Over the years we have spent many weeks cruising and exploring the area known as the “Discovery Islands“. We have transited and cruised this area as far back as 1995 but our recent cruises were specifically designed to gather and compile information about this popular area.
The “Discovery Islands” encompass a large area and include Cortes Island, West and East Redonda Islands, Rendezvous Islands, Read Island, Maurelle Island, Stuart Island, Sonora Island, East Thurlow Island, and Quadra Island. Additionally, there are many smaller islands and numerous anchorages and marine parks.
Although not really a part of the Discovery Islands, nearby Desolation Sound Marine Park is often included in an exploration of the Discovery Islands. Therefore, we include here information about Desolation Sound destinations. The Discovery Islands and the surrounding area incorporate a number of other marine parks, including the Octopus Islands, Rebecca Spit, Roscoe Bay, Von Donop Inlet, Walsh Cove, and Thurston Bay. Each of these is referenced below.
Many people begin their visit to the Discovery Islands by stopping in the Desolation Sound area.
The following discussion includes some of our favorite places. It is by no means a complete listing of the many wonderful places you can visit. In fact, it would be possible to spend an entire summer exploring the Discovery Islands. For much more extensive information visit the Discovery Islands website, or the Discovery Islands page on British Columbia.com
For photos from our past explorations click here: Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound Photos.
Many cruisers arrive from the south although another popular departure point is from Campbell River. Charterers may wish to leave from the Campbell River area aboard one of the many charter boats that are available. We will begin our discussion from the south.
Lund. The town of Lund is really not part of the Discovery Islands but it’s on the way north and the public marina is a popular stop over on the way to Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands. Lund is better thought of as a part of the Sunshine Coast but we mention it here because of its strategic location for cruisers headed north. The Port of Lund has a nice marina but it will be crowded during the summer season. You may have to wait (30 minutes or more) for a slip assignment. Expect to raft-up to other boats and expect lots of activity. The store is well stocked and the fuel dock is easily accessible. Marine services and repairs are available in Lund and parts can arrive overnight by land.
Desolation Sound Marine Park. After passing through Thulin Passage north of Lund you will come to the north tip of Malaspina Peninsula. Turn to starboard if you are headed to Desolation Sound. This marine park and the surrounding area are spectacular, but crowded during the summer months and especially in late July and all of August. Desolation Sound is a destination in itself and the subject of numerous books, guides and website information. Several of the harbors and anchorages mentioned below are inside the boundaries of Desolation Sound Marine Park. Click here for a map of the park. There are other anchorages not mentioned here that are well known and popular, including Prideaux Haven (a favorite spot for 100′ plus yachts complete with helicopters, Melanie Cove and Laura Cove adjacent to Prideaux Haven, and Galley Bay to the west. For all the information you need check any of the British Columbia cruising guides. Be prepared for lots of people during the summer season.
Grace Harbor. The totally enclosed bay name Grace Harbor is part of Desolation Sound Marine Park. It is a beautiful, fully protected anchorage, that gets very crowded during the summer season. A shore tie will limit your swing and make it easier to find a place to drop your anchor. There are several campsites ashore and a trail through the woods to a pretty lake a short distance away. The trail can be muddy in places during wet, rainy weather. The entrance to Grace Harbor is narrow but safe and unobstructed. Note the position of a charted, underwater ledge in the anchorage. This rocky ledge will not hold your anchor so don’t drop your hook there. As you proceed south in Malespina Inlet toward Grace Harbor be sure to navigate carefully. The passages are not narrow but there are rocks and reefs you must avoid.
Tenedos Bay. This anchorage is also located in the boundaries of Desolation Sound Marine Park. We love visiting Tenedos Bay because it has several neat and secure spots to anchor and there is a short trail to a wonderful fresh water lake that starts at the head of the southern most anchorage in Tenedos Bay. However, this is another spot that gets crowded during the summer season and you must be able to drop your hook and securely shore tie due to the crowded conditions and the deep and steep anchorages. Try to arrive early in the day (before 11:00 am and you will have an easier time finding an opening as other boats leave for the day.
