Kayaking the Clayoquot Sound is one of the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the world. View the list and follow our mission to complete them.
Kayaking Vancouver Island allows you to be transported into the pure British Columbia nature. With every paddle stroke, you will fall in love with this area, from its breathtaking seascape where bright teal waters meet its dark green rolling tree line.
Where the locals are truly wild and can be seen flipping rocks for clams to jumping out of the sea right next to you as you kayak these waters. It’s no wonder why kayaking Vancouver Island is a world’s Top 100 Travel Adventure.
When was the last time you not only saw beauty in nature but you felt it? We had 4 amazing days exploring the Clayoquot Sound by kayak.
There’s plenty of amazing things to do in the Tofino area but kayaking Vancouver Island is one of the top things and it’s no wonder why it’s one of the best places in the world to go kayaking.
In this Kayaking Vancouver Island guide, you will find:
Table of Contents
(click to skip straight to a section)
- Where is the Clayoquot Sound?
- Best time to visit the Clayoquot Sound
- History of the Clayoquot Sound
- Sustainable Adventuring with Tofino Sea Kayaking
- Our 4-day Tofino Kayaking Adventure
- FAQ’s About Kayaking Vancouver Island
- Packing List for you Kayak Adventure
- Complete Tofino City Guide
Where is Clayoquot Sound?
British Columbia (BC) is known for its many hidden gems where you can experience pure nature unlike anywhere else in the world. The Clayoquot Sound is located on Vancouver Island’s west coast near the city of Tofino and is the diamond among all the gems in BC.
The Clayoquot Sound is a spectacular inlet of the Pacific Ocean that ranges nearly 100km wide.
It has thousands of miles of forest with lush fern gardens, crystal clear lakes, winding rivers, sandy beaches and untouched islands filled with huge amounts of biodiversity.
In addition to the flora, the area is home to an abundance of wildlife including whales, black bears, many bird species and sea lions. The Clayoquot Sound offers something for all nature and adventure lovers.
Best Time to Visit Vancouver Island
Tofino is your entry point to the Clayoquot Sound and it is a bustling summer town. From August and early September, the black bears are the most active along the shores turning over rocks while looking for clams.
The area of Tofino has a long whale watching season that runs from March to October. The whole of Vancouver Island is also world-famous for birding, they have numerous non-migratory birds all year round.
The best months are when the migratory birds are flying through the area from April to May and Mid-September to December, depending on weather conditions.
For Kayaking, spring weather (March-May) can be brutal so kayaking is limited. The best months for kayaking Vancouver Island are June to August. This is high season around Tofino but it offers great weather and some of the best conditions for kayaking.
September to November can be hit or miss with a few hot days and some chilly raining days. Tourism heads to a slow halt after November until March when it starts to trickle in again.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Vancouver Travel Guide
History of the Clayoquot Sound
With this adventure (Kayaking Vancouver Island), like all the world’s Top 100 Travel Adventures, there is more that goes into the adventure than the adventure itself, so we wanted to share a little bit of history of the area you will spend your time in.
The Clayoquot Sound has been home to the Nootka groups (Canada first nation people) for at least 2000 years. The first Europeans known to explore the sound were fur traders in 1787 and attacks on their visiting ships limited access and growth to the area.
The first nation people lived virtually untouched from the outside world until 1875 when a Catholic mission was established by Reverend Augustin Brabant that opened the door for Norwegian, Chinese, English and Japanese settlers to move into the area around Tofino around the 1890s.
The waters of the Clayoquot Sound were plentiful for fisherman and this started the salmon boom. By World War II, the commercial fisheries had expanded into aquaculture, shellfisheries and sport fishing.
The waters around the Clayoquot Sound weren’t the only plentiful means in the area. The region’s forests, that had been untouched for all those years, hosted numerous deer, elk, bear and wolves that made it great for hunting.
The timber was also untouched by mass logging as the First Nation people and settlers lived off the land. Their impact was small and they only took what they needed.
However, in 1955 the region’s forests were licensed to two forest companies and nearly one-fourth of the timber has been logged since.
In 1993, after many years of study, the BC government established a logging zone amounting to 62% of the crown land in the Clayoquot Sound, including 17% that was earmarked for careful logging.
Protected areas totaled 33%, but only 14% remains protected as an old-growth forest. This plan sparked a wildfire in people that caused a huge outcry to protect the area.
Thousands of people came to protest, and hundreds were arrested and charged in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
In January 2000 the entire sound, including part of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, was designated as a biosphere reserve adding the Clayoquot Sound to the global profile of a wilderness protected area.
Sustainable Adventuring with Tofino Sea Kayaking
This is as important as enjoying your epic Tofino kayaking adventure. Finding a kayaking company that cares about sustainability and practices it down to the core is key for preserving this area for future generations and our research led us to Tofino Sea Kayaking.
This company has been helping paddlers explore the Clayoquot Sound responsibly since 1988 and they understand the importance of this area to both the local people and the environment.
Liam McNeil, the Operations Manager at Tofino Sea Kayaking, runs the company in a way that allows you to not only learn about the area but to learn to love it too.
All of the guides working for the company have a long history of living and paddling in the area, know the sea conditions, know the forests and have the skills to ensure you have a safe adventure in the wilderness.
We had the pleasure of spending 4 days with their top guide, Andy Murray, who showcased to us everything that makes this area special and more.
We camped under the stars, hiked among massive trees, paddled alongside whales and met every little creature that calls the intertidal zone home. A good trip is just a good trip, but what makes a trip great is a great guide.
Tofino Sea Kayaking guides are the best kayaking guides in BC. They are passionate about what they do and they know the Clayoquot Sound like the back of their hands. Of course, it’s not just being able to read a map and know where you are.
They know the wildlife, the weather patterns, the forests, and the sea and help you to know it too. This is where Tofino Sea Kayaking strives above the rest.
