Sea Kayaking The Inside Passage

In 2008 I completed a 69 day, 1,250 mile, solo sea kayaking trip from San Juan Island in Washingtons Puget Sound up the British Columbia coast to Skagway, Alaska through the Inside Passage.

Since my return I have put together a web site telling the story of the trip along with hundreds of photos and a few videos. To check out the site go to

thanks for doing this

I usually have a trip in some stage of planning. It gives me something to look forward to and to work towards. Currently, I don’t have anything planned, and earlier today had been contemplating on Puget Sound. I finished reading Dennis’ TR of 2007 about an hour before he posted this. What a coincidence!

I don’t have the kind of time Dennis spent. About two weeks is all I can swing, and if Paddling Washington, at least a day on either end will get eaten up traveling. Is there a trip out there that can be tackled in 5 - 10 days?


Read my blog…
…for suggestions on IP or OP trips on a limited timeframe. There are definatey great 2 week options to be had.

Short trip options

Consider taking the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Bellingham Washington to one of the ports of call like Ketchikan and either paddling in the area making a loop trip or going from one port to the next and taking the ferry back to Bellingham. There are lots of possibilities.


That sounds like a trip
worth looking into. Love the built in shuttle by using the Ferry.

Is September too late?


The rainfall totals double in September compared to July.

The number of days with moderate rain doesn’t quite double but you are looking at between 8 to 12 days per month. In a two week trip you need to be OK with rain.

Temperatures are a bit lower but that’s no big deal. You don’t go north for hot sunny weather.

A few years ago on a two week trip in July/August we experienced:

5 days with heavy rain

4 days with showers

6 days with clearing

3 days with zero precipitation

1 day was blown out and we stayed off the water.

Any time of the year you have to be OK with paddling and camping in the rain. More so in September.

Pick up a copy of the Wild Coast 2 by John Kimantas. It has some good seasonal information in it.

Reread Denis’ report on coastal sections of interest.

If you are willing to drive to Port Hardy you could take the ferry up to Fitz Hugh Sound and get a wet drop near Hakai Passage. Spend a week or more paddling out to Choked Passage, around Hunter Island and up to Shearwater for a ferry ride back to Port Hardy.

Heck, drive to Port Hardy and paddle across Queen Charlotte Strait and explore the western shore of the mainland.

You will never want to go back to the San Juans again.

Resolved, but not this year
Thanks for opening my eyes to this area of the world. I have invested a 6 - 8 hours looking into transportation, kayaks, and potential routes. I’m resolved to make a trip to the area.

One thing is clear when I look at the climate info: it will be foolish to go in months other than June and July. I understand the climate averages are just averages–the weather you get can vary considerably. But on average, September gets twice as much rain as June and July. I can put up with rain, but if I travel 3,000 miles to get there, it will be nice to be able to see the place. Seems like chances of high visibility are better in June and July.

June and July, 2010, will not work for me, so this trip will go on the wish list until next year.


paddlers are succeeding
The 2nd kayaker of the year who started in Washington made it into Ketchikan today. It is so tempting to follow along on the rest of the way north, but we are too busy right now, so for the time being I will have to make do with afternoon and weekend trips.

Inside Passage is rain
While I understand the desire to paddle in fair weather, I don’t understand the avoidance of paddling in the rain. The Inside Passage is a rain forest. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be as beautiful and as sparsely populated. When it rains – except in November – it usually doesn’t last all day and it is a gently rain that fall straight onto you and you kayak; it is refreshing. We just paddled a couple of hundred miles along Chatham Straight and Lynn Canal, most of that in sun. I can’t stand paddling in the sun. Give me gray sky or rain.

Rain, yeah, but could be a heat wave

– Last Updated: Jun-15-10 8:46 PM EST –

We got a wild one that lasted around 10 days during our trip (in June) there. Imagine paddling SE AK with air temps in the mid- to upper-80s; the high hit 95 in Juneau! The rest of the time was largely drizzy/spitty, which I have heard is typical that time of year.

Take heart that when the weather is normal (drizzly), the wind is pretty mild or even nonexistent. Out of 29 days, we only cut short two days due to strong wind (and one of those was more because of dense bergie bits clogging the route to our intended campsite). Never needed to take an entire day off because of it.

More importantly, the wildlife below your hull and on land is so abundant and fascinating, and the area so beautiful, that you really won't mind the wetness TOO much. Coming from a semi-arid area, I had a tough time adjusting to the constant clamminess for the first week. I didn't mind being damp while paddling; it was the high humidity at night that really bugged me, till I got used to it. But I did get used to it, and honestly, the good parts are so incredible that you just tell yourself to suck up the bad as part of the package.

Don’t mind rain
I don’t mind rain, But how’s the visibility? If I make a 3000 mile trip to get out there, I’d like to see the place.

I also have not found a way to deal with constant rain for days on end. When packing up and setting up camps in the rain, eventually, everything is wet. I guess that is a challenge for me to overcome.

