Alex Sidles Review of PNW Sea Kayaking Guidebooks

Discussion in 'Gear Talk' started by alexsidles, Mar 16, 2018.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    This is my review of every contemporary guidebook for sea kayaking the Pacific Northwest coast, from the Columbia Bar north to Prince Williams Sound. Please enjoy, and feel free to contribute reviews of your own.

    Books not reviewed include: guidebooks to freshwater paddling; guidebooks published before 1998; guidebooks superceded by more recent editions; guidebooks in which kayaking is only a secondary activity; guidebooks south of Washington State; kayaking instruction books; and books whose primary focus is a personal chronicle of a kayaking voyage rather than a guidebook.

    1. Alderson, Doug. Sea Kayak Around Vancouver Island. 2004.
    2. Backlund, Gary, and Paul Grey. Easykayaker: A Guide to Laid-back Vancouver Island Paddling. 2002.
    3. Backlund, Gary, and Paul Grey. Kayaking Vancouver Island: Great Trips from Port Hardy to Victoria. 2003.
    4. BC Marine Trails. Online Map. Regular updates.
    5. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to South Puget Sound, Second Edition. 1999.
    6. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to North Puget Sound. 2002.
    7. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to the San Juan Islands. 2008.
    8. Campbell, Ken. Shades of Gray: Sea Kayaking in Western Washington. 1999.
    9. Casey, Rob. Kayaking Puget Sound & the San Juan Islands: 60 Trips in Northwest Inland Waters, Including the Gulf Islands. 2012.
    10. Fine Edge. Inside Passage Route Planning Map. 2006.
    11. Frazer, Neil. Boat Camping Haida Gwaii: A Small Vessel Guide, Revised Second Edition. 2010.
    12. Harbold, Heather. Sea Kayak Nootka and Kyuquot Sounds. 2004.
    13. Harbold, Heather. Sea Kayak Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast. 2005.
    14. Howard, Jim. Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southeast Alaska. 1999.
    15. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Explorer and Marine Trial Guide, Vol. 1: West Coast Vancouver Island North, Port Hardy to Bamfield. 2012.
    16. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Explorer and Marine Trail Guide, Vol. 2: BC’s South Coast Bamfield to Comox Harbour. 2015.
    17. Kimantas, John. The Wild Coast, Vol. 3: A Kayaking, Hiking, and Recreation Guide for BC’s South Coast and East Vancouver Island. 2007.
    18. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Recreation Kayaking and Small Boat Atlas, Vol. 1: British Columbia’s South Coast and East Vancouver Island. 2012.
    19. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Recreation Kayaking and Small Boat Atlas, Vol. 2: British Columbia’s West Vancouver Island. 2007 (reprinted but not updated 2011).
    20. Kimantas, John. Recreation Mapsheets. Various.
    21. Kimantas, John. The Wild Coast, Vol. 2: A Kayaking and Recreation Guide for the North and Central BC Coast. 2006.
    22. Marleau, Jean-Francois. Kayaking the Broken Group Islands on Canada’s West Coast, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. 2008.
    23. McGee, Peter. Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast: From Northern Oregon to British Columbia’s North Coast. 2004.
    24. Miller, Robert H. Kayaking the Inside Passage: A Paddling Guide from Olympia, Washington to Muir Glacier, Alaska. 2005.
    25. Nanaimo Paddlers. A Field Guide for Paddlers (three different guidebooks). 2012 and 2013.
    26. Priest, Simon and Caril Ridley. Kayaking around the Key Peninsula. 2003.
    27. Skillman, Don. Adventure Kayaking: Glacier Bay. 1998.
    28. Snowden, Mary Ann. Sea Kayak Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds. 2005.
    29. Snowden, Mary Ann. Sea Kayak the Gulf Islands. 2004.
    30. Stalker, Aileen and Andrew Nolan. Paddling Through History: Vancouver and Victoria. 2005.
    31. Twardock, Paul. Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound. 2004.
    32. Washington Water Trails Association. Cascadia Marine Trail Guidebook. 2014
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  2. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    1. Alderson, Doug. Sea Kayak Around Vancouver Island.
    ISBN: 978-1894765503
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2004

    Doug Alderson offers a refreshingly brief introduction: a few words on the location of weather stations and rescue facilities, a couple pages on tides and safety, and then he delves right in. Too many guidebooks inflate their page counts with patronizing prolegomena about how to camp or when to get off the water. Alderson recognizes that if you’re buying a book called “Sea Kayak Around Vancouver Island,” you’re not looking for a paddling instructor; you’re looking for a guidebook!

    Unfortunately, Alderson has serious deficiencies in the guiding department. His maps of campsites are woefully incomplete. In some cases, the narrative text identifies campsites that don’t appear on the maps, but that does not make up for having poor maps in the first place. The Cuttle Islands in Checleset Bay, for example, are not shown as a campsite on the maps but are described in the text as a campsite. So are the Ballenas Islands in the Strait of Georgia and Discovery Island off Victoria. There is no reason to leave these beautiful campsites off the maps.

    Alderon’s geographic coverage is frequently spotty. Certain areas such as Texada Island are omitted from the book altogether, even though nearby Jedediah Island receives good coverage. Similarly, the Broken Group gets good coverage while the Deer Group gets a single, short paragraph. In the Gulf Islands, Alderson misses almost all the same campsites Mary Snowden misses and then adds a few more misses of his own. Alderson’s coverage of the Discovery Islands hits key sites such as the Octopus Islands but then misses good sites immediately adjacent such as Francisco Island.

    Alderson attempts to occupy an uncomfortable middle ground between John Kimantas’s show-everything approach and Peter McGee’s just-the-highlights style. In the end, I think Alderson gives the impression of showing everything while in reality only showing highlights, the worst of both worlds.

    2. Backlund, Gary, and Paul Grey. Easykayaker: A Guide to Laid-back Vancouver Island Paddling.
    ISBN: 978-0968785812
    Harbour Publishing, 2002

    Easykayaker, Backlund and Grey’s first Vancouver Island guidebook, is aimed at the complete novice. The first third of Easykayaker is taken up with how-to lessons, including such basics as selecting and maintaining a kayak. Only the latter two thirds is a guidebook.

    Easykayaker’s subtitle suggests there will be coverage of all of Vancouver Island, but that is a false promise. Instead, perhaps because of their intended beginner audience, Backlund and Grey mostly confine themselves to a few day paddles in the northern Gulf Islands and the sheltered bays around Nanaimo. These trips are fine as far as they go, but they sell the reader short. The nicest parts of the Gulf Islands are farther south, and this book only extends as far as Southey Point. If you’ve been dying to spend an afternoon paddling the Ladysmith waterfront, Easykayaker is just what you need, but I argue if a guidebook is going to limit itself to the Gulf Islands in the first place, it ought to include more than just Nanaimo, Thetis, and a portion of Saltspring.

    Even in the northern Gulf Islands that are covered, Backlund and Grey make no attempt to link the book’s small trips together into any longer trips, so Easykayaker has limited utility outside of the exact itineraries Backlund and Grey propose. There are also no mileage scales in any of the maps, so the reader feels even more bound to follow the authors’ exact directions instead of creating his or her own trip.

    Easykayaker does include three random selections outside the Gulf Islands: the Broken Group, part of Nootka Sound, and Jedediah Island. The coverage of each of these regions suffers from an excessively tight focus, in that nearby treasures such as Smuggler’s Cove and the Deer Group are omitted. (The Deers are covered in Backlund and Grey’s second book.) The Broken Group coverage is also somewhat outdated—Benson Island is no longer a campsite, and Toquart Bay is no longer a launch.

    It is not clear who the intended audience for these latter sections is. Paddlers so inexperienced they need a book to tell them how to load their kayaks probably have no business paddling Nootka Sound, and experienced west coast paddlers are probably ready to go farther in Nootka Sound than just Bligh Island, the only portion of Nootka Sound this book presents.

