One of our favourite paddling destinations has to be Desolation Sound on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.

If you’re planning an adventure (and trust me, you should be!), here’s everything you need to know when organising your paddling trip Desolation Sound, British Columbia.

Remember to always follow Leave No Trace principles when exploring the backcountry and be sure to bring the 10 essentials. Some links within this post are affiliate links which means if you purchase an item through these, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. 

Highlights of Desolation Sound, Sunshine Coast

Desolation Sound is truly a paddler’s paradise. Why? Some of the best reasons include:

  • Natural beauty. Protected bays, towering rock bluffs and idyllic islands framed by a mountainous backdrop….paddling in Desolation Sound is breathtaking.
  • Scenic campsites. Situated on small islands, dramatic headlands and nestled into cosy bays, Desolation Sound’s camping areas are all picture perfect in some way or another. Desolation Sound camping areas lend themselves well to easy base camping trips as well as touring adventures.
  • More than a paddling trip. Desolation Sound isn’t just limited to exploration on the water. Combine your paddling with hiking, swimming, fishing and wildlife watching!
  • A warm welcome. The warmest waters north of Mexico can be found in Desolation Sound. It’s possible to swim in the ocean (comfortably!) as early as May here.
  • Great for all paddlers. Desolation Sound’s calm, warm waters, sheltered bays and comfortable campsites are perfect for first-time paddlers. The area is also a good launching point for longer and more challenging BC coastal trips (Toba Inlet, Discovery Islands).
Kayaker with mountain range and ocean behind, classic Desolation Sound views
Typical paddling views while in Desolation Sound, British Columbia

Views of Desolation Sound mountains near Curme IslandsCampsite views from Copeland Islands, Desolation Sound, BCSeals and seagull in Desolation Sound, BCMountain peaks looming over Curme Islands, Desolation SoundPaddling in Desolation Sound, BC - mountain views

How to get to Desolation Sound, British Columbia

Desolation Sound is located at the top of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. A minimum of two ferries are needed to get here from the BC mainland. Powell River is the last major refuelling place for groceries and other paddling supplies.

The two main launching sites for Desolation Sound are located at opposite sides of the Malaspina Peninsula, at the top of BC’s Sunshine Coast.

Launching Choice 1: Lund

Highway 101 ends at the tiny town of Lund. Here, you’ll find a handful of hotels, restaurants and shops plus a paid long-term parking lot and all important boat launch.

The marina kayak launching and pick-up fee is $5 per kayak ($10 return trip), payable in an honesty box. There are flush toilets available for public use at the marina.

End of the Road Parking Limited looks after the main Lund parking lot, with regular office hours 8am – 5pm. They usually ask kayakers to keep their keys (they also offer valet service) to allow for early/late departures. The fee is $7/24 hours. It is also possible to park on the side of Highway 101 approaching Lund, with no security.

Looking to book a stay in Lund before or after your kayaking trip?

Malaspina Bed and Breakfast – Great value

Historic Lund Hotel – Fantastic location

Boars harboured at Lund, with mountain range behind
Lund harbour, Sunshine Coast, launching point for Desolation Sound

Launching Choice 2: Okeover

A little further south of Lund on the eastern side of the Peninsula is Okeover Arm harbour. There is a government dock and boat launch here, with a $2 fee for kayakers ($4 return trip). A large (free) parking lot is located on the other side of the road. We had no problems parking here for 5 days.

A very short walk away from the boat launch is Okeover Arm Provincial Park. There are 14 first-come first-served vehicle accessible campsites available for $14/night.

Looking to stay near Okeover?

Desolation Resort (Okeover) – Ideal location and highly rated on

Paddling Desolation Sound, from Malaspina Inlet on the way to Curme Islands

Lund vs. Okeover for your Desolation Sound kayaking trip

Having launched paddling trips from both Lund and Okeover, my personal preference would be to leave from Lund.

Both are equally convenient for paddling in Desolation Sound and have all the facilities needed, but I think the experience is more interesting from Lund overall.

While Lund may have more boat traffic, the narrower parts of Malaspina Inlet can have currents up to 4 knots at times. There are also more camping and accommodation options closer to Lund than Okeover, handy if starting late on the first day.

The perfect solution would be to start at Lund and end at Okeover (or vice versa!) if you are able to have two vehicles.

Coastal mountain range seen from Desolation Sound, BC

Camping in Desolation Sound

Campsites in Desolation Sound generally come in two forms: Marine Provincial Park sites and informal camping areas. The latter offer no organised facilities but have been previously established by other boaters.

