Vancouver Island’s wild west coast is one of the world’s premiere sea-kayaking destinations – especially the relatively protected waters of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds.
There are a number of sea-kayaking companies based in the towns: in Port Alberni, Bamfield, Tofino, and in Ucluelet and nearby Toquart Bay. Guided day-trips with trained guides, suitable for beginner kayakers, are available from all of these towns. Many companies offer overnight trips as well, suitable for beginner or advanced kayakers. Paddlers with sufficient rescue and navigational experience may also find kayaks available to rent at all of these locations, except for within Ucluelet town.
A word of caution: Even though the more protected waters of the sounds may appear like tranquil glassy ponds on some mornings, do not be fooled! This is still ocean, and winds causing large breaking waves can come up surprisingly quickly. Every kayaking party (be it just one or two friends, or a large organized group) should have at least one person who is well versed in navigation in areas with strong tidal currents and frequent thick coastal fog. As well, this person should be well versed in performing self-rescues and assisted rescues. The water out here is unforgivingly cold – even in summer – and swimming is not an appropriate safety strategy. If you do not have a group member with the required experience, you should contract a guide. Favoured destinations for overnight trips are:
The Broken Group (Barkley Sound)
The Broken Group of islands are located within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This cluster of small islands is located between Bamfield and Ucluelet, at the mouth of Barkley Sound, and it can be accessed by boats (that are able to transport kayaks and gear) from any of Port Alberni, Bamfield or Ucluelet. Being within the park, camping is regulated and for a fee.
For the most part, passages between the islands are protected, but the outer southwestern side of the islands faces the open ocean, and can offer paddlers an exciting taste of open ocean paddling conditions. Wildlife is abundant, and sunset vistas from the islands are superb!
It is possible to paddle to the Broken Group from the boat launch at Toquart Bay, a 28 kilometre drive from Ucluelet, mostly along gravel logging roads. The 15 km crossing to the islands from Ucluelet is exposed to open ocean winds and swell, and should only be attempted by very experienced paddlers who are prepared to contract boat transport should conditions not be favourable to depart.
The Deer Group (Barkley Sound)
This group of large islands, just off the coast of Bamfield, is less sheltered than the Broken Group. Not being national park, though, it is much quieter and less visited. The islands are known for exquisite rock formations and shell beaches.
Water taxis that take kayaks and gear are available in Bamfield, and with a bit of advance planning boat transport can also be arranged from Ucluelet. The nearest of the Deer Group of islands is only 3 km from Bamfield, but this is a stretch of water that is very exposed to wind, swell and current. Depending upon your group’s experience level and the prevailing conditions of the day, you may be able to paddle yourselves to the Deer Group from Bamfield.