Location: British Columbia, Canada
Season: July through August
Trip Length: 8 days
A sparsely-populated archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia, about 40 km beneath the Alaska panhandle, Haida Gwaii has been called Canada’s Galapagos for its unique ecology. The southern islands are completely protected—a joint venture between the Government of Canada and the indigenous Council of the Haida Nation—as a national park, and are blanketed in old-growth temperate rainforest. Here, bald eagles and black bears mix with puffins and porpoises in the transition zone between forest and sea. Kayakers camp in protected coves, pitching tents just off the pebbled beaches in the soft, moss-covered forest floor beneath hundreds-year-old Sitka spruce. If the winds and tides are right, it’s possible to paddle to SG̱ang Gwaay, also known as Anthony Island, and view the remains of the ancient Haida village of SG̱ang Gwaay LInagaay, complete with monumental totem poles carved of red cedar.
Expert outfitter: Not everyone can guide the waters of Haida Gwaii. It sits on the edge of North America’s continental shelf, where the ocean floor drops off 2.5 kilometers, and is subject to unpredictable, violent seas, even in the summer. Tofino Expeditions is the veteran guide in the area, with more than 30 years of experience, and a flawless record.
Islands of Loreto Bay
Location: Baja, Mexico
Season: October through May
Trip Length: 6-8 days
The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexico mainland. Its warm, turquoise waters and 244 islands and islets are a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing a whopping 39-percent of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals. This is the place to kayak beside dolphins, whales, and sea lions, as well as charismatic sea birds like blue-footed boobies and pelicans. Most of the Sea of Cortez’s sunny, cactus-studded islands are uninhabited, but still, there’s no place quite like the islands of Loreto Bay, a national marine park, for beauty and tranquilly. With names like Honeymoon Cove, you can be sure you’ll be camping on secluded sand beaches, with crystalline waters full of tropical fish.
Expert outfitter: ROW Sea Kayak Adventures was founded in Baja more than 25 years ago with the explicit intention to share the wild beauty of the Sea of Cortez with like-minded adventure travelers. Naturalist kayaking guides navigate the water, lead hikes and snorkeling swims, and mix the margaritas back at camp.
Location: Québec, Canada
Season: June to mid-September
Trip Length: 4 days
The largest fjord in eastern Canada, Saguenay stretches about 65 miles from the St. Lawrence estuary deep into the Quebec heartland, with portions as wide as 2.5 miles across. Ancient glaciers carved out the massive depression, as evidenced by the steep cliffs and rugged canyons. Today, the cobalt-blue water is home to four species of whale: beluga, fin, blue, and minke, earning Saguenay Fjord the moniker Royaume des Baleines, “Kingdom of the Whales.” Kayakers take in two national parks on their journey, starting at Saguenay Fjord National Park and ending in Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park. While being eye-to-blowhole with whales is the big draw, Saguenay Fjord serves up plenty of other interesting wildlife including seals, peregrine falcons, black bear, lynx, and moose.
Expert outfitter: Fjord en Kayak is a family-owned, award-winning, local operator that’s been leading guided sea-kayaking tours in Saguenay Fjord for more than 20 years. Guides have a degree in adventure tourism and a minimum of three summers of experience on the fjord.
Southern Exuma Cays
Location: The Bahamas
Trip Length: 6 days
The small, mostly uninhabited islands known as cays (pronounced keys) of southern Exuma, a district in the Bahamas, are a true tropical paradise. Warm, shallow, see-straight-to-the-bottom waters encircle these islands, preventing anything larger than a sea kayak from approaching. The white sand beaches are covered in grains so fine they don’t even stick to your feet. Palm trees abound. In the water, you’ll see coral reefs with large, colorful stoplight parrotfish swimming alongside black- and yellow-striped sergeant majors, and a host of other marine life. The cays are home to several different types of mangroves, and if the tide is right, kayakers can paddle through this fascinating ecosystem, which often serves as a nursery for small sharks and sea turtles.
Expert outfitter: Spirit of the West Adventures is perhaps best known for its kayaking expeditions in cold-weather places like Patagonia and British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. Seven years ago, co-owner and veteran kayak guide Breanne Quesnel wanted to add a warm-weather destination, and was shocked that no one was guiding in the Bahamas. She and her team have been leading top-notch sea kayaking trips in the Exuma Cays ever since.
Location: Nunavut, Canada
Trip Length: 14 days
For experienced sea kayakers, paddling the northernmost part of the earth is the ultimate adventure. Baffin Island is the year-round home of polar bear, caribou, snowy owl, and Artic fox, and the largest island in Canada. Snow can fall at any time of year here, and Baffin is surrounded by sea ice except for short periods in the summer. Intrepid kayakers head to the island’s northern coast to explore the coves and fjords near the Inuit hamlet of Pond Inlet. Located some 700 km north of the Arctic Circle, the region draws pods of narwhal—a mystical whale with a long spiraling tusk like a unicorn’s horn—close to the shoreline in the summer. Orcas, beluga, and bowhead whales may also be in the area. Curious seals, popping their heads up to watch the kayaks pass by, are guaranteed, as are scores of migratory birds en route to their Arctic summer grounds at the Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a small island close by.
Expert outfitter: Canada-based wilderness outfitter Black Feather has been exploring the far north for more than 40 years, and takes small groups to kayak Baffin Island with a 5:1 guest-to-guide ratio. Owner operator Wendy Grater was awarded the Northwest Territories Tourism Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, for her service and commitment to Canada’s north.
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