Kayaking the Johnstone strait -Vancouver

Dear all,

I am planning a trip to Johnstone strait in Vancouver island with the hope to see may be some killer whales. I will be leaving out of Telegraph cove. This is my first trip in the area and have limited experience with sea kayaking. A few questions

1-What is the best time to cross the channel? any idea where to find the tide tables for the area?

2-how difficult would it be to meet people to actually cross the channel with? I have heard that crossing alone is quite risky because of the numerous Motor boat that traffic through the channel.

3-What are the risk of flipping a kayak out there, at this time of the year?


Why cross the channel?
“The Bride” and I paddled there last year at this time, and there was no need to.

We turned right after leaving Telegraph Cove, and after a couple of miles saw a pod of them in the middle of the channel.

We headed diagonally toward them, and ended up paddling four miles with them, until we reaced the remote beach that we camped on. We assumed that they were heading to their “rubbing beach” which was just beyond where we camped.

According to our GPS units, they were traveling between three and four miles per hour.

There were thirteen of them including several babies, and the whole experience was awsome.

When the babies breached, they wiggled just like any little baby would, as if they were just learning the joy of this beautiful world.

Several times we were in the center of the channel, and never noticed any strong currents although we did hear that at certain tides over the other side near Hansen Island there were some stong currents.

We also had our first encounter with the dreaded fear of a cruise liner wake, which turned out to be a series of waves about eight feet high which turned out to be not too bad.

Cheers, and have a awsome trip. Ours was!


Sounds like a great trip!

That sounds like a fantastic trip! I’ll consider that for next year. (This year was 5 days in the San Juans with a group of friends.)


I am not a resident of that part of the
Island and not an avid sea kayaker but from my scan of the area maps i also question the need to cross Johnstone Strait to experience the Orcas. Robson Byte is known as a ecological area for them and it is located on the Vancouver Island side which should therefore not require a trip accross Johnstone Strait. I have noted that there are strict guidelines about viewing of Orcas especially in Robson Byte which i probably spelled wrong. In some basic web research there are various tour operators for JOhnstone Strait which mention Orca’s. One is called Ocean River Sports out of Victoria and they have a website. I noted they were doing some tour up there sooner than later. None of the sites noted a need to cross the strait.

If you decide to cross the strait, yes i believe there is significant boat traffic including commercial traffic, tug boats, cruise ships, fishing vessels and recreational boats etc. Many boats/ships heading north from Vancouver would take that route.

To obtain info on tides, any local sporting good shop/fishing shop on Vancouver Island would have a tide chart. Hope this helps.

Re Kayaking Johnstone strait
Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and for your good advices.

1-The reason I wanted to cross the channel, is because I heard that there is much less tourstic activity on the other side of the strait (I heard that the density of tourist can be pretty high), with the downside of really beeing on my own if something goes wrong…

2-Also, I was surprised to hear that from telegraph cove you turned right which is east I suppose, while I thought most whales are supposed to be located in the western side (do you know if the western side of Tel Cove is actually where most of the whale are congregated?) I tryed to get som info on more precise location, even GPS location if available, from the tour guides, but of course the touring companing are not too keen on sharing anything unless you join their tour…

3-Where did you camp? did you wild camp or did you use assigned campgrounds.

4-would you recommend bringing a wet suit?



Re Kayaking Johnstone
Thanks for the tips

Use caution
Been there many times over the last 20 years. Johnstone can be nasty when the wind opposes the current. It’s a short crossing, but be careful and heed the weather reports. Most big commercial traffic heads through Blackney Passage and Blackfish Sound. Blackney can get very rough! Fog is another issue in late summer, as are afternoon winds from the north during high pressure periods. The islands around Mammalillacula (sp?) village are nice, but there are fish pens, fishing lodges, private land, and limited camp sites. For beginners the best bang for the buck would be to stay on the West side of Johnstone and simply travel south to Kaikash Creek which is the last area for camping before the Bight. It’ll be crowded, so be prepared for that. There are many nicer areas to paddle, but if it’s whales at the top of your list, you’ll be on their loop, so to speak. Good luck.

