Posts Tagged kayak camping

World-Class Kayak Camping in the Gulf Islands – Portland Island

Portland Island.

Portland Island.

Portland Island

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 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.

Surf landings at sunset courtesy BC Ferries boat wake at Arbutus Pt., Portland Island. Photo by Dave Barnes

Surf landings at sunset courtesy BC Ferries boat wake at Arbutus Pt., Portland Island.
Photo by Dave Barnes

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.

Bold broad daylight thieves on Portland Island. Hide your snacks well! Photo by Dave Barnes

Bold broad daylight thieves on Portland Island. Hide your snacks well!
Photo by Dave Barnes

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.

An taste of the Inuit at Arbutus Point, Portland Island BC. Photo by Dave Barnes

An taste of the Inuit at Arbutus Point, Portland Island BC.
Photo by Dave Barnes

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.

Shell Beach on Portland Island, one of 3 designated camping locations. Photo by Dave Barnes

Shell Beach on Portland Island, one of 3 designated camping locations.
Photo by Dave Barnes

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.

Some of the wildlife you may encounter on Portland include this curious Mink. Photo by Dave Barnes

Some of the wildlife you may encounter on Portland include this curious Mink.
Photo by Dave Barnes

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.


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Pacific Rim Beef Stew

Pacific Rim Beef Stew

On a cold evening or as an easy mid-day snack a bowl of soup on a camping trip or while kayaking can really hit the spot, and can be made at home ahead of time.

I love soups! While camping and kayak camping when your body is working overtime to keep you warm and fit the best way to refresh and revive yourself during the day or in the evening is with the simplest of meals, soup and stew. I have a fond remembrance of an afternoon, sunny and warm when I had done a fair bit of paddling and a soggy surf landing, then set up my camp. Though it was a mid-September afternoon and the sun was warm and good I was hungry and it would be hours before dinnertime. I found a small log and turned it into a kitchen with enough room for my single-burner stove, a pot of steaming veggie chili bubbling away on top. It was heaven and I sat watching the waves and the sparkling sea thoroughly scarfing down that pot of beans. It hit the spot, my mood improved and I was ready then for a hike up the beach.

The nice thing about soups and stews on a trip is that you don’t have to make them on the spot, thus removing the need to find extra room in already stuffed hatches, which is usually a bit of a miracle. Making soups at home not only frees up space in the kayak but also creates a refrigerator. These frozen packs placed with your fresher ingredients will help considerably to the long-lasting of those things. It will also keep that six-pack cold, yes, I knew it. Now I have your attention!

Here is a great basic and yummy stew recipe…

Pacific Rim Beef Stew

Makes 4 servings, cook time 1 – 2 hours


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 chuck steak, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 red onion, thickly sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup red wine

2 cups beef stock

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary,chopped

3 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped


At home:

In a large saucepan heat 1 tablespoon oil and add beef in batches over a medium heat. Cook until browned. Remove from pan. Heat remaining oil and add the onion, garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add beef and onion/garlic mixture to crock pot. Stir in red wine and remaining ingredients. Cook on low heat for one to two hours. Stir in coriander.

When cooled pour into Ziploc freezer bags.

This is excellent served over rice!

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Beach Pebbles

Small stone found on Vargas Island, BC photo by Dave Barnes

Small stone found on Vargas Island, BC
photo by Dave Barnes

Beach Pebbles


On my bookshelf I have a pile of stones. I have a jar with even more stones beside that pile. I have a box out in my workshop holding even more stones. All of which, found on kayaking journeys. I am a pack rat at heart, so there is little surprise that I horde pebbles and I can tell you where I found each and every one of them too. They carry energy from a kayaking trip home with me. They resonate.

I have a bunch of shells as well, but they will be left for another blog I am sure. For now, it is the humble pebble that I would like to direct your attention towards. They are everywhere! Not once have I landed my kayak and set up camp to find one, two or several stuck in the corners of my tent within a day or two. They get under, in and everywhere especially in the hollow space between my bare feet and sandal as I walk, and I must stop with each step to shake out the lumpy little bastards.

We make catwalk highways from logs and driftwood to walk upon on pebble beaches so as to avoid the discomfort. I swear, if I find one more in the bottom of my bowl, and not know how the heck it got there, I will go insane. I lift my kayak onto the car at the end of a journey and voila, the entire hull sounds like it is filled with marbles.

Why then do I collect them from the beaches on these trips if they are so troublesome a thing? Aren’t we all drawn to the things that are worst for us? I spent a lovely afternoon on Catala Island on the wild west side of Vancouver Island with my mates searching the pebbles. Our camp was made up of nothing but the little guys. Mother Nature’s gravel pit is the west side of that island and in the hot sun they warm up with the dampness trapped inches beneath. Nothing feels better than napping on sun-warmed pebbles. We collected our share that day. Mainly on the hunt for Jade, but all we came home with were just green stones, not Jade at all. No matter, we enjoyed every minute of laying face down, wading through them like sun=warmed lazy beached sea turtles.

Lying in my tent later that evening and there was pain from my left hip as I rolled over onto the pocket lumpy with stones. I pulled them out one by one, examining them individually. Deciding who makes the cut and who, who would get tossed out the vestibule of my tent, unworthy of the jar on the bookshelf.

So, for all you paddler folk out there with time on your hands when kayaking, I challenge you to a game. The next time you go paddling and stop somewhere for a break, as you sit eating your lunch lean over and find the pebble of your dreams. Pocket it. Then the next time you go out paddling, now this is the hard part. Take your beloved pebble with you and when you stop again for a break, this time drop your pebble and replace it with one better than the first. Good Luck!

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