Our 4-day Kayaking Vancouver Island Adventure
- Trip overview: Tofino Sea Kayaking Clayoquot Explorer 4 days/3 Nights
- Day 1: 9 am at Tofino Sea Kayaking – Kayaking by 11 am -Tofino To Hidden Beach – 4 Hours of Paddling
- Day 2: Hidden Beach across the channel to Meares Island back to Hidden Beach – 6 Hours of paddling – 2 Hours hiking
- Day 3: Hidden Beach to Abraham’s Meadow – 4 hours of paddling
- Day 4: Abraham’s Meadow to Tofino – 3 Hours of Paddling (1/2 day) – return by 1 pm
- Level: Intermediate
- Guests: 2 – 10 (We had 3 people in our group plus the guide)
- Highlights: Whales, bears, harbor porpoises, sea otters, wolves, birds, aquatic species, aquatic plants, white sand beaches, old-growth rainforest, rocky shorelines, remote campsites, and just pure BC nature.
Day 1 – The Start of Our Kayaking Adventure
It was a sunny morning as we made our way into the Tofino Sea Kayaking shop and the smell of freshly brewed coffee hit us as we entered this iconic adventurer hangout.
It’s a kayaker’s gear shop decked out with must-have kayaking items, local artisan goods and coffee shop all in one.
It’s my kind of place, where you can sit on the back deck enjoying the sights and sounds of the harbor while sipping on something and talking about your epic paddling adventures. It’s definitely one of the best-kept secrets in Tofino.
But we weren’t there to enjoy a cup of coffee and remiss about those past kayaking adventures, we were here to go on a 4-day kayaking adventure in the Clayoquot Sound.
We met our guide Andy who informed us about our trip and encouraged us to get everything together so we can get out on the water quicker, spending more time in nature instead of dreaming about nature on a back deck of a coffee shop.
We quickly packed our personal items into the provided dry bags while trying to pack as little as possible since everything would have to fit into our kayak.
They outfitted us with a kayaking rain jacket, rain pants, spray skirt and supplied us with optional mud boots. At the time mud boots weren’t something I’ve ever kayaked in and I was skeptical about bringing them.
However, as the adventure would go on, I would learn about the magic of having them on this adventure.
Once we had everything together, we went down the shore where our kayaks were waiting to load the gear. Everything was laid out for our adventure including the food, cooking supplies, water, camping gear and our personal items.
Everything had to be packed into our 4 kayaks and it seemed Andy had the map to the jigsaw that made everything fit perfectly inside the kayaks.
On the outside, we strapped a kayak dolly, maps, personal dry bags with cameras and sunscreen. Packing complete, we were given a briefing about the trip and a chance to brush up on our paddling techniques on the beach.
We’ve paddled a lot before but it was good to get a refresher and Andy went over proper paddling techniques and what we should do in case of an emergency. This is important since we were going out into mother nature and we need to be prepared for what she could throw at us.
With a push off from the beach, we were off. Goodbye Tofino, see you in four days, I said awkwardly as we paddled away from town.
With the loud sounds of seaplanes and boats coming and going, we turned left along Tofino’s shoreline, past the Ice House Oyster Bar and Tofino Hostel, into Duffin Passage. A busy harbor is pretty normal around Tofino on a nice day.
We all tried to stay together since the water traffic was busy and it is easier for them to see a group of kayaks instead of just one. There was also a good current flowing through the Duffin Passage and we had to point our kayaks towards the far right of Felice Island.
It felt like we were going to miss it but we took a fish hook approach and ended up in the middle. Otherwise, we would have been swept to the outer side of the Islands where we did not want to be.
This is something I would have never known about if we did not have an experienced kayaking guide.
Successfully avoiding the current and harbor traffic, it was finally time to sit back and relax. We made our way just past the tip of Felice Island where there was a group of Shearwaters riding the ocean waves.
They did not seem to care about us kayakers as we passed by at the water level. These birds don’t venture near the shore and they have some of the longest recorded migrations of the animal kingdom, with up to 64,000km or more a year.
While kayaking anywhere around Vancouver Island you may see Short-tailed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater (listed as near threatened), the Flesh-Footed Shearwater (listed as near threatened), Pink Footed Shearwater (listed as vulnerable) and the Buller’s Shearwater (listed as vulnerable).
Andy, our guide, was padding next to us explaining all the different bird types that make Vancouver Island their home. He also explained to us in detail about the different transit birds that he has seen and that we may see on this trip.
With the sighting of the Shearwaters, all of our wildlife sensors were turned up, looking for anything we could spot both in and out of the water as we kayaked through Van Nevel Channel with Stubbs Island on our right-hand side.
The paddling was easy going, at our own pace and there was no rush since we had four days to immerse ourselves into the wonders of the Clayoquot Sound.
Making our way past the iconic red can that floats in Father Charles Channel, that many kayakers and boat captains use for navigation, our wildlife conversation with Andy quickly turned into a history lesson about Tofino’s past.
We paddled past the original settlement of Tofino that was established in 1909 on the Esowista Peninsula. Nowadays it looks to be a perfect beach, but back in the day, there was a store, post office, hotel, saloon, dock, and small resident population.
Andy shared stories of locals getting stuck on the island from drinking too much since at the time the only saloon in the area was found there. He also shared stories of why the area moved across the inlet to where Tofino is now.
Deciding to break for lunch, we headed towards a hidden inlet that curved to the right ending at a nice beach with tall trees that concealed it on either side. There was a small group of other kayakers just leaving as we pulled our kayaks on to the beach.
They were kayaking Vancouver Island for three days and their guide was excited to see Andy, as he is someone everyone in the area looks up to.
Andy laid out our gourmet lunch from the Red Can Gourmet located in Tofino and we sat on rocks watching the crystal-clear water shimmer in the daylight as we enjoyed our sandwiches and freshly made salads.
It was truly tasty and way above what I expected for food packed into a sea kayak. After lunch, we all stretched our legs and came up with a game plan on where we would try camp for the night.
We had a few options, one was kayak to a large beach called Dick and Jane’s beach, where we would probably find those other kayakers. Or, head across the inlet to Meares Island, that would have been a longer paddle but would set us up for some great hiking the next day.
Or, we could head past Dick and Jane’s beach and find a little inlet that’s known as Hidden Beach, which has a little hiking trail and is hidden from everything.
It was probably the name that got us but it took our group only seconds to make the decision and we were off to find Hidden beach.
Heading off from our lunch spot we made our way slowly North around the rocky shoreline of Vargas Island. It was a kayaker’s paradise with clear teal blue water, gray rocky shoreline dappled with bright green moss and huge Douglas Fir trees poking out over the shoreline.
