Just a 30-minute drive from Downtown Vancouver is the southerly most reach of the Indian Arm, an 18km-long fjord lined with snow-capped peaks, beautiful waterfalls and three different (and entirely free) campsites. This makes it the perfect location for an overnight kayaking trip, especially for first-timers or those who don’t want to stray too far from the city.
What you’ll need
If this is one expedition that you’re keen to try, then the first port of call is, of course, to find yourself a sea-going vessel. If you don’t own one yourself, or you don’t have a friend you can tap up, there are plenty of kayak rentals to be found around Vancouver. Mountain Equipment Co-op is one option, as is Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak.
The latter is certainly the more expensive choice, but it’s also the most convenient. You’ll find this small but extremely busy outfit at the end of the Indian Arm, making it the ideal spot from which to launch. They’ll provide you with a life jacket, some safety equipment and a brief explanation as to what to do, should you capsize. After that, you’re on your own.
While you won’t want to carry too heavy a load (it’s more work, after all), it’s useful to know that the kayaks provided by Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak are surprisingly spacious. The double kayaks boast three separate storage compartments, which although watertight, can get a little damp. Packing your belongings (or at least your clothes) in a dry bag is therefore a good idea.
Seeing as the campsites are free, you don’t need to bring cash. But you will need to bring everything else, as there are no showers, food supplies or potable water at any point along the way. But be sure to pack out what you pack in, as there isn’t a garbage collection service. Oh, and campfires are absolutely prohibited year-round, so leave the firewood at home.
The outbound journey
Once you’re afloat on the water, be ready to develop neck ache as you ogle at the jaw-dropping real estate that immediately greets you on the western shore. In fact, human habitation can be found the length of the Indian Arm. You might think this disappointing (or even comforting), but it’s also somewhat deceptive, as you’re actually within touching distance of BC backcountry.
With Mount Seymour Provincial Park on one side and Say Nuth Kaw Yum Provincial Park on the other, you’re encased by dense forest and towering mountains. As you glide past, keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring up above and black bears roaming through the trees. In the water itself you can expect seals, sea otters and a variety of fish, including salmon.
After about 45 minutes of paddling you’ll stumble upon a smattering of tiny islands, the first of which is Jug Island, followed by Raccoon Island, and finally Twin Islands. You can stop at any of these for a rest and a swim, and camping is permitted at the most northerly of the Twin Islands, making it the closest campsite to Deep Cove.
If you choose to continue along the Indian Arm then you’ll pass two gothic looking buildings on the eastern shore. These are the Buntzen Lake Power Houses, which were originally built in the 1900s. They are still owned by BC Hydro so you can’t land here, but it’s fun to paddle past and peer into the eerie edifices.
From here the shoreline becomes less populated, and you finally feel like you’re entering the wilderness. Unfortunately if you visit during a warm weekend, then your dreams of peace and solitude will likely be shattered by the numerous sailing boats, power boats and revelers who also enjoy these waters.
Even so, no one can detract from the beauty of your surroundings. Of particular note is Silver Falls on the western shore. Partially hidden behind the foliage, this waterfall plunges down into the ocean with incredible force. But unless you’re an experienced paddler, be sure not to get too close, as the currents at the foot of the falls can be tricky to navigate.
A little further on is the second campsite, known to some as Berg’s Landing and to others as Bishop Creek. Located opposite Croker Island, there aren’t any camping platforms, but you’ll find large grassy areas to pitch a tent. This site is certainly quieter than its neighbour at Granite Falls, but there are more bear sightings here, so be bear aware.
As you round the corner of Croker Island, the most northerly point of Indian Arm finally comes into view. Here you’ll see the Wigwam Inn, which is privately owned by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. In the distant reaches is the estuary, where the Indian River meets the sea. And then there’s Granite Falls, which for many is their desired resting place for the night.
Camping on the Indian Arm
As the name suggests, Granite Falls is a torrent of water that cascades down over a huge slab of granite. It’s a spectacular sight, and there’s a great little plunge pool at the base which makes for a very refreshing swim on a hot day. As far as facilities go, there are a few tent pads, as well as more rustic set-ups beyond the outhouses.
If you plan on camping here, land your kayak on the beach by the lighthouse and pull it above the tideline. Then go bag yourself a spot, preferably not too close to the waterfall, or the wind could carry the spray straight to your door. If you find the campsite to be full or too busy for your liking (which does happen!) you can always retreat back to Berg’s Landing.
The return journey
When you’re ready to return to civilisation, take note that strong headwinds can rip through the valley, making it hard going on the way home. This is particularly true during warmer weather thanks to a phenomenon known as anabatic winds, although storms are also a risk during winter. Typically, it takes paddlers between three and five hours one way.
Conditions are generally calmer during the morning, and the tide times can also make a huge difference to the amount of manpower needed to get from A to B. That’s why no matter where you’re kayaking in the world, be sure to plan your trip according to the conditions and the tides. And always take life jackets, rope for towing and a bilge pump.
Kayaking in Vancouver
If you’re still a little nervous about the prospect of venturing across the ocean for an overnight kayak trip, you can always try a guided tour first, or ask a professional for advice. With the right planning and knowledge, it is a great experience and one you’re sure not to forget in a hurry – in spite of the blistered hands!