Desolation Sound Destinations

The Best of Desolation Sound

Wednesday, June 22, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

Disclaimer:  This blog article is not to be used for navigation.  It is purely an account of our personal experience in and around the Desolation Sound area of British Columbia.

It seems ironic that Captain George Vancouver chose the name Desolation Sound for what's now one of British Columbia's busiest and largest marine parks. But in 1792, when Vancouver was surveying the Inside Passage, that's what he found – desolation. The scene is much different today, especially during the summer months when thousands of boaters visit the area to enjoy its protected anchorages, warm-water swimming, fresh-water lakes and mountain views. 

The actual park boundary lies to the west of Sarah Point, stopping just beyond Prideaux Haven, and follows along Lancelot Inlet. But there are dozens of other anchoring opportunities outside the park limits, equally as spectacular, that have come to be included in what's now recognized as "Desolation Sound". Many of them are well known, while others remain quiet retreats during the busy summer months.

Moving in a counter-clockwise direction from Sarah Point, the following are some of our favorites:

Grace Harbour, Desolation Sound Marine Park (50°02.49N, 124°45.40W)

Grace Harbour, located off Malspina Inlet, is fairly ordinary compared to others in the area, but it's our go-to anchorage in southern Desolation Sound when bad weather is on the way for two reasons: Good all-weather protection and excellent holding in mud. We rode out a series of storms there one September as a 970 Mb low moved over the Queen Charlottes producing 65 knot winds in Johnstone Strait and were very comfortable, seeing only 10 to 15 knots with gusts up to 20, while other boaters we spoke to later had suffered sleepless nights in Prideaux Haven and Melanie Cove.

The entrance is clear but narrows down to about 300 feet before opening into a large anchorage with plenty of swing room in depths of 2 to 10 metres (6 to 33 feet). Like most destinations in Desolation Sound, the sea water is warm enough for swimming right off the boat but, if you prefer fresh water, there's a half-mile trail at the head of the bay that leads to a lake, just make sure you're willing to share your space with garter snakes before taking a dip to cool off. If walking is more your speed, there's a trail that leads to Isabel Bay located at the head of the eastern finger of the main harbor. But be aware, black bears use the trail as well.

Isabel Bay, Desolation Sound Marine Park (50°3.15'N, 124°43.67'W)

Located along Lancelot Inlet and within the park boundaries, Isabel Bay is one of Desolation Sound's less popular anchorages, but we have no idea why. It has just as much, if not more, to offer than the others in the area – islets begging to be explored by kayak, tidepools, warm-water swimming, beautiful views of the Coast Mountains, a trail that leads to Grace Harbour (located along the western shoreline and marked with orange and pink ribbons) AND cell phone coverage. What more could you ask for?

The main anchorage is behind Madge Island (as seen in the photo) where the holding is good in rock and mud and there's protection from all wind directions (a stern line is required). But we prefer to anchor in the southwest corner of the bay or behind Polly Island where we can swing freely. It's somewhat open to the north, but the holding is good in rock and mud. You won't be alone in either location, but both offer plenty of peace and quiet even in the height of summer.

Prideaux Haven, Desolation Sound Marine Park (50°08.74'N, 124°41.03'W)

It's no exaggeration when I say Prideaux Haven is the most beautiful anchorage in the area, but it's also the busiest. So, if you prefer to avoid the crowds, it's best to visit before mid-June or after Labor Day weekend.

The entrance to the anchorage looks more difficult on paper than it is in reality: The channel is narrow but clear with depths of 5 metres (16 feet) at low tide. If you're still not convinced, follow the advice laid out in "A Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide: Desolation Sound" and line up with the park sign on Williams Islands before turning to starboard and entering between Lucy Point (Eveleigh Island) and the Oriel Rocks.

Once inside, there's plenty of room to anchor throughout the large bay with good holding in mud in depths of 6 to 18 metres (20 to 60 feet) and protection from all quadrants. Other options include Melanie and Laura Coves as well as several bights outside of Cobblestone and Roffey Islands, but check your charts carefully: The area is littered with underwater rocks.

It's not difficult to find ways to pass the time in Prideaux Haven with plenty of islets, lagoons and bays to explore by kayak or dinghy. In the summer, the water is warm enough for swimming, especially in the shallow lagoon located off Cobblestone Island. To stretch your legs, there's a mile long trail from the head of Melanie Cove to Laura Cove that was originally blazed by the famous hermits of Prideaux Haven. And, as an added bonus, there's cell phone coverage inside the anchorage.

