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Paddling Desolation Sound By Canoe, British Columbia

The highlight of our trip so far: five days paddling around Desolation Sound, on BC’s Sunshine Coast. Captain Vancouver wasn’t too impressed with the area when he discovered it, but we were.

Quite the opposite of desolation, the area is teeming with life and beauty, and we timed our visit exactly right.

We experienced amazing weather, few people (in July/August it is absolutely teeming with kayakers and boaters), and some of the best scenery you’ll see anywhere on the West Coast. It lived up to expectations and then some.

mountain views curme islands desolation sound
curme islands views desolation sound
desolation sound sign marine provincial park

Backcountry necessities

desolation sound seals curme islands canoe
canoe desolation sound curme islands
curme islands camp desolation sound

Canoeing Desolation Sound?

While planning our trip, I couldn’t find much information regarding canoeing Desolation Sound. Kayaking yes, there are kayaks a plenty in photos, blog, online trip reports, brochures…but no canoes.

So I had a bit of apprehension even as we were putting the canoe into the water in Okeover Harbour. Although I was perfectly sure of our skills, I thought maybe I was missing something, a big reason why people nowadays don’t tend to canoe oceans.

desolation sound curme islands canoe paddling
mountain views desolation sound curme islands

The first small craft we see along Malaspina Inlet after leaving the harbour? Yep, a canoe. It may have been the one and only canoe we saw for the rest of the trip, but now I was assured that we weren’t completely nuts.

Others may still have done though; we got quite a few inquisitive looks and a fair few ‘you paddled here in a canoe?’ comments. I can now confirm, not only can you do it easily, but canoeing Desolation Sound is also pretty awesome.

desolation sound views curme islands
wild flowers desolation sound
Desolation Sound view canoe paddle
Desolation Sound view
Salt Spring Golden Ale
Salt Spring Golden Ale in Desolation Sound

Outstanding scenery in Desolation Sound

So why is Desolation Sound so special? For me, it’s the beautiful (warm-ish!) turquoise water, the rich variety of wildlife both above and below the sea, the sheltered coves, the rocky headlands, and most of all, the spectacular backdrop of white-capped mountains.

curme islands desolation sound mountain views

I loved the drier climate and foliage too; so many arbutus trees and shrubs instead of the dark, damp forests we’ve spent so much time in. The contrast between our time in the Powell Forest only the week before and then on Desolation Sound couldn’t have been more different…..yet we weren’t even 60km away!

The best thing of all? No clear cuts! It’s a sad thing, but on the West Coast, we expect to see evidence of logging wherever we go. Instead, it was trees, mountains and ocean as far as our eyes could see.

curme islands seals desolation sound
Tenedos Bay desolation sound unwin lake
Fishing Malaspina Inlet Desolation
Paddling Desolation Sound in a canoe

A “lazy” base camping trip

Heading out to the Sound, we knew that the longest days would be the first and last, as we needed to do around 20km to get to the Curme Islands, our base camp for the trip.

Of course, we could have moved around more, but we’d just finished the Powell Forest Canoe Circuit and were looking forward to being a bit lazy after all that portaging. 

With no real plans after the Desolation Sound trip (and lots of food!), we had the freedom of coming back whenever we wanted. In my mind, this meant when the weather turned.

eureka tent Desolation sound
Tenting in Desolation Sound

Paddling to the Curme Islands

The wind and currents were on our side heading out, so we took it slowly and spent some time fishing and generally just floating around. We caught a few rockfish, keeping the biggest (mine, I seem to have some untapped skill at fishing, who knew?) for dinner.

canoe desolation sound curme islands

I met a nice sea star called Monty and then before I knew it we were heading around the peninsula, out of Malaspina Inlet and into the open ocean.

After a few hours of easy paddling, it was land ahoy at the Curme Islands, and we quickly claimed the last available one as our own. Sorry, ocean canoeing always makes me feel like a pirate.

curme islands reflections desolation sound

A luxurious trip

With no portages and a weight restriction of around 600lbs in our canoe, we had brought a fair amount of luxuries with us, including snorkelling gear, beer and barbeque ribs.

Can you tell it was Jean Robert’s birthday? While fishing isn’t allowed in Desolation Sound, collecting mussels and oysters is fine…something that is also quite fine with JR. Practically a birthday gift from the sea I think.

unwin lake desolation sound

Exploring Desolation Sound

We didn’t just spend the whole time eating and sunbathing though; one day we paddled to Tenedos Bay and hiked over to Unwin Lake for a swim, and the next we followed the Provincial Park boundary to the eastern edge for more mountain vistas.

Canoe in a bay, Desolation sound
Arriving at the Curme Islands

Change of weather

Sadly, a quick exit on the fifth day was made after hearing on our weather radio that gale force winds were coming in. That and we were also running out of suncream.

