Skip to Content

Kayaking Northern Desolation Sound, British Columbia

Desolation Sound is anything but desolate. Warm waters, protected bays, towering rock bluffs and idyllic islands framed by a mountainous backdrop….Desolation Sound is simply drop dead gorgeous.

But if the name puts off some then it’s all the better for us! This area is one of our favourite places to paddle in British Columbia. 

There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Sunset over Desolation sound

Backcountry necessities

A new side to Desolation Sound

On our last trip a few years ago, we launched from Okeover Provincial Park and base camped in the Curme Islands on the eastern side of the Sound. The thing about Desolation is that this area is so big and varied that it would be possible to do a handful of trips here and still not paddle the same area twice.

For this June adventure, we picked the northern section – the Copelands, Kinghorn Island, Martin Island and Roscoe Bay. Launching at Lund, we saw an entirely different side to Desolation Sound, but it was still just as beautiful.

Aside from our choice of destination, something else was different about this trip. Something shiny orange and red….our brand new Delta kayaks! Don’t worry, we still love our canoe. But kayaks offer a different kind of adventure.

A different kind of freedom too. We loved being able to fish and explore separately and capture some epic paddling shots of each other.

Desolation sound

Launching from Lund

8am Monday morning at the boat launch in Lund was quiet and still. A few water taxis moved quickly in and out of the harbour, ferrying locals to work. Packing our kayaks was easy; even with bringing a few luxuries we still had plenty of storage space to spare.

Prep down, we were ready to hit the water. And it started raining. Darn. But actually, it wasn’t a bad thing. The water stayed wonderfully calm all day, even in the middle of the Sound.

Planning to launch from Lund soon? Consider staying at one of these places before/after your trip!

The Lund Resort at Klah ah men – Very close to Lund harbour

Malaspina Bed and Breakfast – Highly rated on

To the Copeland Islands

Such calm conditions allowed us to make quick progress alongside the coastline of the Malaspina Peninsula. We dived in and out of the Copeland Islands, spotting seals and seabirds on the shoreline. Every now and then some of the distant Vancouver Island mountains would peek through the rainclouds.

Delta 14 Kayak and camping gear at Lund, Desolation sound
Lund, Desolation sound harbor
Desolation sound, Gemma in orange Delta 14 kayak

Arriving at Sarah Point just after midday, a fast boat passed us and dropped three hikers at the Sunshine Coast trailhead (if you want to know more about the Sunshine Coast trail, check out Taryn’s trail report on Happiest Outdoors). They turned away from the coast and headed into the forest for the next few days while we struck out further into the ocean.

Desolation Sound: first look

It is as you paddle around Sarah Point when the panoramic views of Desolation Sound start to appear. On a rainy day like our first on the water, the mountains emerge and disappear in mist, producing an ethereal effect. The weather may be gloomy, but the beauty of this area is by no means hidden.

Kinghorn Island is located just at the entrance of the Desolation Sound Marine Park yet it is possible to camp for free and also fish (on the western side).

I couldn’t tell you about the true nature of fishing possibilities since we only ever caught rockfish but we were quite happy with that. Three or four of these provide a tasty and filling dinner with freshly picked samphire (sea asparagus).

Desolation sound, Kayaks
Desolation sound and mountains
Desolation sound and kayak
Desolation sound camping site and kayak
Desolation sound fish

Martin Island

Our final destination for the day lay across one more stretch of water – Martin Island. Often shown on maps as two islands, Martin Island sits close to West Redonda Island. There are two informal campsites at the eastern and western edges.

After paddling past both, we chose east on the basis of the easy landing. We had quickly learned that getting and out of kayaks was a little different to a canoe!

Martin Island was an abundant kind of place. Dozens of tiny fish swam in the landing bay in the north, in beautiful aquamarine water. A resident grouse hooted. Visiting seals played in the channel, slapping the water’s surface.