    3. Backlund, Gary, and Paul Grey. Kayaking Vancouver Island: Great Trips from Port Hardy to Victoria.
    ISBN: 978-1550173185
    Harbour Publishing, 2003

    Backlund and Grey’s second Vancouver Island guidebook, much like their first, is not a general guide to Vancouver Island. Instead, it is a random selection of small trips that Backlund and Grey have enjoyed. This second Vancouver Island book is missing almost all the east coast of Vancouver Island north of Nanaimo; all the Gulf Islands south of the Penders; all of the Discovery Islands except Quadra and Cortes (and it misses Maurelle and Read Islands between those); all of Johnstone Strait and the Broughtons; all of Queen Charlotte Strait; and everything between Barkley Sound and Victoria. Only a handful of these large, egregious gaps are filled in by Backlund and Grey’s earlier book, Easykayaker.

    Even the areas this second book does cover often receive only spotty coverage. In Kyuquot Sound, for example, Rugged Point is examined in intimate detail, but the nearby Mission Group—in my opinion, a far more interesting destination—is entirely omitted, as is everything north of Kyuquot Village, including the Brooks Peninsula. Similarly, the book’s Quatsino Sound coverage cuts off a third of the way to the ocean. These are serious derelictions, far worse than Alderson or Snowden’s overlooking of a few campsites.

    Backlund and Grey’s second book does offer fairly good coverage of most of Clayoquot Sound, although it misses all the beaches on eastern Vargas Island. In Barkley Sound, however, this second book only covers the Deer Group. To see the Broken Group immediately next door, the reader would have to buy Backlund and Grey’s first book. Nootka Island is similarly bisected between the two books in a way that makes no sense in terms of trip planning.

    Backlund and Grey also make the bizarre choice to organize the regions in this second book on a strict south-to-north basis, regardless of which side of Vancouver Island each region is on. Thus, the reader goes from Galiano Island on the east side to Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds on the west side and then suddenly back to Valdes Island on the east side. This see-sawing disorganization makes planning longer trips impossible, especially given the lack of wide-area maps. The few localized maps that are provided don’t even have a mileage scale, rendering them almost useless. The maps carry a disclaimer that they are “not for navigation.” Indeed.​

    4. BC Marine Trails. Online Map.
    No ISBN (web only). Regular updates.

    BC Marine Trails Association is the brainchild of Peter McGee. The group seeks to inventory campsites along the entire BC coast at close enough intervals that kayakers can string together extended trips, secure in the knowledge that a protected campsite awaits at the end of each day’s paddling. The Washington Water Trails Association already publishes something similar in Washington, but BC Marine Trails is attempting it on a far grander scale.

    BC Marine Trails doesn’t publish a paper guidebook like WWTA does, but the group’s website offers a first-rate, Google Earth-based map of campsites. From the Strait of Juan de Fuca north to Seaforth Channel, BC Marine Trails features most major campsites, usually with photos, always with accurate coordinates, and frequently with advice for approaching and landing during adverse conditions—essential information that only Nanaimo Paddlers and sometimes John Kimantas present as reliably as BC Marine Trails does. South of Seaforth Channel, there are only a handful of minor sites that Kimantas or Robert Miller cover that BC Marine Trails does not, and BC Marine Trails does not miss any of the major sites, except out on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where its coverage of Kyuquot and Nootka Sounds has a few gaps. North of Seaforth Channel, BC Marine Trails’s coverage becomes increasingly patchy, although a sufficient density of sites remains to offer point-to-point itineraries for each night of a trip even in the northern reaches.

    One weakness of BC Marine Trails compared to a traditional guidebook is that BC Marine Trails’ online map only covers campsites, not other points of interest. While campsites are undoubtedly the most important subject a guidebook must discuss, our coast also features thousands upon thousands of interesting little islets, bays, and cultural sites. A paddler does himself a disservice by skipping them.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  3. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    5. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to South Puget Sound, Second Edition.
    ISBN: 978-0974519203
    Little Bay Press, 1999

    Ken Campbell bills this guidebook as “the definitive sea kayaker’s guide to the waters of south Puget Sound.” That is an overstatement. The book is a collection of interesting day trips, but for a complete guide to Puget Sound (and beyond), look to WWTA or Rob Casey. As Campbell himself admits, he has left many parts of the sound out of this guidebook. He justifies this as a deliberate editorial decision designed to preserve the reader’s sense of exploration, but I disagree with his choice. Nowadays, there are enough authors who do provide comprehensive coverage that I think the bar has been raised. The time has passed for coyly withholding information from a guidebook.

    One aspect where Campbell outshines Casey and WWTA is his intense focus on little, out-of-the-way corners of the sound. Campbell has whole sections devoted just to Fox Island and Colvos Passage, areas that Casey and WWTA merely skim. Campbell’s section on Ketron Island introduced me to a beach I didn’t know existed. He lavishes attention on Blake Island, remarking insightfully that the island singlehandedly captures the essence of the entire Puget Sound region.

    Campbell can be a frustrating guide. In his Blake Island section, for example, he introduces imaginative launch points at Lincoln Park and Harper that wouldn’t have occurred to me, but he misses the most obvious launch at Alki Point. He also misses the campsite on the south end of the island. In his otherwise beautiful Colvos Passage section, he mentions numerous landmarks along the route but fails to depict them on his map. These kinds of omission give the book a hasty, incomplete feel.

    Maps are Campbell’s biggest weakness. None of his maps have a mileage scale, many omit major landmarks, campsites are almost never depicted even if they are mentioned in the text—and they are not always mentioned, as, for example, Lisabuela in Colvos—and the local maps are not well tiered to a bigger-picture map, making the book hard to use for multi-day trips.

    It is easy for older books to go out of date, especially with regards to campsite availability. Because Campbell breezes past most campsites, his 1999 book avoids this pitfall and remains mostly accurate today. There are even a few nostalgic moments, such as when Campbell speculates that McMicken Island might someday become a Cascadia Marine Trail site. Sadly, it never did.​

    6. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to North Puget Sound.
    ISBN: 978-0974519227
    Little Bay Press, 2002

    Like Campbell’s earlier guide to south Puget Sound, this guide to north Puget Sound is less a “definitive guide” (as the back cover promises) and more a collection of short, scattered day trips. All the strengths and weaknesses of the first guidebook appear again in this one. On the strong side: a special focus on unexpected little corners of the region and beautifully expressive writing. On the weak side: terrible maps, numerous missed campsites, and no attempt to link individual trips together.

    Campbell offers small but unique trips in Dyes Inlet and Liberty Bay on the Kitsap Peninsula, Useless Bay off Whidbey Island, and a little urban paddle out of Port Townsend. He also offers little trips in Holmes Bay and up the southern end of Saratoga Passages; these latter routes are covered by Casey and WWTA but not as thoroughly as Campbell. However, of all Campbell’s books, this one is the weakest. There are too many “paddling past suburbia” sections and not enough “remote islets you’ve never heard of” sections. I read Campbell for the special little surprises and insights he delivers, and this book has fewer of those than his earlier and later materials.​

    7. Campbell, Ken. A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to the San Juan Islands.
    ISBN: 978-0974519272
    Little Bay Press, 2008

    In his latest book, Campbell resumes his delightful focus on overlooked gems. He has evocative sections on kayaking Lopez Sound, Fisherman Bay, and even the rocky and dangerous southern tip of Lopez Island, where his description of the wave trains, wind exposure, and unpredictable currents on that stark coast took me back to a stormy winter morning I once spent unsuccessfully trying to round Watmough Head. His description of Saddlebag Island’s almost otherworldy isolation from the nearby urbanized areas is spot on. He also turned me on to the possibility of landing at McConnell Rock, which is accessible BLM land, not off-limits NWR land as I had assumed.

