welcome you to contact us and we will be happy to help you find the perfect trip.
Are there any single supplement fees if I am travelling on my own?
There are NO single supplements. We encourage solo travelers to join us and often have several solo travelers on each tour. It should be no problem to have your own tent and you will have access to both single and double kayaks.
Can you accommodate food allergies/special diets?
Our food preparation crew are masters at accommodating dietary restrictions. We are able to offer gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy light and vegan menus with prior notice. Other dietary requests may involve additional charges and need to be discussed in advance with our food crew. We are NOT a nut-free facility.
Will I comfortably fit in the kayaks?
If you are over 6ft (182cms) tall, if you are on the more petite side of things, have larger hips or weigh over 250lbs (115 kg) we have certain kayaks that may work best for you. Please give us a call and we can ensure we have the appropriate kayak available for you.
What is included in the tour costs?
We supply everything that you will need for kayaking and camping except for a few personal items such as your clothing, toiletries, sleeping bag and rain gear (sleeping bags and rain gear can be rented if needed). We pick you up free of charge from your accommodation on Quadra Island on the morning the trip starts and we will drop you off there when the tour is finished.
We provide all meals from morning snack on day one to lunch on the last day. Non-alcoholic beverages including a wide variety of teas, coffee, juices, hot chocolate are provided. Alcohol is not provided and you are welcome to bring your favourite wine, beer or pop to enjoy responsibly. There is a grocery and liquor store very close to the location of the pre-trip meeting if you would like to pick up extra beverages on the evening before the tour. There are no additional costs once on our tour unless you wish to purchase souvenirs.
What do I need to bring?
We send you a complete packing list a few weeks prior to your tour to help you prepare. If you would like to see what type of clothing and items we recommend please click here and select your tour. (Please note the packing lists (page 4) between tours varies so choose the correct trip for the most accurate information).
How much kayaking experience is required?
Our adventures are designed to cater to all levels of experience and abilities from first-timer to expert paddler. We have several different styles and lengths of tours so that everyone can find the perfect trip.
If you are looking for more rustic camping and more paddling check out our expedition style tours; the Desolation Sound, Johnstone Strait Expedition, Orca Lite, Nuchatlitz or Great Bear Rainforest Tours.
Do I need to be in great shape for this trip?
The majority of our adventures are not considered to be overly strenuous or physically demanding and therefore do not require a high level of fitness. Each tour is slightly different in its demands so if you are concerned, please do contact us. As a general rule, you need to be capable of a few hours of moderate exercise each day and be comfortable with the uneven ground of a wilderness environment. Please keep in mind that good general health will go a long way towards the enjoyment of your tour. Most important though is an adventurous spirit.
How much paddling do we do each day?
Paddling time will vary depending on the trip, our destination, weather conditions and the group’s abilities and desires. Generally, we travel between 4-6 hours a day on our expedition tours, not including breaks and lunch We set a pace which is manageable and enjoyable for all.
How stable are the kayaks? What is the likelihood of flipping over?
The kayaks we use are stable and designed for comfort. Your guides will give you through instruction on how to safely use and enjoy the kayaks and what to do in case of a capsize. For those concerned about capsizing, the double kayaks are slightly more stable than the singles and we have a variety of both singles and doubles on every trip. The likelihood of a capsize is minimal and if it does happen your well-trained guides will be there before you know it to help.
What happens if my kayak flips over?
In the rare event of a capsize, all of our guides are trained in rescue procedures in order to quickly and efficiently get you back in your boat. At this point, we will take you to the nearest shoreline to change into some warm clothing and carry on with our journey when you are ready. While we are out on the water, it is of the utmost importance that the group stays together for safety.
If the weather turns bad? Will I be comfy and warm?
Our weather in the Pacific Northwest is generally pleasant from May through until the end of September. The temperature will vary slightly depending on which area you visit. Our tours in Desolation Sound tend to experience warm and mild temperatures. Fog is very common on summer mornings, however, this nearly always clears at midday to make way for clear skies and sun. Although it is uncommon, it can rain in the summer. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared for any type of weather and you will stay comfortable. Layering is the key, and it allows you to put on or take off layers while on the water if you need to.
What sort of wildlife might we see?
