Queen Charlotte Islands
Despite the North Pacific storms circling off the coast, our guide, Gord Pincock, is doing his best to see us through our eight-day kayak expedition in the Queen Charlotte Islands, called Haida Gwaii by the native Haida people. For three days, we've been pinned down on a sheltered beach waiting for a weather window to open and let us continue to SGang Gwaay. The island was named for the sighing sound made when storm surf rolls across a reef, but this is a wonder Pincock doesn't want us to witness.
We're paddling the southern end of this 150-island chain through Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Nearly 5,000 people live on Haida Gwaii; about a third are descendants of the Haida, seafaring warriors whose naval daring draws comparisons to the Vikings. Haida canoes, longhouses, and cedar totem poles represent a high point in North American art. Cedar is exceptionally durable, but in Haida Gwaiiessentially a moated rainforesta pole stands only about 150 years. The SGang Gwaay Ilnagaay village contains the most famous poles; the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the morning, under clear skies, we circumnavigate SGang Gwaay. The staring faces of eagles, killer whales, frogs, bearsheraldic crests of previous inhabitantsgaze back at us from 40-foot poles. Their deftly carved features are exaggerated and intimidating: Tongues loll, nostrils flare, teeth are bared, but these expressions seem more the effects of rigor mortis than of the ferocity of life; this is a place of ghosts.John Vaillant
DETAILS: Gord Pincock and Butterfly Tours (604-740-7018, www.butterflytours.bc.ca) lead eight- and 12-day trips for $1,480$2,230.
King Pacific Lodge
You're in a luxury floating lodge moored to 870-square-mile Princess Royal Island in northern British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest: a realm of deep fjords, islands thick with red cedars, and astounding vertical relief. Stand at the edge of the craggy rock of the ridgelines and you feel like you're on top of the worldat sea level. The channels below teem with killer and humpback whales, and the forest behind you is home to the rare white kermode ("spirit") bear.
It doesn't seem possible, but this 17-room, 15,000-square-foot structure, with its enormous, cathedral-ceiling living room, is built on a barge that gets hauled about 100 miles back to Prince Rupert in the fall. Despite the lodge's portability, no detail has been sparedfrom the forged-iron chandeliers to the slate floors and red cedar walls. Rooms are big enough for a king-size bed plus a couple of cushy chairs positioned for gazing out over Barnard Harbor. Jonathan Chovancek, a chef from Victoria, astounds with his fresh fish creationsyet uses a light touch, going easy on the beurre.
Most gueststypically fly-fishing gentry and splurging honeymoonerscome for the summerlong parade of salmon or for catch-and-release fly-casting (cutthroat, coho, pink salmon) in mainland streams. If you're craving adventure, the lodge can set you up with a day of paddling Princess Royal's Cornwall Inlet. Or just take off out the back door and into the rainforest in search of the storied spirit bear. Robert Earle Howells
DETAILS: An all-inclusive package at King Pacific Lodge (604-987-5452, www.kingpacificlodge.com)with round-trip floatplane from Prince Rupert, kayaking, meals, and drinksbegins at $2,644 a person for three nights.