This story is featured in the August 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak Magazine which can be purchased here.
Words: Rob Lyon
Photos: Steve Thomsen, Steve Rogers
North America's west coast has some of the sweetest sea kayaking venues in this dimension, and many of them are also blessed with small lodges with kayak-minded hosts and convenient water access. You could spend a month or more stair-stepping from inn-to-inn, from one grand kayaking adventure to the next, all the way from Point Reyes to the Haaida Gwaii archipelago. In fact, we recommend it. Here are just seven stops along the way.
Point Reyes Hostel
Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, Calif.
Point Reyes National Seashore is the heart and soul of the bucolic Marin coast north of San Francisco. Whitewashed farms and jeep trails rim Drake's Estero, coexisting with an amazing diversity of protected plants and animals. Under your boat, fields of eelgrass sway in the current while bat rays flap across the seafloor. Salt-and-pepper cattle graze over rolling headlands where coyote brush and blackberries define the edge of field, marsh and gravel road. In the distance, Tule elk wander through a stand of windblown Bishop pine. Nearly half of all North American bird species are found in this park, and many of them are paddling or wading the Estero with you.
At the other end of the park is Tomales Bay, the largest unspoiled bay on the entire California coast (no small accolade). The pace is brisk or lazy, depending on the tide, and the view is marine pastoral. This is oyster country and you'll want to paddle up to the wharf and tip a few Kumamotos with Hog Wash chasers at the newly opened oyster bar at Hog Island Oyster Company.
Steppingstone Lodge: Point Reyes Hostel. An egalitarian option in keeping with the area's unpretentious vibe, the Point Reyes can bed you down for the night at an affordable $24. The Hostel is the only lodging in the National Seashore, and is a certified green business. (norcalhostels.org/reyes)
Local Knowledge: Watch for leopard sharks and rays in the tidal sloughs and channels. For adventurous angler/epicures, leopard shark is tasty fare—like the best scallops you've ever tasted.
Crippen Creek Inn
The Lower Columbia River, Skamokawa, Wash.
Every river has its own mood, and the Lower Columbia has a particularly unique feel—like an infant drunk on mother's milk. Sloppy with life and languish, this vast estuary is a vibrant, pulsing place packed with life of every stripe. I once caught a starry-eyed flounder in Portland, 90 miles upriver—that's the long arm of mama for you. Paddle the island sloughs where old European-style barns or farmhouses are commonplace. Glide past gillnet boats moored in sleepy Blind Slough, waiting patiently for the next night opening, or paddle in the wake of Lewis and Clark on a broad reach of river.
Steppingstone Lodge: Stage your estuarine adventure at the Inn at Crippen Creek Farm. Innkeepers Don and Kitty Sperenza's B&B is located creekside within easy striking distance of the estuary, and doubles as a sustainable farm. Don is an exquisite cook who teaches and specializes in exotic breads and Mediterranean cooking. (crippencreek.com)
Local Knowledge: Visit nearby Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge and Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuges.
West Beach Resort
Orcas Island, Wash.
While Washington's San Juans attract plenty of visiting kayakers, the islands rarely feel crowded. The archipelago has plenty of coastline to explore and find your space. Bring a fishing rod and portable crab pot and live off what you catch. Bring your hiking boots to explore the uninhabited islands.
The western coast of Orcas Island is a promising place to start. From West Beach Resort you can paddle the bay in front of your beachfront cabin or venture south along the extremely steep rock bank to Lover's Cove, or paddle north around the point at West Beach along miles of sand beach to Point Doughty.
Steppingstone Lodge: West Beach Resort is an out-of-the-way, family oriented, retro-feeling resort with all the basic amenities. More than most, the resort feels tucked away from the rest of the world. (westbeachresort.com)
Local Knowledge: The Outer San Juans—Patos, Sucia, Clark and Matia—are very satisfying destinations, and camping is allowed.
Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, B.C.
Barkley Sound, on the wild western edge of Vancouver Island, is arguably the most kayak friendly of the big West Coast sounds. Twenty miles wide and 15 deep, Barkley Sound is home to the Pacific Rim National Park, consisting largely of the Broken Group (inner and outer) and the Deer Group along the eastern edge of the sound, across Imperial Channel.
