Destination BC/Graeme Owsianski
A legendary Van Isle paddling location, the Broken Islands Group in Barkley Sound bring paddlers in from around the world. Located in Pacific Rim National Park, the 130 square kilometre area features over 100 islands or islets, and on the inside of these the water is mostly calm and perfectly suited to paddling, but this is a multi-day trip, so be prepared to plan and to bring your own water. The easiest way to access Barkley Sound is via Port Alberni, as it means no open-ocean crossings.
At the north end of Vancouver Island, the community of Port Hardy plays unofficial gateway to the iconic Great Bear Rainforest. North from here, it’s all rugged beauty and difficult access to jaw-dropping landscapes. Some of the first islands seen as you head north are Hurst and Bell Islands, also known as God’s Pocket Marina Provincial Park. As a diving destination, it’s unparalleled, but above water it’s still world-class paddling. Think hidden coves, wildlife at every turn, and protected paddling in all but the most terrible weather. Located an hour boat ride from Port Hardy.
Strathcona Provincial Park
As a truly mountainous park, Strathcona seems like an unlikely destination for paddling, but for those who get creative with an inflatable SUP board, the reward will be more than worth it.
Begin at the Mount Washington Alpine Resort (Paradise Meadows) or Campbell River’s Buttle Lake trailheads. From there, bring your SUP board hike to any number of alpine lakes like Battleship, Lake Helen Mackenzie or Landslide Lake. The options up quickly once you realize how easy you can get to the alpine.
Hornby and Denman Islands
Located in the waters of the Comox Valley—between the mainland and Vancouver Island—these two pastoral islands enjoy great weather in the summer, and are prime for shoreline paddles around
their coasts. At the northern end of Denman, the sandy beaches of Tree Island stretch out at low tide, making a great spot to stop for lunch. On Hornby, the many beaches islets showcase wildlife like sea lions and eagles. Be sure to paddle the stunning shores of Helliwell Provincial Park, a jewel of the Salish Sea.
On the Pacific side of the Esowista Peninsula, Tofino has been a surfing hotspot for decades, but it’s on the inside where the paddling action happens. Clayoquot Sound is a maze of islands, waterways and remote beaches thriving with wildlife like bears, wolves and whales. Set against steep mountains and punctuated with freshwater river systems, Clayoquot offers a lot to the dedicated paddler. It is a huge area, so consider hiring a boat to deliver you and pick you up at the most alluring spots.
Campbell River Alpine
If you’ve got extra cash and an air for adventure, 49 North Helicopters out of Campbell River will accommodate a heli-assisted SUP paddle trip on the glaciers of the Vancouver Island Ranges. Fly around, pick a glacial lake and land right on the ice before inflating your SUP and paddling ice-cold water. Just don’t fall in.
Sayward Forest Canoe Route
North of Campbell River, one of the best canoe routes on Vancouver Island—if not the province—weaves in and out of 14 lakes. The Sayward Forest Canoe Route is 47 kilometres of paddling over 3 to 5 days. Begin at Gosling Bay on Campbell Lake and move in an oval circumnavigation of some of Northern Vancouver Island’s most remote and beautiful lakes. No fees, reservations or registration needed, plus mostly free camping along the route. Prepare for eight kilometres of portage.