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Marine recreation

British Columbia is world famous for its rugged Pacific coastline, which features a diverse selection of beaches, inlets, and islands. The B.C. Coast is a paradise for boating, swimming, diving, and coastal hiking.

With its complex ecosystems and unique habitats, the B.C. coast also offers extraordinary opportunities for wildlife viewing. Northern Orcas and humpback whales can often be seen, as can dolphins, seals, and a variety of seabirds.

Marine areas are especially ecologically and culturally sensitive. For tips on how to enjoy safe and responsible aquatic adventures, see our marine visitor guide.

The coast offers many amenities for marine travelers. Dotted along the coastline, you will find marinas, small craft harbours, campgrounds, ecotourism lodges, and hot springs.

This page provides an overview of marine areas across the province, and the recreational opportunities on offer. It includes links to webpages for specific parks in each area. Click below for information on these areas:

Marine Recreation Action Plan

At BC Parks, we are committed to providing sustainable marine recreation opportunities. To help our staff meet this commitment, we have launched the Marine Recreation Action Plan (MRAP), which targets five key goals:

  1. Better understand the natural and cultural values of marine areas
  2. Strengthen relationships with First Nations coastal communities
  3. Provide high-quality marine recreation, today and in the future
  4. Enhance collaboration with other government agencies
  5. Promote ocean stewardship and responsible marine recreation

Learn more about MRAP [PDF]

Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands area consists of 200 islands close to Vancouver and Victoria. Exceptional natural beauty and proximity to major population centers make this region one of B.C.’s most visited destinations.

Kayakers, sailors, and boaters enjoy the sheltered waters, strong tides, and dramatic coastlines. With major anchorage sites in Pirates Cove and Wallace Island, there are ample facilities for boating activities.

Montague Harbour on Galiano Island is an ideal destination for hikers and birders. White shell beaches, open meadows, tidal lagoons, towering forests, craggy headlands, and diverse bird life are all plentiful.

Click below for information on other Gulf Islands marine parks:

Lower Mainland, Howe Sound

Howe Sound offers breathtaking scenery, conveniently located near Vancouver, B.C.’s most populace city. Steep-sloped mountains, rugged coastlines, stunning waterfalls, and scattered islands are all adjacent to the metropolitan area.

For swimmers, Howe Sound provides a selection of long, sandy beaches and warm waters. In Porteau Cove, between West Vancouver and Squamish, divers and snorkelers can explore a sunken ship with extensive marine life.

Howe Sound’s sheltered bays offer a haven to boaters, with plenty of anchorage provided. Halkett Bay is a particularly popular boating destination and Plumper Cove offers canoeing and kayaking opportunities.

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast features secluded bays, stunning inlets, and towering granite cliffs. There are over 60 waterfalls, with the notably spectacular Freil Lake Falls located in Harmony Islands Marine Park.

This entire area offers many scenic boating opportunities, with Princess Louisa Inlet offering a particularly beautiful anchorage. The Sechelt Inlets, meanwhile, have excellent waters for kayaking.

The Sunshine Coast is also a great area for swimming and snorkeling. Buccaneer Bay boasts broad, sandy beaches and warm, sheltered waters. Other popular destinations include Garden Bay and Hardy Island.

Click below for information on other Sunshine Coast marine parks:

Anderson BayMount RichardsonPorpoise Bay
Saltery BaySargeant BaySimson
Smuggler Cove  

Vancouver Island, West Coast

Opening onto the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island’s West Coast, supplies unique adventures to experienced boaters. It also offers more tranquil activities, with Mquqᷱin/Brooks Peninsula Park providing a haven for kayaking and canoeing.

The West Coast is also one of B.C.’s finest coastal hiking areas. Cape Scott offers both day hiking and multi-day backpacking. The North Coast Trail delivers over 40km of adventures for more experienced hikers.

Flores Island is a popular destination for campers. Visitors can enjoy beach camping, whale watching, kayaking, and hiking the 10km Walk the Wild Side Trail. Nearby Maquinna has natural mineral hot springs.

Click below for information about other parks on Vancouver Island’s West Coast:

Big BunsbyBligh IslandCatala Island
Dawley PassageDixie CoveEpper Passage
GibsonGod’s PocketHesquiat Peninsula
Lawn PointRugged PointSydney Inlet

Desolation Sound

Desolation Sound Marine Park is one of the most popular boating and kayaking destinations in B.C. The surrounding area includes sheltered waters and protected anchorages. There are over 60km of shoreline.

For hikers and swimmers, the area offers beaches, four lakes, and a stunning waterfall (Cassel Falls in Teakerne Arm). There are 11 designated campgrounds, with Rebecca Spit a great choice for convenient beach access.

Desolation Sound is also a hotspot for wildlife sightings, with warm waters ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. Northern orca whales can be seen in their natural habitat. Mitlenatch Island has the largest seabird colony in the Georgia Strait.

Click below for information on other Desolation Sound marine parks:

Copeland IslandsCormorant ChannelEcho Bay
Mansons LandingRead IslandRock Bay
Roscoe BayWalsh Cove 

Johnstone Strait

Wedged between the Coast Mountains and Vancouver Island, Johnstone Strait is home to an abundance of marine life. Humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, and seabirds are regularly spotted here.

Broughton Archipelago Park is B.C.’s largest marine park. It is made up of dozens of undeveloped islands and islets on Knight Inlet, near Vancouver Island’s north end.

When the seas are calm, kayakers enjoy exploring the outer islets. Boaters and kayakers can also find sheltered anchorages and scenic coves deeper into the archipelago’s larger islands.

Click below for information on other Johnstone Strait marine parks:

Allison HarbourCormorant ChannelEcho Bay
Forward Harbour/ƛəx̌əᵂəyəmMahpahkum-Ahkwuna Deserters-WalkerPolkinghorne Islands

Central Coast

The Central Coast is one of B.C.’s top wildlife-spotting areas. Along the coastline, you may see bald eagles, sitka deer, grizzlies, black bears, and the rare white spirit bear. In the water, humpback whales, orcas, and seals are plentiful.

The largest protected marine area in B.C., Hakai Lúxvbálís, offers lagoons, forested hills, and white-sand beaches. All-weather anchorages make the coastline accessible to boaters all year round.

British Columbia is world-renowned for its fjords, and some of the best examples can be seen at Fiordland Conservancy. Sheer granite cliffs rise more than 1000 metres, dotted with waterfalls.

Click below for information on other Central Coast marine parks:

Bella Coola EstuaryCarter BayClyak Estuary
Goat CoveKimsquit EstuaryKwatna Estuary

North Coast

British Columbia’s North Coast offers a marine environment like no other. Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees / Kitlope Heritage Conservancy includes the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest, with old-growth trees over 800 years old.

Codville Lagoon is a marine mammal area where orcas, humpback whales, pacific white-sided dolphins, and sea lions can be seen. Lowe Inlet, meanwhile, is a great spot to witness salmon migrating.

All this makes the North Coast an ideal boating area, with Oliver Cove a highly recommended destination. An inside route provides shelter for small boats, and all-weather anchorage is available.

Click below for information on other North Coast marine parks:

Green InletJackson NarrowsKitson Island
Penrose IslandSir Alexander MackenzieUnion Passage