    Campbell’s maps have improved this time, though they are still far below the standard set by Kimantas, Casey, or McGee. Campbell still has not found a way to show a small, localized map in context with a larger area. He now shows more campsites than his previous books, but he still does not depict every site. On Sucia Island, for example, he leaves out Snoring Bay altogether, and he depicts Shallow Bay and Echo Bay as basically one big site, even though they are a quarter mile apart and use different landing beaches on opposite sides of the island. He also shows Strawberry Island and Ewing Cove as campsites, which they no longer are. Campbell is also unreliable with regards to launch points: He claims Roche Harbor is the “only practical place” to launch on northern San Juan Island, forgetting the nearby and more scenic Reuben Tarte County Park, which also has free parking, unlike Roche Harbor.

    Unfortunately, Campbell is still leaving out areas as a deliberate editorial decision. This time, he skips James Island, Blind Island, and Griffin Bay. These may not be the crown jewels of the San Juans, but they are worthy destinations and should have appeared in this guidebook.​

    8. Campbell, Ken. Shades of Gray: Sea Kayaking in Western Washington.
    ASIN: B000OKDD1O
    OCLC: 44104842
    Ex Press Books, 1999

    Campbell’s great theme is the freedom a paddler feels out on the salt waters of Washington. Reading his description of a harbor porpoise popping up with a “whoosh” early on a misty morning near Guemes Island, one is immediately transported to that magical moment and place. Few other authors describe the sea kayaking experience with as much authenticity and accessibility. Campbell’s mood often leans toward melancholy, but a wintry Washington bay can be a melancholy place when one is paddling alone.

    In Shades of Gray, Campbell takes the reader to some of the more out-of-the-way corners of Washington that other guidebook authors overlook, such as Willapa Bay and Neah Bay. Even when he covers well-trodden areas like Tacoma Narrows or Sucia Island, Campbell dives in with a special intensity that carries the reader straight to the place.

    Campbell includes only the barest minimum in maps and directions, and frequently leaves out big portions of a region in favor of describing one little portion in great, familiar detail. Some of the missing “hard data” is included in an appendix, but this is still a “guidebook” in only the loosest sense of the word.

    This 1999 book is beginning to show its age. Campbell describes a lighthouse keeper’s house on Patos Island that hasn’t been there for over a decade, and, poignantly, he states that the population of resident orcas in Washington is “90 to 100.” That may have been true when this book came out, but now their number is down to 76. (Campbell acknowledges the declining orcas and demolished building in his 2008 guidebook to the San Juans.)

    I almost didn’t review this book because of its unique, narrative style of presentation. My self-imposed rule of “no personal journey books” is a matter of practical necessity. There are so many kayaking journey books that once I started reviewing the first one, I’d never reach the end. I justify my decision to review Shades of Gray with the admittedly flimsy excuse that John Dowd’s Sea Kayaking Manual lists this book under its “guidebooks” bibliography. I also offer the even flimsier excuse that some of Campbell’s trip reports make reference to earlier trips he has taken to the same area, so the book isn’t properly speaking a “narrative.” The truth is, I just enjoy Campbell’s writing, and I’m happy to share his books with you.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  4. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    9. Casey, Rob. Kayaking Puget Sound & the San Juan Islands: 60 Trips in Northwest Inland Waters, Including the Gulf Islands.
    ISBN: 978-1594856853
    Mountaineers Book, 2012

    This is the latest edition of the Mountaineers’ regularly updated guidebook to kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans. This guidebook was launched in 1986 by the legendary Randel Washburne, first at Pacific Search Press and thence to the Mountaineers in 1990, where it has stayed through its last three editions and numerous printings. This 2012 edition by Rob Casey is the first not to feature Washburne, but Casey proves himself a worthy successor.

    This is by far the best guidebook for kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans. Casey maintains Washburne’s focus on day trips or half-day trips, so he provides much more detail about each of the various sub-regions than most other authors do. Much like Don Skillman does for Glacier Bay, Casey is careful to detail every campsite within Puget Sound; he does not skip the non-marine trail sites like WWTA does. This practice makes for an exceptionally thorough guide, but it also makes it easy for this book to go out of date. Washburne’s previous 1999 edition, for example, missed the new Admiralty Inlet campsite at Portage Beach and wrongly included the now-shuttered campsite on Strawberry Island. Casey’s 2012 edition corrects those obsolescences, but he too is beginning to suffer Washburne’s fate—he presents Ala Spit and Saltwater State Park as campsites, even though both have since been closed.

    Casey’s title promises to include the Gulf Islands, but in contrast to his excellent Puget Sound and San Juans coverage, Casey’s Gulf Islands coverage is poor. He has patchy coverage between Victoria and Wallace Island, but for some reason misses Rum, D’Arcy, and Sidney Islands altogether. His coverage of Saturna and Mayne Islands is similarly lacking in rigor. Weak coverage of the Gulf Islands has been an issue for the Mountaineers guidebook going back decades now, and Casey’s edition has made only marginal improvements.​

    10. Fine Edge. Inside Passage Route Planning Map.
    ISBN: 978-0938665885 (south portion)
    ISBN: 978-0938665892 (north portion)
    Fine Edge, 2006.

    They may not be guidebooks per se, but these large, beautiful maps are my favorite tool for performing “step zero” of planning a new trip: fantasizing about what area to visit. I have the south portion and north portion Inside Passage maps pro-lammed and hanging side-by-side in my hallway, and I stop to look at them every time I pass. These maps inspired me to do trips to out-of-the-way places like God’s Pocket and Lake Ozette. I also used a fan-folded version as a daily planner on a four-month Inside Passage solo. Fine Edge also has smaller-scale planning maps for a few parts of the coast; if I were doing Prince William Sound, for example, I would definitely take Fine Edge’s map of that area.​

    11. Frazer, Neil. Boat Camping Haida Gwaii: A Small Vessel Guide, Revised Second Edition.
    ISBN: 978-1550174878
    Harbour Publishing, 2010

    Haida Gwaii is underserved by kayaking guidebooks. Even the usually excellent Peter McGee provides only a brief overview of the main cultural sites, and he does not bother with any Haida Gwaii maps. BC Marine Trails covers only Haida Gwaii’s launch sites, not its campsites, and John Kimantas does not cover Haida Gwaii at all. Neil Frazer’s book, though not aimed at kayakers per se, is therefore the best resource for kayakers in these islands.

    Frazer himself is an accomplished kayaker who has written for Sea Kayaker Magazine, and he has a keen appreciation for a kayak’s special needs and abilities. His guidebook merges a large-scale atlas style with the more traditional map-plus-narration style, a combination I wish more authors would adopt.

    Frazer’s guidance is not perfect: He leaves out a few campsites that I think are excellent, and some of the campsites he says are good I find poor—Murchison Island being the first such example that comes to mind. Overall, however, Frazer’s book is thorough and accurate, and I have seen locals use it to plan their own trips in Haida Gwaii.​

    12. Harbold, Heather. Sea Kayak Nootka and Kyuquot Sounds.
    ISBN: 978-1894765527
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2004

    Former SKABC president Heather Harbold’s coverage of Nootka and Kyuquot Sounds is unusually thorough. She takes the reader up all the various inlets and bays that more generalizing authors such as McGee and Alderson miss. Harbold also presents valuable information on the merits and weaknesses of all the various launch points, including the more obscure boat ramps along Tlupana Inlet. Vehicle access is discussed in every guidebook, of course, but it is rare that an author shines so much light on this important aspect of kayaking.

    Like her fellow Rocky Mountain Books author Doug Alderson, Harbold skimps on maps. The only campsites she maps in Esperanza Inlet, for example, are Garden Point, Rose Island, and Catala Island. Even those campsites do not appear on every map: The high-level map of the inlet shows only Garden Point, and the Catala and Rosa sites appear only on maps in sub-sections specifically devoted to those islands. The Esperanza Inlet campsites at Lord Waterfall, Haven Cove, and the settlement of Esperanza are mentioned in the text but not shown as campsites on the maps, a bad habit that Harbold continues in her coverage of other areas such as the Bunsby Islands and even the Brooks Peninsula—an area where precise campsite mapping would seem particularly helpful.

