The Outer Discovery Islands and nearby Mainland Inlets are an off the beaten path delight of chiseled fjords and forest-clad islands, a land where the salmon run, the eagles soar and the grizzly bears roam. Tucked between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, it’s a mostly untouched expanse of wilderness who’s lodges, marinas, parks and breathtaking scenery are only accessible by boat or float plane.
There's no scheduled ferry service to the outer Discovery Islands so you'll need your own boat or hire a water taxi to get to your destination. Campbell River has two companies that offer water taxi services into the islands.
- 1 Discovery Launch Water Taxi, Fishermans Wharf, 705 Island Hwy (one block south of the Quadra Island ferry), ☏ , email@example.com. Provides water taxi services to the Discovery Islands, coastal inlets, as well as some of the northern Sunshine Coast and parts of Vancouver Island. There is a regular summer scheduled service that includes Dent Island Lodge, Sonora Island, Rendezvous Island and Cortes Island (Mansons Landing); other destinations available upon request. All of their boats are equipped to carry kayaks. They also offer some tours including a three hour tour of the various tidal rapids and a salmon fishing tour. $80 for the regular scheduled service, more otherwise.
- 2 Way West Water Taxi, Discovery Harbour Marina (at the end of Roberts Reach Rd), ☏ . Provides scheduled water taxi service from Campbell River to a number of the Discovery Islands, including Dent, Sonora, Read, Maurelle and East Thurlow. Departures are at noon M & F mid-Sept to May, and at noon M, W, F & Sa late May to Sept. They will also go to many other locations within the islands and the coastal inlets, including the lodges. They also load kayaks and can drop you off/pick you up from locations within the islands. They can also arrange sight-seeing tours, including the grizzly tour through the Sonora Resort. $80 to one of the scheduled stops, more otherwise.
Another option for getting in is by float plane with year-round connections to Campbell River and summer flights to/from Vancouver and Seattle. Many of the lodges are part of scheduled service and the companies can usually schedule a drop-off/pick-up at other locations, although expect to pay more. Note that some destinations do not have a marina or dock so the drop-off/pick-up is plane to boat.
- 3 Corilair, 3050 Spit Rd, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Corilair operates scheduled seaplane service to several resorts and islands in the Discovery group from their base in Campbell River three days a week in winter and three times daily in summer. Stops include Surge Narrows (Read Island), Big Bay (Stuart Island), Sonora Island, Dent Island and Blind Channel. There is also a daily scheduled service between Campbell River and Vancouver from late June to early Sept that will make stops in the outer islands, if requested. $100 and up (for scheduled service between Campbell River and the Discovery Islands).
- Kenmore Air, ☏ , email@example.com. Kenmore Air offers scheduled flights four times a week from Kenmore Air Harbour, north of Seattle in the United States, to Big Bay/Stuart Island and most of the lodges listed here from late May through late Sept. Daily flights are available mid-June to early Sept. Expect a customs and immigration stop in Nanaimo. $650 (US$) round trip.
- NW Seaplanes, toll-free: . NW Seaplanes operates scheduled service from Renton, south of Seattle, to Campbell River with stops at several of the Discovery Islands along the way, including Big Bay/Stuart Island, Sonora Island, Dent Island, Blind Channel and the Rendezvous Islands. Flights are available mid-July through August. $329 (US$) and up, one way.
Nature is the main attraction with some spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities to see wildlife.
- The coastal inlets, pushing up to 80 km into the Coast Mountains, are dramatic with a background of snow-capped mountains and waterfalls plunging over steep cliff faces. 1 Bute Inlet, northwest of Toba Inlet, is visually impressive. Some of BC’s largest icefields are in the mountains behind Bute Inlet, as well as Mount Waddington, the highest peak in BC’s Coast Mountain range.
- 2 Read Island floating post office, Surge Narrows, Read Isl. More a curiosity than a must-see attraction, the post office is one of the very few floating post offices left in Canada. It’s a relatively short kayak trip from Bold Point (on Quadra Island) or can be seen as part of Corilair’s Mail Run flight.
Wildlife is abundant in the Outer Discovery Islands and one of its most popular attractions. The opportunity to see grizzly bears in their natural habitat is the main draw, but many other animals — such as eagles, black bears, sea lions, porpoises and orcas — make their home here or pass through. Viewing is seasonal though, so if you have your sights set on a particular animal, keep the following dates in mind:
- Blacks Bears - will forage along the shoreline in spring and early summer, more uncommon after that as they move higher in the mountains for food
- Grizzly Bears - also forage along the shoreline in spring and then gather at the rivers in late Aug thru Oct to feed on returning salmon
- Eagles - commonly seen, particularly in spring and early summer
- Orcas - occasional sightings throughout period, but more common in mid to late summer
- Sea Lions - early spring & fall
- Fishing is a very popular activity and several lodges in the islands cater to it, as well as operators in Campbell River. Salmon fishing is the main attraction with five species of Pacific salmon present. Halibut, lingcod and rockfish can also be fished. For most species, there are restrictions on the number of fish and size that can be kept, and caught fish can only be kept at certain times of the year (e.g., chinook can typically be kept in spring and coho in fall). The exact dates vary from year to year so confirm with your fishing operator or check the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website. Fishing in BC requires a license — some lodges will arrange it for you, while others will expect you to arrange it yourself prior to arrival — so it is best to confirm this detail before arriving.
