Kayaking & canoeing
Visiting Gulf Islands National Park Reserve will be different than previous years. Be prepared, and know what is open and closed before you go.
An ideal paddling location, the Gulf Islands are one of the most beautiful and accessible archipelagos in the world. Distances are short, scenery is varied, campsites are numerous and, despite the close proximity, civilization seems worlds away. Add the chance to see killer whales, bald eagles, seals, sea lions and otters, and you have the makings for a grand wildlife outing while barely leaving your launch site.
Choose your trip:
- From easy to challenging waters.
- Various day and overnight trip and accommodation options.
- Guided kayak tours are available in the park. Kayak rental outfitters are also plentiful in the region. View the list of licensed business operators.
- Search local kayaking websites and/or guide books to find suggested itineraries based on your level of skill. The BC Marine Trails Network is a great resource for paddlers and includes all current park information.
- Discover your adventure and check out the park’s Top 10 Experiences.
The park offers 10 backcountry camping areas with approximately 100 backcountry camp sites across eight different islands. Seven camping areas are accessible by water only. Click here to download suggested kayak launch and parking locations (PDF, 133 KB).
Check out our Visitor Guide to learn more about park facilities including locations and operating dates.
When preparing for your paddling trip, ensure that you have all the safety equipment d and kayaking gear required. Here are some items you might consider packing:
- Plenty of water – Potable water is only available at car camping locations.
- Garbage bags – Garbage facilities at car campgrounds only.
- Lifejacket and gloves
- Sunscreen, sun glasses, hat and long sleeve shirt
- Nautical charts, compass and GPS (in a waterproof case)
- Rain gear and polypropylene or fast- dry clothing and/or wet/dry suits
- Means of communications (VHF radio, cell phone)
- First aid kit
- Pocket knife
- Duct tape
Make sure to check the Important Bulletins for closures and public safety alerts before you leave home.
When visiting Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, you are in an area where rescue services and medical assistance may take time to reach you in case of an emergency. Ensure that you have the level of training and experience necessary to take responsibility for your safety.
Sea kayaking and canoeing are risky activities. Some safety tips include:
- Ensure you are trained in sea kayaking techniques (including but not limited to rolls, rescues, tides and navigation) and that you are properly equipped before setting out. If not, consider booking a tour with a certified kayaking guide.
- Marine weather and sea conditions can vary dramatically. Check weather forecasts and tide tables before heading out.
- Use extreme caution when travelling strong tidal currents, particularly in the following areas:
- Boat Pass (between Samuel and Saturna Islands)
- Active Pass (between Galiano and Mayne Islands)
- Waters off of East Point (Saturna Island)
- Dress warmly.
- Yield to larger vessels. Recreational boat traffic is high in peak season (May-September), and commercial freighters and passenger ferries are common in all seasons. Choose bright colours (e.g., lifejacket and kayak) for visibility.
- All marine vessels are subject to the Small Vessel Regulations and the Collision Regulations made under the Canada Shipping Act.
- Learn first aid skills and know how to obtain help. Carry a marine VHF radio and monitor weather conditions regularly (VHF radio broadcasts). Keep signalling devices close in case of sudden emergency. Familiarize yourself with cold water conditions and signs of hypothermia.
- Kayak or canoe with a partner and let someone know where you are going and when you are planning to return.
Obtain emergency contact information and learn more about Visitor Safety at Gulf Islands National Park.
- A permit is required for all custodial groups* kayaking and/or canoeing in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve’s marine waters. Restrictions have been implemented for this activity, please contact the park reserve prior to arrival for information and appropriate permits. *A custodial group means a group affiliated with an institution, where at least one person is below the age of majority and is unaccompanied by his/her parent or guardian.
- Respect closures for Special Preservation Areas, including Sidney Spit Lagoon and park islets. Stay at least 100 metres from islets – they are important and rare habitat for nesting seabirds and marine mammals.
- Respect marine wildlife viewing guidelines and stay at least 100 metres from marine life.
- Be aware of the 2021 management measures to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales:
- Stay 400 metres away from killer whales when visiting Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. It’s the law.
- Do not enter Interim Sanctuary Zones off the east coast of Saturna Island or south-west of North Pender Island.
- In effect from June 1 to November 30.
- No fishing or boating in interim sanctuary zones.
- Human-powered vessels (kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards, etc.) may use a 20 metre transit corridor along the coast.
- Be Whale Wise. For more information on the best ways to help whales while on the water, please visit bewhalewise.org
"Leave No Trace™" principles promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation and stewardship. Learn more about Leave no Trace™ in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.