An hour of paddling went by fast as we shared stories and Dick and Jane’s beach was suddenly in view. Off in the distance, we suddenly noticed a couple of whale spouts.
Andy guessed it would take us a while to get out to them if they even stuck around, so instead, we sat and watched them before paddling on to Hidden Beach.
The Hidden beach campsite was truly hidden from the elements and offered beach camping or forest camping depending on what you would like. We moved our kayaks up out of the tidal zone and set up camp.
This is important since the tides are ever-changing and the last thing you want to do is lose a kayak. After we found a safe spot for the kayaks, we started to unload them.
Kitchen equipment and dinner supplies were out first so Andy could start dinner followed by all the camping gear.
Since there are two of us, Lina and I have a routine that we have developed from spending 17 weeks camping in Africa. We both set up the tent, but once the tent is up she finishes the inside as I bring her gear.
Once camp was fully set up we all enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and took in the surrounding area. There’s nothing quite like a beautifully cooked camp meal during a pastel sunset.
Day 1 Overview
- Tofino to Hidden Beach Campsite on Vargas Island – 4 Hours of paddling – Level of difficulty: Moderate
- Campsite: Hidden Beach (North Vargas Island)
- Kayaking Path: Tofino Sea Kayaking – Duffin Passage – Felice Island RH Side – Van Nevel Channel – Stubbs Island RH Side – Father Charles Channel (Red Can) – Rassier Beach Recreation Site – islet near Stubbs Island (Lunch) – Dick and Jane Beach LH – Camping In Hidden Beach just past D&J (within Milties Bay at Vargas Island East Recreation Site)
Day 2 – Across to Meares Island & Back Again
Waking up to the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach, we opened up our tent to be greeted with an overcast day. As we had a freshly made breakfast with a cup of coffee, we discussed our options for the day and if we wanted to move camp or stay put.
We decided to stay where we were because the spot was an absolute haven and not tearing down camp would give us more hours of paddling.
We looked over the nautical maps to review our route options while Andy was checking the chatter on the radio between the different whale watching companies.
After some debate, we decided to head in the direction that we saw the whales yesterday and that would put us close to one of the best hiking trails in the area as well.
Our ultimate goal is a landing at Meares Island where we would have lunch and do a little hiking before kayaking back to our camp on Vargas Island.
We buttoned up camp so nothing could get into anything and prepared our kayaks for day two of kayaking Vancouver Island. We checked the weather report one last time and pushed off.
We made our way paddling to the right of Epper Passage Provincial park past Morfee Island scanning all around us looking for whales. As everyone was scanning around them I was looking down at the different kinds of fish that I could get a quick glimpse of.
Then out of nowhere, I saw a huge plastic bag floating just under the surface.
As I paddled over to it, it was anything but a plastic bag, it was a huge jellyfish. I quickly yelled out to the rest of our crew and Andy hardly believed me when I was explaining how large it was until he paddled over and found it.
He thought it was the largest Moon Jellyfish he has ever seen in the area. These alien-looking creatures are named for their translucent, moonlike circular bells and from the surface, they do look like floating plastic bags.
BC has about 75 species of jellies along the coast. While kayaking Vancouver Island you can easily see three types, the Moon Jelly, the Lion’s Mane Jelly, and the Fried Egg Jelly, however, we would only see this one type.
Continuing on towards Meares Island the kayaking was slow because we would hit several sections filled with large sea kelp. We would have to keep checking our back rudders to make sure they weren’t sitting out of the water from hitting the kelp fields.
While they might be inconvenient, getting hung up in these kelp fields means you have increased chances of seeing sea otters and as we rounded the tip of Morfee Island we found a few hanging out on their backs in the water.
This was a cool experience to be able to see them from the water level just a few feet away. It gives a whole different perspective than seeing them from a boat.
After a few minutes paddling around the different kelp fields, we pointed our kayaks towards Ritchie Bay as Andy had heard on the radio that a whale had entered the waters there.
At the time we could not see anything, just one whaleboat that was hanging around in the bay but we had a way to paddle and put our heads down fixed on getting there quickly before the whale disappeared.
Then out of nowhere a harbor porpoise popped out of the water just five yards away from my kayak.
It scared me, something coming out of the depths of the ocean, out of nowhere, then he was gone. It happened so quick, everyone thought I was crazy. Then off to the right of us we saw a few others.
Now and then we would yell out porpoise to the right, porpoise to the left but we were still fixed on that one whaleboat in the harbor.
I won’t lie, paddling to Ritchie Bay was a long, aggressive paddle but we were very intent on getting close to this whale and as we came closer to the harbor we saw a spray of water just to the left of the boat.
Andy quickly contacted the boat to inform them that we were coming and to watch out for us. They had been watching a solo Gray whale for a while now and they were about to pack up and move on.
This excited us since we would be the only ones viewing this whale. When the boat pulled out, we still had some paddling to reach the location where we saw the last spray.
We were scanning the area to see if we would see another mist, there was one more to the left. We could time them to see how long it would take until we would see a blow again. It was blowing every 4 minutes as we made our way paddling closer and closer to Meares Island.
Finally, we made it where we first saw the last whale spray but by now the whale was moving away from us. This disappointed us since it’s not possible to keep up with a moving whale by kayak. Needing a break we decided to ride the waves to shore for lunch and do a little hiking.
The beach was long with a large step-up from the waterline and I was thankful that we had our tall mud boots. We pulled the kayaks up on the beach and took in the sights.
There was a makeshift volleyball net, along with huge pieces of timber everywhere. The pieces of timber are truly amazing, stacked up like toothpicks but the size of school buses.
We found a good piece of timber and started to make lunch on it. In-between running back and forth from our kayaks to our bush kitchen I noticed large footprints in the sand.
They were larger than my hand heading down the beach. These weren’t dog tracks or human tracks, they were large bear tracks. This was not something we worried about on Vargas Island because bears are not found there.
Lunch was put together quickly and we all ate in silence while watching a little beggar bird that would not leave us alone. I really think it was just fascinated with us sitting on the logs.
Out of nowhere a hiker came out from one of the hiking trails and asked our guide a few questions about the hiking trail loop, she took a wrong turn and was looking to get back onto the trail.
