The first time I planned a trip to Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago I was a bit frustrated by how little information about campsites I was able to find online. When I finally arrived in Telegraph Cove, I asked the guides at North Island Kayak what campsites they recommended, and marked then off on my marine chart. It is a confusing mix of free public designated campsites with no toilets, campsites with a vault toilet where you might have to pay a fee, campsites on IR (Indian Reserve) land where you can stay only with permission from the band that owns it, possibly also for a fee, and campsites that at one time may have been public but now are leased by private kayak companies exclusively for their use and are off limits. You might unknowingly settle into a beautiful spot for instance, only to be kicked out later because it's a commercial site.
Many paddlers I have met out in the Broughtons started their trip in Echo Bay and kayaked to Telegraph Cove, but I have always started and ended at Telegraph Cove and have not traveled north of Sedge Island, so I can only talk a little about campsites in the southern part of the Broughton Archipelago.
Telegraph Cove is a popular gateway to the Broughtons and the Forest Campground is a convenient place to stay both before and after your trip. It’s a busy campground with a central field with playground equipment for kids, bathrooms, and showers, and a covered area next to the Campground Manager’s Office with WiFi access. Cost is about $30/night and WiFi is an extra $2. An electrical outlet and faucet with running water are available at every campsite. They don't charge extra for showers. By the way, there are also bathrooms, laundry facilities, and showers at the Telegraph Cove Resort by the boat launch. Showers are $1, and washing machines and dryers take $2 each in Loonies. You can find small boxes of laundry detergent at the General Store.
Many kayakers will pack their kayaks on the lawn in front of the Telegraph Cove Resort office (“The Red Building”), and pay $8 to launch from the adjacent boat launch. Alternatively, you can pay $7 and launch from the kayak launch by the North Island Kayak office. When you return, there is a hose by North Island Kayak that you can use to wash off your kayak and car. It is there for people to wash off their big boats.
I stayed at the Forest Campground both before and after my trip. I made a reservation for my first night but on my last night I just showed up and asked for a place and they still had several sites available. Whereas at the Resort you are unlikely to get a room without a prior reservation during the summer, you can still easily find a campsite. If you don’t have a reservation, drive around the campground first and see if there are any unoccupied sites, then stop at the Campground Manager’s Office by the field and tell him which ones you are interested in.
The campground is 1 km down a dusty gravel road from the Resort, so you have a bit of a walk if you want to take advantage of the restaurants at the Resort. Like any drive-in campground, it can be a little noisy and especially annoying when big trucks drive by your tent in the middle of the night. The management makes it known that there are several black bears in the area, and that you should not to store food in your tent. One of the guides at the Tide Rip Grizzly Bear Tour office on the boardwalk said that one particularly curious black bear walked right into their office in the middle of the day, in full view of everyone eating at the Pub next door.
Someone also mentioned that there is a cougar in the area. Although people seem more concerned about bears, statistically I think you are more likely to be attacked by a cougar. Most cougar attacks in Canada have happened on Vancouver Island. Usually these animals target small children, but have also stalked and attacked adults. They can swim between the islands too, just like bears!
There are a couple hikes from the campground. One is a short 5 min walk to the Bauza Cove which has a wide stony beach at low tide. The other is a longer hike to the Blinkhorn Peninsula. If you decide to do this hike, they request that you write your name and what time you left on a sheet of paper posted outside of the Campground Manager’s office, in case you don't return!
If you want to rent a kayak for your trip, North Island Kayak is conveniently located right on the water in Telegraph Cove. They post tide and current information daily and will also give you a copy of the local tides and current table for the month. They also have marine charts and other publications for sale. If you specifically want to know about the campgrounds available, I highly recommend purchasing the map titled “Johnstone Strait and The Broughtons, Recreation Map and Trip Planner” for $9.95. These maps are also available online from Coast and Kayak Magazine.
I’ve only traveled in the Broughton Archipelago a couple times in the past two years but I think I know enough about the area to recommend a few places. Flower Island is located at the south end of Swanson Island and to the west of Freshwater Bay, and has a gravel beach and places for about 5 tents. The beach is on the east side and faces north east across Freshwater Bay, so it's in the shade in the evening but protected form the prevailing northwest wind. There is no toilet on Flower. There is a short trail across the island from the campsite to a little cove on the west side. If you intend to use that cove as a toilet, be aware that fishermen like to park their boats just outside the cove and fish in the tide rip that forms there.
I think the best feature on Flower is the point on the southwest end. There is a small grassy area above the rocks surrounded by salal, a perfect place to sit and watch humpback whales and orcas in Blackfish Sound.
Another good reason to stay on Flower is that there is easy access to fresh water from a small creek on Swanson Island which empties into the beach on Freshwater Bay. There are the ruins of a couple small houses and a sailboat there that are interesting to explore. The only other source of freshwater I know in the area is the marina in Farewell Harbour on Berry Island.
In the middle of the night on while camping Flower, I heard a sound that I couldn’t identify, almost like a big cat roar. The sound got closer and was accompanied by other sounds like very low pitched rumbling. I finally figured out that it was the sound of humpback whales blowing right off the beach in Freshwater Bay. I couldn’t see anything in the dark looking out my tent but they sounded very close.