Re Kayaking Johnstone
Thanks for the advices. But when you say that they are many nicer areas around could you please tell me where. I am definitely not looking forward to end up in a touristy area and as I am planning on kayaking in the area for four days, I could take a day to see the whales and the rest to visit thoses "nicer areas’(without tourist!but me:)). I will have a GPS so you can even give me GPS coord if available.

Although I may end up kayaking alone, I will have a VHF and GPS(and will inform the kayak rental company of my location), and am planning on wearing a wetsuit.

I am looking forward to hearing from you


Some answers
No.1 I think someone might have misinformed you.

The boats that take the tourists to see the Orcas always know exactly where they are, since they monitor the VHF radios. We were lucky in the fact they we were on the water early in the morning and there was no one else on the water yet.

No.2 From the information that we could gather, the Orcas made a continuous loop from one side of the straight then acoss to the other side on the back side of the Islands. You might get all the way across, and they could be just where you came from.

On our return trip, we could see them off in the distance on the opposite side, but we had so much fun on the first day, and the fact that there were about four tourist boats near them that we just opted to not bother heading in their direction.

GPS coordinates won’t help since they don’t stay in one place.

No. 3 We camped on a remote wilderness camping beach, (Kaikash Beach). Even though it is a British Columbia designated camping area, it is owned by the first nations tribe Kwakak’wakw, (Pronounce that). Three of their young men were living in a cabin there and maintaining (?) the place. I think the Canadian government likes to keep them off welfare! One drank beer, one drank whiskey, and the third drank Pepsi and they were never without fortification. they couldn’t do enough for us and we had a fascinating education on their tribe.

There were a few guided tour groups camping there as well, but there were plenty of sites back in the trees for everyone

No.4 I would be prepared for any type weather, but we did not bring our wet suits.

In the morning we had long polar fleece underware tops and bottoms with our gortex biking long pants and jackets over them, but before the afternoon, we stopped on a beach and changed into bathing suits and polypro T shirts.

That was early September.



Kayaking Vancouver
Thanks a lot.


Good source for trip planning

– Last Updated: Aug-27-04 2:37 PM EST –

See if you can find a copy of Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest by Peter McGee. It provides some good local knowledge.

I have paddled there about three times in the last seven years. Unless you are very experienced and have developed rough water skills, I would not suggest going any further than Kiakash Creek for camping. Crossing the Straight is no real big deal in calm conditons. With any wind against the current you will get anything from 2-ft chop to 3-4-ft standing waves near Blackney and Weynton passages. When planning on travling to Blackfish Sound you will need the current tables for Weynton Passage, Johnstone Straight, and Seymour Narrows. The slack currents in Blackney Passage vary quite a bit (up to 70 minutes early) than the ones posted in the tables. Arive early and wait for the signs of slack. Peak currents can produce whirlpools, overfalls, and standing waves.

If you are traveling alone or in a very small group (1-2 tents) there are some camp spots just east of Kaikash Creek. Just be careful not to go into the Robson ecological reserve. If you do head over the Straight, just go during weak current times and cycles. Both Pig Ranch and Growler Cove have nice sites. If you stay off any reservation land, you can camp almost anyplace you find that works. Remember, the tide hieghts are quite large (up to 18-ft), so be sure your tents are above the high/high tide for the night. The are also many coves on Hanson that work for camping. My favorite is a little one on the south east corner off of Blackney. It provides a great place to watch the tide rips that set up just beyond the cove. Of course you have to get the timing right to arrive there.

Anyway, pick up the book, and have a ball. Just be careful and smart. This is the wet part of the Vancouver Island, so do plan on it being damp. I still prefer charts over a GPS. Your plan to have a wetsuit and VHF is a good safety start. But avoiding situations where they will be needed in this relatively remote area also takes some good judgment and seamanship skills, especially when traveling solo. I would guess the water temps to be in the low 50's up there.