Meares Island is known for some great hiking and the Big Tree Trail loop takes around 3 hours and is one of the most popular hikes in the Tofino area. We did not have the time to do the Big Tree Trail but we did spend the next couple hours hiking part of the trail and admiring the forest.
After lunch we took the dirt path away from the beach, twisting and winding until we were fully immersed in an amazing old-growth forest. It was like stepping back into time and I couldn’t help but think that the whole world may have looked like this when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
There were huge spruce trees, hemlock trees, and western cedar trees that are more than 1,000 years old.
The largest tree in the Tofino area is known as the Hanging Garden and this tree is huge! There are a few others that are as large and impressive scattered along this trail and its a sight to behold.
Many, though, are being damaged by hikers climbing on them for photos. Many travelers do not think about the impact they may have if they head off the hiking trail or climb up on the side of a tree while they are out exploring.
It is something that, as nature lovers, we should think about while out exploring. Hiking this trail was a magical experience and Andy pointed out everything from mushrooms and trees to the different kinds of moss.
He showcased to us the different ecosystems, where something may look dead but it’s anything far from dead.
We spent a bit more time than planned marveling at the forest and found ourselves up against a receding tide when we returned to the beach. We had to rush to get out and the waves were crashing against the bottom of the shore.
With the tide out, it left us with a narrow path to a now crashing bay. I was extremely nervous about this since we would have to kayak into the crashing waves till we made it past the break line.
Andy told us all to follow right behind him one by one. Following like ducklings, we navigated the rough tide line out into the harbor. It was a lot easier than it looked but then again, he knew the perfect path to take us.
Wanting a slight change in scenery from our first crossing, we took a different path back heading just off Robert Pt on Meares Island, then took a right between Morfee Island and Dunlap Island to our right through the Epper Passage Provincial Park.
There were tons of birds in this area and we took some time kayaking around the large cliffs of these islands. Leaving the protection of the two islands we made a strong push home heading towards Hidden Beach on Vargas Island.
Amazingly, right before we made it to our inlet we spotted a gray whale. It would give a misty blow every three minutes as it traveled east past Dick and Jane’s beach. Words cannot explain what it was like to be close to a huge Gray Whale just off the bow of the kayak.
Moments like this are why people come from all around the world to kayak Vancouver Island. We lingered while the whale moved past us and then quickly paddled back to camp.
We enjoyed another amazing meal compliments of Chef Andy, to another epic sunset, before tucking away in our comfy sleeping bags for the night. Of course, it was hard to fall asleep because of the excitement of the day.
We had a great hike with some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen, a huge gray whale right in front of our kayaks, some funny sea otters napping on kelp and amazing kayaking among pure nature.
“Life does not get any better than this”, I thought to myself while falling asleep to the sound of sea.
Day 2 Overview
- Hidden Beach to Meares Island to Hidden Beach – 6 Hours of paddling – 2 Hours hiking – Level of difficulty: Moderate
- Campsite: Hidden Beach (North Vargas Island)
- Kayaking Path: Hidden Beach – Epper Passage Provincial Park – Morfee Island RH – Meares Island Ritchie Bay (Reomote Valley) Hike and Lunch) – Epper Passage Provincial Park – Morfree Island RH – Dunlop Island RH – Hidden Beach
Day 3 – Circumnavigating Vargas Island
After yesterdays big adventure over to Meares Island, we all slept like the dead waking up slowly to a beautiful sunrise. I know it’s hard to imagine getting a good nights sleep in a tent, in the wild, but when you have the right gear you can really be comfortable.
I always love it when a company has quality gear for their customers to use, it goes a long way, and Tofino Kayaking provided us with a great kit.
Lina was still sleeping so I stumbled out while trying not to get sand in the tent. No matter how many times I’ve exited a tent I have yet to master a skillful way to do it.
Andy had his tent packed away and had most of the breakfast going as I made my way to the bush camp kitchen. He was listening to the weather report and contemplating what our options would be for the day.
It was an overcast windy day and it looked like it may start raining at any minute. The waves were really cranking in our inlet and I only could imagine what they would be like in open water.
Ocean kayaking is all about making your moves based on the winds, tides and currents, so our plan turned to having a slow morning and a chance to explore the coastline by foot. We would start kayaking in the late afternoon.
No one else was up and moving yet so I grabbed a cup of coffee and enjoyed just a few minutes watching the waves break in the inlet as birds played water catching fish. It’s important to sit back and just enjoy the moments when you can.
After my cup of coffee was finished I made a cup for Lina and headed back to the tent to get her moving so we could start packing up. Everything packed up pretty easy, the hardest thing was keeping everything out of the sand.
A major tip for anyone else that does this trip, camp in the woods, not on the beach! We had sand in the tent, sand on our dry bags and sand just about everywhere else too.
Nothing could go into the kayaks until the tents made it into the front of the kayaks which meant everything had to be stacked onto logs that were also covered with sand. We went crazy trying to wipe it all off.
Following breakfast, we went on a full immersion tour of the intertidal zone with Andy. Wow, is all I can say. When you actually take the time to stop and look at stuff it is incredible the hundreds of little critters that live there.
We learned how tide pools have their own living ecosystems and how it connects to the larger ecosystem. Making our way slowly around the rocky coastline, climbing over large timbers, picking up stones and looking into tidal pools we saw some pretty incredible things.
He pointed out where the tide line ends and what kind of marine life can tolerate the water level changes and what can’t. There were many cool creatures like sea urchins, chitons, anemones, sea stars and different kinds of little crabs.
He touched base on how some types of sea stars can no longer be found along Vancouver Island and how there’s a type of little crab that has moved in along the coastline that they have never had before.
It was interesting to learn about these changes and how they are monitoring them.
After about an hour it was time to push off and see where our kayaks would bring us. We were hoping that the weather would turn a little better, but it wasn’t and we feared that our plans to circumnavigate Vargas Island would not be possible.
Back at camp we finished the last bit of packing and prepared our rain gear while Andy was triple checking the weather reports. We watched him anxiously while he looked at the maps and fed us information about our options for the day.
He thought there would be about a two-hour window where we might be able to pull off kayaking to the outer side of Vargas Island for a circumnavigation.
