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Blissful Beaches: A Guide to BC’s Best 5-Star Beaches for Sea Kayakers

Burnett Bay was a welcome reprieve from the byzantine waterways of the Inside Passage. For the first time, we felt the wind coming in off the ocean instead of spilling off some cold distant mountaintop… We saw so many whales in the bay we lost count. This place is strong medicine for the paddle weary. Tomorrow we’re headed for Smith Sound. We’ll be slivers on the sea again; it’s a humbleness you learn out here and never forget.

George and Liz, June 1998, from cabin logbook at Burnett Bay

Let’s face it, the 5-star review system has taken over the world. It has long been a tool for evaluating hotels, movies, and restaurants. But that’s only scratching the surface. In his bestseller The Anthropocene Reviewed, Josh Green rated everything from our entire era of human climate change to sunsets, cave paintings, scented stickers, the internet, staphylococcus bacteria, and the human capacity for wonder. To the best of our knowledge, no one has come up with a proper rating system for BC’s sea kayaking beaches.  Here is our attempt.

Let us start by acknowledging that ranking our beaches according to a single score is necessarily subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what makes a great beach to us might not be the same for you. When people write reviews, they’re really writing about how they felt while experiencing something. For example, we like places more if we visit them on a sunny day. So, is it the beach we’re rating? the sunny day? the feeling we had while being there? or all the above?

As anyone who has read The Little Prince knows, our heart’s invisible connection to an object makes it special, more so than any objective properties of the object itself. As the fox said to the Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Deep emotional connections to a beach rarely arise spontaneously; they are made from the memories you create there.  A beach might be 5-stars to you and to no one else because that is where you played with your grandfather as a child, where your boyfriend proposed, where you danced naked around a campfire, where you had a rousing game of Ultimate with friends, where your children made their first campfire, or where you had an intense eye-to-eye connection with an orca spying you from only a few feet away.

So What Makes A 5-Star Sea Kayaking Beach?

Peter McGee, founder of the original BC Marine Trails Association, surveyed sea kayakers in the early 1990s to see where they wanted to go. The vast majority sought scenic wild beaches in an unimproved natural state. Most wanted to paddle on the west coast of Vancouver Island where scenic wild beaches are abundant, but ended up actually kayaking in the Gulf Islands because it was easier to get to.

In our four decades exploring the BC Coast, we have visited hundreds of beaches, sometimes as a couple, but also with family or friends.  Standout beaches that we would rate as 5-stars tick most of these boxes:

  • Beautiful Natural Scenery: The first hallmark of a 5-star beach is its natural setting. Think untrammeled wilderness. An outlook so gorgeous that you stand motionless in wonder. A view so stunning that you temporarily forget to breathe. Our favourites are usually expansive beaches with a good view of the sky for revealing the changing light, and where we can spend hours exploring the length of the beach. But cozy private beaches sheltered by headlands and impassable forests are charming in their own way—and especially so when strong winds are forecast. 
Sunset over the Brooks Peninsula
  • Shelter From Wind and Waves: A 5-star beach should offer shelter from strong winds and waves and provide a secure environment for landing and camping. Although the long beaches we prefer might be windy and require surf landings, usually there is a headland at either end of the beach that allows kayakers to land safely and find some shelter from the wind.
West Coast of Calvert Island
Launching from a Sheltered Spot at the south end of Ahous Bay
  • Ease of Access: A 5-star beach should welcome you with a smooth landing on modestly sloped sand or gravel. You will be hoping for a surface that is easy to walk across without either sinking in mud or continually getting ouchy rocks stuck between your foot and your sandal. The right beach slope can save you hundreds of meters of slogging all your gear and boats across tidal flats to reach dry land. We check tide tables to plan our arrival and departure from flat beaches. The main kayaking beach at Home Bay on Jedediah Island, for example, is a short carry at high tide, but at low tide turns into a brutal slog through ankle-deep mud.

