Rugged Shores and Sheltered Routes
The Northern Passages region is north of the Great Bear Rainforest region, extending from Kitimat Arm to the Alaska border. Many people consider this region part of the Great Bear Rainforest. Call it what you like, the sounds of the sea, the near silence of the rainforests, rugged shores and sheltered routes continue in the Northern Passages. Of course, you are still in prime fishing waters, where mighty rivers feed the sea.
Refit and go wild again
Paradoxically, as you explore northward, you return to points of considerable settlement. Prince Rupert, a major town and marine centre, is near the middle of this region. Prince Rupert is at the end of Highway 16, which connects to British Columbia and Alberta highway systems. That is why many boaters keep their vessel year round in Prince Rupert and Port Edward, or tow their boat and put in here. From these ports, Haida Gwaii, Great Bear Rainforest and Broughton Archipelago are much short voyages then from southern ports. The route from Vancouver takes at least two weeks, but better to take a month or more. Prince Rupert and Port Edward are frequent stops for those enroute to and from Alaska. It is a good thing they are there, because no matter what direction you have come from, your supplies are dwindling.
Explore Northern Passages
Hartley Bay (Kulkayu) sits near the wide entrance to Kitimat Arm, a.k.a. Douglas Channel. The settlement is the home community of the Gitga’at First Nation. It is a welcome stop for fuel and land rest. Hartley Bay Fuels and Marina sells marine gas and diesel and provides moorage for about 40 boats, although availability is very limited, as are food and other necessities.
Kitimat Arm penetrates the Coast Mountains for over 100 km (60 miles). There is a marina and all services in Kitimat. Mountains tower on both sides and as always here you share the water with abundant sea life. If you are inspired to penetrate the continent even more, then Gardner Canal admits you an additional 100 km to Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees (Source of Milky Blue Waters) known now as Kitilope Heritage Conservancy, the largest area of protected coastal temperate rainforest in the world. You will be dwarfed and exhilarated every minute you venture deeper into the mountains, the channel narrowing until fresh water mixes with salt.
Unforgettable sights. Head north in the early summer to the beautiful mouth of the Work Channel, just north of Prince Rupert. Drop your line for a chance at catching a giant Skeena River Chinook, and keep your eyes open to catch a glimpse of the incredible “bubble nets” created by Humpback Whales to help them trap and catch fish themselves.
Travelling north, you may choose Grenville Channel, the narrow and popular Inside Passage route, east of Pitt Island. This is the route used by BC Ferries and other commercial traffic. It is sheltered and the living shores are close at hand. A second option is outside Pitt Island and inside Banks Island. This route is a bit more exposed to seas. The reward is solitude and plentiful beckoning inlets where you can smell, hear and taste the freshness of the natural world. On either route you can enter Union Passage Marine Park, a large and placid body of tidal water with numerous peaceful anchorages and beaches. If you have a yen for open seas, take the third option outside of Banks Island. There are no marinas or communities along any of these routes, until you reach Port Edward and Prince Rupert.
All routes lead to Porcher Island where three small settlements established in the early 20th century still boast a few inhabitants. These settlements are found at Hunts Inlet and at Humpback Bay, both on the island’s northernmost tip, and at Oona River, which flows into Ogden Channel at the island’s eastern edge. Canneries, wooden ship-building and Scandinavian pioneers are part of the history.
Civilization . . . briefly
The wide Skeena River enters the sea here. It is navigable for about 60 km (40 miles). Little, big-hearted Port Edward is located near its mouth. Port Edward Harbour Authority offers moorage and many services at four locations. You have been at sea for some time now. There are many things to do in Port Edward. Visit the Prince Rupert page under Communities to find dining, activities and shopping. Prince Rupert is the largest community on the BC mainland coast north of Howe Sound. You will find everything a boater needs, although moorage is often in short supply. Fortunately, a new marina will begin construction in 2015. The magnificent Northwest Coast longhouse overlooking Prince Rupert Harbour is home to the Museum of Northern BC. The Museum draws visitors from around the world to experience its unique celebration of cultures and histories.
For those who simply must go to the end of the “road” Stewart is an irresistible prize. The route lies up Hecate Strait, which is somewhat exposed, to Portland Canal. Steward is at the top, 200 km (125 miles) up an ocean river framed by glaciers. This is one of the best places to view grizzly bears and the fishing is unbeatable. Stewart could be the set for an old time movie. There are three year-round accommodations to choose from: an eclectic and historic inn, a hotel/motel and a cozy bed and breakfast. Stewart Harbour Authority, the most northern port on the BC coast, will make room for just about any size boat, including Al Pacino’s 120-foot yacht.
Along the way, take a side trip up long, lonely Work Channel. Or take the channel south of Somerville Island up a branch of Portland Inlet to Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, the first region in Canada to be protected specifically for grizzly bears and their habitat. It also represents the first undisturbed estuary of its size to be protected along the north coast of BC. The topography of this land and marine sanctuary is diverse, with rugged peaks towering to 2100 metres (6500 feet) above a valley of wetlands, old growth temperate rainforests and a large estuary. No need to tell you that wildlife abounds. The BC Parks wardens stationed here will give you an orientation before entering the Sanctuary.
We hate to say goodbye
Your route northward through Canadian waters may be taking you to Alaska. We can save you the trouble. It doesn’t get any better than this. Seriously, we hope you created lasting memories of your exploration of BC’s coast and we wish you well on your exploration of Alaska’s coastline. We welcome visitors from Alaska. And the best part of it all? You are probably coming back this way. Try another route or visit the places you missed on the outward journey. It will be nice to see you again.
Main image at top of page: Adventure tours are a great way to go, credit Outer Shores Expeditions