Wild camping on crown land outside of the Provincial Park is allowed, but suitable land (easy access with flat, cleared space) is in short supply.

Vancouver Island views from Copeland islands, Desolation Sound. MSR Freelite Tent

Camping in Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park

There are 11 designated backcountry camping areas in Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park with almost 70 tent pads total. Fees are $5 per person, per night, payable between June 1st to September 15th every year.

There are deposit boxes in both Lund and Okeover, or you can pay online for your Desolation Sound camping. Note that buying a permit does not constitute a reservation.

The camping areas are split into three general groups – the Copeland Islands, around Malaspina Inlet and the Curme Islands. Tent pads must be used due to the delicate ecosystem in each location. 

There are outhouses at all Desolation Sound camping ares. No fresh water or food caches are available at any of the camping areas.

The Curme Islands are a top destination for a lot of Desolation Sound kayakers. With a central position in the Sound, great campsites and epic views of the mountain, it’s easy to see why.

Curme Islands campsite with Eureka tent

Alternative camping in Desolation Sound

Aside from Desolation Sound, there are a few other Provincial Parks in the wider area. Roscoe Bay, to the north of the Curme Islands, has space for 4-5 tents (with an outhouse) at the far west of the inlet. The fee is $5/per person/per night.

There are a few completely free unofficial camping areas outside of the Provincial Park. Martin Island and Kinghorn Island both have a couple of areas each (note that the latter also has an eco resort).

To the north, there is an informal camping spot near the waterfall in Teakerne Arm. For more detail on these sites and others in the Desolation Sound area, check out the most excellent Wild Coast 3 book by John Kimantas.

Martin Islands campsite in Desolation Sound, BC on paddling trip

Paddling in Desolation Sound

Paddling in Desolation Sound is easy. The water is generally warm, calm and sheltered.

There are a few open sections that must be paddled to reach the most popular camping locations (Curme Islands), but these are very short (2-3km). That all said, we have experienced some wild windy days on the water on Desolation Sound.

On our first trip, gale force winds were predicted to arrive on the afternoon of our last day (thanks, VHF radio). So we packed up quickly and got onto the water early for a quick exit.

The winds came in earlier than expected and we battled some metre and a half swells before finally turning into the much calmer Malaspina Inlet.

There was also one ferociously windy day during our last trip, this time in the northern Desolation Sound area. Luckily we had nowhere to be so we were able to leisurely wait it out.

Some very tired kayakers joined us at our Martin Islands campsite that afternoon, having taken almost the whole day to paddle the relatively short distance from the Curme Islands in high winds.

Moral of the story: always allow more time for your trip than necessary and assess the weather conditions (and forecast) before setting out. Desolation Sound may be one of the most sheltered and calm areas of the BC coast, but it still can be hit by high winds and dangerous paddling conditions like everywhere else!Calm waters in Desolation Sound, BC. Perfect paddling conditions

Calm waters near Curme Islands, Desolation Sound. Perfect paddling conditions

Safety considerations for kayaking Desolation Sound

Cell phone signal is prevalent (as are other boats) throughout the Desolation Sound area. Even knowing this, we still like to carry a basic VHF radio.

It’s useful for checking the weather and tides as well as listening to what the larger boats are up to! Of particular interest, at least for us, is the local whale watching boats…

There are several places to find fresh water while paddling in Desolation Sound. The most obvious sources are Unwin Lake and Black Lake, accessible via short trails from Tenedos Bay and Roscoe Bay respectively.

Not just great for collecting water, both lakes are also perfect for a swim! Keep in mind that the lake water should be treated before drinking.

Fully treated water can be found at the boater’s supply village of Refuge Cove.

Rocky shoreline in Desolation Sound, BC. Kayaker paddling past

Unwin Lake, a source for freshwater in Desolation Sound

When to visit Desolation Sound

The best time for Desolation Sound kayaking is May – September. The summer months are busy, with hundreds of touring pleasure boats addition to many private and guided kayaks paddling Desolation Sound.

With the limited availability of sites in summer, choosing a base camp and day touring from there may provide a less stressful experience.

If you prefer to avoid crowds and have your pick of sites, plan a mid-week Desolation Sound kayaking trip in May, June or September. Shoulder season weekends can still be fairly busy so try and avoid leaving on a Friday if possible.