The southern bay was full of huge oysters. With no bivalve ban in sight, Jean Robert ate many right at the shore.

kayaks, Martin Island desolation sound
Hammock at Martin Island, Desolation sound
Cooking on fire on Martin Island Desolation sound
Cooking fish with Jet boil Genesis
Fresh fish,wild Sand fire, and mash potatoes. Desolation sound

Setting up a base camp

In a similar manner to our last visit, we decided to base-camp again. Returning to an already made-up campsite on an inhabited island after a day’s adventure is a little bit of luxury on a wilderness trip such as this.

A long day trip was to Roscoe Bay, some 25km away as the eagle flies. The paddle along West Redonda Island would have been uneventful if it had not been for the misty but bright views of the coast mountain range.

I loved seeing the peaks coming closer and closer with every paddle stroke. The rain had been replaced by wall to wall sunshine, which cleared the mist as the day went on.

MSR tent and Eno hammock Martin Island
Kayaking Desolation Sound
Gemma Kayaking on Desolation Sound
Kayaking Desolation Sound with view of the mountains

Roscoe Bay

Roscoe Bay was hiding just around a headland. A very windy headland, I should add. A short, hard paddle through the waves and we made it to the tiny bay dotted with sailboats.

At the end, a very green cove marked the start of the river (and short hike) to Black Lake. With high winds blocking our way back to Martin Island, we sadly couldn’t stay for a swim. Next time maybe.

The paddle back was temperamental in places. Still, the sun was shining and our island home was waiting for us.

roscoe bay desolation sound bc
Kayaking Roscoe bay, Desolation Sound

Marooned on Martin Island

Wednesday was my birthday. Already planned to be something of a lazy day, it became a bit more forced when white capped waves appeared all around us. Ah well, it wasn’t a bad place to be stuck by any means!

With the wind threatening to stay high, we changed our plan to stay on Martin Island for another day. Instead, we’d paddle back to the Copelands. Dividing the final paddle in half would be easier and safer.

Our fears about the wind didn’t materialise but we still went ahead with the plan the next day. A quick stop at the nearby outpost of Refuge Cove for water (note – tricky to land in a kayak here), we were well on our way to the Copelands. Via some more fishing near Kinghorn of course.

Eno hammock. Desolation Sound
Desolation Sound sunset
Refuge Cove General Store, Desolation sound
Gemma sunset Delta 14 Kayak fishing Desolation Sound
JR's in Delta14 Kayak Desolation sound

Another island paradise

Sometimes, shortening or changing a trip can really turn out for the better. This was one of those times. The scenery, in every direction, was just stunning. Every peak, from Desolation Sound to Vancouver Island was crystal clear.

The water was calm and even. Every island looked so perfectly inviting. And yet only a handful of boats passed us as we travelled back towards the mainland. It was all ours!

Things only got better in the Copeland Islands. Setting up camp on one of the most northern islands, our tent pad looked out to the most incredible views of Vancouver Island. Having previously lived in Courtenay, we could pick out the most notable peaks as well as the Comox Glacier.

Below the tent, we swam in the clearest water I’ve ever seen in BC. The sunset was to truly to die for. Better still, we had it all to ourselves.

MSR tent overlooking Desolation sound
Red and orange Kayak at Copeland Island, Desolation sound
JR looking at sunset on tent-pad
Mountain view Desolation sound
Sunset on Vancouver Island view from Desolation sound
Sunset Desolation sound
Morning view from inside tent of Desolation sound

Back to Lund

The next morning, we arrived into Lund Harbour refreshed, relaxed and wishing we didn’t have to leave. Another magical trip on Desolation Sound.

Lund harbor over looking Vancouver Island Glacier

Where’s your favourite kayaking destination?

Warm waters, protected bays, towering rock bluffs and idyllic islands framed by a mountainous backdrop....Desolation Sound is simply drop dead gorgeous. The northern section is particularly wonderful for a kayaking trip and here's why!
Desolation Sound is anything but desolate. Warm waters, protected bays, towering rock bluffs and idyllic islands framed by a mountainous backdrop....Desolation Sound is simply drop dead gorgeous. But if the name puts off some then it's all the better for us! The northern area, in particular, is one of our favourite places to paddle in British Columbia. Click here to discover more!


Sign up to our monthly newsletter and receive a completely free download of our printable, customisable packing checklist for multi-day paddling trips

Check out these other paddling posts next