He warned us that there would be decent swell and probably some good waves along the way but that he felt we were all skilled enough to handle it. He told us that we could try and if we thought it was too much, turning around was always an option.
This made me a little nervous since the wind was strong and the waves were a good size. I’ve kayaked in bad weather before and let’s just say I’m 100% a fair-weather kayaker. I know my limitations and I respect the sea. In the end, we all decided to go for it.
We pushed away from our little safe haven and headed towards Calmus Passage keeping Vargas Island to our left. As waves hit the side of my kayak, I took on a face full of saltwater.
This was not ideal weather conditions to be kayaking in but our kayaking guide had faith in us that we were skilled enough to take on this challenge. I tried to follow the path of his kayak across the swells but the large swells of incoming waves made it difficult.
It was kind of a wild ride that would move me up and down as I tried not to tip over as the next set of waves would come in but eventually, we all found our groove and settled into the rhythm of the sea.
Our goal was to head out of the Calmus Passage ending up at Whalers Islet recreation site. This was about one hour of strong padding, with me thinking to myself ‘I can do this’ as every wave slapped me across the face.
There were no boats on the outside of the Vargas Island which was understandable with the weather conditions.
Now and then we would hit these large pockets of about 30 Short-tailed Shearwaters floating and crashing into the water feeding on the fish below the surface.
This was cool to experience but we really could not sit and watch since the waves were not ideal.
It was like a breath of fresh air as we made it to Whaler Islet where we would pull our kayaks up onto a few rocks. We all celebrated laughing and pointing at the path we took across the still crashing sea.
We really could not believe we kayaked through it, I guess that’s why we join adventures like this, to be pushed to our limits. Lina made fun of me since my pants were wet, my skirt must have not been on right or it had a little hole in it.
This was understandable since more than one half of my kayak was submerged from oncoming waves.
Our break was short for the only toilet and a snack before we started to paddle to one of the larger Islands located on the outside of Vargas Island. From the distance, we saw a large cloud of smoke coming from the south side of Bartlett Island.
As we got closer, Andy started to wonder if it was a signal fire. He asked us to stay on the outer side of the island while he would kayak in to check it out. He knew of a local who has been camping on the island for a while that needed a little help a few weeks before, so he was concerned that they were trying to signal for help.
That was not the case, it was the local he knew but they just had a good size fire going trying to stay warm.
Andy waved us on to come closer to Bartlett Island where while it’s high tide there are some cool channels that we kayak through. We made our way through the channels just in the nick of time as the tide was going out with every paddle stroke.
Once we were outside of the channels, we kept our eyes out for a local sea otter who lives in the area called Jake The Snake. We came across a few otters here and there but the waves were still too strong for us to just sit and watch them.
From Bartlett Island, we stayed to the far outside of Vargas Island since there are some unfriendly waves closer to shore that could really rock a kayaker.
Making our way around Blunden Island to our left-hand side, the paddling became much easier than it was before as now we were making our way South with Ahous bay to our left.
Ahous Bay is where a few days before we spent our morning watching a gray whale on a whale watching tour. There were no signs of any whales there today.
Before curving into the La Croix Group we had to follow Andy exactly, once again, since there are some hidden rocks that made for some huge sink waves out of nowhere that could possibly crash you into some hidden rocks.
A paddler could easily run into some issues if they did not know they were there. Of course, Andy navigated them like a pro and kept us safe.
Paddling got a little harder as we hit a huge area filled with foam reefs (Sea Kelp) that slowed our kayaks down to a snail pace in the water, a welcome relief after the rough water we’d been navigating all afternoon.
Once we made it around the La Croix Group we had Medallion Beach to our left. The medallion was our first option for camping and it’s a large open beach that looked nice but our goal was to check out an area that would be a little more secluded called Abraham’s Meadows.
As we paddled past Medallion Beach the fog started to come in. Like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean, we paddled ten minutes into a hidden inlet with large rock faces surrounding both sides, ending at a small beach in the middle that had large timbers stacked up all along the shore.
This would be our campsite for night three.
While camping on the sand was a possibility, we had learned our lesson the first time around and decided to camp in the woods. Our only option was a beautiful forest meadow that was cleared by someone who tried to make it a homestead in the early 1900s.
This kind of excited us since the first two nights we camped on a beach and now we would be camping under a few towering trees as we saw on Meares Island. Not to mention that the site was kind of enchanting with various shades of green.
Andy doesn’t get to bring many kayakers here since it’s not an ideal campsite. It is rocky and filled with tons of timber that’s stacked up which makes it difficult to move around. On top of it, our camping spot was a ways away from where our kayaks were and our bathroom spot was even further away in the other direction. To me, this was our best campsite.
We quickly unpacked our kayaks stacking everything up on the sand free rocks hoping the skies would not open up on us with rain.
We strapped the empty kayaks to the dolly one by one and moved them as far inland as we could before lifting them up onto some secure timber.
This would ensure they wouldn’t accidentally be swept off with the tide at night. It also kept them up off the ground from any animals that may be interested in them.
Now that our kayaks were safe for the night it was time to set up tents and get situated for the night. With everything in our hands, we made our way twisting, winding, and climbing over timbers until we reached the trail to the meadow.
From there it is was a short walk along a heavily wooded path to an open area where we would set up our tents. Our bush kitchen would be set up across two huge timbers right at the entryway of the trail on the beachside.
These large timbers were perfect for this since they were waist high and you did not need to bend over. We all pitched in helping Andy make pasta and garlic bread for dinner.
Maybe it was because we got wet, but it felt like it was much cooler on this side of the island. Just past the kitchen down a bit was a good fire pit so I picked up a few pieces of wood that I found on the beach and started a small campfire.
This warmed us up before heading to bed in the quiet meadow.
Day 3 Overview
- Hidden Beach to Abraham’s Meadow – 4 hours of paddling – Level of difficulty: Hard (due to weather)
- Campsite: Abraham’s Meadow (West Vargas Island)
- Kayaking Path: Calmus Passage – Whales Islet recreation Site- Bartlett Island (Snacks) – Brabant Channel – Blunden Island LH Side – Vargas Island Provincial Park – Ahous Bay LH Side – Foam Reefs (AKA weeds) – La Croix Group – Medallion Beach – Abraham’s Meadow
Day 4 – Vargas Island Back to Tofino
Opening the tent this morning was mystical, the fog had rolled in and the meadow literally looked like a fairytale setting. The tents had a light mist on them but everything else was dry.