Our first kayak adventure in Desolation Sound was mid-week in late May. We had a whole Curme Island to ourselves for camping and we only saw a handful of other paddlers.

Our second Desolation kayaking trip was in mid June, again in mid-week. We saw more passing kayakers this time, but still camped alone every night bar one.

Canoe resting on beach, Gemma heading towards ocean
Tenedos Bay, Desolation Sound

Paddling Desolation Sound with mountains in background

Fishing opportunities

Shellfish collecting has long been a favourite of Desolation Sound paddlers. We have feasted on many an oyster during our trips; they are large, plentiful and flavoursome.

Mussels are much less common, with only small ones sighted on our last trip. Rockfish fishing was more successful, particularly just to the west of Kinghorn Island, just outside of the Conservation boundary.

The Desolation Sound region is located in BC Tidal Area 15. There are some quite specific rules and regulations concerning fishing and collecting shellfish to follow while paddling in Desolation Sound.

Quite simply, you can’t just do it everywhere. For example, there is a large Rockfish Conservation Area covering much of Desolation Sound that restricts any fishing of Rockfish at all.

It is very important to always read and understand the area closure maps and collection limits before fishing and collecting shellfish.

For the latter, it is also vital to check that there are no biotoxin (‘red tide’) shellfish contamination warnings in place. Eating contaminated shellfish can be fatal.

To fish or collect shellfish, you must hold a BC Tidal Waters License. These are currently $22 for an annual pass for BC residents.

Mussels collected in pot in Desolation SoundRockfish from western Desolation Sound, BC

Canoe vs. kayak: paddling Desolation Sound

Lucky enough to own both canoes and kayaks, we have visited Desolation Sound with each type of boat. The vast majority of people paddling in Desolation Sound are equipped with kayaks, but we did spot one other canoe on our first trip. We paddled a little faster in the kayaks than the canoe and felt that they handled better in rougher water.

Most campsites in Desolation Sound are on rock bluffs or headlands. Accessing them was easier in the kayaks, with one person getting out of their kayak and then helping the other.

Moving the kayaks to higher ground was also a simpler process as they weigh only 45lb each compared to the 80lb canoe and spray deck.

Canoe on shore in Desolation Sound, BC

Outdoor gear we’ve used paddling Desolation Sound

For the curious, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the outdoor gear we used on our most recent paddling trip in Desolation Sound.

  • Kayaks – We use 14 feet Delta kayaks. They are thermoformed (ABS acrylic) kayaks made in Maple Ridge, Vancouver. Lightweight, durable and easy to manoeuvre, we love our Deltas. And they look great too!
  • Camp kitchen – This was our first paddling trip using a Jetboil Genesis cooking stove. It’s a bit of a luxury set-up for the backcountry but we really liked the quick cooking time and convenience of having two burners.
  • Tent – Our MSR Freelite 2 is standing the test of time so far, with over 25 nights of successful use over the last two camping seasons. The weight (2lb 11oz packed) is ideal for any backcountry trip we do. The floor space is not as roomy as the Hubba series equivalent, which prioritises space over ultralight weight.
  • Sleeping – On our most recent Desolation trip, JR used his Klymit Insulated Static V (super comfortable!) and I had my Exped Synmat HL. Unfortunately, I made a rookie error and forgot to test my mat before the trip (since it was the first of the year) and it had an air chamber issue. On return, I warrantied it and upgraded to the Exped Synmat HL Duo, so we can lighten our gear kit even more. Sleeping bag wise, we use a couple of old 0c rated bags from MEC.
  • Hammock – Our ENO Doublenest hammock is perfect to bring on paddling trips when we have a little more flexibility with space and weight. It’s great to have somewhere else to hang out and relax. 

If you’re planning a trip to Desolation Sound, let me know in the comments!

Particularly great for beginners, Desolation Sound is one of the best places to go kayaking in Canada. Click here to read a complete guide to planning a kayak trip to Desolation Sound in British Columbia. Incredible scenic views, easy paddling, warm waters, bountiful wildlife and lots of campsites make Desolation Sound one of the best places in Canada to go paddling! Click here to discover the magic of Desolation Sound plus a complete guide to going on a paddling trip in this beautiful area. One of our favourite paddling destinations has to be Desolation Sound on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. If you're planning a trip (and trust me, you should be!), click here to discover everything you need to know when organising an adventure paddling in Desolation Sound. Desolation Sound is a paddler's paradise. Click here to this comprehensive guide including everything you need to know about paddling in breathtaking Desolation Sound, British Columbia, Canada.

