Remote Camping in Haida Gwaii

August 27, 2014 Updated: August 27, 2014
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A true British Columbia adventure is a remote camping trip on some of our land’s most serene and secluded beaches, forests or mountains. I am talking about authentic, backwoods, sleep-under-the-stars camping – plugged-in, home-away-from-home RV settlements do not qualify.

Over the years, I have been on many camping trips, some very remote, some not so remote, but always an adventure to remember. One journey in particular is forever stamped in my mind, and that is a summer road trip to mystical Haida Gwaii, BC’s pristine northern archipelago that is visited by few but treasured by many.

View outside the Haida Heritage Centre (Karen Neoh, MyDestination.com)
View outside the Haida Heritage Centre (Karen Neoh, MyDestination.com)

A road trip to Haida Gwaii is ambitious. It is possible to fly, but more fun to drive. We travelled all the way from the Lower Mainland, stopped in Terrace for a multi-day layover to visit friends, and finally headed on to Prince Rupert to catch the seven-hour ferry ride eventually landing us in Skidegate.

Tip: Avoid missing the ferry by making sure your vehicle’s gas tank is full before arriving in the ferry lineup. A lesson so obvious, yet more easily overlooked than one would think…

We toured the islands of Haida Gwaii for two weeks, constructing camp at opposite ends of the island each for a week. Remote camping is not for everyone, and for the sake of your own enjoyment, there are prerequisites that must be considered before embarking on such an expedition:

  • Must be prepared to forgo showers
  • Must be comfortable using rustic outhouses (if you are even fortunate enough to find a campsite with an outhouse)
  • Must be respectful and aware of wildlife
  • Must know how to make cowboy coffee
  • Must have a smile on your face rain or shine (that is what tarps are for!)

If this does not sound like your cup of cowboy coffee, stick to the RV rental. However, if you think you can handle it, wilderness camping provides an escape from the stress and noise of the city, and an opportunity to be a part of BC nature instead of living idly inside its boundaries.

Haida Gwaii is the utmost wilderness getaway. Each clear night amongst the islands welcomes unpolluted views of the stars, the Milky Way or, if you are lucky, the northern lights. The sound of the Pacific Ocean lapping feet away from your tent engulfs you into peace and simplicity every evening. Fresh seafood picked from of the beach or reeled in from the waters and roasted over a crackling campfire is a daily delicacy. For these reasons and more, Haida Gwaii is a beautiful place to learn, explore and spend uninterrupted moments with family and friends.

Windy Bay rainforest (Sam Beebe, Ecotrust)
Windy Bay rainforest (Sam Beebe, Ecotrust)

We began our tour at the north end of Graham Island at Tow Hill, where we camped for a few days. There was so much to do at this end that we almost did not want to travel south. We hiked the Blowhole Trail and Tow Hill, keeping our eyes open for bears, cougars and the abundant black-tailed deer. We cruised along the beach to Rose Spit, the most eastern point of Haida Gwaii, and we tried our hand at crabbing and fishing along the shores.

Tip: When about to cast a line while fishing, do take a last look around to make sure no one is near. Our family’s favourite fishing story is the time my dad caught a 45-pounder, my five-year-old, 45-pound little sister that is My sister was fine, but needless to say a little startled!

MORE: Awesome Whale Watching in British Columbia

After some days camped at Tow Hill, we packed up to move on to Gray Bay, an area south of Sandspit on Moresby Island. We took our time touring on our way down. We explored Old Masset and observed a local painting an expertly hand-carved totem pole. We spent hours combing Agate Beach for the ubiquitous agate, a transparent type of quartz. We had a cold beverage in Port Clements at Yakoun River Inn, and then stopped to contemplate the unwavering position of Balance Rock before making our way to the ferry to Sandspit.

Gray Bay is a stunning beach canopied by thick rainforest. For a week, we camped on the shore watching golden sunrises and blush sunsets envelop the wide sky each dawn and dusk. We hiked to Secret Cove, where we found freshly cracked shellfish and shedded fur, evidence we were not alone. We strolled to each end of the bay barefoot in the sand, and we brewed cowboy coffee and ate sticky s’mores.

Tip: Bring bear spray for protection, and do test the bear spray as the bottle suggests. But, do not test the bear spray near your campsite. If your fellow campers are doubled over coughing uncontrollably, complaining of a tingly throat and stinging, watery eyes, you have tested too close to camp. Be prepared to feel the wrath of your fellow campers.

Two weeks went by too soon. After exciting adventures dodging wildlife run-ins, hiking different trails and exploring the stunning series of islands, we were on our way back to Lower Mainland life, already planning our next road trip to Haida Gwaii.

Copyright © 2014 by My Destination. This article was written by Megan Carey and originally published at My Destination British Columbia