Vancouver Island is a world-class kayak touring destination, with options available to satisfy every type of paddler. The island is located off the coast of British Columbia, with easy ferry access from Vancouver and Washington state—but it feels like a world apart. Kayaking excursions on Vancouver Island include encounters with whales, sea lions, seals and bears; exploring coastlines with stunning wilderness beaches; threading through picturesque islands with near-Mediterranean climates; and jaw-dropping views of snow-capped mountains. You could spend a lifetime paddling here.
Our ultimate guide to the best kayaking on Vancouver Island includes something for everyone, ranging from beginner-friendly day trips on sheltered water and luxe overnight guided glamping trips, to expeditions in some of the most challenging coastal environments on the planet. You’ll also discover great kayak fishing, amazing kayak camping and so much more. Read on to discover the best sea kayaking on Vancouver Island.
[This article is part of our 7 Adventurous Things To Do On Vancouver Island Paddlers Will Love series. Read more about the varied attractions and stunning scenic beauty of Canada’s Pacific Coast.]
Best Places to Kayak on Vancouver Island
From Victoria to Tofino, to the Gulf Islands and more, here’s our list of the best kayak tours on Vancouver Island.
Kayaking in Victoria
Victoria is located on the doorstep of the scenic Gulf Islands, one of the best places to kayak on Vancouver Island. You’ll find day trips and multi-day tours, with stunning seascapes and a pleasant climate. Here’s a sample of kayak trips.
Oak Bay Shoreline Tour
Local outfitter Ocean River Sports offers a variety of kayak day tours in the Victoria area. The half-day Oak Bay Shoreline Tour combines sheltered water with abundant marine life (including harbour seals and otters) and outstanding views of the Gulf Islands and Mount Baker, as you discover the waterfront of British Columbia’s capital city. Suitable for beginners and families; all equipment is provided. Ocean River Sports also provides sea kayak rentals for Victoria and the Gulf Island kayak tours, with several locations.
Gulf Islands Explorer
From its base in the heart of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Adventures offers all-inclusive kayak tours in southern Vancouver Island. Sign up for the four-, five- or six-day Gulf Islands Explorer tour, which takes in the best of the Gulf Islands National Park, including Prevost Island, before venturing to Wallace, Valdes, Thetis islands and more. You’ll receive instruction on how to predict tidal currents and experience a diverse range of marine life—everything from sea stars to sea lions. The company also offers rental kayaks and route information for DIY adventures.
Kayaking in Tofino
Located in the heart of the wild Pacific Ocean coast, the town of Tofino is the starting point for some of the best kayaking on Vancouver Island. We’ve created a standalone list of the best kayaking in Tofino, but here are a few examples of day trips to whet your appetite for this great kayak destination.
Meares Island Day Trip
This all-inclusive, beginner-friendly, four-hour Tofino kayak tour includes encounters with marine life and a hike through the towering old-growth cedar forest of Meares Island. Local guides will share their knowledge of the area and provide an immersive experience in one of Canada’s wildest destinations. Tofino Kayaking also provides rentals, route planning and accommodations for paddlers.
Discover Clayoquot Sound
Venture into the Pacific Ocean waters off of Tofino with Paddle West Kayaking to explore the islands and inlets of Clayoquot Sound on a six-hour, all-inclusive day tour. Depending on conditions, you’ll visit the immense sand beaches of Vargas Island or trace the intimate, rainforest-clad waters of Lemmens Inlet, with spectacular views of the mountains. Suitable for all levels of paddlers, this is a Vancouver Island kayak tour you’ll never forget.
Tofino Bear Watching by Kayak
On this unique guided Tofino kayak tour you’ll travel aboard a mothership to the tidal beaches of Clayoquot Sound. Then you’ll launch in kayaks with a naturalist guide to observe black bears feeding along the shoreline. The half-day tour will leave you mesmerized with the wild nature of Vancouver Island.
Kayaking the Broken Group Islands
For intermediate paddlers looking to challenge themselves on the open coast there’s no better Vancouver Island destination than kayaking the Broken Group Islands. Here’s an overview of kayak touring options.