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One half of a Canadian/British couple currently based in British Columbia, Canada. Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure.


  1. Avatar
    Barri Rudolph Reply

    Thanks for the great info. I have paddled to the Curmies from Cortez, but this year we are going to go from Lund. How long is the average paddle assuming no big winds?


    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Barri!

      It would take around five hours, hugely dependent on your paddling speed and also the weather.

  2. Avatar

    Hi Gemma,
    I am glad to discover your blog -it’s highly informative, just what I need to prepare for a solo trip to Desolation Sound. I have quite a few questions which I hope you can help me with? I have included my email so you can reach me there if that’s more convenient.

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Sure! Feel free to ask here as the answers may help others with their own trip planning. If the questions are more personal than you’d like to share, do email me direct at gemma[at]

      • Avatar

        Hi Gemma,
        Would you know where a good place to pick up charts of Desolation Sound? We are paddling there next week and would like a better chart than the ones we have found. I am especially interested in ones that show the strength of the tidal currents..
        At this point so close to our trip, I’m thinking that our best option would to buy one from a shop in your area. We will be putting in at Okeover. Thanks for any advice you can give.

        • Gemma
          Gemma Reply

          Hi Bruce! The last time I was in Lund, the Terracentric Coastal Adventures sold some. I would give them a call first, though, just in case they don’t have any.

  3. Avatar

    Thanks for getting back to me!
    I’m thinking of launching from Lund and potentially setting a basecamp at Copeland Islands. It’ll be a short trip (4 days) and I am worried about the lack of campsites in August. So I’m thinking its best to be sensible, especially with a solo trip.
    Logistically, do you know if its possible to travel from Vancouver to Lund and launch the same day (considering wind, weather, double ferry crossings etc)
    Let me know your thoughts!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Melissa! I would say it is possible, but I would not recommend it. It puts a LOT of pressure on the ferry journeys going well and the weather conditions still being OK by the time you reach Lund. You would have missed the calm conditions that are likely in the morning. It is true that the Copeland Islands aren’t far and the journey is pretty sheltered, so it does also depend on your kayaking skills and confidence. For me personally, I wouldn’t like having to rush the ferries, the driving, the packing etc. I also wonder if you’d be better off looking for a campsite in the morning rather than the afternoon (this does depend on the day of the week though too).

      • Avatar

        Hi Gemma,
        I think I will plan according to conditions the day of. I am intending to arrive this Sunday and keeping my fingers crossed that camp sites are still available on Copeland Island if I am to launch in the late afternoon. That being said, it IS mid summer…
        Did you have any issues with critters like bears or raccoons? Should I attempt a bear hang or keep my stuff tight in my kayak hatch?
        Are there any freshwater sources at/near Copeland Islands? I’ll be bringing water but just wondering.

        • Gemma
          Gemma Reply

          We didn’t have any issue with racoons or bears, but we’ve always used a bear hang or kayak hatches in Desolation Sound. Note that the trees on the islands tend to be small. I am not aware of any freshwater sources on the Copelands. On our most recent trip, we went to Refuge Cove for water.

          I’d love if you could let me know how your trip goes, especially regarding the availability of camping. The campsite we stayed at on the Copelands (the most northerly island) had many tent pads so I’m interested in how busy they really get.

  4. Avatar

    ah, thanks for the tip on the tent pads. i spoke to the rental associate at Powell River Kayaks and they said no one’s had issues being turned back this season due to a full campsite.

    i will for sure update you on my trip. thanks again for your help and i’m glad i found your website!

  5. Avatar

    i’m back!
    first things first, it wasn’t busy when i went to Copeland Islands (Sunday-Wednesday). I set base at Middle Copeland and was the only one for the night which is an interesting experience. There were maybe 3-5 other campers between Middle and North Copeland Islands the entire time I was there. there are definitely more recreational boaters and day trippers.
    the haze from the forest fires took from the views on Desolation Sound, as well as visibility. it was one mile visibility at best-i couldn’t even make out Kinghorn Island from Sarah’s Point! so i had to abandon my initial plan of paddling to Refuge Cove.
    i had the privilege of seeing a pod of orcas go past Thulin Passage one morning-amazing! definitely alot of seals around. they were particularly boisterous at night-slapping, breaching, grunting and sometimes making eerie human like noises. not sure if you noticed this but there are snakes on Middle Copeland. they’re tiny but quite the surprise when you least expect them.
    weather was cooperative. no crazy winds even though the forecast called for 1.0-1.5 knots.