With so much concern about bear encounters around here, some people prefer to camp on the smaller islands and, I have to admit, that is part of the attraction to small islands such as Flower and White Cliff for me. After my stay on Flower another paddler I met told me that a few years ago a grizzly had been living there. It was a young male who was swimming between Flower, Compton, and I think Berry Island, until someone shot and killed him. I don’t know what the attraction to a small island like Flower would be to a bear. It doesn’t have any fresh water, or a large beach covered with mussels and clams, or rocks that you could roll over to find crabs and worms to eat. It is totally covered with salal though, and the berries are plentiful. I have to wonder if they prefer small islands because they seem more secure from humans, just as humans prefer to stay on them because they feel more secure from bears!
THE WHITE CLIFF ISLETS
The White Cliff Islets are much more exposed than Flower to the northwesterlies blowing across Queen Charlotte Strait to the west. The central island is the largest and has the campsites. There really is no beach, but you can land on the sloping smooth rock surface on the east side. There are few trees so there are few places to get out of the sun when it gets really hot, and little shelter from the wind.
The views from White Cliff are spectacular, especially at sunset. Whales swim by around all sides of the island, sometimes very close. Despite being such a small island, there are several flat areas for tents, covered with soft grass or moss, and patches of smooth rock which are perfect places to lay your clothes and gear to dry out in the sun.
The group of kayakers I met on White Cliff had taken a water taxi from Telegraph Cove to Echo Bay and started their trip through the Broughton Archipelago there. I think it is a popular route to take. The night before they had camped on Sedge Island, just a couple miles to the north of White Cliff. They said Sedge has a site on the beach in a very protected cove. It is small and has room for 2 tents. I paddled up there to check it out and was not impressed. The beach was very rocky so I didn’t even bother landing. I think the tent sites are located back in the trees and probably don’t have much of a view.
The lack of any really private area, sandy beach, or soft ground to serve as a toilet can be a concern on White Cliff, especially since it seems to be a popular campground. I think people use the area below the cliff on the south side which is exposed at low tide. I have seen personally seen evidence of that! Watch where you step if you go down there. I didn’t want to sully the beach any more than it had been already so I just paddled across to Owl Island and used their pit toilet.
I didn’t stay at Owl Island, but stopped by to check it out. The beach to the north is sheltered but a little rocky. There is room for several tents among the shade and protection of tall trees, and you have your choice of sites facing the water to the north or south. There is a pit toilet. The person I spoke to there said there were not many mosquitoes. Actually, I didn’t encounter many mosquitos anywhere, and I think it was just the end of a very dry summer. I bet the bugs were a lot worse in July. There is also another campground across Providence Passage on Cedar Island to the north. A year or two ago, there were warnings not to camp on Owl Island because a cougar had been spotted there.
Last year, Tom Sewid, who was Native Watchman at the time, invited us to stay on Compton Island, which is Indian Reserve. He was in the middle of a project to built cabins on the beach. The beach area has now been further developed, with a large deck and kitchen area. A small cabin now stands on the site where we had pitched out tent, and a couple travel trailers are parked in back, so I don’t know if there are any sites left for tent camping next to the cabins. The soft pebble beach is very kayak-friendly and one of the best locations to watch humpback whales surface and breech on Blackfish Sound. The cabins were intended as a base camp for kayakers who wanted a more luxurious camping experience, especially during the cold winter months. Tom has since moved on from being Native Watchman, so unfortunately I have no further information on this option.
Mound Island is a popular spot not only for sea kayakers but also for the "Yachties". They like the sheltered anchorage to the south of Mound, and bring their dogs to the campground area for their regular walks. There is grassy area for tents, a fire pit, kitchen area and pit toilet. The beach is sandy and made of crushed shells. Obviously this area is a large ancient midden. Where the dirt has fallen away on the shore bank you can see the bleached white clam shells layered on top of each other. The “mounds” for which Mound Island was named were apparently created by the aboriginal dwellings that were dug into the ground here. The indigenous people also took advantage of the tidal flow in the narrow passage to the west to capture fish. At low tide you can see how rich the beach is in edible sealife -- barnacles, clams, and mussels.
My favorite area on Mound is the rocky peninsula just south of the beach. A blanket of thick moss covers the top, which is shaded by tall trees. It would be a wonderful place to pitch a tent, but it is surrounded by water at high tide.
I don’t have much to say about the campsites along Johnstone Strait, such as the popular Keikash Creek site, except to say that when I paddled by there last year, there were a ton of people. The beach is also very rocky and not very kayak-friendly. I would avoid that area if you don’t like crowds. There is at least one other small creek just west of Kaikash with a nicer gravel beach.
One of the best campsites on Johnstone Strait is the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve Warden’s Campground on the west side of Boat Bay. It is not open to the public, although Katya and I didn’t know it at the time, and the wardens graciously let us stay there last year after we had already set up our tent. We had the opportunity to talk to the wardens about orcas around the campfire, and had a platform with an amazing view of the Strait. It was a clear, balmy night. Watching the full moon rise over Boat Bay was simply magical!