- 1 The Bears of Bute Inlet, Orford River, Bute Inlet. The Orford River estuary is a major salmon spawning river and each Aug through Oct, it has one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia that come to feast on the salmon. The Homalco First Nation provides daily guided tours and viewing opportunities of the grizzly bears in this region with a system of seven viewing areas and five platforms (towers) from mid-Aug to end of Oct. Tours are booked through authorized operators, which include the Sonora Resort, as well as some tour companies operating out of Campbell River.
Eating options are limited and, unless you have your own boat to travel around, will be determined by your choice of accommodation. Many lodges have restaurants and provide meals as part of the vacation. Lodges that don't have restaurants usually have shared cooking facilities or cabins with kitchens.
Limited food supplies are available from the general stores at Surge Narrows and Big Bay. If you're camping, it's best to stock up before you head off into the islands.
There isn't much accommodation in the Outer Islands but it's surprisingly varied. Options range from wilderness camping with no facilities to fishing lodges to a posh all-inclusive resort (with options in between).
There are many small and hidden spots for wilderness camping throughout the islands. There are no facilities and you are expected to practice "leave no trace" camping. Private camping facilities or camping in provincial parks are noted below.
- 1 Rendezvous Island South Provincial Park, South Rendezvous Island (Calm Channel, northeast of Read Island; roughly a one hour boat ride from Campbell River). Wilderness camping amid the forests on the southernmost island of the Rendezvous chain with views of the Discovery Islands and Coast Mountains. The best camping spots are considered to be on the southern part of the island. There are no facilities in the park. No fee.
- 2 [dead link] Solstua West, Rendezvous Island, firstname.lastname@example.org. Camping in style with an ocean view. Tents are fixed to a cedar platform and come with queen beds, wool duvets, storage and private decks with ocean views. Meals are provided and there is a common room with games, books, sofas and a wood stove. Activities include walking on the network of trails on Rendezvous Island or going out with the owners in their sailboat. Four tents with 2 people per tent. Minimum two night stay.
If you don't have your own boat and you want to stay overnight in the islands, then you're looking at one of the lodges.
- 3 Bute Inlet Lodge, Bute Inlet (at the mouth of the Bear River, 60 km up Bute Inlet), ☏ . Small lodge with two cabins (total capacity 10 persons) 3/4 of the way up Bute Inlet. There is saltwater fishing from the property and canoes, and depending on the season, bears and other wildlife can be seen on and around the property. Visitors have an option of “Guided” or “Leisure” stays — the Guided option includes 10 hrs of guided activity daily, including bear viewing (in season), fishing trips, crabbing and prawning, jet boat tours of the inlet, and hiking. Helicopter tours can also be arranged. Satellite phone & Wifi. Open mid-Feb through Oct. $200 per person (unguided), $2150-2900 per person for 2-4 nights (guided). Prices include meals and complimentary wine and beer.
- 4 Dent Island Resort, Dent Island, ☏ , email@example.com. Lodge that focuses mostly on fishing. There is also a lounge/games room, gym, sauna and outdoor hot tub. Also arrange jet boat tours, including one up the Bute Inlet. Guided fishing trips can be arranged as part of an all-inclusive package (includes 8 hrs of fishing per day) or added on separately. Wifi. June & Sept: $525 per person; July-Aug: $599 per person. All inclusive fishing trips are $799/$999 per night (June & Sept/July-Aug). Prices include meals and complimentary house wine and beverages.
- 5 Nanook Lodge, Stuart Island, ☏ . Lodge with room for 18 guests that specializes in fishing. Rooms have queen beds and private baths. Amenities include hiking, hot tub, dock fishing, satellite TV and lounges. Adventure tours, including wildlife viewing and guided hikes, can also be arranged. Open Mar-Oct. $350 per person, room & meals only. All-inclusive fishing trips are $700-900 (depending on the number of people in the boat).
- 6 Sonora Resort, Sonora Island, ☏ . Rooms with queen or king and ocean view and soaker tubs and gas fireplace; suites have two to six bedrooms and a common area. Meals, beer, wine and liquor (excluding some premium brands) are included. Resort amenities include outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, mineral pools, putting green, movie theatre, saunas and fitness centre. The resort arranges a large number of tours and activities (sometimes for a hefty fee), depending on the season, including fishing, grizzly bear viewing, kayaking, golf, helicopter glacier tours, archery and cooking classes. There is also a spa on site. Complementary Wifi and unlimited international phone calls. Open May to mid-Oct. $680-1,245 for a room double occupancy (low-high season), $1,120-3,580 for a suite (low-high season).