We asked three Canadian explorers for their favourite weekend getaways:
BC's Salish Sea by Kayak
(Curated by Sabine Jessen)
Who: Involved in ocean conservation for more than 20 years, Sabine Jessen is the national director for oceans programs at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and is the marine conservation director for CPAWS BC chapter, based in Vancouver.
Why: For years, Jessen campaigned to establish a national marine conservation area in the waters surrounding the Gulf Islands between Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. While she’s travelled through the channels and sounds many times on boats and ferries, she’s never thoroughly explored the area by sea kayak — one of the best ways to spot the endangered Southern Resident Pod of orcas.
What: With kayaks ready to go, and your car parked at the ferry terminal, hop on an early evening BC Ferries’ sailing from Vancouver (Tsawwassen) or Victoria (Swartz Bay) that stops at Mayne Island’s Village Bay. There’s a small beach next to the terminal for loading and launching. Paddle east for about an hour to Mayne Island Camping for the night. Check the tide tables before setting out the next morning — currents can race in Active Pass, which is ideal for stirring up nutrients and attracting wildlife like orcas and sea lions, but can mean danger in a kayak. Once onto the east side of Mayne, head southeast, soaking in the view across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver’s skyline, the Coast Range and Mount Baker, while paddling along Saturna Island to the sandy beach at Cabbage Island. This boat-access only campsite is worthy of a long day of paddling. The next day, zip along the south shore of Saturna and make the crossing to South Pender, aiming for Beaumont, a campground on its secluded west side. From here, a great hike leads to the summit of Mount Norman — a relatively lofty spot to admire the rugged archipelago and mainland mountains on both sides of the border. Finish the trip at the ferry terminal at either Otter Bay on North Pender or back at Village Bay on Mayne.
BC Ferries schedule & rate info:
Mayne Island Camping (From $15):
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve information & maps:
Interactive maps & sea kayaking resources
Quebec City Multi-Sport
(Curated by Ryan Stuart)
Who: Ryan Stuart — field editor for explore magazine, award-winning freelance writer and multi-sport adventurer.
Why: I’ve been to Quebec City several times, but I haven’t had the chance to explore the playground that surrounds it. The rolling Laurentians, rushing rivers, lakes, ocean, trails: Quebec City is legitimate sea to sky country. The province’s park infrastructure puts the rest of the country’s to shame. You can roll into town with nothing and still find what you need to get thoroughly wet, muddy and tired — especially in late May, when conditions are nearly perfect and the tourists haven’t yet arrived.
What: Set up in Old Quebec. You’ll do a little more driving but the quaint streets, view of the St. Lawrence River and ridiculously good restaurants make up for it. From here, it’s easy to string together three days of fun. We’ll start with the longest drive — about two hours — to the Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes trailhead in Grands-Jardins National Park. The 10.5-km Le Pioui Trail leads to a summit loop, meandering through alpine tundra with big views and plenty of the wildflowers that give this park its name. Next up, rest the legs on the Jacques Cartier River. Located in the national park of the same name — just half-an-hour from the city — the 26-km run is a perfect mix of rapids separated by pools. The park visitor centre rents all the gear — kayaks, canoes and rafts — and runs a shuttle too. End the trip with a day of mountain biking at Mont-Sainte-Anne. The ski hill turns to a mountain bike playground when the snow melts, with 120 km of cross-country trails, plus 30 km of downhill.
Info on Quebec national parks:
Trail fees & bike rentals at Mont-Sainte-Anne (starting at $14 for the pass & $42 for a bike):
Fly Free in Wabakimi
(Curated by Les Stroud)
Who: Survivorman is back. For the past year, Les Stroud has been busy with his music career and dealing with personal issues (including his son’s successful fight against Leukemia). But for the last few months, he has been filming two new Survivorman series: Survivorman Bigfoot, a show about tracking the mysterious creature that began airing in May and eight new Survivorman episodes.
Why: Stroud once spent a year inside Wabakimi Provincial Park, 260 km north of Thunder Bay, honing his survival skills. The massive wilderness of lakes and rivers — it’s almost twice as big as Algonquin or Quetico — gushes with fish, moose, bear and even woodland caribou. And usually blackflies — but not in spring, Stroud’s favourite time to visit. In May, these little devils often haven’t emerged yet, but the days are warm, wildlife-abundant and fish-hungry. Plus, there’s still snow on the north side of hills, perfect for, “breaking off a chunk of ice to put in your martini,” says Stroud.
What: One of Stroud’s favourite parts of the park is along the northern shoreline of Smoothrock Lake, a big waterbody near the eastern border of the park. You could canoe to it, but with limited time a better bet is to fly from Armstrong, the closest town and then paddle back out (Wabakimi Wilderness Park can set up a car shuttle for your return). In Armstrong, pick up park permits and then hop aboard for the 30-minute floatplane flight to the complicated shoreline of Smoothrock. Spend a day exploring the shore — bring a rod, the fishing is excellent — and then begin heading back to civilization. Camping here is random — no thunder boxes or firepits — but you can also set up where ever you choose, including small clearings in the boreal forest, rock outcrops and, the best, moss covered rocks. Keep an eye out for moose feeding on emerging water plants and the park’s woodland caribou along the shorelines. Heading south and east, eventually you’ll head down the Caribou River, leaving the park for Caribou Lake and eventually a quiet road for the trip home.
Wabakimi Wilderness Park outfitter, shuttles, & trip info
Ontario Parks info & permits
Essential Gear: KEEN UNEEK
To tackle these trips, you'll need footwear that can handle wet conditions, trail-work and variable surfaces yet offer drainage and venting while remaining comfortable for all-day wear. Enter the KEEN UNEEK. Arguably the company's most comfy shoe, the UNEEK hugs your foot with its "two cords and a sole" construction and stands out with its one-of-a-kind style. The metonymical footbed means you can put some miles on these kicks, and the microfibre heel-back never chafes. ($120)