The Discovery Islands are a group of sparsely populated islands in the Discovery Passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. With the myriad of islands and passages, marine parks and beautiful views, they are a haven for anyone with a boat.
- 1 Quadra Island. The largest and most developed of the islands. On the island, there is a range of hiking and biking trails that provide some great views of the islands and the Coast Mountains. It's also a popular base for sea kayak tours and orca viewing. Quadra has the largest selection of accommodation, restaurants and shops in the Discovery Islands.
- 2 Cortes Island. Similar to Quadra Island with hiking and biking trails on land and excellent boating and kayaking on the water, but with fewer options to stay, eat, buy groceries, etc. Often a launching point to explore Desolation Sound.
- 3 Desolation Sound. A popular boating and kayaking destination that encompasses the easternmost islands in the chain (East and West Redonda), Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park and Toba Inlet. It is an area of huge mountains and wilderness with little civilization and untouched cruising grounds.
- Outer Islands and Mainland Inlets — The mostly undeveloped islands beyond Quadra and Cortes and Desolation Sound, including the nearby mainland inlets and fjords. It's a prime spot for salmon fishing, grizzly bear viewing and some spectacular scenery.
Most of these islands have very few residents. The primary attraction to visitors is the salmon fishing and there are numerous fishing lodges.
Only Quadra Island and Cortes Island have ferry service. The remainder are served by private boat or float plane. The easiest access and most options are from nearby Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
BC Ferries, toll-free: +1-888-223-3779. Operates ferries connecting coastal communities. Operates scheduled ferry service enabling travel between Campbell River on Vancouver Island and two of the Discovery Islands. The ferries are small so give yourself time particularly if you want to get to Cortes Island from Campbell River. Delays are not uncommon. BC Ferries routes serving the Discovery Islands:
- Campbell River - 1 Quadra Island (Quathiaski Cove): 10 minutes crossing, 16 or 17 crossings a day
- 2 Quadra Island (Heriot Bay) - 3 Cortes Island (Whaletown): 40 minutes crossing, 6-7 crossings a day
Water taxi is another option, albeit more expensive, to get to Quadra Island and Cortes Island. It is the only way to get to the Outer Islands or Desolation Sound if you don't have your own boat and aren't flying. There are two water taxi companies in Campbell River that service the entire Discovery Islands and nearby mainland inlets. It is also possible to get to Cortes Island and Desolation Sound from Lund on the Sunshine Coast.
The nearest commercial airport is Campbell River Airport in Campbell River, which has flights from Vancouver. A taxi or shuttle bus can take you from the airport to the BC Ferries terminal or to the water taxis or to Corilair's seaplane base.
A seaplane provides a faster and scenic entry to the islands at a price. Corilair has year-round service from Campbell River to the Outer Islands or Desolation Sound, and summer service to/from Vancouver. Kenmore Air and NW Seaplanes provide summer service to the islands from Seattle.
The only ferry between islands in the group is a BC Ferries shuttle between Quadra and Cortes islands. Otherwise, you will have to really on water taxis that are based in Campbell River, or chartered float planes.
You can explore the history and heritage of the islands' Indigenous peoples on Quadra Island at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, and by visiting the petroglyphs at Cape Mudge.
There's lots of wildlife to see here, too, including grizzly bears, eagles, black bears, sea lions, porpoises and orcas.
It's all about the outdoors here: visit the provincial parks, hike, go rock climbing, camp, kayak, canoe, and fish. There are tour companies and outfitters who will get you want you need to enjoy the incredible wilderness available here.
See Dangerous animals — Bears for information on grizzly and black bears.
- Central Vancouver Island – With beaches and big trees, hikes and kayaking, whale watching and salmon fishing, caves and surfing, the central part of Vancouver Island is a haven for outdoor recreation. Campbell River is a short ferry ride from Quadra Island.
- Sunshine Coast – Low-key 180-km (110-mi) stretch of forest, seashore and mountains. Those who appreciate the beauty of outstanding marine parks and marshland bird sanctuaries, old growth forest and alpine peaks will find this the perfect destination. It's accessed by water taxi from Cortes Island or the Desolation Sound area.