A Quick Guide to Haida Gwaii
Named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 20 must-see places in the world for 2015, the remote Haida Gwaii region is one of the most unique and spectacular destinations in Canada. Home to the Haida First Nations people, the area includes over 150 islands and more biomass per square yard than anywhere else on the planet.
The tropical wilderness, bountiful wildlife, and rich history of Haida Gwaii make for a truly unforgettable experience — and the best part is, there is something for every type of traveller. Want to immerse yourself in Haida culture, and learn the region’s history? How about a restorative spiritual retreat? Or would you rather go off grid and backpack through the wilderness? Or take part in some of the best sport fishing in the world? It’s all there.
Whatever brings you to Haida Gwaii, you certainly will leave wanting more. So to help you get the most out of your trip, here is a quick guide to help you find the right Haida Gwaii experience for you.
- Half of the population of Haida Gwaii are Haida First Nations.
- “Haida Gwaii” means “islands of the people” or “islands of the Haida” in the local language
- Established in 2010, the Gwaii Haanas National Park is the first area in the world to be protected from mountain top to sea floor.
Gwaii Haanas National Park
A trip to Haida Gwaii would not be complete without a visit to its spiritual centre, the Gwaii Haanas National Park. Visitors travel the area to experience the remote rainforest, surrounded by thousand-year-old trees and wildlife abound. You can’t help but immerse yourself in the colourful history of the Haida First Nations people, as you discover ancient carved totem poles and fallen longhouses. Head to the seashore and you might see a black bear catching salmon, whales breaching in the distance ,and other wildlife species that are exclusive to region.
Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay
It’s impossible to truly appreciate Haida Gwaii without understanding the living culture of the Haida First Nations people, and the rich heritage of their relationship with the land and sea. You’ll want to dedicate a good chunk of time to get through all 50,000 square feet of the Haida Heritage Centre, from the breathtaking hand carved totem poles in the Carving House, to the fascinating Canoe House and the stunning Haida Gwaii Museum. To purchase original, authentic Haida artwork, make sure to stop by the Gift Shop before you leave.
Naikoon Provincial Park
If you are looking to experience some of the most stunning wilderness and ocean landscapes in British Columbia, you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere more perfect than this. The 726 square kilometers of Naikoon Provincial Park boast a diverse array of geographic wonders, from lush coastal rainforest, to a vast shoreline and unique wildlife. Some of Haida Gwaii’s most popular attractions lay within its boundaries, including unmatched ocean views from atop Tow Hill, blowholes that shoot 7 metres high along Blow Hole Boardwalk, beachcombing on North Beach, and the popular 10-kilometre trek to Pesuta Shipwreck.
Sitting in the northernmost coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is often referred to as “the Galapagos of the North” — home to more than 200 bird species, half of British Columbia’s sea lion population, and the most diverse marine wildlife in Canada. For both a relaxing and exhilarating experience, book a whale watching tour during your stay. Orcas frequent the area year-round, humpback whales arrive in February staying until the fall, gray whales visit from March to June, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a blue or fin whale off the west coast. Feeling adventurous? Book a kayak tour instead!
Hot water is once again flowing in the sacred hot springs of Gwaii Haanas, 3 years after a 7.8 earthquake struck and mysteriously emptied the pools. It’s too soon to say if they will return to their former glory, but with a little luck, your next trip to the Haida Gwaii could include these soothing pools. Historically used by the Haida people for their healing properties, there are over a dozen warm pools where visitors can enter and experience this natural wonder. Access to the site is by permit only, and we recommend booking as a part of your Gwaii Haanas tour.
How to spend a weekend in Haida Gwaii
It’s impossible to see everything in a short weekend visit to Haida Gwaii, so we highly recommend taking an extra day off or booking around a long weekend holiday. With only 3 days, here’s how to make the most out of the time that you have.
Start your first day early, pack a lunch, and jump straight into the car, taking Highway 16 to Naikoon Provincial Park. The scenic road trip from Skidgate to the southernmost point of the park is approximately 30 minutes. Start by seeing the Haida House at Tllaal, and the embark on the 10-kilometre hike to the Pesuta Shipwreck. After that, you will want to get back in the car and make your way north to hike Tow Hill for can’t-miss ocean views — keep your eyes peeled for blowholes! By this point, you’ve already had a long day, so take a leisurely stroll along North Beach and do a little beachcombing. On your way back, stop at Charters restaurant in Masset for an elk burger and some homemade pie or try Moon Over Naikoon for homemade pizza or a fresh cinnamon bun. Lucky for you, the Haida Heritage Centre is open until 8pm on Saturdays, so dart back to Skidgate for the evening and give yourself 2-3 hours to explore the immersive displays.
After a busy day one, there’s no time to slow down! Head over to Jag’s for delicious coffee and a hearty breakfast to fuel your day of adventuring. Dedicate your next two days to exploring the majestic Gwaii Haanas National Park (don’t forget book your tour well in advance of your trip). After breakfast, you’ll meet your tour operator and head on a 2-day boat tour, enjoying some whale watching along the way as you explore northern half of the Gwaii Haanas.
After an active weekend of adventuring, you deserve to sit back and relax on your last night in town. For dinner, consider heading to Kay Bistro for warm butternut squash soup or head to Keenawii’s Kitchen for a seafood feast. The rest of your evening is dedicated to absorbing your last moments in paradise, so take an oceanside walk and enjoy some stargazing.
How to get here
The quickest way to get to Haida Gwaii is by plane. Air Canada offers daily flights year-round from Vancouver International Airport to Sandspit. As well, Pacific Airways offers daily flights from Vancouver to Masset and Inland Air has daily flights between Prince Rupert and Masset.
From Prince Rupert, you can also take a ferry year round.
Personal boats can also travel throughout the islands, and many local communities have marinas catering to recreational boaters.
Once you’re in Haida Gwaii, you will need a car to get around. So if arriving by air, consider renting a car.
Where to go next:
Thinking of doing a little exploring in British Columbia? Access Northern BC through Prince Rupert (45min by plane, or 10h by ferry). Head to BC’s capital city, Victoria (2h by plane) or check out Vancouver (2h by plane).
Haida Gwaii is an experience like no other. Start planning your getaway, on the Hello BC website.