The diversity and abundance of wildlife in the Pacific Northwest are one of our privileges. With river run-off from the mountains, ocean currents, tide rips, eddies and upwelling these waters are among the most productive on earth. While not common to view whales in Desolation Sound, we are lucky to often experience the rich marine life of colourful plants and invertebrates, seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, mink, otter, seals, sea lions, dolphins and the land animals of deer, raccoons, cougars, wolves and bears. For those with an eye for eagles take note that they are most prominent in the earlier months before the salmon migration in the late summer/early fall. Please just remember that wildlife is just that wild and we cannot control sightings.
How close to we paddle to whales & other wildlife?
We do our very best to provide awesome sightings of whales but all the while ensuring that we do not disrupt the natural behaviour of all the wildlife we encounter. We abide by the Canadian whale watching regulations which means we do not approach killer whales (orcas) any closer than 200 meters (656 ft) and all other cetaceans no closer than 100 meters (328 ft).
To learn more about how we do our best to minimize our impacts on whales check out nimmsa.org the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association. Your trip fees help to fund whale research and conservation efforts through the NIMMSA fund which Spirit of the West Contributes too.
What is the camp setup like?
All of our campsites are in wilderness settings, and shelter is provided by the tents and tarps we carry with us. We seek out sites with beautiful surroundings and those that offer solitude; these are all undeveloped and may be clearings in the forest or space on the beach. There may be times (on occasion) when we are camping next to another group of kayakers. Campsite choice will be based on weather conditions, route choice and group size and preference.
Where do we wash and are there toilets?
There is very little fresh water to be found. Therefore, seawater is your best bet for washing up. Please use biodegradable, environmentally friendly soap brands. Toilet facilities are not common in most wilderness settings, although some areas may have pit toilets. We also carry a portable toilet system. Your guide will generally designate an area that works for ensuring your privacy. We are very accustomed to making sure all of our guests feel comfortable and informed – please feel free to ask us any questions you might have, before or during your tour.
WHERE CAN I LEAVE LUGGAGE THAT I WON’T NEED ON TRIP?
If you are staying on Quadra Island, many of the B&Bs offer free luggage storage – simply check with your host. Alternatively, guests staying on Quadra Island have the option of storing excess luggage at our office. Please ensure that your luggage is clearly labelled with your name, tour and trip date, and leave it with us on the first day of your tour for return to our office.
WHERE CAN I LEAVE MY VEHICLE WHILE ON TOUR?
Free parking will be available for your vehicle while on tour with us. Many of the accommodations on Quadra Island also have free parking included with your stay. Parking is also available at Squirrel Cove for a daily fee. Parking details will be discussed further at the pre-trip meeting.
IF I WOULD LIKE TO TIP THE GUIDES, WHAT IS THE INDUSTRY STANDARD?
If you would like to express your appreciation to the guides through a gratuity, such recognition would be enthusiastically received. The industry standard for tipping is approx. 10% per person of the trip cost. All tips received will be collected and disbursed amongst your guides & base crew by the trip leader.
We're proud of our great reviews - but don't just take our word for it, see what people are saying over on Trip Advisor. View Reviews
"Unbelievable how much time I spent smiling on this trip. I found myself smiling one time, even when I was having a very serious conversation with a fellow kayaker - I just couldn't help it, I was in such a beautiful place."
"I was convinced to go on this trip by my children. After going on this tour I feel like I'm 10 years younger: I'm reenergized after what feels like a long hibernation. Thank you."
"It was great! Wonderful time with my son."
"I'm an English teacher and for the first time in a very long time I couldn't think of any words to describe what I was seeing. It was that spectacular. Thank you for putting together such an excellent team. I had an extraordinary experience."
"I felt like I was doing something that I'd wanted to do for years but didn't know how to go about doing. With the Spirit of the West guides, Rick and Amy made me feel like these were the people I'd been waiting to get me out kayaking. They were exceptional."
"Your guides are a wealth of knowledge. Not only knowledgeable about the area or the flora and fauna, but about the needs of the group, namely having fun. Sometimes I would scan the whole group and realize everyone was having a good time. That is a compliment to your team."
Bill and Helen Robertson
"It is obvious that every one at Spirit of the West works hard to provide clients with an outstanding experience."
