Journey to Nootka Sound
Vancouver Island was chosen as a Top Region by Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022 list. It was the only Canadian destination to make the globally recognized travel publishing company’s annual list of top 10 countries, cities and regions to visit in the year ahead.
Many regions in Vancouver Island rose in popularity with domestic travellers during the pandemic, due to a combination of remoteness and enhanced safety protocols. We at Tours of Exploration have added a new region to our own list of favourite places on the island – Nootka Sound.
Nootka Sound is a deep ocean inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It contains several small islands and a maze of water channels that stream into inlets, bays, and coves. It is an extraordinarily beautiful area – few forget the way the sun streams across the lush forests and between towering mountains to create a landscape that is serene, spectacular and picturesque.
To Access the Adventure
To access Nootka Sound, you must first drive to Gold River on the West Coast, a 4-5 hour (353 km) journey northwest of Victoria, the capital of the province. From there, you can travel into the Sound by seaplane or water taxi. We were fortunate to find a third tugboat option to guide us through the labyrinth of water channels. It takes about eighteen nautical miles of sailing to get to some of the remote fishing camps. If on a time crunch, the journey can be reduced to fifteen minutes by booking a seat on an Air Nootka seaplane.
Fishing and Wildlife-Viewing Experiences
We stayed for 3 nights at one of the lodges called Critter Cove, a floating camp where we rented a boat to fish and explore. This is a fishing hotspot as the Sound acts as a migratory route for most of the Salmon runs between mainland B.C. and western US rivers enroute to Alaska or the open sea. On our spring journey, we caught and brought home 9 Chinook (King) salmon. We watched sea otters (both solo and in pairs!) floating in encouraging numbers. These were the first encounters with sea otters in the wild for me, and I was mesmerized by them. There was a Humpback feeding in the offshore waters with the blows of numerous grey whales in the distance. Sea lions, porpoise, seals, and three elk on the shoreline were added bonuses to behold. We also spotted numerous birds, including some lifers for me.
Cultural Immersion and the Nootka Trail
On the cultural side, one of the coves called Friendly Cove is the site of first contact between European settlers and the First Nations in British Columbia. Several Indigenous communities reside on their ancestral lands, with 14 Nations under the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. One way to become immersed in the culture and respected land of these First Nations c0mmunities is to hike the Nootka Trail. This 37 km corridor passes through the traditional lands of the Mowachaht/Muchalat. The majority of the trail follows along the coastline, with some sections traversing through inland forest. As such, monitoring the tides become integral for trip planning. With certain weather conditions paired with the rocky terrain, the trail would be deemed challenging. You can start the trail head at Yuquot (Friendly Cove) - this requires a $ 50.00 per person fee going directly to the Nation. If you opt into flying instead, Air Nootka can drop you off at the Starfish Lagoon trailhead.
Our most recent hikers have completed the hike in 4 or 5 days. The main primitive campsites are located on gorgeous sandy beaches or clean pea gravel mounds. There are between 5 to 7 sites in total – all offering fresh water sources (however, it should be noted that there are no food lockers or pit toilets). Due to the area’s wildlife, it is necessary to use bear hangs for all stored food. Wildlife viewings along the Nootka Trial can vary from plentiful to sparse, and may include Gray whales, humpback whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, black bears, wolves, cougars, eagles, ravens, sea birds, river otters, slugs, and intertidal animals. Calvin Falls is a highlight. There is no cell phone service on Nootka Island (we carry satellite messengers and a satellite phone for safety).
More on the Nootka Trail https://mbguiding.ca/nootka-trail-nootka-island/
A topographic route map for hiking the Nootka Trail on the western shoreline of Nootka Island on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC by John Baldwin http://www.johnbaldwin.ca/nootka-island.asp
Intrigued by this Nootka Sound adventure? Fear not –more highlights to come via the words of avid hikers T. Sare, and G. Davis.