Haida Gwaii Adventures, British Columbia
Although I have travelled BC, especially between Vancouver and Prince George, more times than I can count, when my husband and I bought an RV we slowed down; really began to see this amazing province we call home. In this blog I am sharing one of our many BC explorations.
We had heard much about Haida Gwaii, the mystical secluded archipelago made up of a cluster of islands off the northern coast of BC. We were eager to discover it for ourselves. It’s sparsely populated and not easy to get to. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous and live in villages located almost exclusively on Graham Island.
There is an expression about remote communities that there are only three ways to access them, by water, by air or by birth. We chose water taking the ferry that is part of BC’s provincial ferry system from Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Reserve early as it fills up fast particularly during the busy season. We encountered others who had not been so attentive in their planning. They were stuck on the island until they could secure another sailing. Not always easy with an RV.
A curious fact about the ferry to Haida Gwaii, not only does it take eight hours, but oversized vehicles need to be backed onboard. “Excuse me, as in backing up all the way down the ramp and onto the ferry?” Of course, if you need assistance the ferry workers have you covered. They have professional drivers that will do it for you if you prefer. As I do all the driving, I looked at my husband, “you got this,” he said. And I did, but it’s a long ramp and a technical drive not for the faint of heart.
Once on the island our first campsite was on the ocean surrounded by serene ancient forest just outside Daajing Giids (a more appropriate culturally representative name than the former Queen Charlotte City). It was quintessential west coast. A light rain fell, the kind that doesn’t really get you wet, but causes mist to form drifting across the beach and through the trees draped with moss.
We walked the rugged beach, and to our delight came across wild sea asparagus which we harvested for our dinner. In fact, wild harvest is a common practice. You won’t find any fancy high-priced touristy seafood restaurants here. The locals acquire and trade amongst themselves the abundance from the land and sea rather than marketing to visitors.
Next, we drove to Masset on the northern end of Graham Island. Along the way were many deer grazing beside the roadway, a local phenomenon. We rode our bicycles around Old Masset enjoying the authentic aboriginal village, oceanfront, and a quick bite at one of several food trucks that serve as “eating out” Masset style. You may also wish to trek just a bit further to Tow Hill to take in the vast Pacific Ocean vistas.
Heading back south to catch our ferry off island we explored Port Clements mingling with the locals as they fished off the pier in the heart of town. We also stopped for photos at area attractions Halibut Bite and Balance Rock.
The ferry between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert runs during the day, or you can take it overnight. Staterooms are available so you can get some rest as Transport Canada doesn’t allow you to stay in your vehicle below deck for safety reasons. Hecate Strait is renowned for its turbulent seas. We chose a daytime crossing on our way over to Haida Gwaii to take in the sights and an overnight on the way back to Prince Rupert (with a stateroom). The overnight ferry from Haida Gwaii aligned perfectly with our intent to board yet another ferry, this time from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. This route might be known to those who have traversed the inside passage on an Alaskan cruise. The scenery and the wildlife are spectacular!
We recommend Haida Gwaii to the more adventurous. Its natural beauty is stunning but it’s short on amenities so prepare accordingly. The towns on Haida Gwaii are small. Ideally take your own accommodation (we had our RV), your own food (groceries are limited) and fuel can be very expensive as it must be barged in so fill up before you come. The number of eateries, coffee shops, stores and accommodations are sparse compared to mainland standards and the residents aren’t particularly fussed about catering to off-island interests so don’t expect much other than to supplement what you brought.
In short, this is no tourist mecca. You don’t come to Haida Gwaii for the modern-day amenities or atmosphere. You come to appreciate the simplicity, the unspoiled First Nations culture and wild natural wonder of the west coast.
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Hidden Waterways in British Columbia for the Hiker
There are many hidden waterways in British Columbia which offer some of the lesser known places to cool off in the water during the summer. Here are highlights of a few of the best waterways to cool off for the avid hiker.
