Queen Charlotte Islands April 2009


This spring my wife and I finally got a chance to visit a place we've always wondered about, the Queen Charlotte Islands about 120 km west of the outer islands of the northern BC coastline.

On Friday the tenth of May we set out from our home in Edmonton and drove west. After a long day of driving we found ourselves west of Prince George looking for a place to camp. There are many BC Forest Service rec sites out this way but most were inaccessable due their location on unused, and hence unplowed logging roads. After being foiled a few times we finally found a place to camp at Cobb Lake.

Cobb Lake Rec Site mud hole.

All the melting snow had turned this site into a mud hole. The whole area was gently sloped towards the lake and it was extremely difficult to maneuver the truck and trailer around. After shoveling the snow out of the fire pit I found that there was about eight inches of ice at the bottom. We lit a fire on top of the ice anyway.

The road down to the lake was quite steep and snow covered. That and the mud had me a little concerned about getting out in the morning. When we awoke the next morning things seemed just a little too quiet. When I stuck my head out of the tent I found out why. It was snowing heavily, great huge flakes. Fortunately it had just started and we quickly got ourselves together and headed out. Temperatures just around the freezing mark had solidified the mud just enough and we trucked up the snow covered hill without any difficulty.

Leaving Cobb Lake

From Cobb Lake we headed west again towards Prince Rupert where we would catch a ferry to Skidigate on the Queen Charlotte Islands. We arrived in Prince Rupert late and spent the night in a hotel as there was no where handy to camp. Sunday we spent the day around Prince Rupert where it rains a lot so we were fortunate to have a decent weather day. By the time we got on the ferry though it was pouring with rain. The ferry to Skidegate takes about 6 1/2 hours and on this day didn't leave until 11pm. We got ourselves a stateroom to sleep in on the ferry but sleep didn't come easy. That ferry we found out later was had been in service for 29 years and 5 months and everything rattled like you wouldn't believe. Fortunately the seas in Hecate strait were fairly calm so it wasn't too bad a ride.

We were off the ship at about 6am Monday morning and immediately headed through the village of Queen Charlotte on our way to the one road that accesses the west side of Graham Island. Rennell Sound was our goal but it wasn't to be.

Rennell Main FSR

The Rennell Main Forest Service Road started out fine but as we gained elevation quickly became snow covered. I thought that snow might be a bit of an issue at this time of year but I didn't expect there would be that much still around. Eventually the snow became too deep and the tracks that we were driving in turned from vehicle to snowmobile. It was at that point that we gave in and turned around. It was also raining steadily which was a fitting compliment to my disappointment at not being able to make it over the pass.

Plan B saw us retrace our tracks and then head north to Tlell. There we set up camp and went for a walk on the beach. The weather on the east side of the island was improving but the wind remained very cool.

Tlell Beach

Tuesday morning we packed up and headed north to Agate beach on the north coast of Graham Island. What a spectacular location. We had the best weather of the trip here and were very thankful for that. We set up camp and then set out to hike Tow hill.

Agate Beach Camp.

View from Tow Hill.

The Blow Hole.

At the base of Tow hill we checked out the 'Blow hole'.

Sunset at Agate Beach.

Wednesday we headed south with plans to take a small ferry to Moresby Island. The wife was getting antsy for a shower so we stopped at a laundromat that advertised hot showers in Skidegate but their hot water wasn't working so no go. We tried again when we reached the town of Sandspit on Moresby Island but that wasn't happening either. We made our way along many km's of logging roads to our next camp at Gray Bay. I pulled out the Zodi Extreme portable shower but the wife wasn't willing to strip down and shower in 20kts of wind with a temperature not far above freezing. So we settled on staying clothed and just washed our hair.

Thursday morning we make our way a few km's north and hiked a short trail to Secret Cove. It was a nice spot but the weather wasn't great so we didn't hang around long.

Secret Cove Trail.

In the afternoon we took the little ferry back to Skidegate and that evening we got in line for the ferry back to Prince Rupert. It was supposed to leave at midnight but was delayed because of high winds in Hecate strait. Incidentally we found out that we were going to be on the last ever sailing from Skidegate of the Queen of Prince Rupert. She was being retired after over 29 years of service. They even had a little party for her and many of the locals came out to wish her well. Unfortunately due to the inclement weather we ended up pulling away at 3:15am, and since we weren't able to get a stateroom had to sleep on the floor in the lounge. Despite the rough seas it wasn't that bad a ride. It was pouring rain again in Prince Rupert when we arrived at 9:30am the next morning.