    One unique find in Harbold’s book is a free, public cabin on Thornton Island, about six kilometers west of Rugged Point. No other author mentions this gem, even the redoubtable Kimantas. Harbold’s discovery will not likely benefit today’s reader, however, because Thornton Island was subsequently ceded (or given back, if you like) during the treaty process. Explicit permission from the Kyuquot-Cheklesaht First Nation would now be needed to come ashore. In the same vein, this 2004 book does not account for the loss to kayakers of the Acous Peninsula and the Mission Group, both of which were transferred to the First Nation almost in their entirety. Spring Island retains some crown land on the south shore and a pay-to-use campsite on the north shore, but the rest of the Mission archipelago now requires permission.​

    13. Harbold, Heather. Sea Kayak Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast.
    ISBN: 978-1894765534
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2005

    With the exception of older guidebooks outside my date range, Harbold is the only author besides the ubiquitous Kimantas and McGee to cover Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast. Harbold’s coverage of the human history of Desolation Sound is terrific, unsurprising since she actually wrote a history of the place in 2007. More than any other author except Stalker and Nolan—who set out specifically to write a historical guide to kayaking—Harbold has a deep appreciation for the people who have lived on this land before us. She finds more petroglyphs and pictographs than anyone else, even Kimantas. I myself have paddled several times down Thulin Passage without noticing a pictograph on the walls above me. Thanks to Harbold, I now know to look.

    Unfortunately, Harbold’s physical descriptions of Desolation Sound are rather thin. For example, she has never personally visited Toba Inlet. She has heard there are waterfalls and mountains and few places to land, but she says other than that, “You’re on your own.” She then provides an almost featureless map of the inlet, a weakness that plagues many Rocky Mountain guidebooks. Harbold’s inadequate description of Toba contrasts unfavorably with McGee’s point-by-point walkthrough of the inlet or Kimantas’s richly detailed maps.

    Harbold improves once she gets to the Sunshine Coast. Her coverage of Jervis Inlet, for example, devotes whole sections to Princess Louisa Inlet, Nelson Island, and Hotham Sound, and these sections contain exactly the kind of route beta and descriptions of key attractions that kayakers need. Unfortunately, her maps remain poor even in the otherwise well-done Sunshine Coast chapters.

    Harbold maintains the very good coverage of vehicle access points that she established in her first book. She also includes a unique bonus feature: a chapter on the Powell Forest Canoe Route. No other sea kayaking guidebook includes these impressive bodies of fresh water, although Harbold’s presentation is somewhat marred by her inconsistent mapping of campsites, with one map showing only campsites on one end of a lake, and the next map a few pages later showing only campsites on the opposite end of the same lake. Harbold urges the reader to use a BC Forest Service map to find campsites, but that should have been her job.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  5. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    14. Howard, Jim. Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southeast Alaska.
    ISBN: 978-0762704095
    Globe Pequot, 1999

    There are a billion guidebooks to Alaska’s rivers and lakes, but Jim Howard is the only guide to most of Alaska’s saltwater. Howard’s approach to southeast Alaska is the philosophical antipode of Robert Miller’s. Where Miller offers turn-by-turn directions and maps of each possible campsite along a very narrow route, Howard offers sweeping generalizations of entire regions, punctuated by a few must-see destinations. Howard’s guidebook reads like a good WCP trip report: It paints a picture of what to expect in a region but leaves the details of where exactly to paddle up to the reader. Instead of mapping campsites, for example, he simply states whether campsites in a particular area are numerous or sparse. Guidance like this takes decades to become obsolete, unlike a more specific, site-by-site style of book, so don’t be put off by Howard’s 1999 publication date.

    According to National Geographic Magazine, Southeast Alaska has something like 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of shoreline, thanks to all its many islands. Shoreline measurement is notoriously dependent on scaling, so other sources claim only 10,000 miles. By any scale, though, Southeast Alaska is enormous. Even with his broad, overview presentation style, Howard cannot cover all the regions in this vast area. The single largest region he leaves out is Prince of Wales Island, a place I think is still worth paddling despite all the logging. Also missing are Admiralty Island, Kuiu Island, Zarembo Island, Etolin Island, Wrangell Island, and the southern half of Baranof Island. (The coverage of northern Baranof is excellent.) Add it all up, and it’s something like half of southeast Alaska not covered, making Howard’s title somewhat of a misnomer. With the exception of Wrangell, these omitted islands are not on the ferry mainline, but Howard’s coverage of Chichagof Island is very good, which proves he can cover areas off the mainline when he wants to.

    It might seem unfair that I praise Howard for his generalizing even as I criticize Backlund and Grey for providing spotty coverage of Vancouver Island and Snowden and Alderson for missing campsites. The difference is that Howard sets out to write a sweeping, generalized guidebook of a huge area, and he largely succeeds in doing so. By contrast, Snowden and Alderson set out to provide complete, site-by-site guidance but then fall short of that standard, and Backlund and Grey’s titles promise much wider coverage than what their books deliver. Howard has at least triple the distance to cover that any of them do, so I am more willing to overlook his lapses. In addition, Backlund, Grey, Snowden, and Alderson have to compete against top-shelf authors like Kimantas and McGee, whereas Howard is the lone author to cover this region, with the partial exceptions of Miller and Skillman, who cover some small portions. Perhaps Howard shines brighter for his singularity.​

    15. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Explorer and Marine Trial Guide, Vol. 1: West Coast Vancouver Island North, Port Hardy to Bamfield.
    ISBN: 978-0987985101
    Wild Coast Publishing, 2012

    John Kimantas’s guidebooks are the highest quality. (He also posts on this forum, hi John!) They combine excellent maps, thorough coverage of campsites and other attractions, good navigational information, and interesting historical and cultural background. Kimantas’s maps alone justify his books’ purchase price, with coverage of each area provided at close, medium, and distant scales, campsites and points of interest and danger clearly labeled, and paddling distances marked out from point to point.

    This new BC Coast Explorer series partially replaces Kimantas’s earlier Wild Coast series, with the exception that Wild Coast volume 3 has not yet fully been replaced by a BC Coast Explorer volume. (And see also the discussion of Wild Coast volume 2, below). Regardless of which series, Kimantas’s books are head and shoulders above any others. Kimantas’s only weakness is that his books are so detailed he takes three volumes to cover what others do in one.

    Each volume in Kimintas’s series covers a different region. This first volume in the BC Coast Explorer series covers the west coast of Vancouver Island, and is by far the best book to do so. Some online sources claim this book’s coverage is from Port Hardy to Tofino, but this is incorrect; it’s Port Hardy to Bamfield.

    Although the older Wild Coast series is more famous than this replacement BC Coast Explorer series, I recommend buying BC Coast Explorer. Land ownership is in rapid flux along the west coast of Vancouver Island because of the treaty negotiations, and it’s important for kayakers to keep abreast of new developments. Kimantas does a great job covering the Maa-nulth treaty that entered into effect in 2011. Since then, however, new land claims from other Nuu-chah-nulth and nations elsewhere along the coast have entered late-stage negotiation. Even BC Coast Explorer is already starting to fall out of date as more and more land claims are advanced—Kimantas doesn’t cover the new, controversial Ahousaht fee program in Clayoquot Sound, for example. Soon we’ll all be updating our maps, and the updates may not be friendly to kayakers.​

    16. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Explorer and Marine Trail Guide, Vol. 2: BC’s South Coast Bamfield to Comox Harbour.
    ISBN: 978-0987985118
    Wild Coast Publishing, 2015

    BC Coast Explorer volume 2 covers the Strait of Juan de Fuca east to the Gulf Islands and then north through the Strait of Georgia to Desolation Sound. Kimantas is the only author other than Alderson and BC Marine Trails to cover the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Kimantas also has the best coverage of any author of the Discovery Islands, Gulf Islands, and Desolation Sound.