Five Days in the Broken Group
Experience a stunning collection of wilderness islands with rich cultural heritage and amazing marine life on this five-day guided kayak tour. You’ll enjoy experienced guides and great backcountry meals on this tour, which includes a water taxi to start and finish. You may encounter a wide range of wildlife, including gray whales, sea lions and over 200 species of shorebirds. Book now for this popular Vancouver Island kayak tour.
Broken Group Self-Support
Experienced paddlers can access the Broken Group archipelago from the Toquaht Bay launch (via Port Alberni, Highway 4 and a Forest Service road, about 12 km east of the junction of the roads to Tofino and Ucluelet). Check the marine weather in advance before attempting the 8 km crossing of the Loudoun Channel to Hand Island, where you’ll find the first of eight campsites in the Broken Group. Relatively short crossings and spectacular sand and shell beach campsites make the Broken Group a fantastic location for base camping. Freshwater is sporadic, so bring your own water. Backcountry camping permits are required.
The islands and channels at the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island are amongst the best places in the world to encounter orca whales. The community of Telegraph Cove, located 345 km north of Nanaimo, is the starting point for do-it-yourself trippers. Wilderness kayak trips ranging from three to 14 days are possible from this launch site.
Because of strong currents and open water, novice and intermediate kayakers are advised to sign up for a guided Johnstone Strait kayak tour, like the Johnstone Strait Ultimate—a four-day glamping kayak trip with the experts at Spirit of the West Adventures. This all-inclusive adventure starts with a water taxi up the Inside Passage from the company’s base on Quadra Island. The company’s base camp is in the heart of whale territory, and features luxe canvas tents and a hot tub by the ocean’s edge. Book your trip online.
Quadra Island Kayaking
This large island between central Vancouver Island and the mainland British Columbia coast features great sea kayaking in the heart of the Discovery Islands. Your starting point is Heriot Bay, a short ferry ride from the Vancouver Island city of Campbell River. Paddling here is best suited for intermediate and advanced kayakers who have experience in tidal currents; many of the narrow channels are subject to extreme flows.
If you’re looking for a guided trip, check out Wild Coast Adventures’ six-day Discovery Islands Expedition, which departs from the company’s base on Quadra Island near the BC Ferry terminal. You can reserve a spot online for this great Vancouver Island kayak trip.
For a base camp experience, check out the Discovery Islands Lodge on Quadra Island. The company provides waterfront B&B accommodations, guided single and multi-day trips and kayak rentals.
Kayaking Pacific Rim National Park
Pacific Rim National Park is an excellent spot to kayak on Vancouver Island. The park encompasses the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound (see above for route information), as well as a 40-km stretch of open coast between Tofino and Ucluelet. Expect plenty of surf along the open coast, particularly south of Tofino—a definite attraction for advanced surf kayakers. Similar conditions exist south of Barkley Sound, along a rugged coastline paralleling the West Coast Trail backpacking route.
Kayak Clayoquot Sound
Clayoquot Sound is located midway along the west coast of Vancouver Island, accessible via the town of Tofino. With countless islands, spectacular sand beaches, marine wildlife and some of the tallest trees in British Columbia, it’s one of the best spots to kayak on Vancouver Island. Read more about this amazing paddling destination in our Kayak Tofino article.
Beaches and Rainforests: The Best of Clayoquot Sound
This three-day Vancouver Island kayak tour, organized and guided by the experts at Hello Nature, explores magical Clayoquot Sound. You’ll encounter towering Sitka spruce forests and some of the finest beaches on the West Coast, while enjoying expert leadership from trained naturalist sea kayak guides. Meals and kayak rentals are included; the tour starts and ends in the town of Tofino. Book your trip online.
Hot Springs Cove
Another great Vancouver Island kayak route heads north from Tofino, through the islands of Clayoquot Sound to Hot Springs Cove. There are several variants to this trip, depending on your skill and experience in paddling the open coast. Expert paddlers will revel in testing their skills on the coast of Flores Island, which features tidal currents and exposure to large swells; intermediates can follow the more sheltered channels on the inside of the island. Regardless, your reward is a soak in a natural hot spring. Plan on a seven-day tour.
