Top 10 anchorages: the best of the west

Scow Bay, in Gay Passage, is a must-see on Vancouver Island's west coast. Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gardiner

Scow Bay, in Gay Passage, is a must-see on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gardiner

Disclaimer: This article is not to be used for navigation. The conditions along the West Coast of Vancouver Island ARE considered to be offshore and require a sound, ocean-going vessel.

One of the most exciting decisions you can make on a boat is where to go, and with the 2014 cruising season fast-approaching, it’s time to start thinking about destinations.

Last year we spent two months along the West Coast of Vancouver Island — home to five sounds, 16 major inlets, more than 200 islands and some of the best cruising in southern British Columbia. Along with the myriad of cruising possibilities, there are plenty of challenges. The West Coast is full of hazards: rocky shorelines, reefs, open ocean and FOG, FOG, FOG.

MiddenBeachBut your efforts are rewarded with abundant wildlife, remote anchorages, natural hot springs and wild scenery — all in all, a pretty fair trade-off. So what’s the catch? Up-to-date information can be hard to come by, so we decided to put together a list of our favorite anchorages.

How does an anchorage make our “top 10” list? Generally, we look for good protection first and “amenities” second. But for the purposes of this article, the opposite is true: They were chosen because of the experience they offer the visiting cruiser — whether it be a beautiful beach, rugged scenery, amazing sunsets or unique location. The fact that most of them offer good protection is just an added bonus.

So without further ado, from north to south, here is our list of the top ten anchorages along the West Coast of Vancouver Island:

1. Columbia Cove

Located in Checleset Bay along the southern edge of Brooks Peninsula, Columbia Cove is quintessentially West Coast. From white sand beaches covered in driftwood and flotsam to tree-lined shores backed by low mountains, the anchorage has an amazing wild feel to it an easy choice for our Top Ten List.

A rock formation creates a natural archway.

A rock formation creates a natural archway.

Enter the anchorage between Jakobson Point and the unnamed island; do NOT attempt to enter east of the island, which is shallow and foul. Silting has occurred over the years and the charted and actual depths may no longer correspond, so be mindful of that. The anchorage behind the island offers protection from all quadrants and has room for three boats (four at a push) but would be uncomfortable in a southeasterly due to chop and swell.

Along the northern shore, there’s a large tidal flat and sand beach backed by dense forest and low mountains where bears, cougars and wolves are reported to roam during low tide. At the western end of the flats, near the stream, there’s a half-mile trail which leads to “Shed 4” — a long white sand beach open to the Pacific Ocean.

The trail is rocky in places and can be muddy, so wear sturdy shoes or boots. You could easily spend hours on the beach, but be mindful of the tide: It doesn’t take long for your dinghy to get stranded on the flats or to find yourself walking back in water up to your calves.

Must-Dos: Hike to Shed 4 and explore the beach, kayak the surrounding area, watch for wildlife.

2. The Bunsby Islands

Also located in Checleset Bay, nine nautical miles east of Columbia Cove, the Bunsby Islands are a must-see for the West Coast.

There are three protected anchorages in the island group to choose from, all situated along Gay Passage. You can travel the passage from either the north or the south, but there are several rocks and shoals so it’s important to navigate carefully and know where you are at all times.

Bunsby Islands' windswept islets make for great kayaking.

Bunsby Islands’ windswept islets make for great kayaking.

Scow Bay is the first of three anchorages, and our personal favorite. The anchorage offers ample swing room, good protection and good holding in mud. Small boats have the option of entering the lagoon just off Scow Bay, but the entrance requires careful navigation and isn’t advisable without local knowledge. West Nook, located on the west side of Gay Passage, also offers good protection and holding in mud. South Cove, just south of West Nook, is less protected and offers a dramatic view out to the surrounding rocks and reefs.

Must-Dos: Explore the many windswept islands, islets, rocks and reefs by kayak or dinghy, watch the sunset from Scow Bay and watch the sea otters swim by.

3. Rugged Point Provincial Park

Located along Kyuquot Channel, Rugged Point offers everything we were looking for in a West Coast anchorage: white sand beaches, hiking trails, good kayaking and easy access to fishing.

The only thing missing is good protection. The anchorage itself is shallow with a sand bottom and offers shelter from the southeastlies and westerlies, but is open to the north, and the ocean swell can make your stay uncomfortable at times. There are, however, two well-sheltered anchorages nearby to choose from (Dixie Cove Marine Park and Petroglyph Cove).

Rugged Point Provincial Park has stunning beaches and hiking trails.

Rugged Point Provincial Park has stunning beaches and hiking trails.

On shore, there’s a well-maintained trail located near the park sign that leads to the Pacific side of the peninsula and stunning beaches. Although it’s not one long, continuous stretch of shoreline, the park includes miles of accessible beaches connected by trails that run through old-growth Douglas fir.