Roscoe Bay Marine Park, West Redonda Island (50°09.69'N, 124°45.45W)

Roscoe Bay is a yet another beautiful, undeveloped provincial marine park located at the southeastern side of West Redonda Island, offering views out to Waddington Channel and Mount Addenbroke. The anchorage itself offers good protection from all directions, though we've been told by people with local knowledge that southeasterlies can make it uncomfortable and dangerous at times. The holding is good in mud with depths of 4 to 10 metres (13 to 33 feet), but we have been there when boats have dragged – a result of poor anchoring rather than the conditions.

The entrance to Roscoe Bay, which dries at zero tide, is narrow. But, if you time your arrival with a rising tide and according to your boat's draft while favouring the south shore slightly, it's fairly straight-forward with an average depth of 3.5 metres (12 feet) at high water. Once inside, you'll find plenty to do. A short trail at the head of the bay leads to Black Lake. Follow it beyond the kayak launching point, continue up the hill and take the first trail on the left to the bathing rocks for a fresh-water swim. If you have a kayak, portage it the short distance to the lake for a paddle around – you won't be disappointed. Or if walking is your thing, the trail continues and runs through rainforest to a lookout of the lake (with obstructed views). 

For a more strenuous hike, there's a trail that leads to the top of Llanover Mountain located on the northern side of the anchorage (just west of the grassy knoll) near the information board (make sure to take the time to read about the thousands of moon jellies that make Roscoe Bay their home). The trail is approximately four miles long, all uphill, but the view from the top is worth the effort (that's 8 miles total).

If you're running low, someone has piped water in from one of the streams. The hose is attached to a boat fender along the northern shore near a small waterfall. Avoid taking water after a heavy rainfall and always boil it before drinking.

Walsh Cove Marine Park, West Redonda Island (50°15.98'N, 124°48.14'W)

Located on the northeast side of West Redonda Island, Walsh Cove Marine Park is a sheltered, picturesque spot and a good opportunity to escape the more crowded anchorages of Desolation Sound. It's also an excellent place to launch a kayak and paddle around. The Gorges Islets are interesting to explore and, if you circumnavigate, offer a beautiful view out to the coastal mountains along Waddington Channel. And don't forget to look for the ancient pictographs (rock paintings) located on Butler Point – they're the best in the area.

To enter, approach from the south between West Redonda and Bluff Point (Gorges Islets). We've seen boats go through False Passage at high water but don't recommend this approach because of underwater rocks (which are visible at low tide). The anchorage itself is deep and steep-sided, so most people anchor along West Redonda Island or Gorges Islets with a stern line tied to shore, but we prefer to drop down in the middle so we can swing freely. Depths range from 5 to 25 metres (16 to 82 feet) and the holding is fair to good in rock. The anchorage is open to the south, but offers protection from the northern quadrant. However, outflow winds from Toba Inlet impact the area.

Unfortunately, Walsh Cove isn't well-charted and cruising guides offer little additional help. The Canadian chart book 3312 has no detail, neither does our primary chartplotter, CMap (which is a commercial program). And Navionics has the information all wrong, listing depths of 10 metres (33 feet) in areas where there's approximately 20 metres of water (66 feet) and 5 metres (16 feet) for 10 metres (33 feet) (though all three show the general contour of the anchorage).

Teakerne Arm Marine Park, West Redonda Island (50°11.12'N, 124°51.37'W)

Teakerne Arm has two must-see attractions: the best fresh-water lake in the Desolation Sound area and a 100-foot waterfall, both located in the northern arm.

Temporary anchorage can be found along the northwest shore in depths of 10 to 20 metres (33 to 66 feet) or near Cassel Falls. A stern line is required in either location, and there are eyebolts located throughout the anchorage for this purpose. The holding is only fair in rock and boats are subject to winds that can wrap around the northern point and funnel down the inlet. For better protection, anchor in the southern arm where the holding is fair in rock in depths of 5 to 7.5 metres (16 to 25 feet) (a stern line is required). Two nooks along the northern shore, called "Good Sex Cove" and "Great Sex Cove" by locals, offer the best shelter from northwesterly winds. But be advised, the area has been heavily logged in the past and we've fouled our anchor on old logging cables more than once.

To access the lake, take the dinghy to the park dock that sits at the eastern end of the northern arm. There you'll find a short trail that leads to the top of Cassel Falls and continues on to the lake. There's some rock scrambling involved, so it's a good idea not to wear shoes that can easily fall off your feet.

Von Donop Inlet, Cortes Island (50°11.06 N, 124°58.95 W)

Because of its long, narrow, twisting shape, Von Donop Inlet (Hàthayim Provincial Marine Park) on the northwest side of Cortes Island is a veritable hurricane hole and the best protected anchorage in the entire area. It can be blowing a gale just outside, and you'd never know it because very little wind is able to find its way inside.

The entrance shoals down to less than 2 metres (6.5 feet) at its narrowest point, and there's a rock mid-channel about half way through which can be seen at low tide. When approaching, favour the southwest side and keep the rock to port. Note: There's a saltwater lagoon in the northeast corner of the inlet that pushes a lot of current into the main channel, particularly during mid-tides.