Sea caves, tide pools, sand beaches, leaping salmon, swaying kelp beds, tons of seabirds, whales and surge channels; it's all here. Along the outer isles you'll feel the booming surf and a fetch of wind borne from the beat of a pigeon's wing in Yokohama. Paddling in the lee of the outer islands, there is sudden tranquility and a view to the east of towering coastal peaks.
Steppingstone Lodge: Sechart Lodge is a convenient base of operations with a shared dining room for guests. A working packet freighter, the MV Lady Rose, works in conjunction with the lodge and is available to haul and launch kayaks in the Brokens and nearby destinations. (ladyrosemarine.com)
Local Knowledge: Look to the Deer Group of islands, along the eastern border of the Sound and just outside Pacific Rim National Park, for the path less paddled.
Discovery Islands, N.E. Vancouver Island, B.C.
Situated on the inside of the Vancouver Island and west of Desolation Sound lie the beautiful Discovery Islands. Plentiful wildlife lives and visits here, from orca whales to bald eagles. In the protection of the islands you can paddle leisurely and go ashore when you like. Travel with a guide or be sure to give the biggest tidal races a wide berth. Where the outer coast is lean and ragged from the brunt of weather, the feeling here is fat and sassy.
Steppingstone Lodge: Discovery Islands Lodge is situated on Quadra Island on the water adjacent to Surge Narrows and is the ultimate jumping-off point to explore this island group. Ralph and Lannie Keller are the owners. Settling on nearby Reed Island in the 1980s, they are committed to stewarding their slice of paradise. (discovery-islands-lodge.com)
Local Knowledge: Octopus Islands Marine Park is a four-mile paddle up Okisollo Channel from the lodge. And don't miss Heriot Bay Inn, a good local crossroad, on your way in or out to Discovery.
Sea Otter Lodge
Kyuquot Sound, Vancouver Island, B.C.
Kyuquot Sound, on the remote northwest coast of Vancouver Island, is an exhilarating place to paddle. It has the wild feel and open horizon of the open Pacific, but with a kayak friendly mix of sheltering reefs, islands and beaches. It is a narrow sound; the islands are all less than a mile offshore. Yet even in their lee, you'll feel the visceral vibrancy of the open sea. For those paddlers who love the open coast, beginners or vets, I can't recommend the area highly enough.
Other than the open seven-mile crossing from the Mission Group to the Bunsbys, the crossings of the inlet mouths are typically quite manageable. The area is largely unmanaged and kayakers are expected to act as they typically do, practicing low impact and leave-no-trace ethos. It is a blessing in this day and age to experience wilderness seashore such as this.
Steppingstone Lodge: Susan and Skip Plensky's Sea Otter Lodge is a 3,200-square-foot beauty perched on its own seven-acre island. A building that could grace the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, the interior is magnificently livable and the deck looks out over the waters you paddle. Or rent the floating Little Lumberjack Lodge, the last working cookhouse/bunkhouse in the area, if you're a smaller party. (seaotterlodgebc.com)
Local Knowledge: Day-trip around Thornton Island to exquisite, tiny Grassy Isle with its uplifted fossil beds.
Gwaii Haanas Guest House
Haida Gwaii, B.C.
The 600-square-mile Gwaii Haanas National Park is a place of natural poetry—of brooding rainforest and restless sea in northern British Columbia's spectacular Haida Gwaii archipelago. Gliding through this wilderworld is tonic in itself, but putting in a VHF call to the keeper on Hotspring Island to ask permission to land (and soak), is not bad sauce either. Check out the totem pole display at the ancient village of Ninstints, abandoned in 1885, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Gwaii Haanas Guesthouse, in Rose Harbour, provides a nifty back door entrance into the park. Poised just off the southern tip of Moresby Island, you can pick each day's itinerary in light of prevailing conditions. Explore Rose Inlet or head east around Benjamin Point to the interior of Moresby Island.
Steppingstone Lodge: The farther afield you venture in the North, the more personal the approach to lodging. Patrick Lemaire and Walladda Saenkhwa's Gwaii Haanas Guest House is as family as it gets. Kayaks are available for rent, and Patrick has 25 years experience on-site. (gwaiihaanas.com)
Local Knowledge: For experienced paddlers it does not get any more out there than Kunghit Island. Circle it.