    Many online sources claim this book’s coverage is from Bamfield to Desolation Sound, but this is incorrect; it’s Bamfield to Comox Harbour.​

    KimantasWildCoast 3.jpg
    17. Kimantas, John. The Wild Coast, Vol. 3: A Kayaking, Hiking, and Recreation Guide for BC’s South Coast and East Vancouver Island.
    ISBN: 978-1552858424
    Whitecap Books, 2007

    Kimantas’s new BC Coast Explorer series is not yet complete: It has a gap in coverage from Port Hardy down Johnstone Strait and through Desolation Sound to the Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, and the Discovery Islands—a stretch of southern BC with some of the best kayaking in the world. This Wild Coast volume 3 from Kimantas’s older series fills that gap while we wait for BC Coast Explorer volume 3. Unfortunately, while filling in the coverage that BC Coast Explorer currently lacks, this Wild Coast volume 3 also duplicates most of the southern coverage in BC Coast Explorer volume 2. Yet BC Coast Explorer volume 2 presents additional coverage along the Strait of Juan de Fuca that Wild Coast volume 3 lacks, so despite the overlap, the two are not interchangeable.

    For complete Kimantas coverage of the Vancouver Island region, it is necessary to buy Wild Coast volume 3 plus BC Coast Explorer volumes 1 and 2, even though this results in a substantial duplication in coverage. The upcoming BC Coast Explorer volume 3 will cover the Hardy–Howe Sound gap and render Wild Coast volume 3 obsolete, but until BC Coast Explorer volume 3 appears, Wild Coast volume 3 is the only way to get Kimantas coverage of the Broughtons, Johnstone Strait, the Discoveries, and the BC mainland. The upcoming BC Coast Explorer volume 3 was scheduled for 2017; perhaps John will weigh in with an update. (Wild Coast volume 1 is already rendered wholly obsolete by BC Coast Explorer volumes 1 and 2. Wild Coast volume 2, discussed below, covers a completely different part of the coast.)​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  6. Gary Jacek

    Gary Jacek Paddler

    Dec 11, 2009
    Victoria, BC
    Hmmm. Something is not working here.
  7. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    18. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Recreation Kayaking and Small Boat Atlas, Vol. 1: British Columbia’s South Coast and East Vancouver Island.
    ISBN: 978-1770500570
    Whitecap Books, 2007 (revised and updated 2012)

    In addition to his traditional guidebooks, Kimantas also publishes a series of large, atlas-style guidebooks. The atlases contain the same detailed maps as the guidebooks, but they are printed much larger, allowing the kayaker to gain a sense of scale and plan multi-day trips more efficiently. The atlases dispense with almost all the cultural and historical information found in the guidebooks, but they are a fantastic planning and navigating tool. The atlases are spiral-bound and printed on water-resistant paper, and I have seen some people just take the atlas pages out and laminate them to bring along on longer trips. Kimantas’s new waterproof mapsheets (see below) may make this practice obsolete.

    This atlas volume 1 duplicates the coverage of Wild Coast volume 3: Gulf Islands to Broughtons, including Desolation Sound. This means the atlas also duplicates half of BC Coast Explorer volume 2 plus all of the future BC Coast Explorer volume 3. (Yes, it is annoying and confusing that the atlas volume numbers don’t correspond to the Wild Coast guidebook volume numbers. It is even more annoying and confusing that the new BC Coast Explorer volume numbers don’t correspond to the old Wild Coast volume numbers, and that the boundaries of coverage don’t line up between the various series. We can only pray that one of these days, Kimantas will reconcile the confusing gaps and overlaps between Wild Coast, BC Coast Explorer, and BC Coast Recreation Kayaking and Small Boat Atlas.)​

    19. Kimantas, John. BC Coast Recreation Kayaking and Small Boat Atlas, Vol. 2: British Columbia’s West Vancouver Island.
    ISBN: 978-1552858653
    Whitecap Books, 2007 (reprinted but not updated 2011)

    This second atlas provides large, detailed camping and navigational maps for the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It duplicates the coverage of the old Wild Coast volume 1, which means it also duplicates all of BC Coast Explorer volume 1 and half of BC Coast Explorer volume 2. (The other half of BC Coast Explorer volume 2 is duplicated in atlas volume 1, which also duplicates the future BC Coast Explorer volume 3. It’s all so simple, you see?) As does the first atlas, this second atlas eschews most historical and cultural information in favor of providing simple, easy-to-use, and beautiful maps. The two atlases together provide complete mapping coverage of Vancouver Island region. There is no atlas coverage for any place north of the Broughtons.​

    20. Kimantas, John. Recreation Mapsheets.
    ISBN: various
    Wild Coast Publishing, various dates

    If detaching and laminating Kimantas's atlas pages seems too cumbersome, Kimantas also offers a series of foldable mapsheets printed on waterproof paper. Mapsheets are available for some of the most popular areas of southern BC, including the Broughtons, the Broken Group, Desolation Sound, Clayoquot Sound, and the Gulf Islands. Some of Kimantas's mapsheets have been updated more regularly than his atlases—the mapsheet for Desolation Sound, for example, shows several campsites along Homfray Channel that do not appear in the atlas. Otherwise, the mapsheets and atlases are quite similar.​

    21. Kimantas, John. The Wild Coast, Vol. 2: A Kayaking and Recreation Guide for the North and Central BC Coast.
    ISBN: 978-1552857861
    Whitecap Books, 2006

    The three Kimantas books and two Kimantas atlases discussed above cover only southern BC. This Wild Coast volume 2 contains Kimantas’s coverage of the central and north coasts. Unlike the other Wild Coast volumes, I am not aware of any plans to replace this Wild Coast volume 2.

    The only other authors to cover the enormous central coast region are McGee, Miller, BC Marine Trails, and to a limited degree, the Nanaimo Paddlers. McGee’s coverage of the region is probably too cursory to use for anything other than broad planning, as he himself admits. Miller’s more detailed coverage only extends a few miles to either side of his Inside Passage route and does not adequately cover the region as a whole. BC Marine Trails starts off strong but tapers off rapidly north of Seaforth Channel. So, as usual, it falls to Kimantas to write the definitive guidebook.

    The central and north coast is a region so vast and so remote that even the mighty Kimantas cannot fully conquer it. Along the south coast, I almost never discover spots Kimantas hasn’t already mapped somewhere in his multiple books and atlases. On the central and north coast, by contrast, there are still a few channels and inlets that have not yet tasted his paddle. The Whale Channel of Princess Royal Island, for example, has good campsites that Kimantas hasn’t found, including a lovely, clean cabin in Cameron Cove.

    But I really cannot quibble. Wild Coast volume 2 is a monumental achievement. Of the truly grade-A spots that I know along this coast, there’s not a single one that escapes Kimantas’s attention. That little shell beach on the islet near Soulsby Point, for example, appears in chapter three. That sandy hideaway in Cultus Sound, where my mukluks once floated away on a midnight tide, appears in chapter two. Even that tiny beach hidden east of the Duckers Islands appears in chapter six, albeit as a rest stop rather than a full-fledged campsite. Kimantas knows all my best places.

    Moreover, Kimantas knows many spots that I had no clue existed, including beautiful ones in Milbanke Sound and Queen Charlotte Strait that I have paddled right past without even noticing. When I open Wild Coast volume 2, I am constantly kicking myself as I read about all the spectacular spots Kimantas describes that I missed. With no other author do I experience this delightful yearning.​

    22. Marleau, Jean-Francois. Kayaking the Broken Group Islands on Canada’s West Coast, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
    ISBN: 978-0973987706
    Pacific Rim Informative Adventures, 2008

    By my count, there are at least six other authors whose coverage of the Broken Group predates JF Marleau. It’s no surprise that one of the most popular kayaking destinations in BC would attract so many authors, but Marleau came late to this party, so there’s not much left for him to add.