There are several bights and coves along the 3-mile inlet that make good anchorages, but the best (and most popular) is at the head where there's plenty of swing-room and access to the park's hiking trails. The holding is good in mud throughout the inlet in depths of 4 to 12 metres (13 to 40 feet).

Access to hiking trails* can be found along the eastern shore at the head of the basin. The trails are located just beyond the outhouse and are unmarked, making things a little confusing. If you take the trail on the right, it eventually leads to an old fishery and the main road. If you turn left and continue walking another mile or so, you'll end up at Squirrel Cove where there's a general store and restaurant. The trail to the left leads to the lagoon. The lagoon can also be explored by dingy or kayak, but the entrance becomes a waterfall as its ebbing and entering and exiting (neither of which we've done) is recommended at high-water slack.

*There are aggressive wolves in the area that also use the trails.

Carrington Bay, Cortes Island (50°08.80', 125°01.00'W)

Carrington Bay is purely Cortes Island: It's beautiful, quirky, eccentric, natural, and off the beaten path all at the same time. Best known for its annual end-of-the-summer party in August when hundreds of people converge on the provincial recreational reserve by boat and by trail to spend the weekend reliving Woodstock at some basic level – local residents have even built a permanent stage for performers and their equipment that sits to the west of the lagoon rapids. 

It's possible to enter the bay on either side of Jane Islet, but the southern route is wider with fewer obstructions. Anchorage can be found behind Jane Islet, the unnamed islets to the southeast, or at the head of the bay in depths of 8 to 12 metres (26 to 40 feet). The holding is fair in rock and mud. Considered to be a fair-weather anchorage, the bay is somewhat open to prevailing northwesterlies, though protection can be found behind Jane Islet and the unnamed islets to the southeast.   

Carrington Bay is a quiet anchorage with a lot to offer: The rapids protecting the lagoon at the head of the bay are worth the visit alone. If you have a kayak, you can easily portage it across to explore. And there are several well-maintained and marked trails to hike along if the mood strikes you (look for the map at the trail head south of the stage area).

Rebecca Spit Marine Park, Quadra Island (50°06.34N, 125°12.00W)

Rebecca Spit Marine Park was a favourite of our dog, Sally (who sadly passed away in June of 2014), so it's a special place for us and we go back every year. With beautiful views out to the coastal mountains, it's the quintessential Pacific Northwest beach with a gently sloping shoreline piled high with driftwood and granite rocks. There are walking trails that travel one end of the spit to the other and beyond through the protection of 300 year-old cedar trees, a large grass field for kicking a ball around or lounging, and picnic tables with fire pits lining the shore.

Entrance to the anchorage is straight-forward, but it shallows up quickly close to shore. The holding is fair to good in hard sand and gravel with depths of 2 to 20 metres (6 to 66 feet). Protection from the northwest can be found throughout the park with southerly protection at the head of Drew Harbour. But whether the wind is coming from the north or the south, if it's really blowing, it can get lumpy in there.

The nearby Heriot Bay Inn (by the ferry terminal) has a garbage dump (for a fee), propane, fuel, a restaurant and a pub (all good food), laundry and moorage. There's a popular hamburger stand just up from the public wharf, a TruValue grocery store on the corner of Heriot Bay Road (David swears by their cream puffs), a BC Liquor Outlet and post office. If you need to buy more provisions than you can carry, someone from the store will drive you back to Heriot Bay.

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  1. I'm surprised the water gets warm enough to swim in. For some reason, I had in my head that the waters never warmed up sufficiently.

    1. In Desolation Sound the water runs around 70 to 77 degrees during the height of the summer because of the limited tidal flush, but I don't swim here -- too many jelly fish in the water!

    2. We're in Laura cove now (next to Prideux Haven) and the water is 75. A bit chilling but perfect for cooling off in the 80 degree weather. Grace Harbor yesterday was 72 water, but an even hotter air temp.

      No jelly fish in Laura cove. Saw 1 in Grace but not the bad kind.

  2. You are giving such great information and overviews that you should get paid for your articles! :-) Wish I was going to cruise in Desolation Sound!

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. I've written a few articles for a local online magazine and was going to sell them this one but decided to keep it in the end.

  3. We've just returned from Desolation and did a lot of swimming- very few jelly fish to be seen (I don't swim with them either!) you've added a few new areas to explore next time- Walsh sounds heavenly- we spent a day in Laura cove- the rope swing made it worthwhile but so packed! Thanks for the beautiful pics and great descriptions!

    1. You'll love Walsh Cove. It still gets busy in the height of the summer but it's quieter than anchorages like Laura Cove.