Kayaking Around Vancouver Island
Kayaking around Vancouver Island is a dream trip for many sea kayakers, who are captivated by the idea of a single expedition to experience all of the best spots on Vancouver Island. The feat has been accomplished by numerous expert, long-distance sea kayakers—typically in journeys spanning a month or more. However, a small cadre of speed freaks have attempted to set records for completing the 1,200-km trip as fast as possible. Currently, the mark is held by Victoria native Russell Henry, who made the trip in just under 13 days in 2014.
Kayak from Vancouver to Vancouver Island
Kayaking from Vancouver to Vancouver Island is a challenge to be attempted by only the most experienced paddlers. The crossing measures about 35 km and is influenced by tidal currents and huge exposure to strong winds, with the potential for large waves and confused seas. Plenty of boat traffic, ranging from ferries to pleasure craft and container ships, further increases the level of difficulty. A better option for most paddlers is to take the ferry to Vancouver Island; several options depart Metro Vancouver from Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen.
Kayak Wildlife Viewing on Vancouver Island
Best Kayaking Tours to Paddle with Orcas and Whales
The chance to paddle with the leviathans of the sea—including Orcas, humpback-, gray and other types of whales—is one of the greatest sea kayaking highlights of Vancouver Island. Especially around the island’s northeastern tip, in the Johnstone Strait near Telegraph Cove, you’ll discover excellent opportunities for close encounters on the water with these marine mammals. Signing up for a guided trip is a great way to learn more about the coastal ecosystem—just be sure to go with a reputable outfitter with leaders accredited by the Sea Kayak Guides’ Alliance of BC and a solid record of following the rules for paddling in a sensitive environment.
Whales and Wilderness Glamping
Spirit of the West Adventures blends amazing whale-watching with luxurious camping on their four-day guided sea kayak tour in Blackfish Sound. You’ll base camp on Swanson Island, paddling by day and returning to 10-by-12-foot canvas tents, complete with hot showers and a wood-fired hot tub, in the evenings. The area is home to remarkable biodiversity, including humpback and Orca whales. Reserve your trip online.
Kayak With the Orcas
This guided six-day kayak tour with Sea to Sky Expeditions explores the Johnstone Strait, one of the best places in the world to encounter Orca whales. Tours are scheduled for the prime times to see pods of whales, which gather to rub on gravel beaches and hunt for fish in open waters. Depending on weather conditions, you will travel each day, enjoying gourmet wilderness cuisine and camping on remote islands. Call 1-800-990-8735 to book your trip.
Where to kayak and see bears on Vancouver Island?
Besides marine life, northern Vancouver Island is a great destination to kayak and see bears. Wild Coast Adventures offers a guided seven-day whales and bears kayak tour in Johnstone Strait, featuring amazing wildlife viewing and base-camp glamping in comfortable canvas tents—with a hot tub and sauna. In September you have a chance of seeing black bears and grizzlies; you’ll target the best kayak bear-viewing locations on Vancouver Island with local Indigenous people. Book your trip online.
Kayak Fishing on Vancouver Island
You need not be a diehard kayak angler to reap the rewards of kayak fishing on Vancouver Island. Most of the routes described will yield bountiful catches of rockfish and lingcod, as well as halibut and a variety of salmon. If you wish to fish, be sure to purchase a recreational license from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and review specific regulations and closures in the area you are visiting.
Looking for a guided kayak fishing trip on Vancouver Island? Sign up for West Coast Expeditions’ Sea Kayak Fishing Tour in Kyuquot Sound, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. This five-day, base-camp wilderness trip is perfect for aspiring kayak anglers with expert guidance and instruction—focusing on feisty Chinook salmon.
Discover the best sea kayak destinations on Vancouver Island. | Photo courtesy of: Destination BC // Boomer Jerritt