    Unfortunately, Marleau didn’t come quite late enough to account for the new restrictions imposed by the Maa-nulth treaty process, so he repeats the same outdated information as authors like Alderson, Snowden, and Backlund and Grey. Today, Benson Island is no longer a campsite, launching at Toquart Bay is no longer possible, and parking now costs $10 a day with a $15 launch fee at Secret Beach.

    Marleau’s book suffers from a pervasive disorganization. He whipsaws between human history, driving directions, camping advice, natural history, kayaking guide, more natural history, more human history, and trip planning advice. The maps are placed nowhere near their descriptive text. I constantly find myself losing my place flipping between sections.

    Unique among authors, Marleau presents campsites in Macoah Passage and Toquart Bay, including Pipestem Inlet, the Stopper Islands, David Island, and St. Ines Island. Most of these have since been lost to the treaty process. Marleau says the lands “have yet to be given back” as of 2007, which was true at the time, but the transfer has now been finalized. Marleau is correct that the Stopper Islands were excluded from the handover, so those campsites remain accessible, at least for now, as does Pipestem Inlet. As for the other islands, we can only hope the First Nations will one day be as generous toward kayakers as the provincial government used to be.​

    23. McGee, Peter. Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast: From Northern Oregon to British Columbia’s North Coast.
    ISBN: 978-1553650331
    Greystone Books, 2004

    I use Peter McGee’s guidebook more than any other. Without being bulkier than other guides, it covers five or six times the area of most.

    McGee’s breadth does result in a lack of detail. His coverage of the San Juans skips the islands north of Orcas altogether, for example, thereby missing some of the best kayaking in Washington, and even McGee admits his coverage of the magnificent Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy is only cursory. Nonetheless, McGee’s book is still my go-to resource for planning multi-day trips, because it provides a good, high-level introduction to every one of the most desirable kayaking regions along the coast. McGee does not purport to cover every little cove and islet of every region, so he misses many campsites, and his book is not ideal for detailed navigation. As a planning resource, however, McGee is second to none. Small wonder that John Dowd did him the honor of writing his foreword.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  8. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    24. Miller, Robert H. Kayaking the Inside Passage: A Paddling Guide from Olympia, Washington to Muir Glacier, Alaska.
    ISBN: 978-0881506426
    Countryman Press, 2005

    Robert Miller offers an adventure in a can. He basically draws a line up the Inside Passage from south Puget Sound to Glacier Bay, and then maps out campsites for five miles on each side of the line. The result is a customizable Inside Passage trip that mirrors Miller’s own route and offers some limited possibility for minor deviations. Miller provides good natural and human history along the route, and his guidebook identifies a few campsites that no other book does—he offers unique sites on the west coast of Texada and south sides of Savary and Hanson Islands, for example. The few good campsites he misses—in the Beardslees for example—are easily compensated by others nearby.

    I do question whether some of the information from this 2005 book is out of date or just plain wrong: Miller lists Baby Island in Saratoga Passage as a possible campsite, but a quick check of Island County property records reveals that Baby Island is the property of the Tulalip Tribes, and it is unlikely they would be pleased to see kayakers camped there.

    A stronger criticism I have is that Miller makes no provision for detouring by more than a few miles from his route. Desolation Sound does not appear at all in Miller, for example, and like McGee, Miller leaves out the northern San Juans altogether. Overall, I find myself put off by Miller’s turn-by-turn directions and constant mile counting, and I wish he had provided broader coverage to allow kayakers to choose a more circuitous route. With Miller, there’s never any doubt about exactly where the next campsite is, precisely how far it is, the number of minutes until you arrive, and what you will see when you get there. Of all the guidebooks, Miller’s is the best there is for those kayakers who insist on a great deal of certainty on their trips, but he does suck the serendipity out of the journey.​

    25. Nanaimo Paddlers. A Field Guide for Paddlers. (Three separate guides.)

    No ISBN (web only)
    Self-published, 2012 and 2013

    Nanaimo Paddlers is an informal club that meets up throughout the year for trips and clinics. Several of its members have published a trio of free, twenty-page guidebooks on one for the west coast of Calvert Island, one for the west coast of Banks Island, and one for the west coasts of Aristazabal, Price, and Athalone Islands.

    These are guidebooks for the serious paddler. They identify useable campsites on the remotest part of the BC coast, but that’s it. There is only minimal discussion of how to get oneself out to the area or what kinds of attractions to see once one is there. The reader is expected to be knowledgeable enough not to need such fripperies. The books cover only campsites on the west coasts of the islands, not the inside coasts. The authors encourage the reader to use Kimantas’s Wild Coast volume 2 for inside coast coverage.

    The Calvert and Banks books each feature a high-level map of the entire island with every campsite on the west coast mapped. The Aristazabal Island book is lacking this feature, making the Aristazabal book harder to use for trip planning. All three books also provide detailed maps of the area around each campsite, but the quality of these maps is poor and gives the guidebooks a cheap, homemade feel. The maps in the Banks Island book appear to be scans of a CHS paper chart, with “details” of each campsite provided simply by zooming in more closely to the scanned image. The Calvert Island maps appear to be ripped from some kind of ugly vector chart software. The maps in the Aristazabal Island book are just screenshots of Google Earth at various levels of zoom. None of the maps are presented with a mileage scale, and none have the kind of high to medium to close scale progression that gives a map its proper context.

    Each campsite in the Nanaimo Paddlers books is presented with longitude and latitude coordinates, but these coordinates are not completely reliable. The Banks Island book uses three different geodetic datums for its coordinates but never identifies which datum it is using to describe a given location. Many of the site coordinates in the Aristazabal Island book are derived from the authors’ post-hoc review of their charts and Google Earth, meaning the coordinates have not been ground truthed. The Calvert Island book does not even state what datum it uses or how its site coordinates were derived. Given these blunders, I would expect to encounter one hundred meters or more of inaccuracy when using the guidebooks’ coordinates. To the caliber of kayaker who is likely to paddle these waters, such errors are probably trivial, but this kind of sloppiness is still embarrassing.

    The maps and coordinates may be weak points of the Nanaimo Paddlers guidebooks, but the descriptions of the campsites are totally professional. Unlike most other guidebooks, the Nanaimo Paddlers have a strong focus on how to approach each site from the water under various conditions of wind, tide, and swell. This information is essential for determining prior to setting out whether an anticipated destination will be landable under the prevailing conditions.​

    26. Priest, Simon and Caril Ridley. Kayaking around the Key Peninsula.
    ISBN: 978-1932298109
    TARRAK Technologies, 2003

    The only copy in WorldCat of this rare, out-of-print book was missing from the shelf at the Key Center Library. I’m grateful for the efforts of Judy Mills, president of the Key Peninsula Historical Society, in getting me a copy from the society’s museum in Vaughn so I could write this review.

    Of all the sea kayaking guidebooks I’ve reviewed, Priest and Ridley cover the smallest area: a 40-mile tour around the Key Peninsula in south Puget Sound. Never heard of the Key Peninsula? I hadn’t either. The Key Peninsula protrudes south from the Kitsap Peninsula, which protrudes northeast from the Olympic Peninsula, which protrudes north from southwest Washington. The topography down here is complex, to say the least! I myself have gotten disoriented trying to paddle the south sound without a map.

    Priest and Ridley divide the Key Peninsula into 14 segments, each segment beginning and ending at a point of interest. Their small-scale segment maps are quite good, with landmarks clearly labeled, points of interest identified by longitude and latitude, and both compass headings and distances given for each leg—a feature unique to this guidebook. The large-scale map, however, shows only the Key Peninsula, with none of the surrounding features that would have provided orientation and context.

    Priest and Ridley do a good job of providing detailed descriptions and advice on landing locations, an important factor other guidebooks often overlook. They frequently present interesting things to do ashore, such as nearby trails, museums, and historic structures. They ignore tidal currents almost entirely, but currents in south Puget Sound are rarely greater than one knot even in narrow passages, so ignoring them is a reasonable editorial choice.