Okeover Arm and Okeover Public Dock. Proceed south in Malespina Inlet and you will arrive at Okeover Public Dock. It has been substantially enlarged and has space for many boats. There is a provincial park with many campsites located amongst the trees. The beach is covered with oysters and abundant with clams. The Laughing Oyster Restaurant sits on the hill above the docks and is worth the trip all by itself. You can arrive before lunch, tie up at the docks or anchor, and enjoy a wonderful lunch, then depart. Or, stay the night and have a great dinner. We celebrated a birthday in 2011 and were delighted with the quality of the food, the great service, and the spectacular view. Highly recommended!
Refuge Cove: This little settlement has nice docks, an easily accessible fuel dock, and a good store, well stocked with food and miscellaneous supplies and adult beverages. There is also a garbage barge for disposal of garbage with payment of a small fee. Refuge Cove is a popular spot to get supplies and fuel and water while visiting Desolation Sound. The docks are well kept but the upland areas are private and there is not much to do here if you stay overnight. There are rustic showers and good laundry facilities.
Squirrel Cove and Squirrel Cove public dock: Cortes Island. Squirrel Cope is a very popular anchorage on Cortes Island. The water is warm and there is a lagoon that fills and drains with each tide cycle. The drainage from the lagoon has rapids that are fun to float down after high tide. The Squirrel Cove public dock is located south of the entrance to the anchorage and there is an excellent store. We prefer to stop here for provisions and supplies rather than Lagoon Cove. The dock is exposed to boat wake from the power boats going to and coming from the anchorage so it can be very bumpy if you stay at the dock. We spent two nights in the Squirrel Cove anchorage in June, 2011. It was un-crowded and lots of fun. The anchorage is well protected and very pretty. It’s also very popular during late July and into August so expect crowded conditions. Along the northwest shore across the bay from the drainage from the lagoon there are survey tapes that mark trails through the woods. The trails to to Von Donop Inlet and to the large lagoon that branches off from Von Donop. These make a nice walk through the woods but can be muddy early in the season.
Roscoe Bay Marine Park. This wonderful park is located on the east side of West Redonda Island at the southern entrance to Waddington Channel. There is an inner and outer bay. The inner bay is entered by going over a shoal that dries at low tides. Wait until at or near high tide (preferably on a flood) to enter and exit. The inner bay is wonderful but it will be crowded during the summer. However, in June you may find yourself anchored with only 10 other boats or even fewer. There is a lake just a short distance from the west end of the bay with excellent warm water swimming. If you visit this area in June, don’t miss Roscoe Bay. Anchoring is easy, with excellent protection but during the crowded season you may need to shore tie. This is a great spot to visit with kids or a pet.
Walsh Cove Marine Park. Near the north entrance to Waddington Channel lies Walsh Cove Marine Park. This is a favorite stop for many cruisers and the anchorage is a bit tricky. The main part of the bay is quite deep and exposed to the south and east. Anchorage is best near the shore around the bay, with a shore tie. When its crowded you will have to squeeze in. The small islands are fun to explore and the fishing further north is excellent. The water is a bit cold for swimming. Entrance to the anchorage is from the south. The pass north of the three small islands is crowded with rocks. Off the west side of the islands there is a reef that extends a good distance.
Toba Wildernest Resort. When leaving Waddington Channel and entering Pryce Channel watch your charts for the shallow areas and rocks. Proceed north across Pryce Channel and pass west of Double Island to stop at Toba Wildernest Resort. This is a delightful stopover, with excellent fresh water and very nice landscaped grounds. There is a forest trail to the waterfall that is well worth the walk. The beach area is rugged and picturesque and the owners are very friendly and helpful. Kids can catch fish off the dock and the lingcod fishing nearby is excellent. If you are headed further north this is a great spot to stop and fill your water tanks with clear, clean fresh water.