I stumbled down the path through the tall forest to the beach where our kitchen was set up. Andy was working hard on breakfast while listening to the local weather forecast and some chatter from the local whale watching companies.
Our morning was a slow one since we had only a half-day with a short distance to go. This was nice because it allowed us to enjoy our surroundings before heading back to the busy city.
Just like every morning, Andy was up first, then it was me. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and shared stories with Andy about how magical this trip has been.
It was more than just kayaking Vancouver Island and he was the one who made this adventure evolve into an epic journey.
After enjoying a cup of coffee in a place most tourists miss when visiting Tofino BC, I headed to the tent to get everything packed up one last time with Lina before eating breakfast.
Everything packed up easily, and it was nice this time to have the moss to set everything on from inside the tent instead of the sandy beach that we had at the other campsite.
As we sat down for breakfast all of us were just staring off into space, completely enchanted with the tall timbers stacked up on the rocky shoreline. I’m going to blame the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline.
You could have said anything at the moment as Lina did, and no one would have responded. Out of nowhere, she said ‘Wolf. Guys a wolf. There’s a wolf in camp.‘
Not one of us processed what she was saying. Finally, we all looked up after the third time and saw it walking across the rocky shoreline. It was one of those moments where there was no picture taking.
It was one of those magical wildlife experiences where it was ok not to look at it through a camera.
The gray wolf slowly made his way down the shoreline, just yards from our kayaks then just yards from right in front of us ending up just past us on the taller part of the shoreline.
He stopped for a minute and turned back at us as if he was saying I saw you. Then he quickly turned and was gone in the mist. We all looked at each other like did that moment really just happen. He wasn’t very large and he did not seem to be scared of us at all.
Andy had told us the whole trip to make sure we have everything locked up in our kayaks and around camp since there’s wildlife around. Even though we could not see them they were around and that was the truth.
It’s just proper protocol while enjoying the great outdoors to do so. You are the visitors in their home. Kayakers have had issues in the past with wolves getting into their kayaks.
A few wolves even learned how to pop the waterproof lids to get inside of the kayaks. Some tourists even started to feed the wolves by hand and posted it to Facebook/Instagram. Getting thousands of likes.
When tourists do this, they do not understand the impact they have on the life of the animal. That animal then learns people equal easy food and that can end up badly for not a person but for the animal.
In the case of the hand-feeding wolf, he had to be put down. This is something we, as ethical travelers, always try to educate our fellow travelers. It is not cool to hand-feed or touches wildlife while traveling for an Instagram photo, so don’t do it.
Excited about our wolf sighting we took the next hour to again explore the shoreline in search of interesting critters. The tide pools on this side of Vargas Island were colorful, unlike the tide pools in the other areas and they housed different creatures.
I have to say that being able to get up close with this commonly overlooked eco-system was a special experience for us and we’re so glad we had the time to do it on our kayaking trip.
With the tide coming in we said goodbye to our last campsite and headed off into the fog making our way left along the coastline. We really could not see much since the fog was so thick.
It was like a gray damp blanket surrounding us. Now and then we would hear a loaded horn from a boat passing in the distance, but we never saw them.
Making our way closer to Wickaninnish Island we started to hear the local seaplanes coming and going from Tofino. This surprised us since the fog was as thick as pea soup, but it was a good sign since that meant it was clear in Tofino.
As we got closer to Stubbs Island the fog started to lift showcasing the coastline with foggy tipped mountains. It was amazing to watch the fog roll over the tall mountain peaks as we stopped for our last time on Stubbs Island to have lunch.
Stubbs Island has a perfect beach surrounding it with a few rocks where we made a bush kitchen. This would have been a great swimming beach and even a great beach to spend the day soaking up the sun rays as our foggy day now turned into a bright sunny day but we were here just for lunch.
We all sat on the rocks while Andy laid out a huge smorgasbord of food for us to finish. We lingered for a long time reminiscing about the past few days, chowing on food and soaking up the last bit of this pristine nature before heading back to Tofino.
It was hard to leave this perfect Island, but we had to get moving for our 3 PM flight back to Vancouver. As we rounded Stubbs Island, we saw the red can off in the distance to the far left. That marked the homeward stretch leading right to Tofino.
Like pack horses knowing their way home we paddled strongly, I made the joke that I was going to turn my kayak around and never come back. Wouldn’t that be an adventure?
In the blink of an eye, our Tofino kayaking adventure was done. It went by so quick and the adventure turned out to be much greater than we could have ever imagined. We truly felt the magic of this area with every paddle stroke.
We got out and explored remote coastlines by the sea and land. We explored and camped among the tall ancient forest. If you are looking for an amazing way to explore the Tofino area jump into a kayak with Tofino Sea kayaking and give in to the experience.
It will be one of the best in your life.
Day 4 Overview
- Abraham’s Meadow to Tofino 3 Hours of Paddling (1/2 day) – Level of difficulty: Easy
- Kayaking Path: Abraham’s Meadow – Wickaninnish Island LH Side – Stubbs Island (Lunch) Van Nevel Channel – Felice Island RH Side – Ending in Tofino.
FAQ’s About Kayaking Vancouver Island
Do I need a guide to kayak the Clayoquot Sound in BC?
You do not need a guide, but we recommend it. This area has seen a large influx of travelers needing an emergency response.
If you have no personal sea kayaking experience in the area and have not taken kayaking courses, you really do not belong kayaking the waters of the Clayoquot Sound or Vancouver Island without a guide.
A professional guide is certified in kayaking skills and seamanship, safety, rescue and wilderness first aid. This includes kayaking-skills training (like in case you capsize), necessary gear and/or food, backcountry knowledge and area-specific information related to spotting wildlife and other points of interest.
A local guide knows the best ways to paddle around. It’s not as simple as just jumping in your kayak and going around the outside of the islands.
Kayaking Vancouver Island is challenging; there are waves, currents, changing tides and hidden rocks everywhere that cause challenges for even the most advanced kayakers.