    The biggest revelation in the book is that the Key Peninsula is only a mile and a half wide at its narrowest, so it is possible to launch on one side, paddle around to the other side over a couple days, and then hike or bicycle across the neck to recover one’s car, then return in the car pick up the kayak. A bike rack is provided at the takeout for this exact purpose.

    The “proposed campsite” Priest and Ridley describe at Dutcher Cove was never established. The land belongs to the Parks Commission, but the Parks Commission has been unable to secure land access to create a state park. It is unlawful to camp on Parks Commission land that has not been affirmatively posted for camping. Day use remains lawful.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  9. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    27. Skillman, Don. Adventure Kayaking: Trips in Glacier Bay.
    ISBN: 978-0899972251
    Wilderness Press, 1998

    Like Casey, Don Skillman is a member of the show-every-possible thing school of guidebook thought, though neither author is as comprehensive as Kimantas. Skillman’s coverage of Glacier Bay is much superior to Robert Miller, who misses the west arm altogether. By contrast, there’s not a bay or inlet or island anywhere in Glacier Bay that Skillman hasn’t explored.

    Skillman’s maps are unusual in that they provide a great deal of topographic detail for land features, not just water. This is the right approach for mapping Glacier Bay, whose waterways are not at all complex but whose surrounding mountains—and glaciers, of course!—are magnificent.

    Skillman takes the reader turn-by-turn through the park, never failing to mention a single landing beach or cove, no matter how insignificant. Unfortunately, this intensive style of guidebook often ages poorly as sites evolve and access changes. Some of the sites Skillman’s 1998 book depicts as campable have since been closed by the National Park Service to protect wildlife from humans or vice versa. Still, as a source of Glacier Bay trip inspiration and pre-trip planning, Skillman is second to none, and by far the majority of his coverage is still accurate even today. The Park Service tells paddlers about any site closures during mandatory orientation, so Skillman’s occasional inaccuracies are of no consequence. As Jim Howard says of Glacier Bay, “Check with park rangers for any closures. Otherwise, you can camp anywhere.”​

    28. Snowden, Mary Ann. Sea Kayak Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds.
    ISBN: 978-1894765541
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2005

    Mary Snowden’s Barkley and Clayoquot Sound guidebook is far stronger than her Gulf Islands guidebook. In particular, Snowden’s section on Barkley Sound is excellent: thorough in its coverage, well-mapped, and informative. She pays special attention to the non-camping islands in the Broken Group, a rare touch that makes her guidebook the best in the business for this archipelago. The usual caveats apply regarding the Maa-nulth treaty apply to Snowden’s Barkley Sound coverage: Launch points are different nowadays, everything costs more money, and Benson Island is not for camping. Some minor islands outside the park have been lost altogether, but Snowden never encouraged landing on those.

    In Clayoquot Sound, Snowden covers everything a paddler needs and nothing he doesn’t. She begins at Tofino, circles Meares Island, and wends her way north as far as Hotsprings Cove. This is a natural stopping point for guidebooks: McGee ends his Clayoquot coverage here as well, as do Backlund and Grey. Snowden’s Clayoquot Sound coverage is best in class—even Kimantas doesn’t catch every one of her campsites around Vargas and Flores, although both he and BC Marine Trails do show a few sites elsewhere that Snowden doesn’t. Snowden’s love of this region comes across in the detail she lavishes on each cove and beach, making her book a pleasure to read.

    In neither of her books does Snowden present any big-picture maps of the area, but this omission is less keenly felt in this Barkley–Clayoquot book than her Gulf Islands book. Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds naturally lend themselves to more localized paddling, whereas the Gulf Islands’ linear geography invites longer-distance trips. Snowden’s maps this time are adequate to their subject.​

    29. Snowden, Mary Ann. Sea Kayak the Gulf Islands.
    ISBN: 978-1894765510
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2004

    Snowden’s Gulf Islands guidebook is mostly aimed at day paddlers. Each section of this book focuses on a few key launch points and describes simple, short routes in the area immediately surrounding. Her maps of each Gulf Islands region are rather bare-bones, and unlike McGee or Kimantas, she does not present any good big-picture maps, so her book is cumbersome for planning multi-day trips or trips between different regions. Even a vague, featureless Alderson-style map would have been an improvement.

    The biggest failure of Snowden’s Gulf Islands book is that she omits many key campsites, including Shingle Bay, Ruckle, Pebble Beach, and the Flat Top Islands. She lists Narvaez Bay as a possible future site but does not map it as such. (It is now an established site.) Some of Snowden’s misses are because this 2004 book is going out of date, but she should still have caught many of the omitted sites. Snowden includes the private First Nations campsite at Fiddler’s Cove and Tent Island, for example, but inexplicably omits the private campgrounds at Miners Bay and Silva Bay. Not that she is alone in missing sites in the Gulf Islands—Alderson misses every private campground in the Gulf Islands, then goes on to miss all the same public sites Snowden misses except Ruckle, and even Ruckle he does not map.

    Although Jim Howard proves it’s possible to write a good guidebook without trying to map every campsite, Snowden actually did try to map every campsite but then failed to do so. Especially in the Gulf Islands, where private ownership has long ago taken over all but a handful of spots, a better guidebook would show every campsite. McGee’s coverage of the Gulf Islands coverage suffers from many of the same lapses as Snowden, but I am more willing to forgive McGee. McGee’s guide is a high-level planning resource that devotes only 16 pages to the Gulf Islands and does not purport to be the last word on the area. By contrast, Snowden’s 150 pages of Gulf Islands coverage should have been enough to provide more detailed, accurate coverage than what she offers.​

    30. Stalker, Aileen and Andrew Nolan. Paddling Through History: Vancouver and Victoria.
    ISBN: 978-1894765572
    Rocky Mountain Books, 2005

    Not every guidebook has to focus on multi-day tours or remote wilderness retreats. Aileen Stalker and Andrew Nolan have written the best urban kayaking guidebook I’ve read. As the title implies, this guidebook presents the human history of various short paddles in Vancouver, Victoria, Indian Arm, and Howe Sound. The authors strike a perfect balance between broad, sweeping historical narratives and focused, personalized, localized narratives—in some places, such as False Creek, actually taking the reader building by building along the skyline. The book’s many photos are all printed in black and white, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the modern photos from the historic ones—a reminder that, while much has changed in our waters over the last century and a half, our essential character remains the same.

    Like all authors at Rocky Mountain Books, Stalker and Nolan offer only mediocre maps, though unlike the worst offenders, they at least include mileage scales. Bare-bones maps are more acceptable in this book than in books like Alderson or Snowden’s, because this book is intended only for short day paddles. Map quality is less important when the paddler can see his or her destination the entire time.

    History never stops advancing, of course, so Stalker and Nolan’s book is due for an update. There are already new buildings and monuments along the Vancouver waterfront that don’t appear in the book. Their siting of the McBarge has also become outdated—the famous vessel has at long last moved out of Burrard Inlet and is undergoing renovation. I suppose one day, the Vancouver of this 2005 book will seem as quaint to paddlers as the historic Vancouver the book describes.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  10. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    31. Twardock, Paul. Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound.
    ISBN: 978-1877900143
    Prince William Sound Books, 2004

    Paul Twardock has written a Jim Howard-style book: It has good, generalized advice about which areas have easy, plentiful campsites versus which areas have scarce, difficult campsites, but it does not provide Kimantas-style mapping of each campsite and point of interest. In fact, Twardock's maps are quite poor, with the exception of a very useful map in the beginning that shows all the native corporation lands. He also shows all the public cabins, a potentially valuable feature for paddlers who can make reservations.