Must-Dos: Take the trail to the Pacific side beach to collect sand dollars. If time allows, seek out the trail head along the eastern shore, which will take you as far as Kapoose Creek. The trail can be steep and rugged in places, so wear sturdy shoes. If the conditions are settled, explore the park by kayak.

4. Bligh Cove (Bligh Island)/Friendly Cove (Nootka Island)

Although they’re two separate anchorages and 5.6 nautical miles apart, both make good bases to explore the area by dinghy or kayak, and they share a similar history — Captain Cook landed in Resolution Cove off Bligh Island and traded with the First Nations village in Friendly Cove.

Bligh Cove offers a protected anchorage with good holding.

Bligh Cove offers a protected anchorage with good holding.

Bligh Cove offers protection from all quadrants and the holding’s good in mud, with plenty of swinging room. As a bonus, it’s a pretty spot backed by hills that rise 1,000 feet into the air, but it pales in comparison to the Spanish Pilot Group, a cluster of rocks, islets and islands located at the southwest end of the marine park popular with kayakers.

As far as anchorages go, Friendly Cove isn’t the best. It’s protected from northwesterly winds and the holding’s good in sand in mud, but it’s shallow and exposed to the swell from the east, as well as the wake of passing boats. However, it’s a historic site and home to one of the few remaining manned lighthouses in North America, so it made the list.

Friendly Cove, looking out to the Pacific Ocean.

Friendly Cove, looking out to the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the land belongs to the Mowachaht First Nations band and a $12 landing fee is required (per person and cash only), which gives you access to the Catholic church, beach, campgrounds, trail to the lake and the causeway that leads to the lighthouse.

Must-Dos: Explore the Spanish Pilot Group and visit Resolution Cove (Bligh Island). Visit the Catholic church, walk the grounds at Friendly Cove and visit Nootka Light. If it’s low tide, scramble along the rocky islets to Captain James Cook’s memorial plaque (Nootka Island).

5. Hot Springs Cove

My husband disagrees with me on this one, but I had to include it on our list of favorites. Why? The name says it all: a natural hot spring that overlooks the rugged coast. Why not? The immediate assault of water taxis, whale watching boats and float planes from nearby Tofino.

At Hot Springs Cove, visiting boaters carve their vessel names into the wooden boardwalk.

At Hot Springs Cove, visiting boaters carve their vessel names into the wooden boardwalk.

Hot Springs Cove is an incredibly popular spot during the summer months and a huge change from the relative isolation of the West Coast, so a little planning and foresight helps if sharing an anchorage with a continuous onslaught of power vessels and float planes isn’t your thing.

To avoid the crowds, it’s best to arrive in the evening and leave early the next morning. The same goes for visiting the hot springs, otherwise you risk sharing the pools with 50 strangers (there’s a $3 per person fee to access the park and a drop box located at the park sign).

The springs are a popular spot, so avoiding crowds can be a challenge.

The springs are a popular spot, so avoiding crowds can be a challenge.

There’s a public dock and moorage runs CA$2.00 per meter, but because of the near-constant commercial traffic, anchoring is best. The holding’s good in mud and shell and we comfortably rode out gale-force southeasterlies for several days. Like all of the anchorages along the West Coast with the exception of Sea Otter Cove, the mooring buoys referred to in most cruising guides were removed years ago.

Must-Dos: Walk along the two-kilometer boardwalk through a beautiful stretch of coastal rainforest and soak in the hot spring pools.

6. Ucluelet

Three words and three words only — Wild Pacific Trail, a series of three trails that connects in a 5.2-mile loop. Add to that an excellent grocery store, restaurants, cafés, galleries, marine services, a laundromat, a fuel dock, cell phone coverage and internet, and Ucluelet is the best of the west.

Sunset over Scow Bay

Sunset over Scow Bay

The inlet that leads to Ucluelet is well-marked but can be busy with tour boats, commercial fishing vessels and kayaks, and requires careful navigation. There are several options for moorage, but the Ucluelet Small Craft Harbour in the upper bay is the one recommended by cruising guides. The anchorage lies off the Small Craft Harbour, north of Lynche Island, and offers good protection and holding in mud. Once again, we rode out several days of gale-force southeasterly winds comfortably while we were there.

Must-Dos: Walk the Wild Pacific Trail – ALL of it, from Lighthouse Loop to Big Beach to Artist Loop — you won’t regret it.

7. Lucky Creek (Refuge Island)

While the anchorage off Refuge Island is nothing special, Lucky Creek is and deserves a stop along the way. If you don’t, you’ll regret it … or at least you should.

The anchorage offers protection from summer winds and the holding is good in mud. It shallows quickly towards Hillier Island and aquaculture buoys take up most of the southeastern section, but there’s still plenty of room for several boats to anchor.

Lucky Creek Falls are particularly beautiful.