Needless to say, the waves fought us all the way back, and it was a pretty rough crossing. We experienced swells of up to around a metre and a half…which, if you’re in the front, can get you pretty wet!

Let’s just say I was quite happy to get back into the calm waters of the Malaspina Inlet. It was tough, but it looked bad for anyone out on the water that day, larger boats included!

Desolation Sound view JR

A perfect canoe adventure on Desolation Sound

This was the perfect canoe trip; lots of paddling and relaxation, great food, awesome scenery, plenty of exploring and, of course, beautiful weather (five days of 25-degree sunshine, the epitome of perfect to me).

Our camp was superbly placed for views of the Sound; we watched seals lounging and playing on the rocks, bald eagles flying from island to island, oyster catchers searching for food, the occasional boater heading for an anchorage, and the endless motion of the tides coming in and out.

Desolation sound with canoe
Approaching the Malaspina inlet, Desolation Sound

We had the place to ourselves after the first couple of days; our own West Coast oasis to celebrate Jean Robert’s birthday and the arrival of June.

It was funny to consider that we had been on the road for over six weeks already, but it wasn’t even summer yet. There was still so much more to come…

curme islands sunset desolation sound

Desolation Sound: A quick guide

Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park is located approximately 150km north of Vancouver, on BC’s Sunshine Coast. We launched from Okeover Harbour Government Dock, leaving our van in the long stay parking lot.

Camping is $5 per person, per night from June 1st to September 15th. There are 11 designated campsites with an average of 9 tent pads in each.

bald eagle desolation sound

We stayed on East Curme Island (21km from Okeover Habour) but visited most of the other campsites and I can honestly say you really couldn’t go wrong wherever you stay. Fires are only allowed in Tenedos and Roscoe Bays.

As you can see, we paddled our canoe to Desolation Sound. Taking a kayak is a more common option – if you don’t own one, there are plenty of kayak outfitters in the local area of Lund and Powell River.

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Saturday 15th of May 2021

Hi Gemma, great article! Did you base yourselves only out of east curne island or were you setting camp up each night in a new place?


Saturday 15th of May 2021

Hi Chloe,

On this trip, we were base camping. On other trips with our kayaks, we have base camped in the Copeland Islands and also Martin Island. You can see more photos and info in our Desolation Sound guide

Dave Jorgenson

Saturday 6th of February 2021

We’ve done a few ocean canoe trips including 300 km on the outer central coast in October. Same experience of disbelief from kayakers as you, but let’s remember people canoed the coast for 12,000 years and the kayak was designed as a hunting tool by people effectively without trees who also moved camp in open boats(umiaks)! Canoes are simply superior for storing and accessing gear and that spray deck you used makes it even more versatile! As you say, skill set is the primary consideration, but I love ocean canoeing!


Tuesday 9th of February 2021

Hi Dave,

That's a very good point! I appreciate you reminding me of that. Super stoked to hear that you're out there ocean canoeing, especially on the Central Coast - wow!


Friday 22nd of February 2019

Hi Jean Robert and Gemma. I really enjoyed reading about your experience on Desolation Sound. I am planning a trip with a group of friends (10) for this summer (June 2019) and we were planning to use canoes. We have received a great deal of push back from most everyyone we've mentioned this to with the vast majority of folks we've spoken to, telling us we should be using kayaks. Could I impose upon you and ask if you could share a few more thoughts on your experience doing the trip in a canoe, the pros and cons of using a canoe versus a kayak,etc. I very much appreciate any further insights you might be able to offer. Thanks in advance. Take care. Bryan


Saturday 23rd of February 2019

Hi Bryan,

I replied to an email from you, but since others may find it helpful, I'm going to copy and paste here too.

It is difficult to recommend anyone to using a kayak or a canoe as there are so many factors to think about. I think it comes down to your experience, skills and also your equipment.

We canoe regularly but are no means expert canoeists (we do not do whitewater for example). Our canoe is exceptionally stable and also has a spray deck, which is ideal when the ocean waves pick up. We were comfortable throughout our time in Desolation Sound, with the exception of part of our journey back from the Curme Islands. Even then, we were fine but it was more of a challenge and we were definitely thankful we had the spray deck.

The first people we met in Desolation Sound were canoeing, so it is not as uncommon as you may think. On our second visit, we saw none. We too received the same reaction as you when asking people whether it was possible. I think it really depends on your skill level and ability. Whether you go in a kayak or a canoe, its the level of your experience that should be the deciding factor. An experienced canoeist in a canoe is likely to be a lot safer than an inexperienced kayaker in a kayak.


Wednesday 9th of July 2014

Perfect weather, perfect scenery, looks amazing. Keep the pictures and reports coming. Love Lin