Best Islands: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Outside chooses the top vacation spots of 2013

Sailing the Haida Gwaii.     Photo: Kevin J. Smith/Maple Leaf Adventures

Aptly nicknamed the Galápagos of Canada, Haida Gwaii is a largely uninhabited archipelago of 138 islands 80 miles off the British Columbia coast. Only 4,000 humans live here, 70 percent of them native Haida people. The inland temperate rainforests are full of eagles and huge black bears. The surrounding waters host sea lions, seals, porpoises, humpback whales, three species of killer whales, dolphins, and very large steelhead. All of which is to say: this is wild heaven.

It’s also threatened by a proposal to send megatankers here with fuel from the controversial Fort McMurray tar sands—all the more reason to acquaint yourself with it now. From December to April, stay at Copper Bay Lodge on Moresby Island (seven days, $4,170 all-inclusive), and spey-cast for 20-pound steelhead under stands of 700-year-old cedar trees on the Yakoun River. Paddlers: try an eight-day kayak expedition through Gwaii Haanas National Park, with stops to see the native totems at Ninstints and soak in hot springs overlooking the San Cristobal Mountains ($2,321). Or sail the spectacular Hecate Strait on a nine-day trip on the 92-foot tall ship the Maple Leaf ($4,750).

From Outside Magazine, Apr 2013 Get the Latest Issue

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