Destinations Princess Loiusa Inlet

Destination | Princess Louisa Inlet

Friday, June 10, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

Disclaimer:  This blog article is not to be used for navigation.  It is purely an account of our personal experience in Princess Louisa Inlet, a remote wilderness location, during calm weather conditions.  There are no services or VHF reception and any boat that enters should be self-sufficient.

Malibu Rapids:        50°09.722 N, 123°51.176 W
Government Dock:    50°12.270 N, 123°46.153 W
MacDonald Island:    50°11.158 N, 123°48.222 W

One of the things we love the most about cruising in British Columbia is the number of glacial fjords and inlets there are to explore and the opportunity to travel into the coastal mountains . . . by boat.  It's a humbling experience and something we never tire of doing. And Princess Louisa Inlet, located off the Sunshine Coast, is arguably one of the best.

There are only two ways to visit Princess Louisa Inlet, by boat or by floatplane. For boats, all journeys begin along the 40-mile Jervis Inlet, one of the longest and deepest fjords in British Columbia where each bend in the waterway marks the start of a new reach: Prince of Wales, Princess Royal and Queens.

The scenery becomes more rugged with every mile travelled. The rounded mountain tops rise higher and higher and, as they do, morph into jagged points barren of life beyond the patches of snow that dot their peaks. Sadly, though, it's not pristine. Fish farms and evidence of heavy logging scar the shoreline, lessening the beauty of the inlet in our estimation. But Jervis Inlet isn't what people come to see, Princess Louisa Inlet is and it has healed since the days it was logged. Second-growth forests abound thanks to its park status and the only scarring you see today is from landslides.

At the head of the inlet lies Chatterbox Falls, the crown jewel of Princess Louisa Inlet. Dropping over 1,600 feet in a series of cascades down granite cliffs before making its finale in a wide rush of water at the shoreline, Chatterbox is surrounded by high, sheer cliffs and fills the bay with the thunderous sound of rushing water. Words to describe the beauty of this place, virtually untouched by man for decades, are hard to come by.  

Getting There

Once you've entered Prince of Wales Reach there are few opportunities to conveniently anchor in Jervis Inlet. But because of the time restrictions at Malibu Rapids, it may be necessary to break up the trip. The following are some options for anchoring we've tried over the years (excepting Egmont) with distances to the mouth of Malibu Rapids:

Approaching from the south:
  • Pender Harbour – 42 miles
  • Dark Cove (Jervis Inlet) – 28 miles
  • Harmony Islands (Hotham Sound, Jervis Inlet) – 33.5 miles
  • Egmont (Prince of Wales Reach, Jervis Inlet) – 35 miles
Approaching from the north:
  • Thunder Bay (Jervis Inlet) – 40 miles
  • Ballet Bay (Nelson Island, Jervis Inlet) – 42.7 miles
  • Hardy Island Marine Park (Hardy Island, Jervis Inlet) – 42 miles
  • Harmony Marine Park (Hotham Sound, Jervis Inlet) – 33.5 miles
  • Egmont (Prince of Wales Reach, Jervis Inlet) – 35 miles
  • Dark Cove (Prince of Wales Reach, Jervis Inlet) – 28 miles
Malibu Rapids

Princess Louisa Inlet is a short, narrow glacial fjord that breaks off to the northeast from Queens Reach. To enter, it's necessary to transit Malibu Rapids where currents can run up to nine knots, creating large overfalls in the narrow, winding channel. Entering at slack water is not only recommended, it's advisable. As is placing a securité call on VHF channel 16 beforehand to warn any opposing traffic Рthere's only enough room for one boat.

Timing your arrival is key and requires careful planning. We consult Candian Hydrographic Service, Volume 5 which uses Port Atkinson as a reference station (at the southern mouth of Howe Sound just north of Vancouver). According to CHS, high water slack at Malibu Rapids occurs 24 minutes after high water at Point Atkinson and low water slack takes place 36 minutes after low water at Point Atkinson (note: CHS publishes tidal and current information in Pacific Standard Time making it necessary to add an hour during Pacific Daylight Time periods).

Princess Louisa Inlet
Once Malibu Rapids is safely transited, the channel narrows and you're suddenly dwarfed by sheer granite walls that rise sharply from the sea and reach thousands of feet into the sky. It's a truly breathtaking experience, one that feels like stepping back in time. There are two options for staying overnight: MacDonald Island, mid-way down the inlet, or Chatterbox Falls at the head. It should be noted that there's no overnight moorage at Malibu Lodge.
MacDonald Island
If Chatterbox Falls is too busy for your tastes or there's no room at the dock, BC Parks has installed several mooring buoys to the northeast of MacDonald Island (approximately 2 miles beyond Malibu Rapids). A small section of land is included in the park boundaries, but some of the surrounding area is used as a satellite site for the Young Life Christian Camp and can be a noisy spot for those in search of solitude in a remote setting.

Chatterbox Falls

People from all over the world come to see Chatterbox Falls, one of British Columbia's most beautiful and accessible waterfalls. Some come by floatplane, others by tour boat, and others still by kayak but there's nothing like the experience of visiting in your own personal vessel. We were fortunate enough to spend a week there in late-September several years ago as a large frontal system passed over the area and had the place to ourselves for 24 glorious hours (along with our buddy-boat, Salubrious). The rain gives life to dozens of waterfalls throughout the basin and brings with it an ever-changing scene of low clouds and fog that showcase the many different moods of the inlet. It truly is magical and an experience worth having. 