"I felt safe and happy. The guides were like the people I asked to go to parties when I'm too shy to go by myself. They came in and just took total care that I was enjoying myself and feeling comfortable. They were very generous with their energy."
"I think I might start a guide fund for all of my grandchildren. I want them to learn to do the kind of job that your guides did. Breanne and Luke were exceptionally skilled and I am considering living vicariously through them. Their enjoyment of their job was contagious and it energized the whole group. Congratulations on finding such great leaders."
"Superb, and always surprising. We'd heard about the food, but it was even better than we expected."
Alex Layard & Seb Powers
"I ate far better on this trip than I do at home!"
"I ate good wholesome food and always felt healthy which was what I needed after being so rushed in Toronto and always eating fast food on the go. Thank you for taking such good care of me. I have been rejuvenated."
"I came with my teenage son. This was some much needed bonding time. I had never thought of whether he would eat the food, and when I saw the guides preparing the food I thought, oh no, what if he doesn't like it? He ate like it was Christmas dinner and he was happy. I felt instantly like I was having the best holiday. The energy that you put into the food was very much appreciated."
On the Desolation Sound Expedition we will be packing everything into our kayaks each day in order to travel to our next campsite. While space is limited, please ensure you bring enough to stay warm and dry. The following is a list of suggested items that should keep you a happy camper.
Sea kayaks are oddly-shaped vessels to pack, so the key is to pack into the small compact bags which we provide. (The video to the right also provides some practical, and humorous, tips and tricks you might appreciate).
Sea kayaks are basically watertight, although small amounts of water may get in through the rudder lines and hatches. In the event of rain or dropping gear in the water we try to keep things as waterproof as possible. We provide you with waterproof storage bags also known as ‘dry bags’ (these will be given to you at the pre-tour meeting or the following morning if you are unable to attend).
If you prefer to bring your own dry bags, please note the largest bag should not be larger than a sleeping bag or 20 litres; several small bags are best. We will provide one 5 litre, two 10 litre and one 20 litre dry bags for you to pack into. Additional bags may be available depending on space in the kayaks. The 5 litre bag is good for storing small items such as cameras, sunscreen, glasses, etc. The larger ones will be used for storing the rest of your clothing. Please see our suggestions for waterproofing your sleeping bag below.
Shoes can generally be packed loose in the kayak. All participants will also pack some of the group gear and food in their kayak. Don’t worry, it always looks like an impossible mountain of stuff to fit in the kayaks, but with some perseverance and coaching from your guides we always manage to fit everything.
Please note that our summer temperatures from July until September are generally quite comfortable with temperatures from 18-30 degrees Celsius / 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not uncommon to find mid day summers hot enough to want to cool off in the ocean! June and later September will have cooler temperatures, and at ANY TIME OF YEAR we can have rain & wind, with temperatures occasionally as low as 13 C / 55 F. So, we say it is best to come prepared for any type of weather.
PLEASE NOTE WHAT WE PROVIDE:
– ALL KAYAKS & SAFETY GEAR
– TENT & SLEEPING PADS
– DRY BAGS
– SMALL CAMP PILLOW
If you have your own gear and would prefer to use it on your tour, please bring it to the pre-trip meeting so that we can make sure it is suitable and meets safety requirements. The following is a list of suggested items to bring along. If you have any concerns or questions about the list, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
- Sleeping bag – A 3-season synthetic bag is recommended. Down bags will work but please take extra care to waterproof. If you are uncertain about whether or not you have the appropriate bag just give us a call or check with your local outdoor store. If you do not have a sleeping bag or would prefer not to travel with one, these may be rented for $25 plus tax. Please reserve in advance. To waterproof your sleeping bag, line a compression sack with a heavy duty garbage bag. Press the air out of the bag with your knee and then keep it compact with the compression sac (may be purchased at any outdoor shop). This also helps keep your bag small for travel.
- Wetshoes – A pair that can get wet such as sturdy full strapped sandals (such as Keens, Tevas or Chacos), neoprene booties, crocs, or rubber boots. Please avoid flip-flops/thongs. Spirit of the West has a wide range of rubber boot sizes (youth – men’s size 13) available to borrow free of charge if you don’t have your own wet shoes or have limited space in your luggage. There will be an opportunity to try on boots at the pre-trip meeting.
