Johnstone Strait Guided Sea Kayaking Day Trip
Mid-May to September
May 17th - June 30th
July 1st - September 23rd
Spend a full day getting back to nature in the Johnstone Strait! The dynamic Johnstone Strait is home to everything from sea stars to orcas and is surrounded by incredible rainforested mountains. This tour is designed for all ages and ability levels, though you will be paddling for up to four hours, so a certain level of physical fitness is advised. Your guide will provide you with all the instruction and equipment you need to comfortably enjoy a day of spectacular paddling.
You will paddle the rugged shoreline of Vancouver Island, poking into tidal shallows and drifting under eagles' nests before enjoying a break for lunch on a remote beach. The afternoon will be filled with more paddling and interpretation.
We typically encounter bald eagles, seals, massive groves of bull kelp, entertaining jumping herring, sea stars and other intertidal life on our two-hour tours. The beautiful British Columbian mainland mountains create an incredible backdrop for an evening paddle. These tours are appropriate for anyone! Follow along next to your guide and you will likely find something you have never seen before.
Our Day Trip departs from picturesque Telegraph Cove in northern Vancouver Island. You will need to arrive here by 9:45 a.m. on the day of your tour as we plan to be on the water by 10:15 a.m. The day starts with introductions to your fellow adventurers and a brief discussion on safety and paddling to ensure you're comfortable on the water. After being fitted to your kayak, you will be ready to launch from Telegraph Cove's natural harbour. Here, you will have some time to get used to being afloat before we head through the narrow opening to Johnstone Strait and the seemingly unending wilderness beyond.
You will be spending the morning heading northeasterly with the spectacular, rugged coast of Vancouver Island to your right, the distant mountains of mainland BC on your left and the dynamic Johnstone Strait in between. Our tours focus on the journey; we try to ensure that all stress is left behind in the parking lot. Our guides are keen to share their knowledge of the area, intertidal creatures, plants and whatever swims by you that day. We make no guarantees when it comes to wildlife; however, a wide variety of creatures, such as orca, humpbacks, harbour seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, deer, mink, river otters, bald eagles and black bears have been sighted on day trips in the past. The tour follows a meandering route along the Vancouver Island rocky shoreline, visiting small groups of islands and remote beaches.
The chances of spotting orcas while kayaking are about 50% from mid-July through September and slightly higher in August. These odds are much better than winning the lottery! Before mid-July, it is unlikely to see orcas on a day trip as there are not enough salmon in the area where the day trip group paddles.
Our guides all carry marine VHF radios and monitor the local chatter to ensure that we never miss an opportunity to see whales, bears, or other wildlife. They also carry hydrophones, an underwater microphone with an external amplifier. Should there be whales nearby, your guide will allow you to listen to their unique calls!
Bring your lunch and something to drink as you will enjoy your meal on a remote beach, overlooking the Johnstone Strait. Marine wildlife frequents this area, so keep your eyes peeled. Groups usually experience incredible marine mammal sightings from the beach during this time.
After lunch, you will begin the paddle back to Telegraph Cove. Again you will stop to explore areas that abound with the intertidal and invertebrate life that thrives in our cold, nutrient rich waters. We regularly see sea urchins of various colours, ochre stars, leather stars, sunflower stars with many legs, brittle stars, crabs and other shellfish, and an abundance of bull kelp. Naturally, if there are opportunities to observe larger mammals, we will take it. The day trip usually arrives back in Telegraph Cove between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.
This tour is suitable for the whole family, but due to its duration, we recommend that children be over 10 years old to participate. Should you wish to bring children younger than this, please contact us to discuss a private day trip. No previous experience is required as we use very stable two-seat, enclosed sea kayaks. We also provide all paddling equipment, employ qualified sea kayak guides, and conduct a pre-departure training and safety briefing.
To avoid disappointment, pre-booking is strongly advised, either by phone or online.
The Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits attract an abundance of marine mammals in the summers but are much quieter in the winters. Because of this seasonality, we ask guests to pair their wildlife hopes appropriately with the dates of their visit. Please see our wildlife seasonality graph below:
Our Wildlife Seasonality Chart is based on data collected from 3-day trips. We do not guarantee sightings of any kind. The more time you spend on the water, the better your chances of wildlife sighting become!
Over 200 Northern Resident Orcas call this area home in the summer. These oceanic mammals travel in family pods and forage in the Johnstone and Queen Charlotte Straits for their favourite food: the chinook salmon. They reside in the Straits for an average of two months, typically arriving around mid-July and staying until early September.