    A breezy, skimming style is more appropriate in Howard’s book than Twardock’s. Howard has an enormous area to cover, so it makes sense for him to use a superficial approach. Twardock, by contrast, has only Prince William Sound, which even with all its islets and inlets has no longer a shoreline than Puget Sound with its islands plus the San Juans. Twardock should therefore have been able to put as much detail into his book as Casey and WWTA put into theirs. Granted, it is less important to identify specific campsites in a mostly public area like Prince William Sound than a mostly private area like Puget Sound, but Twardock still could have given a lot more detail than he does. There are several islands in the southern part of the sound that he doesn’t even reach, including Montague and Hitchinbrook.

    Part of the problem is that Twardock fills more than half his book with unnecessary “how to kayak” advice. He does include interesting historical and ethnographic information, but McGee has similar content just as good in half the space.

    Twardock organizes his book by itinerary rather than by geography, which makes the book hard to use for longer trips. Paddling a Whittier to Valdez route, for example, would have the reader flipping back and forth between the Whittier section, the Valdez section, and the special Whittier–Valdez section. It's cumbersome, but a cumbersome guidebook is better than no guidebook at all, assuming you're a guidebook person.​

    32. Washington Water Trails Association. Cascadia Marine Trail Guidebook, 2014 Edition.
    No ISBN
    Washington Water Trails, 2014

    WWTA’s guidebook covers all of Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the San Juans. This is the same ground covered by Casey, but where Casey’s guide focuses more on the quality of the paddling experience, WWTA’s guide focuses more on the quality of the campsites. Casey is probably better for new kayakers who need more guidance regarding tides and currents, while WWTA is probably better for kayakers who like to put together their own multi-day trips and want to know which campsites will yield the best experiences. Casey’s maps are more detailed, while WWTA’s maps are easier to use for trip planning purposes.

    This guidebook gets updates every few years, and the only way to get the latest version (2014) is to join WWTA—the guidebook is not available in libraries and only rarely appears on bookselling or auction websites. Membership is $35, and the guidebook is free with membership. The WWTA campsite map is also available online for free here, and a clickable list of campsites here provides the same site-specific details as the guidebook. It is important to check the website before relying on the guidebook, because campsites in Washington open and close quite frequently.

    A word of caution is in order: WWTA keeps the clickable list of campsites up to date but does not always update the online map. Be sure to check any guidebook- or map-derived itinerary against the clickable list of campsites before you depart. I once tried to camp at Ala Spit in the mistaken belief that it was still a campsite. Had I checked my plan against the clickable list, I would have learned of its closure.

    One other word of caution: WWTA only depicts water trail campsites, not all possible campsites, so the guidebook, the online clickable list, and the online map all leave out a number of excellent campsites, especially in the San Juans. Missing from WWTA’s coverage are Doe, Sucia, Patos, Matia, Clark, and Turn Islands in the San Juans, and Hope Island in Skagit Bay. All other publicly owned, water-accessible campsites in Puget Sound do have water trail status and do appear in the guidebook and website, but it pays to be aware of these important exceptions. WWTA would be well served to include these beautiful sites in its network.​
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  11. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    Gathering all these books was a fun project. It took several months (and not a small amount of money) to track them all down through various libraries and bookstores. I hope these reviews are helpful, or at the very least thought-provoking. Hopefully, other folks will share their thoughts and recommendations.

    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
    stagger likes this.
  12. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

    Jan 19, 2015
    Landlocked in Tennessee
    This is SO AWESOME!!! Thanks so much for doing this, Alex!! :)
  13. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

    Dec 7, 2011
    Victoria, BC
    This is an excellent resource.
    On my 'ToDo List' for later today: Send an email to everybody I know with a link to this thread!
  14. Tangler

    Tangler Paddler

    Sep 5, 2016
    Nanaimo, BC
    Thanks for such a wonderful body of work.
    Is there any way to "pin" this so users can find it quickly?
  15. nootka

    nootka Paddler

    May 26, 2007
    Campbell River
    One should bear in mind that the Harbold books are written by a very timid kayaker (IMHO).
  16. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

    May 31, 2005
    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Alex: Hell of a job!

    For the few guidebooks in your list which I have studied in detail, and used much, your comments are spot on. Considering how much use Barkley Sound gets, it is a shame that Snowden has not been able to issue a comprehensive update. Not placing blame on her, per se, because the dynamics and economics of a redo may hinge more on the book sales market or issues with the publisher.

    A thoroughgoing guide covering the Deers might alleviate or begin resolution of sanitation and use allocation in the Deers, as well. As might the reverse. Egg and chicken. Or is that chicken and egg? ;)
  17. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    Thanks for the very kind words, everyone. I’m glad people appreciate this project.

    One thing I learned doing these reviews is that the Pacific Northwest is in the middle of a sea kayaking guidebook drought. There was a big burst of publishing activity from the late 90s to the mid-2000s, but there has been very little since:
    In the five years between 1999 and 2003, there were 7 guidebooks.
    In the five years between 2004 and 2008, there were 15 guidebooks.
    In the five years between 2009 and 2013, there were 5 guidebooks.
    In the five years between 2014 and 2018, there have so far been only 2 guidebooks.​
    These two are Rob Casey’s guide to Puget Sound and John Kimantas’s BC Coast Explorer vol. 2. Both are updates to earlier materials, not genuinely new books. The last time there was a completely new sea kayaking guidebook for our region was Nanaimo Paddlers' trilogy of mini-guidebooks in 2012 and 2013. It’s been five years!

    It might seem the case that Puget Sound and the BC coast are now so thoroughly covered there is no need for new guidebooks. WWTA and BC Marine Trails do a fairly good job keeping the campsite maps up-to-date. And Kimantas is such a dominant presence with his books, atlases, and mapsheets there might not seem much need to revisit the areas he covers, especially with BC Marine Trails covering most updates to campsite availability.

    But I, for one, hope to see some new guidebooks. As I hope my reviews make clear, even WWTA, BC Marine Trails, and Kimantas do not cover every possible feature and campsite. There is still room for an imaginative, sensitive explorer in the mode of Ken Campbell to publicize previously overlooked places. I myself know a couple little spots here and there, as I’m sure many others do on this forum.

    Moreover, there are big areas of the PNW coast that receive wholly inadequate coverage from the current crop of guidebooks. The outer coast of Washington and the US side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca are big blank spots on most guidebooks’ maps, with Casey and Campbell filling in only a few scattered patches. Southeast Alaska is an even bigger gap. Between Skillman, Miller, Twardock, and Howard, only about half of Southeast Alaska is covered at all, and almost none of it is properly mapped for kayaking purposes. Southeast Alaska features all the same wilderness and protected paddling conditions that make BC such a paradise, with the added benefits of less logging and no fish farming. The Last Frontier cries out for a Kimantas and a marine trail website.

    Last edited: Mar 18, 2018
  18. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

    May 31, 2005
    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Alex, some areas seem suitable for encyclopedic guidebook coverage. I will grant that. But others, especially those which are very remote, I think are better suited for broad brush treatment, leaving the smaller gems for paddlers to discover for themselves.
  19. mick_allen

    mick_allen Paddler & Moderator

    May 15, 2005
    There's a very important reason why the BCMTNA does not do that - many sites are in contentious areas politically and otherwise - even if they still appear to be on Crown, or BC Park, or Federal Park lands and surprisingly enough - and even if they have been previously specifically designated for recreational use by the public. As well, many sites [that have been used] have uncertain ownership and we need to be careful before publishing their location [there are some great and heartbreaking stories about all the previous].

    There are reams and reams of sites [with exact location, photos, and notation] that are not shown for the above reasons. [If one wishes to see them, join the BCMTNA, become a director, and become amazed!]

    180410 edited to add - BCMTNA has added a new site category - 'other site' that captures a decent percentage of the hitherto hidden sites. It's a great change.

    I forgot to add that Alex's overview of everything is just great - as usual!
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2018
  20. benson

    benson Paddler

    Aug 28, 2011
    Sequim, Wa
    Well done Alex! I sense maybe there's a guidebook in your future?
    Kayak Jim likes this.