Cortes Island lies at the centre of the most popular yachting area along the whole BC coast.
Located at the north end of the Salish Sea and to the west of Desolation Sound Marine Park, a fjord land made up by the Coast Range Mountains towering over a myriad of islands, anchorages and warm ocean temperatures. To the northwest are the Discovery Islands, with their narrow channels of swirling, turbulent tidal rapids that form the southern entrance to the world famous Inside Passage. Cortes Island is ideally situated to provide yachters with what they need, from fuel, stores and restaurants to protected and secluded anchorages and public docks.
Cortes Bay on the southeast side of the island is a sheltered anchorage with a public dock at the head of the bay. The end of the dock is reserved for the seaplanes that run daily shuttles to Vancouver, Campbell River and Seattle throughout the summer. Kayaks and trailered boats can be launched at the Blind Creek boat ramp to the northwest of the public dock. Cortes Bay is also home to outstations for both the Seattle and Vancouver Yacht Clubs, a testimonial to the popularity of this boating area! There are nearby rental accommodations to facilitate your entertaining extra guests.
Mansons Landing Marine Park on the southwest side of the island is quite exposed to the west. It is best suited for anchoring in calm conditions. There is a public dock and the end of the dock is reserved for the seaplanes that run daily shuttles to Vancouver, Campbell River and Seattle throughout the summer. Small boats and kayaks can be launched in Mansons Lagoon but check the tides, the lagoon dries at low tide and can form a swift current off the spit on the flood tide. Snorkelers often ride this flood tide into the lagoon to check out the sand dollars, sea stars and shellfish that form part of this rich, intertidal ecosystem. The settlement of Mansons Landing is about a kilometre up the road and has a general store, the natural food co-op, bookstore, post office, medical clinic, skateboard park and a community hall with its Friday Market.
Squirrel Cove is at the south end of Lewis Channel on the east side of Cortes. The cove offers a sheltered and popular anchorage. There is a trail leading from Squirrel Cove to Von Donop (Ha’thayim) Marine Park where you can explore the saltwater lagoon with a waterfall that reverses with the tides. Just at the entrance to the Squirrel Cove anchorage is a public dock and general store. Fuel is available there for small shallow draft boats or by jerry can. The store also has a kayak launching ramp, laundry, and shower facilities. Beside the store is the Craft Shop that features the art and crafts of Cortes Island artisans. Hungry boaters can get a meal to go from the Flying Squirrel Takeout and eat it while learning about the Cortes oyster farming industry at the Shellfish Interpretive Centre. The Cove Restaurant offers an imaginative menu and a magnificent view of rugged mountains and a sparkling seashore.
The Gorge Harbour has a narrow, cliff lined entrance leading to a well protected basin with many anchoring options. On the north side there is a public dock and then just to the west The Gorge Harbour Marina. This is a full service marina with boat ramp, boat rentals, public moorage with power and water available and a fuel float. Walking up the path from the dock, you will pass the BBQ area where a variety of local entertainers perform during the summer months. There is a store, laundry, showers, pool and hot tubs, all very appreciated after a few days of boating! The Gorge Harbour Marina also has a campground and rooms for rent making it a favourite place to rendezvous with friends and family coming to or from the boat. Enjoy a meal at the Floathouse restaurant while overlooking the docks and the pristine waters of the Gorge. In the distance you will see the rafts of an oyster farm as this is one of the most productive shellfish growing areas in BC.
Whaletown Bay lies a little further to the north of the Gorge on the west side of Cortes. It is very exposed to the west and is best used only as a temporary anchorage. There is also a public dock here. Whaletown was the site of the first industrial activity on Cortes when back in 1868 the Dawson Whaling Company would boil humpback whale blubber to render it into oil. Now the ferry lands near Whaletown from Quadra Island. A walk from the dock will take you past the post office, a historic church (now privately owned) and eventually to the Old School House Art Gallery where island artists host exhibitions throughout the summer
Von Donop Ha’thayim Marine Park is a deep inlet that cuts 3 nautical miles into the northwest side of Cortes. It offers very protected anchorages in a secluded wilderness setting. There are trails leading to Squirrel Cove and to Cliff Peak, the highest point on Cortes Island. Navigational care must be exercised when entering the inlet as there is a dangerous rock just at the narrowest point.
To the east of Cortes, the view is dominated by the mountain peaks of the Coast Range, with the iconic Mt. Denman towering 6600 feet above the myriad of channels and islands of Desolation Sound. The back waters of Desolation Sound have the warmest ocean temperatures north of Mexico, reaching in to the mid 20’s. There is no other place in the world where you can swim in water so warm right under snow-capped mountains!
To the north of Cortes, there lies a largely uninhabited wilderness. There are no road accessible communities between the towns of Lund and Bella Coola, 300 km apart as the crow flies but with over 900 km of coastline separating them. The mainland coast just off of Cortes has the southernmost grizzly bear populations.
Exploring the waters around Cortes by kayak or guided boat tour is an excellent way to get a sense of the wildness of the coast. Favourite kayak launch sites include Mansons Lagoon and Cortes Bay. A swim in Desolation Sound or a trip to view the wildlife at Mitlenatch Island are regular destinations for the boat tours that leave from Cortes Island.
As part of that initiative, we are pleased to share a Discovery Islands boaters’ video and an article written during the filming. Click on the picture to see the video.
For more information see The Triton.
Thank you to the properties that provided hospitality for our film/journalism team. We could not have done this without their generosity.
For organized tours, see our page: Tour Operators