From Sleeping Giant park in Ontario to northern lights flickering above the Yukon, Canada is definitely no stranger to magical places. There’s one spot however, that’s a constant on bucket lists of Canadians and travellers from all over the world: Haida Gwaii. The archipelago on BC’s north coast combines a lush natural setting with cultural richness and historical significance. (No wonder National Geographic chose it as one of the 20 Best Trips of 2015.)
After years of having it on my own bucket list, I was recently fortunate enough to visit – and it more than exceeded my expectations. Here are a few things you may not know about Haida Gwaii and some spots to check out when (yes, when!) you head there:
There are all kinds of multi-day hiking, trail running and even surfing opportunities
Whether it’s a trail run to the Pesuta shipwreck or up Tow Hill in Naikoon Provincial Park, there are so many ocean views and forests to explore. For a longer hike in the park, go for the 90-km East Beach Trail Hike. I opted for a run on the beach to visit the famous shipwreck (one of the highlights of my trip).
During my visit, I also heard whispers about the epic surf on Haida Gwaii. The region’s only surf shop is in Masset and offers rentals and lessons. Judging by the views, I’m going to guess you’d have quite a few waves to yourself.
Haida Watchmen help you discover the beauty of Gwaii Haanas
You can kayak or take a zodiac to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve – commonly referred to as Gwaii Haanas (which means “Islands of Beauty”). Years before the national park reserve was established, the Watchmen Program was created to ensure these sites were respected.
Watchmen spend the summer months at five different sites in Gwaii Haanas, safeguarding culturally significant sites and sharing their incredible knowledge about the area and Haida culture with visitors.
There are awesome organizations that connect youth to Haida Gwaii’s wilderness and culture
Mount Moresby Adventure Camp and Swan Bay Rediscovery Program are just two of the organizations connecting youth to the outdoors. I visited Swan Bay to see first-hand what participants get to experience on their eight-day cultural and stewardship trips into Gwaii Haanas each summer.
Through MEC’s Community Investment program, we donated $10,000 worth of gear and funding while we were there to support the program.
You can eat a traditional Haida feast
After your trip to Haida Gwaii, you’ll likely have a hard time adjusting to not having fresh-caught salmon every day when you return home. One of the most memorable experiences? Visiting Keenawii’s Kitchen in Skidegate. Roberta Olsen invites you right into her home for a delicious meal of salmon, sablefish and herring roe on kelp. We even tried a few drops of precious oolichan oil in our soup.
Opportunities to learn about Haida Culture are everywhere
You’ll learn stories and history from the Watchmen, from staff at Haida-owned businesses or from walking around town chatting with locals. One must-see? The Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay, an ancient village site. It has so much knowledge, artwork, experience and language in one location. Not to mention the buildings and surrounding scenery are breathtaking.
Master carvers and weavers create artwork right before your eyes
Haida Gwaii’s artist population is thriving. I was lucky enough to meet a number of carvers, including Master Carver Jim Hart, who was working on a reconciliation pole that will be raised at UBC later this year. Even one of the Watchmen at SGang Gwaay was working on some drawings when my tour group stopped in.
There’s a summer music fest at the edge of the world
Edge of the World Music Festival is an awesome jam fest that takes place every summer in Tlell, and features local and visiting musicians. Along with kayaking in Gwaii Haanas, this is definitely on my list for my next visit.
Overall, I was deeply impacted by my time on Haida Gwaii. The people I met, the culture and history they shared, and the incredible places I visited will stick with me for a long time. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to visit, and I hope you’ll have the chance to do so too.
5 things to pack on your Haida Gwaii trip
- Rain jacket, like the MEC Hydrofoil (tip: red and other bright colours pop for photos in mossy forests and near the ocean)
- Warm layer, like the MEC Uplink Hoodie
- Daypack for hiking and wandering around
- Hat and sunglasses for sunny days on the beach
- Trail runners for all the exploring you’ll be doing (this Salomon pair are my go-to travel shoes)
Top photo credit: @shibbystylee