The area looks fabulous on the maps. But I was horrified when I looked at some youtube. Seemed abuzz with float planes and power boats. Hopefully, that’s because most people get there by float plane and power boat and they all go to the same place, leaving a lot of less trafficked area. Is that how it is?

Ketchikan pictures showed a number of large cruise ships. The sea lanes must be busy. Sort of expected a sleepy backwater. Looks like a hub or tourist activity (that’d be me = tourist).


Depending on where you go…
…you probably won’t see any sign of civilization. I have paddled for days and days and never seen another soul. Sometime it rains hard and sometimes it doesn’t. It isn’t the tropics, that’s for sure. Here’s a photo of a typical July morning.


Reluctantly we left this cleft full of life and upon exiting were greeted by a humpback headed our way. A good omen. We were right on time for our planned transit of Otter so we started across. The fog was lifting but the sky was still thick and silver-grey. The air was cool and we could see our breath. The north shore of Campania was just a narrow line on the horizon while Pitt disappeared in the fog behind us.

There is a particular magic light that I love when the sky has a low overcast or a fog that isn’t too thick and the sun tries hard to work it’s way though. Everything is in shades of grey and silver. The water is in motion and very reflective. The cloud cover thins in places and beams of sunlight shoot through then disappear. This was one of those mornings. As we continued across, losing ground on our whale, the sea state changed as currents intermingled and interacted with the breeze. Against the far shore we could see the mist from the exhalation of whales. The plumes stood in the air, highlighted against the dark background of Campania’s forested slopes. There were many rising up towards a long snake-like cloud that formed beneath the cloud deck. It looked, for all the world, as though the whale’s breathing was causing this low cloud. I don’t believe it but that’s how this strange and out of place cloud looked.

As we neared Campania it became clear that what appeared to be a large group of whales from the plumes was really a single adult and a calf.



The columns stood like tall, silver wraiths marching slowly up Otter Channel. Each breath hung in the air well after the next was issued. The sound of their soft, long exhalations carried across the water and contrasted with the abrupt bursts made by Humpbacks from my previous experiences. The “smoke” formed by Dave’s and Greg’s breathing twisted and dissipated in the vortice of their passage while the black backs of the whales glistened in the magic light.

Human hot spots

– Last Updated: Jun-16-10 12:34 PM EST –

The only place that was filled with fishing boats and nets was just north of Juneau one day. Near Auk Bay there was also trash at one camping area because a road ran near it. The other places we camped were free of litter.

There were cruise ships in some places, mostly in the last ~25 miles to Skagway. Our last night camped out, we could see a huge one on the water, lit up like a floating casino. The ships are not allowed to stay overnight in the towns, so you might see some on the water at night.

From Ketchikan, we took routes that were not used by large boats, and that is where on some days we literally did not see anybody else. Ketchikan itself is not a sleepy little town in summer, though it's no NYC, either. Wrangell might be more to your liking. Or Petersburg.

Yes, if it rains day after day, your sleeping bag will feel damp even if you don't get it rained on. That's why I said the night clamminess was hard to take. There's nowhere for the moisture to go, the air is so saturated. You just come to tolerate it, that's all. The good part is that you don't need sunblock.

You might consider taking a "bloat and float" trip if the physical discomforts are too much of a turnoff. The 2nd time I went to AK, my husband went, and I knew he would want a vacation, not an expedition kind of experience. We went on Kayak Transport Company's 62-footer, doing day trips from their boat. That eliminates the need to haul gear up and down the tide lines, much of the clamminess, and the potential for long, tiring days. There is essentially no discomfort involved. Unfortunately for me, it's also not nearly as memorable an experience, and you don't learn as much. But it might be a good, *noncommitting* intro to the area.

…did you post photos of your trip?

another group in the Inside Passage
Here’s another group paddling north. One of the guys is 65, so that is really impressive.

Posted a couple in the past
That trip was in 2004. Right now I don’t have a website I can use, since Microsoft killed Geocities legacy sites, and another one seems to have been taken over by a company with strange policies.

Some of the photos show drizzle :wink:

…Take a look at Monster’s site.

He has some great photos that he has taken along the BC coast on some of his trips. His trips give you an idea of some of the options you have when considering a couple weeks at a time and fairly represent the weather, shorelines and some camping options.

The “Beyond Hakai” series is pretty nice and includes a wet drop start / wet retrieve finish while sticking mostly to protected waters.

He’s a great photographer.


Inside Passage weather tips
After paddling for a few weeks along the Inside Passage I came to prefer paddling in a light rain to clear skies. When it was raining the wind was usually light and the seas calm. Clear skies usually brought stronger winds and rougher seas.

As for dampness in camp. Bring a good tarp and change into dry clothes as soon as you have all your gear stowed within reach. Sleep under the tarp in a Gore Tex bivi sack with your sleeping bag inside to keep it dry. Wear fleece while sleeping for extra warmth and dryness.

Boats and planes are actually not seen very often except near the tourist towns. You see so many in pictures because they are a novelty in this remote area.

Tasty BC Coast Photos