Planning a Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park kayak trip can be a bit confusing. There isn’t a huge amount of information out there unless you’re planning on doing a Desolation Sound kayak tour.
Luckily, we’d had some friends do similar trips the year before and so they could give us their tips! Once you’re in the area, it’s not as complicated as it seems when you’re looking at a map and trying to get your head around tides and winds, locations and distances.
If you’re planning a kayak trip in Desolation Sound, this guide should give you all the information you need to feel confident hitting the water! I’d also recommend getting this map of Desolation Sound to take with you.
About Kayaking Desolation Sound
Wondering where is Desolation Sound? Desolation Sound Marine Park is located between the BC mainland and Vancouver Island. Just off The Sunshine Coast near Powell River, the marine park offers relatively sheltered waters for an ocean and has many different paddle routes, camping options and beautiful locations to see.
The terrain is rugged and at times looks like something out of either Jurassic Park or Avatar.
Popular with yachts, sailboats, kayaks and canoe-ists, Desolation Sound is the ideal destination for a few relaxing days on the water.
We spent two nights camping on the Curme Islands in early June and were the only campers on the entire three islands. Despite the weather not being on our side, we still had a great time exploring by kayak and enjoying the peace and quiet of the area.
How to get to Desolation Sound by Kayak
There are two main launch points for reaching Desolation Sound by kayak. You can either put-in at Lund, or in the Okeover Arm at Powell River Sea Kayaks, or Okeover Arm Provincial Park.
Either way, you’re starting from the northern part of the Sunshine Coast. To get to Powell River or Lund you’ll need to catch two ferries if coming from Vancouver. Or one ferry if coming from Vancouver Island.
From Vancouver Island to Powell River, you need the Courtenay to Powell River ferry. And from Vancouver you’ll take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons then drive up the coast to Egmont and take a second ferry to Saltery Bay. From here it’s about an hours drive to either the Okeover Arm or Lund.
Since you’re most likely doing this Desolation Sound kayak in the summer, I strongly recommend booking your BC Ferries journey in advance. The ferries are busier than ever and it sucks having to sit at the terminal for several hours!
Desolation Sound from Lund
If you have your own kayak, putting-in from Lund may be the best option. The tiny town of Lund is super cute and has a few great restaurants and hotels for pre and post your kayak trip.
Plus, if you don’t quite want to go all the way to Desolation Sound, you can kayak to the Copeland Islands which are much closer to the mainland.
In Lund, there is a $5 fee per kayak to launch and another $5 for pick up ($10 total) which you leave in an honesty box.
There is pay and display parking near the marina which costs $10 for 24 hours. Alternatively you can park further from the marina at several other privately run parking lots for less.
Okeover Arm to Desolation Sound BC
Okeover Arm is on the eastern side of the Sunshine Coast about 20-30 minutes from Lund. Here, you can launch from the Government Whard at Okeover Arm harbour where there’s a small boat launch and dock.
Kayakers must pay $4 for a return trip launching/returning here. There’s also a free parking lot available for during your trip.
You can also camp near the boat launch before and after your trip at Okeover Arm Provincial Park. There are 14 first come first served camp spots here which cost $18 a night.
Renting Kayaks for Desolation Sound
We rented our kayak from Powell River Sea Kayaks. Their location is right on the ocean at Okeover Arm meaning we launched from that side.
We were able to leave our van in their parking lot during the duration of our stay and there was no additional charge for launching.
Desolation Sound Kayak rental prices from here seemed pretty reasonable and our double fibreglass kayak cost $380 for four days (we ended up bringing it back a day early because the weather was so bad during our trip!).
The kayak was in great condition, spacious enough for all the gear we wanted to take with us and we had a spare paddle and pump for excess water too.
If you’re renting a kayak from Powell River Sea Kayaks you’ll need to demonstrate that you know how to safely re-enter your kayak in case of capsizing. When we went, at least one person in every 4 needed to have some formal training for this.
We took a kayak re-entry course at Deep Cove in North Vancouver a few weeks beforehand that was not only useful but fun!
Desolation Sound Weather
The weather in Desolation Sound can be pretty hit and miss. Our friends were kayking during the 2021 Heat Dome in BC in temperatures above 30C whereas we were paddling in pouring rain and pretty chilly temps.
In general, July and August are fairly reliable with minimal rain and temperatures in the mid 20Cs.
When it comes to Desolation Sound water temperature, it’s renowned for its warm summer ocean temperatures, which can reach up to 24 degrees celsius in August!
In addition, though Desolation Sound is pretty sheltered, you’re still on the ocean and tides and wind can play a big part in the ease of your kayaking trip. You can be hit by high winds which, in some cases, can be dangerous to paddle in.
We had good mobile signal during our stay on the Curme Islands and so were able to keep up to date with the weather conditions. We planned our trip around the winds (using the Windy app) and tides to make paddling as easy as possible.
You should be prepared to make your trip longer or shorter according to weather conditions as paddling headstrong into the wind is not fun!
Paddling in the rain might not sound very fun but I would take that over the wind any day! Our trip was very, very wet and we’d picked up some cheap emergency ponchos to go over our rain jackets while kayaking. This kept the jackets (and us) much drier.