At the end of the day, you don’t know when you should stay close to shore or when you should paddle away from land and you don’t know where the shore will be at your campsite from night today. A guide will know everything in the area like the back of their hand.
Another huge reason is you would not believe the things we would have missed without a guide. Our guide showed us things in and out of the water that we simply would have missed if it was just us. This is what made the kayaking trip so magical.
Safety is always important while out on an adventure. Having a guide helps if things go wrong and things can go wrong quickly. Are you prepared if your kayaking partner gets sick, hurt or capsizes?
You may think it will not happen but it can. Our kayaking guide, Andy, is a first responder in the area and he told us about incidents that happen weekly like: kayakers running out of water/food to kayakers getting so sick they can’t paddle and need to be rescued from floating out into the Pacific Ocean.
A guide also knows the rules and regulations of the area. You may think you can just go off and camp anywhere, that is not the case. There are protected wildlife areas and ecological reserves where camping is not permitted.
Entry to some areas is discouraged or prohibited. Do you know those prohibited areas? Probably not.
What is provided?
Besides providing the kayaks, Tofino Kayaking provides all of the Coast Guard required safety equipment including water shoes, boots, splash jackets and pants if needed, and dry bags. On multi-day trips, they also provide all food and water.
What should I bring?
You need to bring any personal items you may need including meds, sunscreen and toiletries. For a multi-day kayaking trip, make sure you pack a good base layer and bring active clothing since it can get warm during the day.
That said, you will also need warm clothing for at night. Keep it simple since you really do not need much and keep in mind you have to pack it into a little dry bag.
Should I bring food and water?
Depending on the length of the tour bring lunch or a snack along with water. For those kayaking multiple days, as we did, all of our food and drinking water was supplied during the trip.
Snacks we love to carry with us while we are out on an adventure:
What kind of kayaks do they have?
They have two brands of kayaks; Seaward and Atlantis. Their kayaks include one or two-person fiberglass kayaks depending on what you would like.
All of the kayaks are clean inside and out. They take impeccable care of their equipment and gear.
How much involvement is required?
The amount of involvement required on a trip like this is always one of the top questions we get when talking about adventures like this.
Of course, there’s 3-6 hours of paddling you will have to do every day but the involvement is as much or as little as you would like to do, this is the magic of the trip.
The trip is built around you and your group. The more you get involved the more the trip will evolve into an adventure of a lifetime.
Fellow paddlers will become friends and BC’s nature will become your house.
Basic involvements include: porting in and out your kayaks every day, setting up and taking down your tent, packing and unpacking supplies for how many days you are kayaking, meal prep, dishwashing and anything else that can help out your guide.
Like I stated before this is not a requirement, but it is a basic adventure edict to help out while out on an adventure. Don’t worry there will be plenty of time to sit back and enjoy the nature and the surroundings.
What are the group sizes?
Tour ratios are typically one guide to six kayakers. We had one guide and just three of us. They require a minimum of 2 people to confirm a tour.
There is a minimum age of 5 years old for kayaking Vancouver Island with Tofino Sea Kayaking.
What is the camping like?
There are many different campsites located in the Clayoquot Sound. Your experienced guide will find the best one that suits all of your needs. When finding a good campsite, it is best to use one that is designated for camping.
If no designated site exists, choose a floor plan, beach or sandbar, or a non-vegetated area above the high-water line. Areas where small rocks and gravel are the best because your impact is limited and they tend to have fewer insects.
When camping on Vancouver Island or anywhere around the world it is best to practice the no trace camping guidelines. As a guest, we should only take pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
There are a few key principles that go into camping responsibly: Plan ahead and be prepared, travel and camp on durable surfaces, pack out what you pack in and dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, be respectful to wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors.
Many travelers forget those basic guidelines. I challenge you to leave the place you visit better than you found it. If you see trash pick it up. Practicing these simple guidelines will keep this area pristine for feature generations.
What is the camping gear like?
Tofino Sea Kayaking goes above and beyond to make you feel comfortable while camping. Their sleeping bags are the right degree for temperatures, 100% clean and are among some of the best we have used while traveling.
What about bathrooms?
There are only bush toilets, no bathrooms. Your guide will provide a location at every campsite that is the toilet location. They will provide a bathroom kit that will include biodegradable toilet paper, lighter, shovel and hand sanitizer.
Your guide will highlight everything once you land onshore. It is best practice to go where the tide will bring it out. Dig a hole, go to the bathroom in it, burn any toilet paper used, then bury everything.
- We did not need our remote camping bathroom kit since Tofino Sea Kayaking provided everything but our kit includes: A small waterproof bag that holds everything, Ziploc bags for everything inside, biodegradable toilet paper, waterproof lighter, compact camping shovel, hand sanitizer, biodegradable wipes, and a small flashlight.
Do I need shoes?
We packed water shoes, Chacos and hiking shoes that we only used once or twice. Many people bring a good pair of water shoes for entering and exiting the kayak, however, we found it’s best to use the rubber boots that are provided by Tofino Sea Kayaking.
My water shoes stayed behind the seat of my kayak while kayaking Vancouver Island. Rubber boots were the way to go!
They keep your feet from getting wet and prevent you from being cold. All entering and exiting of the kayak will be done on the shore break so you could be standing knee-high in water or ankle-deep depending on the time and the area.
There are a few hikes that you will be able to do while out on this adventure that you may want your shoes for but that’s up to you, we used our rubber boots the whole time.
I love warm dry feet. Chacos or crocs are great for around camp since you want something you can just slip on and off. Keep in mind that the rocks and shells can be sharp, so it is best to pack something that is closed-toe.
What kind of wildlife can I see?
Vancouver Island is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. From its towering trees to its deep sea, there is plenty of wildlife to view. Below we have listed out the wildlife that you may see during a kayaking trip:
- Black bears
- Hundreds of bird species
- Harbor Seals
- Sea Otters & River Otters
- Gray Whales
- Harbor Porpoise
- Purple, Red or Orange Starfish
- Sea Urchins
- Blue mussels
- Sea Anemones
- Sea Cucumbers
* The best time to see migratory gray whales is during March and April. However, a number of them stay to reside in the area for the whole summer.