The days pass quickly at Chatterbox Falls and our one piece of advice for anyone who plans to visit in the future is to allow plenty of time to fully enjoy the park. Facilities include a large floating dock where boaters can moor for up to three days. On shore, there's a picnic shelter and fire pit, two outhouses, several campsites and walking trails that lead to Chatterbox Falls. If you stay on the dock, be prepared to be social. Wandering cocktail hours are the norm and all part of the fun, particularly during the summer months when the dock is usually full. If you prefer to visit during quieter times, the flow of boats slows down considerably after the Pender Jazz Festival in mid-September and before the end of school in June. In our experience, morning arrivals are the best for finding a spot on the dock (leaving from Dark Cove helps accomplish this). If it's full, anchoring in front of Chatterbox Falls or stern-tying to shore is possible but the bottom is deep and steep-to, requiring extra care.

During one summer visit, it was so hot out that we kept cool by swimming in the shallow pools at the base of Chatterbox Falls but a (slightly) warmer option is available on the north side of the inlet in a small waterfall-fed pool hidden behind the trees. From the dock, you can see two large boulders covered in bird droppings. Make way for the larger one, land on the beach and follow the short trail up to the pools . . . and don't forget your shampoo!
Park Rules and Fees
There isn't a designated fee to use the facilities inside Princess Louisa Inlet, but the suggested donation to tie up to the dock is $20 per night and CA$10 to use a mooring. Donations benefit the Princess Louisa Preservation Society and are used to upkeep the services.
  • Generator use hours are from 9 to 11 am and 6 to 8 pm.
  • Quiet hours are from 11 pm to 7 am.
  • No boats over 18 metres (55 feet) on the dock.
  • No raw sewage discharge.
  • PLI is a designated Rock Fish Conservation Area. Hook and line fishing is prohibited. 
  • No wi-fi, no cellular, no VHF signal for weather information is available.
Trapper's Cabin
For those in search of strenuous exercise, there's a trail that leads to a collapsed cabin once belonging to a local trapper (how he managed to bring supplies up the mountain is beyond me). The trail is not maintained and primitive but well-marked with hot pink and orange ribbons and can be found just beyond the outhouses and park shed. This is bear country, so if you attempt the hike, it's important to be bear-aware.

The start of the trail to Trapper's Cabin. The signs don't lie. Several years ago, a man in his 20s attempted the trek, fell down, broke his leg and subsequently died. If you have any health problems, do NOT attempt this hike.

An old skid row (logs placed horizontally across the ground to allow easier dragging of fallen trees) starts the trail off. If you haven't seen one before, this is a good opportunity to do so.

With a gain of nearly 2000 feet in elevation over the course of a mile and a half, the trail is steep and can be very slippery, requiring extra care in many places. Oftentimes, the only way forward is to clamber up and down natural ladders formed by exposed tree roots. The hike will take three to four hours, depending on your level of fitness, but your hard work is rewarded with an incredible bird's-eye view down Princess Louisa Inlet and out into Queens Reach along with the remains of the trapper's cabin and a waterfall.

Malibu Lodge
If challenging hikes aren't quite your speed, you can take a dinghy trip up to Malibu Lodge, a Young Life Christian summer camp at Malibu Rapids. As you pull up to the dock, a volunteer staff member will greet you and take you on a tour of the facility while explaining some of its history. 

The lodge was originally built as a luxury resort in 1940 by Thomas Hamilton as an exclusive getaway but was closed the following year due to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It re-opened in 1945, catering to the Hollywood crowd and well-to-do families in search of privacy and isolation, including the likes of John Wayne who loved sailing in British Columbia. Due to its remote location and short season, the resort struggled financially and closed in 1950 after a polio quarantine and subsequent death two years prior.
In December of 1953, Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, bought the property as one of his premier summer camps for teens and it's been running as such ever since.

Other Things to Do
  • Kayak around the basin visiting Chatterbox and the surrounding waterfalls.
  • Walk to Chatterbox Falls.
  • Walk to the small waterfall (turn right instead of left at the second warning sign for the Trapper's Cabin hike).
  • Take a hike up to Trapper's Cabin where the view up Princess Louisa Inlet and out into Jervis Inlet is spectacular. Bears have been sighted in the area, be bear-aware.
  • Take a swim in the ocean (beware of Lions Mane Jellyfish).
  • Bath in the ice cold waterfalls.
  • Dinghy up to Malibu Lodge for a tour (and an ice cream).
  • Build a fire in the shelter's fire pit.
  • Throw out a hammock, sit back, relax and take in the view. Visit the bitter end of Jervis Inlet, Queens Reach, on your way up or down inlet.

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  1. Looks absolutely fabulous... and there's ice cream - what more could one want? 9 knots of current does sound terrifying though - I thought 2 was bad (and I know Matt didn't enjoy rowing against 1.2) - Lucy

  2. Transiting those rapids sounds tricky but well worth it. Do you guys carry bear spray with you when you go hiking?

    1. No. The best we have is an air horn. I hike alone so I keep a close eye out for signs of bear activity and make noise as I'm walking. So far so good but I never want to meet one on land!

  3. Such unbelievably beautiful surroundings! Enjoy the sights and keep on writing about them. I am delighted to be reading about your experiences and seeing the photos! Glad you are back out there.

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. We really are enjoying just mooching around without worrying about making head way. It's a nice change of pace from last season!