Once you’re under the kayak skirt and you’re paddling, the rain was fine. We stayed warm and your legs stay dry under the skirt. The only issue was you couldn’t always see much so you’ve got to have sharp eyes to stay safe and on the right trajectory.
Best Places to Visit in Desolation Sound Kayak Camping
There are lots of different places to visit within Desolation Sound Marine Park. Below is some information on the most popular areas and Desolation Sound kayak routes.
Our Desolation Sound map of our route can be seen below:
The Curme Islands are around 20km from the launch in Okeover Arm, it took us around 4 hours to paddle there in one go. They’re a fantastic places to base yourselves during your trip to Desolation Sound.
The three islands have plenty of tent pads and great views from all of them.
Though not strictly part of Desolation Sound Provincial Park, the Copeland Islands are a popular overnight or short kayak trip from Lund. On clear days you’ll get great views of Vancouver Island and there are some great wildlife spotting opportunities from here too.
There are numerous bays and coves that make great lunch spots!
It’s about an hour’s paddle from Lund to the Copeland Islands.
The marine access only boardwalk community of Refuge Cove is on the northern edge of Desolation Sound. There is a small shop and you can get more drinking water here if you’re running low.
The water around here is almost tropical and it’s even more sheltered so is typically quite calm. It’s a great destination to paddle to and from if you’re camping on the Curme Islands.
Desolation Sound Camping
You must camp in designated campgrounds in the Desolation Sound. There are park rangers going around from the Desolation Sound by boat and they will move you on.
We were kayaking around during the day just to take in the views and they came up to us to tell us we couldn’t camp in a bay when we were just watching the seals while bobbing about on the water.
They’re pretty on-it and I imagine you’d get a fine as well as being asked to move.
You must pay camping fees online through camping.BCParks.ca (select backcountry > backcountry registration and search Desolation Sound). Fees are $5 a night.
There are 11 Desolation Sound backcountry campgrounds which include campgrounds in the Copeland Islands and the Malaspina Provincial Parks. You must camp on the provided tent pads.
All camping areas have pit toilets. There is no fresh water some campgrounds have food caches (e.g. Tenedos Bay and Hare Point).
- The Curme Islands (south, west, east): This is perhaps the most popular destination for Desolation Sound Kayakers. There are lots of campsites to choose from spread over 3 separate islands, the views are great and it’s in a central location making it great as a base for day trips.
- Bold Head: This campsite is just across from the Curme Islands and would be great as a back up option if the Curmes are busy.
- Tenedos Bay: If its shade you need then Tenedos Bay is a great option. We stopped here to walk to the lake. There were sheltered tent pads, bear caches toilet and some hiking trails.
- Sarah Point & Feather Cove: These campgrounds are on the northern end of the Sunshine Coast but only accessible by the water.
- Hare Point & Grace Harbour: Hare Point was going to be our first night of camping after setting off from Powell River Sea Kayaks. We ended up going to the Curme’s in one go and stopped here for lunch on the way back. If you launch in the afternoon, hit wind or are with kids then this is a great half way point. The views here were great and the tent pads were nicely spaced out.
- North Copeland & Middle Copeland: If you’re heading to the Copelands instead, there are two campgrounds here to choose from. Friends who’ve been here loved the views!
What to Pack for a Kayaking Trip
For your kayaking trip you’ll need to pack:
- Drinking water (ideally enough for the whole trip unless you plan to filter)
- Dry Bags, small enough to fit inside the kayak. Multiple small ones is better than fewer large ones
- Sleeping bags
- Tent (+ tarp!)
- Sun cream, sunglasses, cap
- Sleeping mats
- Tide chart & weather forecast (can also get signal in most areas)
- Food & snacks
Other things to know about Desolation Sound kayaking
- Desolation Sound wildlife: There’s all kinds of wildlife in Desolation Sound. THere are black bears, grizzly bears, deer, whales, seas, sea stars, jellyfish and more! While we only saw seals and jelly fish, friends saw whales (from camp) and bears are present though not usually seen.
- Fresh water: Places to get fresh water are limited so you should take as much as you need for your trip. If you’re going for alonger time you can get water from Unwin Lake and Black Lake and then filter it using something like a Sawyer Squeeze. You can also get water at Refuge Cove.
- Best time to visit: The summer months are the best for the best Desolation Sound weather and longer days. They’re also the busiest with more motor boats and kayakers around. If you visit md-week you may find you’re the only people camping. aAt weekends you should still be able to find a spot but for weekends and, especially long weekends, it may be less stressful to pick a base campground and do day trips from there so you don’t worry about finding a spot every night.
- Fishing in Desolation Sound: The area has plenty of fresh shellfish that you can harvest though there are specific rules. You cannot fish for rockfish in much of the area due to the Rockfish Conservation Area. You should also check that there are no shellfish contamination warnings in palce and get a BC Tidal Waters License ($22).
Kayak Tours Desolation Sound
If the thought of heading into Desolation Sound by kayak is still nerve-wracking or you would prefer to be with a guide you can book several different types of tours, ranging in length, through Powell River Sea Kayaks. Some of their tours are even quite luxurious with ocean front hot tubs and glamping set ups!