  • Camping: Ideally, a 5-star beach would offer tent-ready terrain: no bumpy surprises, just flat and even surfaces for a comfy night’s sleep by the shore. Where there are no prepared tent areas, we make our own by using a piece of driftwood to level a patch of sand or gravel on the beach. Julee used to love the challenge of scavenging driftwood to create a level “kitchen counter”, but as we get older we also appreciate campsites with actual picnic tables, hardened tent pads, an outhouse or fresh water.  
Leveling a Tent Site
  • Solitude: When you arrive at a 5-star beach, it should feel like you’ve discovered a secret hideaway. No crowds or noisy neighbors, just solitude. We generally prefer beaches where we can be alone, or nearly so. As a rule, beaches closer to accessible launch sites are more crowded. Finding an empty beach may mean paddling long distances, paddling in the off season, using a water taxi, or discovering a genuinely secret spot that isn’t on other people’s radars.
Alone on Spring Island
  • Sanctioned by First Nations: No beach can provide the peaceful satisfaction you seek if you know your mere presence on it is offensive to local First Nations or a threat to the environment. True 5-star beaches must consider First Nations cultural values, and environmental responsibility. BCMT is engaged in “citizen-based reconciliation” with many First Nations along the BC Coast to obtain concurrence for public visitation by paddlers.

    The marine trail mapping tool on BCMT’s website is continually updated to remove or conceal unsanctioned sites and add sites once they are agreed upon by the affected First Nation. Members accessing the BCMT website can find links that set out camping fees or other terms applicable to any visit. Pulling this information together for the paddling community is a massive undertaking and BCMT is grateful for the many donors, volunteers, and First Nations working together on this important initiative. Responsible paddlers should also be sure to observe ‘leave no trace’ principles set out in the BCMT Marine Code of Conduct.

  • Wildlife: The chance to observe wildlife in its natural setting sets the beaches of British Columbia apart from almost anywhere else in the world. And it can give a big boost to our beach ratings! Whether it’s seals drifting past on a rising tide, massive Stellar Sea Lions barking angrily from a rocky perch, a grey whale spouting in the bay, eagles soaring overhead, a kingfisher diving to catch a fish, a raft of sea otters floating on their backs, or an orca rubbing itself against a rocky shore, the presence of wildlife enhances the kayaking experience. Just remember to always carry pepper spray and secure all your food so that wild animals can stay wild.
Wildlife can Boost a Beach Rating
Gray Whale in Ahous Bay on Vargas Island
  • Safe Connections: A 5-star kayaking beach should connect safely to a launch site and other safe landing sites, e.g., along a marine trail. Under its Safety Mandate for safe contiguous marine trails, BCMT stresses that a distance between campsites of <8 Nautical Miles is considered safe, 8-12NM could be improved and >12NM is considered unsafe! These distances are for favourable weather conditions and assume that paddlers possess the necessary skills and experience appropriate for the waters they are traversing.
  • Drinking Water: For many years, we carried 100+ litres of drinking water in our double kayak because we were paddling between beaches and offshore islands where we couldn’t count on finding fresh water (unless it rained!). Staying at beaches with a fresh water source we can purify ourselves means less weight in our kayak, and possibly a refreshing river swim or even a warm shower with a shower bag. Luxury! Many paddling destinations in the Gulf Islands have potable water tested for safety at regular intervals by park staff.

  • Other Amenities: Just as the hotel swimming pool is sometimes more important than the room where you sleep, other amenities impact our enjoyment of beaches. Even though they are less wild, we love the beaches at Newcastle Island, Sidney Spit and Jedediah Island for their networks of walking trails and easier access. Our favourite beaches on the west coast of Calvert Island and Vancouver Island have trails that connect to adjacent beaches. Some paddlers seek out beaches for surfing. Others for sunsets. A Vancouver Island kayak guide we heard about considered nearby spearfishing and kelp foraging his most important amenities. He intended to camp on the Brooks Peninsula for two months with only his tent, sleeping bag, cooking supplies, spearfishing gear, and a few bags of rice!