- Camp footwear – An additional pair of footwear that you plan to keep dry. Runners, trainers or light hikers are great.
- Hat – A sun hat such as a baseball hat or full-brimmed hat as well as a wool or fleece warm hat for evenings or cooler days.
- Sunglasses & sunscreen (stored in a Ziploc bag) – A must for protection from sun and glare off of the water. Safety cords on your glasses are highly recommended.
- Small flashlight or headlamp – With spare batteries. Headlamps are preferable as they allow for hands-free operation.
- Camera – In a waterproof bag or case, or you may use our dry bags.
- Bathing suit
- Personal items – Toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap/shampoo, washcloth, feminine hygiene products, hairbrush, etc.
- Medication – If you are bringing medication please ensure that… 1) The name and expiry date of drug is on the container; 2) You have the detailed instructions of your dosage and frequency; 3) It is packed in a water and sunproof container; 4) You bring a full extra dosage of your medication in a separate container to leave with your guide, in case you misplace or lose yours, or are weathered in. If you are flying, please pack all necessary medication in your carry-on luggage. This will help eliminate some stress should your checked bags be misplaced in transit.
- Mosquito repellent – Insects are not a significant concern for us in our coastal ecosystem, however for those unused to insects or with particular sensitivities some repellent may come in handy.
- Ziploc bags & several large garbage bags – We will provide you with dry bags, but these come in handy for transporting laundry and/or wet clothing.
- Water bottle – Bike bottles or Nalgene-style bottles work best.
- Gloves (optional) – Biking gloves work well to protect your hands from blisters. If you are really concerned abut cold hands, and are paddling in the spring or fall seasons, you may want to invest in neoprene gloves or pogies.
- Beverages – We supply a wide range of teas and coffee as well as juices. You are welcome to bring along soda pops or alcoholic beverages if you choose to. Please note however that we do expect our guests to consume alcoholic beverages responsibly and strictly enforce a no alcohol on the water policy.
- Fishing gear (optional) – Make sure you have a valid B.C. fishing license. These can be purchased on-line at http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/licence-permis/index-eng.htm
- Book or journal
- Binoculars (optional)
- Gratuity for your guides – at your own discretion.
Clothing should be suitable for the time of year, bearing in mind that it could become cold and wet at anytime of year. Layering is the best way to regulate body temperature and maintain warmth. We suggest avoiding cotton (except for those hot days). Cotton has no insulation value when wet. An inner material that wicks moisture from the body and gives a comfortable dry feeling even while wet is the best first layer (Polypropylene, Lycra, Nylon, Polyester). A synthetic material such as fleece or pile makes the best second layer to provide warmth. Wool is also suitable.
- Rain jacket & rain pants – For the unexpected nasty weather. To test your waterproofness – jump in the shower and see if you stay dry! (we’re serious!). If you would like to rent/hire raingear from us, please reserve in advance of the tour. Tops and bottoms can be rented for $25 plus tax for the set.
- Light windproof jacket (optional)
- Long-sleeved non-cotton shirt (synthetic/wool) – 2
- Long pants – 1 pair of fleece or warm comfortable pants. 2 lighter pairs made of a quick drying, synthetic fabric. Athletic style pants (running or yoga) are generally appropriate. Jeans are NOT recommended for paddling.
- Lightweight long underwear – 2 pairs, helps to keep you warm at night or as a base layer during the day. We recommend one set for kayaking and one set which is reserved for sleeping and always stays dry.
- Sweaters – 2 warm wool or fleece sweaters (one may be all you need, but it is nice to have a spare in case one gets wet).
- T-shirts – 2 or 3.
- Shorts – 1-2 quick dry nylon
- Warm socks – 3 to 5 pair (1 warmer pair for around camp)
- An extra set of clothes that you may want to reserve for the end of the trip.
Our online booking system allows you easy access to booking your tour with Spirit of the West Adventures, any time of day. If you think that you would like to book a trip, but need time to look into other travel arrangements, please contact our office and we will place a temporary hold on your spaces.
We also offer real humans to speak with if that’s your preference, so feel free to call our office at 1-800-307-3982 (from within Canada and the U.S) or 1-250-285-2121 (from overseas). We can be reached by email at [email protected] If, for any reason, you are having trouble booking your trip, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help!