Lucky Creek Falls are particularly beautiful.

The entrance to Lucky Creek lies across from Bazett Island near the mouth of Pipestem Inlet and according to the chart, dries at low tide — do NOT attempt to enter in anything other than a small skiff or kayak near high water (we entered by dinghy an hour before high tide and had plenty of depth).

The creek winds through a mature forest with overhanging cedar trees before ending abruptly in a rather disappointing sight — a large granite outcropping with a trickle of a waterfall. But what you came for actually lies just at the top of the rocks: Pool after pool of water being fed by an equal amount of cascading waterfalls. It’s absolute perfection.

Must-Dos: Lucky Creek by dinghy (if you have kayaks, even better) and watch for wildlife roaming the shores of Vancouver and Hillier islands at low tide.

8. Nettle Island

Nettle Island, located along the northern section of the Broken Group in Barkley Sound, has several private nooks and crannies to anchor in but the large bay along the southern shore offers the best protection. The holding’s good in mud, making it an excellent base to explore the area by dinghy or sea kayak. Keep a close eye on the charts for rocks and shoals, but by West Coast standards, the entrances to the anchorages are pretty straightforward.


Must Dos: Take the dinghy or sea kayak out to explore Nettle, Gibraltar, Demster and Jarvis islands.

9. Effingham Bay (Effingham Island)

Effingham Island is protected by outer rocks and reefs but over the course of thousands of years, storms have carved its coast, leaving behind sea caves, natural arches and pinnacles, making it one of the best and most interesting areas in Barkley Sound.

Effingham Bay, in Barkley Sound, at sunset

Effingham Bay, in Barkley Sound, at sunset

Effingham Bay, the island’s only anchorage, is large and offers good all-around protection with holding in mud. The anchorage, however, is somewhat open to the west, and westerly winds can make it a little uncomfortable.

On the east side of the island, there’s a large midden beach, the former site of a First Nations village, that can be reached by trail or by water. And a large sea cave lies to the southeast of the midden that can be entered at low tide.

Must Dos: Take a tour of the island by dinghy or kayak and watch the sun set from Effingham Bay.

10. Bamfield

Last but not least, Bamfield is our final choice for the top 10 list. The town is divided into two sides (the east and the west) by Bamfield Inlet, also known as Main Street.

The tiny village of Bamfield has a population of around 150.

The tiny village of Bamfield has a population of around 150.

The east side is connected to the rest of Vancouver Island by a dirt road, giving access to tourists and hikers, but the west side isn’t. There are several options for moorage on both sides of the inlet and an anchorage just north of Burlo Island near the two remaining mooring buoys; the holding’s good in mud.

The east side of Bamfield’s home to most of the businesses for the community, including a pub, grocery store, chandlery, and café. And the west side’s home to most of the character … and characters, for that matter.

Brady's Beach is one of the most beautiful in the area.

Brady’s Beach is one of the most beautiful in the area.

A boardwalk runs along the west shoreline and takes you past quaint homes, cafés, bistros, a general store and cat village (yes, you read that correctly). It’s also the only land access to Brady’s Beach, one of the most beautiful and dramatic beaches along the West Coast.

Must Dos: Take a walk along the boardwalk on the western side and to Brady’s Beach.

So there you have it, our top 10 anchorages for the West Coast of Vancouver Island. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty more to choose from. There are. Like the rest of British Columbia, the options seem endless; so get out there and start exploring!


6 Responses to Top 10 anchorages: the best of the west

  1. Johanna Bradley September 8, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    I’m in love with that sunset 🙂

  2. Stormy February 6, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    I just wanted to pop in and thank you for all the excellent writing, you guys seem to make it everywhere I want to go. An absolute goldmine can be found within your blog.

    • Stephanie Gardiner February 7, 2016 at 8:42 am #

      Thanks, Stormy. I really appreciate that. We’re head over heels in love with all that BC and the Inside Passage has to offer cruisers and are doing our best to explore ever inch of coastline that we can (despite the fact that it would take a lifetime). I’m a fan of your blog and look forward to the day we come into an anchorage to fine Sooke already there!

      • Stephanie Gardiner February 7, 2016 at 8:46 am #

        Sorry about that, I skipped the ‘i’. It should read “Sookie”.

  3. Melissa White January 22, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    We will have to print some of these out for our trip this summer. We’ve been to Barkley Sound and Lucky Creek was one of our favorite adventures, especially swimming in the pools at the waterfall on a hot day. Very cold, to be sure, but a memorable experience. We didn’t do the trail at Uclulet last time. This time we will!

  4. Bruce Kilen August 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    It brings back memories having anchored in most of the spots you list 20 years ago. I think sitting in the cockpit with a cup of coffee watching the sea otters in the Bunsbys was my favorite. Looking forward to taking the new boat to the west coast in a couple of years.

Leave a Reply