Kayaking in the southern Gulf Islands gives the paddler access to abundant wildlife, and relatively sheltered waters in which to dip you paddles, as well as some of the best camping by kayak British Columbia has to offer. The task at hand is where to start. Living on Salt Spring Island the entirety of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is my backyard and I never take it for granted. It is from Salt Spring Island that I will take you on a tour over the next few blog posts to some of the best of the best camping locations within an easy day paddle.
First of all, getting to Salt Spring means taking a ferry. Check the BC ferries website at www.bcferries.com for schedules to one of the three routes to the island. Launching can be done from a number of locations on the island but for this trip to Portland Island I will give you two options. A short hop from Fulford Harbour, or a longer paddle leaving from the town of Ganges, which will give you more time on the water.
For those of you with some gumption and the desire for a longer day I suggest you launch from Ganges Harbour. Ganges is the centre of commerce on the island. The local kayaking outfitter, Island Escapades where you can grab any bits of gear you need and even rent a kayak if you forgot to bring one is right next to the best launch spot in town. Outside the shop is a sandy beach that becomes a rather formidably long walk as at lower tides when it becomes a mudflat. A higher tide launching time is highly suggested here. Parking is available easy access to the beach. From Ganges to Beaver Point in Ruckle Park takes 2-3 hours of smooth paddling up Captain Passage. Keep in mind that there is frequent boat and ferry traffic through here especially in the summer months. You can cross from Ruckle Park to Portland but a few more paddle strokes will get you around the corner to Eleanor Point and a shorter crossing. Again, watch for ferries coming in and out of Swartz Bay. Monitor VHF Channel 11 and check the schedules. When the coast is clear make your crossing to Arbutus Point.
This is one of three designated camping areas on Portland Island. It is one of the best in my opinion as it is a more wilderness setting with views of the outer islands and beyond. A splendid stretch of beach and cozy camping under Arbutus trees is what you will find here, but as with all the camping spots on the island, be watchful and mindful of the locals, namely raccoons! They are bold to say the least. Hang your food or seal it tight in your kayak hatches.
If you are wanting a shorter paddle day the best place to put in is at Fulford Harbour at the south end of Salt Spring Island. Fulford Village offers good places to eat and the Mercantile where you can grab some interesting snacks for your trip. Across the harbour drive up Isabella Point Rd until you come across an obvious place to launch your kayak. This is Hamilton Beach. Parking on the road is limited but from here the crossing will take you just over an hour to Portland. Paddle across the harbour watching for the Skeena Queen ferry and make your way to Russel Island. A crushed shell beach makes for a nice spot to stretch your legs before committing to the crossing.
From Russel head towards Kanaka Bluff and the marker there. It is a good reference point. Again, mindful of ferry traffic the crossing is less than half and hour in calm conditions. Shell Beach is the next available camp area on the island offering a flat grassy patch with views of Salt Spring’s southern shores and mountains. Brackman Island adjacent to the beach is private. If this beach is not to your liking and watching ferries going by is not your style then head around the corner to Princess Bay where you will find another easy beach to land upon and more flat ground for your tent. Each of the three camp spots offer picnic tables and outhouse facilities.
No matter where you land and camp on Portland Island you will have access to the island’s hiking trails that circumnavigate the entire shoreline with crisscrossing paths linking all sites. The trail is a real highlight and I have hiked it often. Spend some time at the shoreline that varies between rocky to mossy and even sandy! The hike takes a few hours to accomplish but well worth it.
Kayaking day trips from Portland abound with numerous islets and islands to explore including Moresby Island, Piers Island, and Sidney Spit.
Things to remember when planning a trip to Portland. Camping fees apply and as of this post were under $5 per person per night. Bring your own fresh water, rope to hang your food safely away from the critters, and a camera because you’ll need it! As an overnighter, or a weekend outing Portland Island is a gem of the Gulf Islands and I might see you there.