If you’re hoping to cross a global travel bucket list item off your list in 2017, Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) is the place to go. Located about 110 kilometres west off the North Coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is a misty archipelago that is both super chill and super beautiful. It’s also the ancestral home of the Haida Nation, an Indigenous group known for its potlatch traditions, many artistic disciplines and striking architecture. Roughly translated from Xaayda Kil (the Haida language), Haida Gwaii means ‘Islands of the People’ and its an area of rich biodiversity, amazing arts scene and easygoing, west coast ethos.
These emerald islands also happen to be my newly transplanted home and new place to explore with my outdoorsy partner and rambunctious toddler. About eight months ago we moved so I could work at one of the prettiest protected areas in Canada: Gwaii Haanas. In our free time, my family loves discovering tree-fringed trails and blustery beaches on Graham and Moresby Islands, the two largest in a dagger-shaped group of hundreds of islands.
There are so many family-friendly day trips on Haida Gwaii that your kin can have the trip of a lifetime or get hooked like we did, wanting to return repeatedly (or for good).
For details on how to get to the misty islands, visit the Go Haida Gwaii folks for the finer details on flying or ferrying to Haida Gwaii. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy exploring the hills and inlets, museums and villages of Haida Gwaii as much as we do.
Take your Babes to the Beach
Haida Gwaii has many lovely family-friendly beaches. If you fly into Sandspit, you can literally stop about 100 metres from the airport to check out the beach scene. Entering via Masset, Agate Beach is a popular stops for all types – from treasure hunters (Haida Gwaii is home to milky stones called sugar agates found on beaches across the islands, but especially in the North) to surfers. Some of our favourite beaches include:
- Chinikundl/Miller Creek – about five minutes north of Skidegate is Chinikundl Creek. Look for little paths through the forest on the beach side of the road. This beach is a mix of sandy patches and rocky bits and perfect for sandcastle building, beach combing and beach-side weiner roasts. Perfect to visit year round.
- Bonanza Beach – the wild west coast waves and rocky reaches of this camping/fishing/picnicking beach in Rennel Sound is best accessed between May-September. Travel there in a 4×4, as the Queen Charlotte Main logging road is active and often bumpy as heck.
- North Beach – rivalling Tofino’s Long Beach in length and majesty, North Beach is a long strip of sand that leads to Rose Spit, the northern tip of Haida Gwaii. You can drive your vehicle onto North Beach and stop to cook some burgers on your beach fire, boil freshly caught crab or surf the rolling beach break. North Beach is so darn big you will always find a place for your family to hang out or if you’re lucky be invited to join someone else’s family fire. Best visited April – late August. Also: get a license before you harvest any seafood.
Learn about Haida Culture
There is no doubt of the talent and strength of Haida culture, in particular their language, art, architecture and song. For a fantastic full or half day immersion (depends on the age of your kiddos) into the history of Haida Gwaii and Haida culture the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay is worth every penny of admission. The Haida Heritage Centre often runs different interpretive talks about everything from canoe carving to the different kinds of poles the Haida created. Old Masset and Skidegate are the two large Haida communities where you can visit artist studios, carvers and check out the different kinds of poles outside of community centres, schools, churches and galleries. When driving through both communities, please be respectful of carvings/art on private property.
Pro-tip: Download the Hlgaagilda Xaayda Kil App to learn how to say everything from ‘Are you finished?’ (Tlaan gwa da ‘waa) to Thank you (Haawa).
Meander through Museums
With a history of Haida culture, logging and mariner’s tales, Haida Gwaii has a pretty fun array of museums that provide a great mix of indoor/outdoor experiences.With its standing poles, longhouse-style structures and stellar views, the Haida Gwaii Museum inside the award-winning Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay (see above) is essential to any Haida Gwaii trip. About 40 minutes north of Kay Llnagaay, is Port Clements and it’s volunteer-run Port Clements Museum. The cute red building contains over 2000 artifacts that help describe the history and heyday of Port Clements and the area’s logging past. Antique and Tonka lovers both will love the museum. In Masset, the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum offers a way to learn about the seafaring ways of Masset and Old Masset. Displays include historical photos and model ships that show the past whaling, fishing and clamming industries in the area.
Pro-tip: though not a museum, the Golden Spruce Trail and the Tow Hill/Blowhole hike are both fantastic outdoor learning experiences that describe both cultural and natural elements. Plus, both trails are easy and appropriate for all ages.
When we first moved to Haida Gwaii our neighbour warned us: there is a festival or event every weekend in the summer and sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do. She wasn’t kidding. From the folkfest-ish Edge of the World Festival to Masset’s Harbour Days to Skidegate Days to Hospital Day (Queen Charlotte), there are buckets of fun to be hand with all generations since many festivals feature a fab mix of adult and children’s programming. Festival season also really affects what sort of accommodation is available and how busy local shops and BC Ferries service can be so plan ahead. Our favourites this year were definitely Canada Day in Port Clements (mini-donuts, logger sports and tonnes of kid stuff), Edge of the World (swim in the Tlaal River runs behind the festival) and Skidegate Days for the canoe races, series of kid competitions (potato sack race, anyone?) and great food. Check the Go Haida Gwaii website for upcoming events.
Pro-tip: be prepared for any kind of weather. Pack sunscreen and hats, rain jackets and gumboots as you never know what the weather will be like. Most of the summer festivals have a high chance of sunshine, especially events in August.
To read a bit more about Haida Gwaii visit another blog post on why I fell in love with this place well before our big move this year….
Have you been to Haida Gwaii? Where are your favourite family friendly spots to stop?