Big Bay Marina Public Dock. From Toba go north and west of Raza Island, then north up Calm Channel to Yaculta Rapids. These rapids must be transited at or near slack water. If you are planning to stop at Big Bay and stay at the public dock, time your arrival at Yaculta to enter at slack water and catch the ebb tide as it flows north. If you are planning to proceed further north (through Gillard Passage and Dent Rapids) its best to transit Yaculta Rapids at the end of the flood tide, then pass Gillard at slack water, and go through Dent Rapids with the beginning of the ebb. Consult your tide and current tables carefully. We like to plan our visit and passage of these rapids during times when the tides are mild and the currents are far less severe. This makes the issue of exact timing less severe. These rapids can be dangerous and deadly to small craft. We like to stop at Big Bay after passing Yaculta Rapids. The public docks are just a few years old and run by community volunteers. There is a small store with a large covered deck and a nice forest trail nearby. Be careful approaching and leaving the dock and avoid the large areas of kelp that mark the rocks.
Shoal Bay Lodge. After passing through Dent Rapids it’s just a short distance to Shoal Bay. This is a great stop. The public docks are in excellent condition and the upland area is privately owned and very nice. There are laundry facilities, a burn barrel for your garbage and recycling bins for bottles and can. The proprietor is named Mark and he and his neighbors are delightful. Mark has a small pub with a cozy and warm interior and a beautiful deck outside. It’s a mistake to pass by Shoal Bay while hurrying further north. Stop here to relax and remember what cruising is really all about. Shoal Bay is basically the northern terminus of the Discovery Islands area.
Thurston Bay Marine Park. From Shoal Bay, backtrack to the east and head south in Nodales Channel to Thurston Bay Marine Park on the west side of Sonora Island. There are two parts to the park. The first anchorage is in Thurston Bay behind Block Island. The second anchorage is further south through Burgess passage then southeast toward Chameleon Harbor. Proceed carefully to avoid the long shoal east of Bruce Point and the rock that lies off the point (marked by kelp). The wonderful anchorage of Hanfield Bay lies just northeast. This small bay is shallow and the entrance is narrow. If you enter at low tide you will see the numerous rocks and reefs. It’s very quiet and peaceful here. Across to the south lies a huge clamming beach with crabbing also.
Owen Bay. After relaxing in Hanfield Bay you can venture back toward the real world. Proceed southwest in Nodales Channel, then south in Discovery Passage and east in Okisollo Channel to Owen Bay, located north of Grant Island just before you enter the upper rapids. This is a large bay with lots of room to anchor but not much to do. There is a small community and a dock with some room to anchor near the dock. This is a good place to wait if the currents are running in the rapids.
Octopus Islands Marine Park. From Okisollo Channel pass through the Upper Rapids at slack water then a short way southeast to Bodega Anchorage. The entrance to Octopus Islands Marine Park is a narrow pass at the head of Bodega Anchorage. The depth is adequate but the passage is tight if a boat comes the other way. Octopus Islands Marine Park is one of the most beautiful in the Discovery Islands. There’s lots of space to anchor but watch your chart for the rocks and reefs. The first time you visit it’s a good idea to arrive at low tide so you can see where the danger spots lie. It’s fun to explore the area in your dinghy or kayak and walk around on the small islands.
Heriot Bay. Heriot Bay is reached by traveling south through Beazely Passage at slack water, then south in Hoskyn Channel past Breton Islands and west to the Bay. There are public docks and a small resort, the Heriot Bay Inn and Lodge. It’s very nice and beautifully landscaped. The public docks are crowded during the summer so the Resort is a good choice for overnight moorage. There is an excellent store just a short walk up the road. The ferry stops here so there is some noise and wash when it arrives and departs. However, this is a fun spot and a nice place to tie up at a dock, stretch you legs for day or two, and re-provision. Whether you stay at the Lodge marina or not it’s a great place for lunch or dinner. The public docks at Heriot Bay are being upgraded and expanded. A new breakwater has been built and plans call for additional transient and permanent moorage. As usual, public docks can be crowded during the summer and will usually be full with local boats. The expansion of the public docks is ongoing. Heriot Bay Inn and Lodge has funky docks but the upland improvements are proceeding. There are new restrooms and showers for campers and marina guests.