Larger, more nomadic Transient Orcas (Bigg’s) are seen sporadically in the waters as well. They travel and behave less predictably, but occasionally pass by in a typically quiet and stealthy fashion (unless a porpoise crosses their path…).
An increasing number of humpback whales have been returning to these waters since the whaling industry eradicated them from the area. Whaling in BC ended in 1967, and 35 years later, only seven humpbacks were documented in the Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Straits. But in 2019, 95 individual humpback whales were documented as they fed on the abundant krill and herring in the straits. They are back! These solo giants arrive from Hawaii and Mexico in late May and stay to feed until October.
Steller Sea Lions
Steller sea lions, the largest sea lion, call this area home all year round. However, many more arrive in August and can be seen (and smelled), lounging on their favourite rocks in large groups, sometimes encompassing more than 40 members. Sea lions are curious creatures and groups are often joined by friendly pairs as you paddle in Blackfish Sound.
Year Round Wildlife
Harbor seals, bald eagles, pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, black bears, minks and salmon are spotted all year round in the straits. The cold, nutrient rich waters create an incredible ecosystem. Beyond mammals, the abundant intertidal life in the straits is often underrated. Sea stars, chitons, barnacles, limpids, anemones, and urchins thrive in the straits and are often easy to find at low tide. Their alien forms and behaviours are both interesting and illuminating as some intertidal creatures’ physical structures have remained relatively unchanged for over half a billion years.
Historic Telegraph Cove, British Columbia
Located in Northern Vancouver Island, approximately 200 km northwest of Campbell River, BC, the community of Telegraph Cove has around 20 year-round inhabitants. It was formerly home to a cannery, a mill for the Canadian Air Force, and a telegraph post. It now serves as a starting point for many forms of eco-tourism.
Telegraph Cove is the departure and return point of all our trips. Because we are based in the cove, we have priority access to boat launches, allowing you to be first on the water. After only two minutes of paddling, you will be in the heart of the dynamic Johnstone Strait.
Telegraph Cove, and its nearest neighbouring community, Port McNeill, have multiple accommodation options available for you, prior to your trip. Please see our list of recommended accommodations in the area. In addition to kayaking, a variety of other adventures are available during your stay in the cove: grizzly bear tours, boat assisted whale watching, hikes, an art gallery, beach access and excellent dining options. Please see our list of things to do in Telegraph Cove.
The incredible Whale Interpretive Center, located beside our shop, is home to over 30 marine mammal skeletons. It must not be missed! Finally, you will frequently see bald eagles, minks, river otters, black bears, and even whales before we leave the dock.
Experienced SKGABC Certified Guides
Our outstanding team of SKGABC certified guides is the backbone of our company, facilitating your experience from start to finish. On trips, our guides fill the roles of group leader, paddling instructor, naturalist, risk-manager, weather forecaster, chef, wildlife tracker, and your new best friend. Our team is made up of an incredible group of people, all with unique stories and backgrounds and inescapable passions for the outdoors and the area we operate in. This passion brings our guides back to the Strait summer after summer. On average, our lead guides spend three years at NIK, and Brad has been with us for 21!
Our team of returning staff means that your guide knows the area well. This allows them to craft your day around the local forecast, currents, and wildlife patterns from a position of knowledge and experience. If the fog rolls in, the wind picks up, or the sun shines down, your guide will know how to make the most of the day. We trust our guides fully to manage your experience with a focus on safety, comfort, and wonder.
We provide all camping and kayaking equipment for our tours. Come with the clothing and personal items noted in the ‘What to Bring’ section and we do the rest. Some of the equipment we provide for our trips includes:
All of our day tours use durable plastic double kayaks. These kayaks are as stable as it gets. They have plenty of room for storage, bungees on their decks for quick access to water bottles, and comfortable seats and backrests.
We will provide you with dry bags for any personal belongings you would like to bring. If you want your snacks to stay nice and dry, dry bags are the best way to store them. Dry bags are leak-free, 99% of the time, every time. Due to the small chance that dry bags can leak, we recommend storing electronics in a more rugged container within a dry bag.
Paddles, Spray Skirts, PFDs, and Safety Equipment
After we dress you up for your adventure, you will be ready for the runway! We have PFDs, paddles, and spray skirts that will work for everyone. Your safety and comfort are our highest priorities.