Our Favourite 5-Star Beaches

We have not explored the Broughton Archipelago, BC’s north coast, or Haida Gwaii and hence have no beach recommendations for these areas. Here are our favourites, in order of distance from Vancouver:

1. Vancouver Beaches

In Vancouver, Jericho Beach, Locarno Beach and Spanish Banks are our favourites. They feel like water playgrounds and at low tide you can walk for miles on soft sand. Not a wilderness experience, but great for one-day preparatory paddles to False Creek or Wreck Beach. Starting from the Jericho Beach sailing center, you can even use a BC Marine Trail to paddle all the way to Victoria through Gulf Island marine parks!

Jericho Beach
Jericho Beach
Jericho Beach at Sunset

2. Southern Gulf Island Beaches

In the Southern Gulf Islands, we particularly like Sidney Spit on Sidney Island and Coon Bay on Galiano Island. Both have great sand, sunsets and walking trails. Newcastle Island is much more developed, but its walking trails, showers, fresh water, and restaurant bump it up to 5-stars for many paddlers.

Sidney Spit on Sidney Island
Coon Bay on Galiano Island
Newcastle Island

3. Northern Gulf Island Beaches

For a base camp in the Northern Gulf Islands, it is hard to beat Home Bay on Jedediah Island. The beach itself is unspectacular. What sets it apart is the large grassy area for camping and access to an extensive network of walking trails. Plus, it’s by far the nicest campground in the area. Many consider Jedediah the “crown jewel” of BC’s marine parks. Plan to land or launch near high tide unless you like long carries through ankle-deep mud.

Home Bay on Jedediah Island

The spectacular white sand beach at Buccaneer Bay on Thormanby Island comes in at 5 stars, but only during the shoulder season. During the summer months, and especially on long weekends, the beach and camping area become quite crowded.

Buccaneer Bay on Thormanby Island during Shoulder Season
Summer Crowds at Buccaneer Bay

4. West Coast Vancouver Island Beaches

The West Coast of Vancouver Island has many great beaches. Our favourites include Ahous Bay on Vargas Island, Cow Bay on Flores Island, Rugged Point, Raft Cove, the beaches on the north and south coast of the Brooks Peninsula, and the beaches on either side of Cape Scott.

Ahous Bay on Vargas Island
Ahous Bay on Vargas Island
The West Coast Beach Experience
Rugged Point
Camping on the West Coast of Vancouver Island
North side of Brooks Peninsula
North side of Brooks Peninsula
South side of Brooks Peninsula

5. BC Central Coast Beaches

Our favourite mid-coast beaches include Burnett Bay, the McMullan Islands, and the entire west coast of Calvert Island. Difficult to access, these wild beaches offer the solitude many paddlers seek along with great sand, sunsets, and wildlife. They are among the very best beaches British Columbia has to offer. Take a look at our recent article titled Wisdom from the Wild.

Julee at Burnett Bay
West Coast of Calvert Island
West Coast of Calvert Island


You may wonder, with our four decades of exploring BC beaches, which beach is our #1 Absolute Favourite. That one is not listed here and does not even appear on the BCMT map. It is not long, nor covered in white sand. It does not have walking trails, fresh water, a flat grassy upland, an outhouse, restaurant, or any improvements at all. But it is wild beyond measure, with gigantic driftwood logs and cedar snags slanted sideways from the fierce wind. The salt air is fresh and filled with the sound of bird cries and crashing waves. In every direction there is wildlife and amazing views. The beach itself is well-guarded by fog, rocks, and dangerous waves. Landing kayaks is possible only within a narrow tidal range. We have only once seen anyone else there. To us, it feels like the perfect escape from the modern world and the perfect place to connect with the timeless rhythms of nature. Blissful family memories give us a strong emotional connection to the beach, and it is to this beach that we most crave returning.

If you search hard enough, you might be able to find our blissful beach.

If you search even harder, and create your own happy memories there, you might find a 5-star blissful beach of your own!   

BC Marine Trails invites all paddlers to weigh in on their own favourite paddling beaches. Send us a short article, or a comment in the comments section below. Thanks for sharing!

Jerry & Julee Kaye

Jerry and Julee have been exploring the coast of British Columbia by kayak and sailboat for over 40 years. They live in Vancouver. Their children are now experienced sailors and kayak adventurers in their own right.