Rebecca Spit Marine Park. Just a short distance to the east lies Rebecca Spit and the marine park. Drew Bay is large but deep and anchorage is a bit tricky. The best spots for Park access are near the head of the bay (but it shoals quickly), in the nook just inside the west end of the spit, and just a bit east along the shore where there is a small shoal that extends into the bay. Take care anchoring to be sure you are not on a steep ledge and set your anchor securely because the wind can come up in the bay. The park is very nice, with lots of beach for walking. It’s a popular spot during the summer. We visited Rebecca Spit in 2011 and it was quite crowded. One boat, a California registered catamaran was anchored in 20′ of water just inside the hook, with 200′ of chain deployed. Needless to say, the boat took up a lot of space as it swung wide around the anchor. The owner refused to shorten his scope so there was little or no room to anchor nearby. We moved south and then west across the bay toward the private buoys on the southwest side. It was delightful, although we had a 7 minute dinghy ride to the Park beach to the east. We also visited Taku Resort at the north end or Drew Harbor on the east shore. It is nice but the marina is exposed to winds and waves coming from the north or north west. Landing could be difficult in bad weather. The upland facilities are nice, with showers and laundry facilities. It is a short walk to the grocery store.
Ha’thayim (Von Donop Inlet) Marine Park. This park is located on the northwest side of Cortes Island. Travel north in Sutil Channel past Carrington Bay and watch for the narrow entrance. It’s a tight pass, with a charted rock dead center in the channel into the park. This is a charted rock but it is dangerous to the inattentive skipper. As you go north or south in the entrance stay along the west shore. At the point where you pass the rock if you stay close to the shore you should have no trouble. Waggoners Cruising Guide has a good description of the entrance (but the advice to let the tree branches touch your sailboat spreaders is a bit extreme). Von Donop Inlet is an excellent anchorage with lots of room, a flat bottom about 35′ deep, and forest trails at the head of the bay. If you want a long walk you can take a trail and the county road all the way to the Squirrel Cove public dock and the store. The anchorage at the head of the bay can be crowded but there’s lots of room and plenty of space to anchor anywhere in the inlet. The anchorage is well protected and the holding is good. We explored the trails all along the shores of the inlet. The walk to Squirrel Cove anchorage is worth the effort, following along a nice trail through the woods. This trail starts at the south end of the inlet on the southeast shore. You can take a spur trail north to the lagoon from the trail’s end at Squirrel Cove. At the northwest end of the inlet on the west shore of the shallow cove there is a trail through the woods that leads to a small lake. The lake is marshy and not suitable for swimming but the water in the cove itself can be quite warm and is good for swimming. Just south of the entrance to the Lagoon there is a short trail through a beautiful grove of cedar trees that leads to the tidal rapids that fill and drain the lagoon. This is a nice walk and great way to see the rapids. Just north from the lagoon entrance (across the water) there is a trail that leads uphill and back into the forest. If you walk up the hill a short distance and then follow a spur on your left you will find a small shack on the hillside.
Gorge Harbor Marina. From the north you will go past Whaletown and through Uganda Pass to enter the Gorge and visit Gorge Harbor Marina. Be careful going though Uganda Pass. Going south, you keep the green marker to starboard and the red marker to port. Go slow. It’s not difficult but if you screw up you will go aground. Once through, enter Gorge Harbor through the narrow but deep passage. There’s lots of room to anchor in the harbor but the marina is recently remodeled with new docks, a nice store, a pool, a great restaurant and beautiful grounds. It’s definitely worth a visit. The store is well stocked and the restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities are clean and neat. You can dump your garbage for a small fee. The staff and owners are very friendly and helpful. The owners have made a significant investment and really deserve our support. If you have kids along this is a great place to visit. Take your dinghy or tender over to Manson’s Landing and take the short walk to the lake from the trail at the head of the lagoon. It’s a great lake for swimming.
Campbell River. For a visit to the “big city” go south around Cape Mudge and into Campbell River. This is the spot to get groceries, make repairs, buy parts, and prepare for a trip further north.
These are some of our favorite spots. Make sure you have the right charts (electronic and paper) and the correct current tables and tide tables. There are several areas where you can get in real trouble if you don’t watch the currents and tides. Also, in some areas the wind can build quickly and when the wind blows against the current the chop gets very nasty. We have always found that not being in a hurry and planning our passages carefully really pays off and the Discovery Islands area makes that important an thing to remember.