A Brief Tour of
Clayoquot Sound

By John Kimantas clayoquot-map-ahousat-hot-spring_725It’s unlikely any of the protesters knew it, but the biggest step to preserve the forests of Clayoquot Sound came before the famous protest in 1993.Destined to become the largest case of civil disobedience in Canadian history, 726 people were arrested at the Kennedy River Bridge, the focal point for a logging controversy that had been simmering in Clayoquot Sound for about a decade. It reached a head in the summer of 1993, and to the surprise of many of those arrested, the price of breaking the court order against blocking the logging road was hefty, with an average jail sentence of 21 days.

For their efforts, in 1995 the province created a scientific panel to make recommendations on how and where to log the sound. The result has been an average drop in the amount logged from 400,000 cubic metres a year before the panel to as little as 100,000 cubic metres today. That may sound like a victory for the environmentalists, but many still grumble that old-growth forests are still being logged, and the previous logging level was unsustainable anyway as the harvestable timber disappeared.

More apparent to visitors to Clayoquot Sound, though, are the measures the province took in the spring of 1993 to ward off growing controversy. The Clayoquot Sound Land Use Decision more than doubled the amount of parkland in the sound, adding parks to the Megin River watershed, upper Shelter Inlet, Sydney Inlet and outer coastal areas including the Hesquiat Peninsula, Flores Island and Vargas Island. The result is almost unbroken protection of the open oceanfront in the sound. Combined with Pacific Rim National Park and previously created parks along Juan de Fuca Strait, the land use decision created a bridge of parks extending from the south entrance of Nootka Sound to China Beach near Jordan River, northwest of Sooke.Several parks within the interior of Clayoquot Sound were also created: Clayoquot Arm, Clayoquot Lake, Clayoquot Plateau, Kennedy River Bog, Kennedy Lake, Tranquil Creek’s headwaters, Hesquiat Lake, plus several more smaller coastal areas such as Dunlap and Morfee islands (in Epper Passage Provincial Park), Dawley Passage and Lane Islet. epper-passage_725_01So while logging continues in Clayoquot Sound, you won’t see it along the outer coast anymore. And after traveling along seemingly endless clearcuts in places like Quatsino and Nootka sounds, I have to think that’s a blessing. Today most visitors to Clayoquot Sound tend to focus on Tofino, which is blessed with sweeping sand beaches and interesting rock headlands as well as services such as restaurants, hotels, cabins and interesting shops. One of the biggest changes is the growth into a year-round resort. During a visit this November I was surprised to find most resorts almost full. One attraction is the concept of storm watching: sitting in a cozy cabin or bed and breakfast and watching the crash of surf on the neighbouring beach. But storms weren’t an issue this past November; with no wind and no clouds, it was probably a warmer weekend that fall than any in the summer.Tofino is also an entry point to the sound itself, with tour boats and zodiacs darting out every few minutes during the peak season. Whale watching is a big attraction, as gray whales can be found just about any time of year off the north end of Flores Island near Rafael Point. Another key destination is Hot Springs Cove, a small spot on the north entrance to the sound famous for its heated sulphur spring. It is, unfortunately, a victim of its own success, with boats and floatplanes regularly disgorging more people than the spring can accommodate. Visit in the early morning or later in the evening if you want any semblance of privacy.Clayoquot Sound is best enjoyed by boat, of course, with a definite attraction for kayakers in the sweeping white-sand beaches in locations like Ahous Bay on Vargas Island and Whitesand Cove on Flores. More likely to attract crowds, they can be escaped by finding pocket beaches along some of the more remote stretches, like the shoreline under the Catface Range and the northwest end of Flores Island. Beginner kayakers can rent in Tofino and head out into the sheltered water of Lemmens Inlet on nearby Meares Island, home to Fort Defiance, a recent archaeological discovery dating to 1791. Boaters face numerous challenges in this area: extensive mudflats and narrows passages choked with rocks, particularly in places like Tsapee Narrows. Enjoy, but use caution.The amount of recreational traffic tends to drop significantly in the north end of the sound. A favourite spot of mine is a waterfall just east of the Megin River. At higher tides you can paddle up a short waterway and play in the pool in front of the waterfall. It was also near here in a visit in 2002 that my partner and I spied about a dozen eagles fighting over a fish too large to carry. Their preoccupation with the fish meant they ignored us, so it was a great opportunity to paddle close see these beautiful creatures up close and at their most primeval. whitesand-cove_725ahous-bay--megin-river-fall_725While Clayoquot Sound is clearly better suited to those with a boat, there are ways to enjoy the sound without. If you bring loads of cash you can stay at a place like the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. With its main lodge in Quait Bay north of Meares Island, it has an outstation at the head of Bedwell Sound with tents for accommodation. But these aren’t your average tents. They have propane stoves, antique furniture, rugs and even china and silver. Add hot running water, a lounge and spa; you can enjoy it for about $10,000 a week. One of the cheapest and most overlooked ways to enjoy Clayoquot Sound is the Ahousaht Pride. For a fraction of the cost of a water taxi, the boat makes trips twice daily between Tofino and Ahousat, a small settlement on Flores Island. There you can stay at the Hummingbird Hostel, or (recommended) hike along a short trail through Gibson Marine Park to Whitesand Cove, where you can set up a tent with wonderful views down the sound and over the Catface Range (the spa, lounge and china would be yours to carry in, though, but the rates are much cheaper). Partway along the trail to Whitesand Cove is the Ahousat Hot Spring. The spring empties into a concrete tub, and tends to be more tepid than hot, but is a good diversion after a few days of camping.Water taxis are another good way to get around the sound, with a good outing the five minutes across Browning Passage to Meares Island and a drop at the entrance to the Big Cedar Trail. The trail takes about three hours and stops by features like the Hanging Garden Tree, the fourth largest western redcedar in B.C., with a circumference of 18.3 metres (60 feet).Most hikers tend to keep to the trails in Pacific Rim National Park, though a few hardy veteran hikers may want to try more ambitious routes such as the Clayoquot Valley Witness Trail. Built by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee back in 1994, a huge volunteer effort was undertaken to boardwalk the first 2.5 kilometres. Unfortunately, the rainforest had other ideas, and has since swept away most of the work. During a visit a few years ago much of the boardwalk was in disrepair, and a lack of maintenance left much of the rest of the 23-km trail nearly impassable. I rate it the most difficult trail I’ve tried on the coast, and I expect it to be in much worse condition now. I’m not sorry; I think it’s fitting that Clayoquot Sound isn’t so easily trespassed. We may visit it, may even try to develop parts of it, but the central spirit always seems to remain unchanged—wild, beautiful and untamed.John Kimantas is a Vancouver Island-based outdoor writer and author of The Wild Coast series of B.C. kayaking guides.

This article appeared in the March April 2007 issue of More Living magazine [Vol 2 Issue 2]