We spent the next two uneventful days driving back to Edmonton.


Freaking sweet man! That campsite looked like a mud pit for sure!

What an amazing beach location.

I got to check that out sometime.


Looks like you had the place pretty much to your self. The west side of the island must be wild, catching the full punch of the Pacific wind and swell - that would be cool to see.

That sure is an enormous down tree in the photo - maybe Sitka Spruce?

Thanks for posting - enjoyed it.

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Expedition Leader
We visited these Island in May several years ago - come to think of it, it was in 2003. Maybe it's time I plan another trip up that way. The only snow we saw was decorating the mountain tops, especially on the ferry north from Port Hardy, and along the drive inland from Prince Rupert. But rain was a nearly constant companion.

Our ferry was the Queen of the North, a new and larger boat than the QPR. Our return leg was actually moved forward. QPR was delayed coming out of winter refitting, so they had to juggle the schedule of the QoN. Ferry personnel were making a round of the campgrounds, telling people that the two Monday and Tuesday sailings were being consolidated into one, earlier on Monday. Fortunately we were camped just west of Queen Charlotte City, so didn't have to change our plans too much - other than break camp earlier and quicker.

The Q of North later sank when it hit a rock about half way between Price Rupert and Port Hardy. It was replaced by a Greek ferry, the Sonja. And now they have a new, custom made boat replacing the QPR.

We camped at Agate Beach for three nights, with on and off rain the whole time. Still, the local hiking is fascinating. We also drove a bit on the beach east of Tow Hill. And there are few places where you can camp so close to a rocky beach. At high tide in the middle of the night it sounded as though the waves would break right onto the tent.

We made it to Renell Sound, which is the only place on the west side of the Islands that you can drive to. But it is on a deep inlet, so it's not exposed to the open ocean and its waves. And despite being a Sunday, we had a few close encounters with logging trucks.

We also made a day trip on the south island, including lunch at Gray Bay (a bit buggy)
My photos can be found at http://www.pbase.com/paulj3/queen_charlottes
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Expedition Leader
Speaking of large trees, here's one of the off-highway logging trucks used on the islands - fortunately it is parked. And the start of a trail into old growth forest on the way to Rennell Sound (Yakoon Lake)



Expedition Leader
A note on geography. Most of the Queen Charlottes is mountainous, but the NE corner of the north island (Graham?) is flat, boggy, with an extensive sand spit. From satellite photos you can see multiple lines of sand dunes. Most this flat area is a large provincial park. At the south end of the park is Tlell, with a campground, and a long beach walk heading north (multi day hiking).

On the north side of the park is the Agate Beach campground. As the name implies, here the beach is a steep, rocky one. Trucks can drive on to it, but you do need skill (and power?), especially getting out. Just to the east of the campground is Tow Hill, a volcanic outcrop. East of the Tow Hill, the beach is wide smooth sand, and easy to drive - provided you watch the tides.


Needs to get out more
Amazing area. Great photos. Good times. I need to go there. (added to the ever growing list)


island Explorer
vERY NICE PICS. The only time I have been to the islands is for work (logging camps) Not much scenery involved! I could tell you fun stories on the ferry ride to PR man is gets bad on a fall windy night!

My dad has done several fishing trips to float camps around the charlottes. This seems to be the best way to see the island as most spots there is no roads.


Thanks everyone. I'm glad you guys enjoyed the photos.

pygmyowl, Yeah we had the whole place to ourselves, just the way we like it.

paulj, Those are some great photos. It looks like you had much better weather on the west side than you did up north. I'm very familiar with how brutal the weather can be there as I forecast for that part of the world for a living. We didn't encounter any logging trucks at all despite the many warnings. We were traveling primarily on the Easter weekend though so perhaps that had something to do with it.

TacoRocco, Thanks for the offer. I'm sure we'll make it up there sometime.

Here are a few more photos from the trip:

Can you tell which way the prevailing winds blow?

The view looking west from Tow Hill.

The sound of the surf pushing and pulling the stones on the beach was incredible.

Looking up at Tow Hill.

Cool volcanic rock formations at the base of Tow Hill.