    so, next time, i think i’ll plan a late spring trip to avoid the haze. looking at your pictures, i feel like i’ve missed a special part of the Desolation Sound, i.e. the crystal clear waters. i’ll be bringing my snorkelling gear then!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Thanks for giving me an update Melissa! Sounds like you had a good trip despite the smoke. So interesting that the Copelands weren’t busy with campers – sounds like the same amount of people that were there in June. I wonder how much of that was smoke related? SO jealous about you seeing orcas!!! I always seem to miss them. I’ve been on a number of paddling trips in the area (including a 5 day kayaking trip in Johnstone Strait, specifically to see Orcas) and they always allude me. Good to know about the snakes, I haven’t come across any around the Desolation Sound area.

  6. Avatar

    according to the kayak company i rented from, there’s usually enough camping space in the Copelands, as you know especially North Copeland. i think it’s the timing as well. couple of ladies i met told me the Middle Copeland’s were completely full the day before i arrived so i guess most of the camping traffic is over the weekends? and i think the smoke definitely was a factor too.

    thanks again for your input-i’m sure I’ll have many other questions down the road for future trips!

  7. Avatar

    Hi guys,
    I am curious if you know a good launch spot from quadra or cortes island? Or is it just best from Lund?


    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Ed!

      Squirrel Cove on Cortes seems to be a reasonably popular place to launch from. Quadra, I think, would be a touch too far for the average paddler.

  8. Avatar

    Hi Gemma,
    Thanks for your blog and responsiveness to questions! We have a large group — 8 people, maybe 4 tents and two hammocks — planning on taking off from Okeover. Five days, four nights. We’d like to base camp. Any suggestions? The Curme Islands would be a perfect location, but are there enough tent pads clustered in one place?
    Thanks again!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Valerie,

      I would definitely head to the Curme Islands as it offers the most choice of sites. Of the three different campgrounds there, West Curme has at least three/four tent pads along the same shore. South Curme Island also has the tent pads set pretty close together.

  9. Avatar

    Hi Gemma, thanks a lot for your article!
    We are considering kayaking for 8 days in August but want to avoid crowds and be alone, or not in the middle of 100 paddlers,
    DO you have area to advise ?


    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Diane,

      Glad this article helped you! I’m not sure of your kayaking experience but with that amount of time, I would look into heading up Toba Inlet!

  10. Avatar

    Hi Gemma,
    Thanks for your willingness to answer questions! Like Melissa, we paddled to the Copelands in the smoke last August and had the place nearly to ourselves for 4 days. The haze did clear before we left, luckily, but we enjoyed the lack of wind during that smoky time. This year we’d like to go back to the Copelands, but also to go farther into Desolation Sound. We have an 18′ voyager canoe and a young-ish son with us, so I am hesitant about the waters around the tip of the Malaspina Peninsula. Are those waters rougher than the journey out to the Copelands (from Lund)? I assume yes, but don’t really know! And in your opinion, what would be the logical next campsite for a heavy canoe after we leave the Copeland Islands? We have a week or so to play. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Shannon!

      The waters at the end of the Malaspina Peninsula are more exposed (so, in theory, more rougher in wind), but we sometimes find that the narrow approach to the Copelands has a wind tunnel effect. So much of a muchness, in our experience. We haven’t experienced much wind in either locations, however. I would consider Feather Cove (or Hare Point) as your next destination (1 night?) and then head to Tenedos Bay or the Curme Islands if you feel comfortable and the weather is favourable. Hare Point is a really lovely sheltered spot with great views and lots of sunshine.

  11. Avatar

    Hi Gemma!

    We are doing a 5 day/4 night trip in Desolation sound, our first time there. Sounds like heading to Tenedos Bay or Curmes Islands are your suggestions for destination for a base camp, anything else you recommend? We are mid-range kayakers, love wildlife and the idea of swimming. Thank you!!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi Maura,

      There are so many great base camp locations in Desolation Sound. The Curmes Islands are wonderful but you must keep in mind that most other paddlers in Desolation Sound are heading there too. So you need to time it right. Tenedos Bay is great for swimming.

      We are partial to the Martin Islands as we really enjoyed our last trip there. It is a little ways from Curmes. On our next trip, we plan to explore from the Copelands as it is a very pretty spot. You can’t really go wrong in Desolation Sound!

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