* The best time to see killer whales (Orcas) is from July to September in the Tofino area.
What happens if my kayak capsizes (flips or rolls)?
Capsizing is a fear many kayakers have, but what they do not understand is that kayaks are built to not capsize (rollover). It takes a lot to capsize a kayak but if your kayak does capsize, your experienced guide will be there within 15 seconds to save you.
They train for accidents like this all the time. Our guide walked us through this on the beach in our safety briefing before heading out, just in case it did happen (It never did).
- Stay calm – know anyone near you will be there quickly to help you. If you can, keep ahold of your paddle. If you cannot, it’s not the end of the world.
- Grab your spray skirts handle and pull the skirt off. (if you still have your paddle keep it securely in your lap.)
- Place the paddle securely between your hands, take a firm grip of the cockpit and push yourself out to either side of the kayak. Try to keep your feet inside the cockpit of the kayak since in rough water losing your kayak or paddle could cause problems.
- If you lose your kayak and paddle it is best to reach your kayak first, then look for your paddle.
How bad are the bugs?
You’re going out into the wilderness, bugs can be bad at times. We kayaked in late August and there were no bugs at all. That was just the luck of the draw. That did not mean we weren’t prepared in case they were out.
We carried a fresh bottle of OFF with us, just in case. Just weeks before our Tofino kayaking trip the bugs were so bad our guide was kayaking in a mosquito head net.
Should I bring my camera?
Yes, bring a camera. I would suggest a simple point and shoot for those times you want a quick photo. We used our Canon Waterproof Camera a lot but a smartphone also works great with a small waterproof case.
GoPro’s are great for trips like this, we strapped ours to the front of the kayaks and also had one on a selfie stick. We also brought our professional camera equipment.
Lina had her DSLR and I had my video camera. We weren’t worried about carrying the gear since we were provided with waterproof bags. It was useful to carry our DSLR since we encountered lots of wildlife but were mostly able to view them from far away.
A simple smartphone or point and shoot would not have been able to capture a good photo.
Related Article: Ultimate Travel Photography Gear List
Can I bring or fly a drone?
Drones are not prohibited to fly in or around Tofino Harbor and Tofino-Long Beach however there is a ton of air traffic and you need to be aware.
While kayaking in the Clayoquot Sound there are areas you can fly a done but those areas are limited due to restricted wildlife areas along with first nation tribal restrictions. It is best to be respectful of wildlife and those restrictions.
We suggest checking with your kayaking company, then with your guide. Just because you can fly does not mean you can. There are times companies don’t allow drones and there are times people in groups don’t appreciate drones flying around when they are trying to enjoy nature.
So always be respectful and make sure everyone is ok with you flying your drone before you put it up in the air. You represent all of us drone users.
Should I worry about bears?
Bears are a real thing to worry about when kayaking Vancouver Island, however, they are as scared of you as you are of them. Bears aren’t found on every island and your kayaking guide will know what islands have bears and what islands do not.
We camped on Vargas Island where there are no bears but we kayaked then hiked on islands where bears can be found. It is best to practice bear (animal) proofing your camp no matter if you’re on an island with bears or not.
Your odds of having a wild wolf roaming through camp is better than having a bear visit you.
So keep everything buttoned up in your kayak and do not leave anything out in the open for even just a few minutes. Just because you cannot see them does not mean they are not there.
Use these steps while camping:
- Set up your tent at least 200 feet from the cooking area, 200 feet from the food hanging (Use a bear hang ) area and 200 feet from the washing area.
- Try to leave no trace, don’t throw food scraps on the beach or on the island. Save them and throw them into the sea while you are kayaking.
- Night proof your camp. Put away everything around camp, animals love to lick pots and pans but they also love rubber flip-flops. You would not believe the times my shoes and flip-flops have gone for a walkabout while I’m camping.
- Still worried about bears, carry bear spray to keep yourself safe.
Packing List for your Kayak Adventure
Below are a few things we were happy we packed while kayaking Vancouver Island. You really do not need to worry about much since Tofino Sea Kayaking offers everything you could ever need and if you forget something, they have a full shop to make a purchase.
Below are a few things we were happy we had during our kayaking trip:
- Garmin inReach – we love our little unit that tracks everywhere we go and also allows us to message loved ones/posts to Twitter and Facebook no matter where we are.
- GoPro 7 – a GoPro is a must for any kayaking adventure. It takes great photos, videos and is 100% waterproof.
- Luci Inflatable Solar Light – I love ours so much we now have 4. They are some of the brightest lights on the market. I love that it packs down to almost nothing but when it is inflated its about the size of a coffee can. The Luci inflatable solar light is a must for anyone camping.
- Kokatat lightweight paddling gloves – this item is not for everyone but if you are someone who gets blisters you should get a pair. They are great for keeping your hands comfortable on all lengths of kayaking trips.
- Buff Headbands – we take ours on every adventure we go on. They save our head, face and neck from the sun and the coldness while out exploring.
- Lifestraw water bottle – a good water bottle is a must. One that offers an advanced water filter system is a bonus so you can pretty much drink out of anywhere without worrying about if the water is safe.
- Baby wipes – that’s right, you may need something to refresh yourself after a long day out on an adventure. You can use them to a birdbath.
- Basic outdoor emergency kit – yes, your guide will have one, but it is always good to carry one yourself just in case something does happen.
- Sunglasses with retainer strap attached
- Sunscreen (SPF 30+ and water-resistant)
- Lip balm (SPF 15+)
- Insect repellent – we did not need any but the week before they needed it bad, it all depends on when you go
Complete Tofino Guide
Chances are pretty high that if you’re coming to Tofino for a kayaking adventure that you’ll be spending some time in town and you totally should!
It’s a fantastic place with beautiful beaches, great hiking options, and numerous adventures to get up to.
We have put together an extensive guide to Tofino that includes the best transportation options, places to stay, places to eat and the best things to do in the area. Don’t miss out on planning the perfect getaway to Tofino.
Need somewhere to stay? Check out the Middle Beach Lodge , we loved it.
This Top 100 Travel Adventure was made possible in partnership with Destination British Columbia and Tofino Sea Kayaking. However, all opinions, photos, stories and magic moments are 100% mine, as always.
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