No two trips are the same! We pride ourselves on our fluid itineraries. The weather, tides, wildlife, and interests of groups are different every trip. Because of this, we both trust and empower our guides to adapt the trip as they see fit, so you can have the best experience possible!
- Warren B
Highlight of my summer! Absoluely amazing 4-day kayak tour with Marc and Mia. Both guides were oustanding. They were very knowledgeable, supportive, and placed our safety first, followed closely by enjoyment. The boats were comfortable, stable and tracked well. The camps were in beautiful locations, the tents were spacious, the beds comfortable, and the food was outstanding. Much to my chagrin I gained weight. Did I mention whales? There's nothing like waking up in the morning in your tent to the sound of humpbacks btreathing just offshore. Thank you NIK! I'll be back. …
Fantastic - Day Trip Just finished a day tour a few days ago. First Telegraph cove is a great location to Kayak because of the scenery and likelihood of seeing whales. While seeing whales is hit and miss we were very lucky to catch multiple pods of Orca's. The key thing is our guide, Liv (sp?) knew there were some whales sighted and mentioned that us early in the trip. She was able to take advantage of that insight (info) and maneuver us to get great views (while still being safe). On safety, it seemed to be top of her mind also as we had to cut our trip a bit short due to heavy winds starting to role in... and that was the way it should be .. with novices like us …
- Elaine C
The apex of summer We set out for the half-day (4hour) kayak trip at 1pm. The clouds vanished and we found ourselves in for a glorious afternoon. Our guide, Reed, was knowledgeable, competent, and friendly - he helped to make for a great afternoon. We saw a humpback whale in the distance, two pods of orcas quite close up, and then a variety of other creatures like old growth trees, sea urchins, and bald-headed eagles. Best afternoon! …
- Jenn W
Amazing Experience I did the half day kayak with Mia and Nadia. They were amazing. So friendly and knowledgeable. Their instructions were easy follow. Definitely worth the trip! Thanks ladies. The scenery was beautiful and we lucked out with a nice low tide. Lots to see.
2 hours of educational fun Todd our guide was well versed on safety, local flora and fauna. A fun 2 hours - especially for children!
- Terri T
Great paddle showcasing Beautiful BC! Thank you to Todd who led an informative and entertaining 2-hour kayak tour for my husband, myself and our 19yr old daughter out of Telegraph Cove. We encountered several curious Sea Lions and a bald eagles but alas no whales nearby (tho we did see one spout about 3km away). The spectacular beauty of the pristine coastline and serenity of the sea were the real superstars today. The light rain at the end really made us feel at home! Would like to return one day for a multi day expedition which may yield more possibilities to see more wildlife and marine life. Best of luck to you Todd!! …
- Richard C
Morning trip along the shore of Telegraph Cove Thank to our guides Nadia and Mia for the amasing morning trip that we had, that was really awesome and even the weather was on our side. I recommand North Island Kayak to anybody who want to try kayaking for the 1ers time or for those who just loved kayaking, go to Telegraph Cove... …
- Olivia S
North island kayak is a can’t miss!! Just went yesterday for a day tour with Nadia and Vince. They were amazing and very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna including the importance of the bull kelp forests for supporting the ecosystem. We saw lots of wildlife including a black bear and her cub, lots of orcas, and finding and holding sea urchins we found in the kelp forest. All around it was a fantastic day and I HIGHLY recommend it. If you want to experience BC the way it’s meant to be, kayaking in telegraph cove is a can’t miss! …
- Mike C
Very rare to have a trip this amazing! Can’t say enough good things about our 6 day - 5 night kayak and camping trip with North Island Kayak. We did luck out with the weather, wind, tides and plentiful wildlife, but the things within NIK’s control were excellent as well. The food was unbelievable as we had fresh and delicious meals the entire time (no freeze dried camping meals here). Our route and itinerary was very well planned out. The one thing that really made the trip was our guides Al and Vince. These guys were so easy to travel with, fun to be around and they worked really hard doing all the camp chores so that we could just spend our time exploring and relaxing. These guys were the key to how awesome our trip was and if we were to go on another trip we would definitely ask for them. …
- A P
Whale of a time We had a great tour with Mia earlier this week. Luckily we were the only two booked on the tour, which made things pretty speedy (we’re experienced kayakers). Mia knew loads about all the local wildlife, sea creatures and even the native plants and lichen. We learned some new things about whales too and were lucky enough to get to see several of them swimming in the strait! It was fantastic. …