San Josef Bay
Anyplace you can only reach by boat, foot, or helicopter is always less crowded, and this is one of those spots. Nestled on the northwestern point of Vancouver Island, San Josef Bay is the part of the Cape Scott Provincial Park that will most appeal to avid hikers and others who love adventure. Only 2.5 km long, it is approximately 45 minutes each way and is fun for the whole family.
The Juan de Fuca Trail
We know, that’s not a waterway! But if you hike the Juan de Fuca trail you’ll be wandering the west coast of Vancouver Island from Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew to China Beach west of Jordan River, hitting some of the best beaches along the way. You can camp out along the way too, so pack enough for several days. This trail is a wilderness trail and many sections are not for the faint of heart.
Norvan Falls Trail
This 12 kilometer round trip hike is part of the Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. Lynn Canyon itself is a popular spot, but the Norvan Falls Trail makes its way through an old forestry area and is easily missed. You are likely to see more rusting carts and abandoned tools from the old logging days than groups of people on this trail, and it is very peaceful. After you make it across the steel suspension bridge, you know you’ve almost reached Norvan Falls.
BX Creek and Falls
This is a great day trip, whether you’re interested in enjoying the scenic natural beauty of the Vernon area, enjoy some gold rush history, or just hoping to cool off in the wilderness. This hike takes you through a wade in a waterfall pool and into the cool canyon filled with firs, ferns, cottonwoods, cedars, and birch.
This is a reservations only spot for campers in Yoho National Park, and it’s not so easy to find. Hike in from the trailhead which is about 12 kilometers east of Field. Making a reservation at the campground is necessary as there are only 30 campsites, but the stunning natural beauty of the emerald lake and the remote trails winding through the forests are worth it. “Yoho” itself means awe and wonder in Cree, if that tells you anything.
Northern British Columbia – Yellowhead Highway 16
Ancient Forest, Fraser River, McBride
If a quiet hike next to a winding river through a thousand-year-old cedar forest sounds like a hidden gem to you, we agree, and this is a perfect spot for you. The Fraser River and the ancient forest next to it is on the route to McBride about 113 kilometers east of Prince George. There’s no fanfare here, just a sign off Highway 16 that’s easily missed that will take you to the trailhead parking area. The Ancient Forest Trail is only 2.5 kilometers long and wheelchair accessible, but with untouched growth of trees up to 16 meters around, it’s definitely worth a hike.
Nechako Reservoir, Quanchus Range, Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
You might want to skip the two popular hiking areas in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the Hunlen Falls/Turner Lake Chain and the Rainbow Range Trail. Instead, check out the truly remote north half of the park, in the Quanchus Range. You can only access this portion of the park by float plane, as it is nearly surrounded by the Nechako Reservoir, ensuring that it stays hidden from most. And remember, you need to either have a professional guide or be completely self-sufficient to hack the Quanchus Range.
Queen Charlotte Islands
East Beach Trail, Haida Gwaii
The remote East Beach Trail, in Naikoon Provincial Park on Haida Gwaii is 90 kilometers long, a 4 to 6 day moderate level hike winding along the eastern shoreline of Graham Island. For the best weather, move from Tlell in the south up to Tow Hill near Masset in the north. Expect rain, wind, and the need to cross rivers—and watch out for black bears! If you need them you’ll find several shelters along the way.
Northern British Columbia – Alaska Highway 97
Mineral Licks Trail, Muncho Lake
One of the easier hikes on this list, you’ll still get stunning views, lots of wildlife, and gorgeous Muncho Lake following the Mineral Licks Trail. This short two-hour hike covers about 1.3 kilometers in a loop. Watch for animals including sheep licking the rocks and soil for the minerals in them.
Have we sold you on hiking some of BC’s lesser known spots yet? There are so many hidden adventures here to discover and enjoy. If you love hiking in the wilderness but hate the summer crowds, one of these great trips might be perfect for you. Watch for our next installment in the hidden gem waterways series on the best hidden spots for the wildlife enthusiast.
Go to Hidden Gem Waterways for Fishing in British Columbia for the first installment.
Published: July 14th, 2016
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