Blue Highways of the Inside Passage

Paddling the Inside Passage changes people forever. Attempting it is bold. Completing it is remarkable. I stand in awe of those who have attempted or completed that task.

Living in Seattle I have the good fortune of being just a day’s drive from Port Hardy which is located at the north end of Vancouver Island. That allows me access to the Canadian Coast that most North American paddlers would die for. While I have paddled parts and pieces of the Inside Passage I lack the commitment that is required to do it from start to finish.

The planning and logistics of a trip of that magnitude are daunting and the time requirement can be tough to accommodate with our busy lives. The Canadian and Alaskan Pacific Coastline is probably a long way from your home. It certainly is for most North American paddlers so just getting to and from your put-in and take-out isn’t easy for most. It takes tremendous commitment from beginning to end and I suspect that this combines to make the Inside Passage trip a one-and-done sort of experience for many paddlers.

The IP is well established and serves as the primary route for all water craft with only minor variations that are focused on efficiency of staying on task. Little is mentioned about what lies just off the route by a day or of lesser-used parallel routes and from an efficiency standpoint that seems wise.

In 1982 William Least Heat Moon released the book “Blue Highways” which was his account of traveling around the United States using lesser used roads which, in the days of paper road maps, were blue in color. Avoiding the interstate highways/established routes his experience was enriched by traveling the “road not taken”. Since it may be hard for you to return to this remote paradise consider incorporating some “Blue Highways” into your route planning. .…………just in case you don’t get back that way or you need fodder for planning another trip.

I’ll follow up with some suggestions and hope that you will add some of your own.

As Robert Frost once said:

I shall be telling with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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I have had the distinct pleasure of paddling a little bit of the IP. It was many years ago. I did three trips with outfitter, Northern Lights Expeditions. What a special place. I’ll never forget a night paddle with the bioluminescence. Going back to paddle there again would be a treat.

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I paddled from Ketchikan to Skagway with three other self-supported paddlers, back in 2004. You are correct that the entire IP seems so big a trip that it would likely be a once-in-a-lifetime venture. Even doing it in two or three sections in different summers requires a big commitment of time off, money, and preparation.

That said, it is well worth veering off the main drag even when doing shorter sections of it. The first few days of our trip lay in a relatively populated area, yet on a couple of those days, we saw no other boats of any kind, nor any other people on either land or water. At the same time, that was where we could gaze down into some of the clearest water I had ever seen, wondering if the brilliantly-colored sea life down there were 10 ft down or 60 ft down. It was just like the best photos of marine life that are prominantly featured in coffee table books.

The reason we could enjoy these gems was because it was along one of several choices for getting from Point A to Point B. We chose the one that motorized and sail vessels did not prefer, apparently.