Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands comprise one of the three main recreational components in Pacific Rim National Park.
The Broken Group Islands Unit consists of over 100 islands, islets and rocky outcrops scattered in the centre of Barkley Sound, between Loudoun Channel and Imperial Eagle Channel, and totals 10,607 hectares, of which only 1,350 hectares is land.
The popularity of these islands with paddlers and boaters has soared over the past decade, much to the dismay of longtime observers. One of the main reasons that the Broken Group Islands are so popular is that they provide a true west coast experience in sheltered water. Port Alberni is not normally subject to the extreme ocean conditions farther west in the open waters around Ucluelet and exposed sections of the West Coast Trail and the Long Beach Unit, the two other areas that attract visitors to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The ease with which less-experienced sea kayakers can reach the Broken Group Islands on the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni and Ucluelet contributes greatly to their allure and charm.
The Broken Group is known internationally for awesome kayaking and wilderness camping enjoyed by organized adventurers seeking escape to the remote and desolate islands within the park. Natural features of this tranquil group of islands include lagoons, sandbars, blowholes, arches and secluded anchorages. Ancient native middens, village fortifications, stone fishtraps and archaeological sites stimulate the imagination of visitors to this traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people.
Kayakers usually begin their exploration at Gibraltar Island and make their way through the chain, stopping at campsites on Gilbert, Clarke, Turret, Willis, and Hand Islands. All of these sites are easily reached within a day's paddle (or less) of each other. Camping is also allowed on Gibraltar Island and Dodd Island. The larger of the forested islands are Effingham, Turret, Turtle, Dudd, Jacques, Nettle and Gibraltar Island.
Camping was discontinued on Benson Island in May 2009 out of respect for its cultural significance. Archaeological research dates traditional use of Benson Island for over 5,000 years. Tseshaht First Nation’s oral traditions name this site as their origin place where the first Tseshaht man (Naasiya’atu) and woman (Naasayilhim) were created. It became the site of their principal village of Ts’ishaa. It is from this village that the Tseshaht derive their name, as Tseshaht literally means “people of Ts’ishaa”. Visitors are encouraged to visit Benson Island during the day and return to designated campsites for the night.
Numerous kayak operators lead tours through the Broken Group Islands - see Premier Listings below. Canoe and kayak access to the Broken Group Islands from Bamfield or Ucluelet is not recommended due to the exposed passages. Boaters and ocean paddlers can access the Broken Group Islands via Toquart Bay in northwest Barkley Sound. The unsigned road turnoff is located about 12 km northeast of the junction of Highway 4 and the Tofino-Ucluelet Highway.
Kayakers enjoy a rest on Austin Island
Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, BC
A BC recreation campsite is located at Toquart Bay on the North side of Barkley Sound providing a boat launch for access to the islands. The popular Torquart Bay Recreation Campsite sees a lot of traffic from kayakers heading over to the Broken Islands. There are about 15 oceanside open tent sites, as well as RV areas, a cement boat launch, and lovely south-facing sand beaches. There is a parking fee for those who wish to park at the site but not camp there. From Port Alberni follow the Pacific Rim Highway 4 for about 50 miles (80 kms). Turn left at the sign for Torquart Bay on to the Maggie Lake Forest Service Road and follow it for 15.5 km.
The MV Frances Barkley will transport paddlers, kayaks and canoes to Sechart, on the fringe of the Broken Group Islands. The passenger and cargo vessel is based in Port Alberni, and travels between Port Alberni, the Broken Group Islands, and the fishing ports of Ucluelet and Bamfield during the spring, summer and fall. In the course of a day's trip the sturdy wooden packet freighter drops mail, groceries, supplies, and the occasional passenger along the way at float homes and the Sechart Whaling Station. If you must visit here in July and August, be sure to reserve space for your kayak or canoe on deck well in advance.
At times you'll definitely feel the motion of the ocean swells, but the better part of the journey through Barkley Sound is not exposed. The trip makes a pleasant outing in itself, or can be a link for paddlers to the Broken Group Islands.
Visitors should note that paddlers are increasingly being blamed for the trashiness around many of the more popular campsites. Except at the seven designated camping sites, garbage and toilet facilities are nonexistent, which should be a major consideration for visitors. Plan how you're going to deal with these factors in advance of your journey here so as not to further tarnish an already dire situation.
Practice random acts of kindness by removing litter where you find it as well as packing out all of your own refuse. Consult books such as How to Shit in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer to learn new approaches to the delicate subject of backcountry hygiene. Consider adventuring here in any month other than July and August, particularly if you value solitude.
Location: Travel to the Broken Group Islands from Bamfield, Torquart Bay, Ucluelet or Port Alberni. The MV Frances Barkley is based in Port Alberni and serves Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands.
View maps of the area:
Map of the Pacific Rim
Map of the Pacific Rim / Detailed Map