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North America > Canada > British Columbia > North and Central Coast > Haida Gwaii > Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve

Gwaii Haanas

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Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (sometimes shortened to Gwaii Haanas) is a national park reserve in Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.

Understand[edit]

The reserve covers an area of 1,470 km² (570 sq mi), and was established 1988. It is in the southernmost Haida Gwaii (formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands), 130 km (81 miles) off the mainland of British Columbia. Gwaii Haanas protects an archipelago of 138 islands, the largest being Moresby Island and the southernmost being Kunghit Island.

Gwaii Haanas came first in a survey of US and Canadian national parks in National Geographic Traveler magazine, recognized for its pristine environment and sustainable management practices.

Contact the park office: +1 250-559-8818, toll-free +1-877-559-8818, or email: gwaii.haanas@pc.gc.ca

History[edit]

Ninstints (Nan Sdins) or SG̱ang Gwaay Llnaagay on Anthony Island, located in the southernmost part of Gwaii Haanas, just west of Kunghit Island, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981. The remains of a Haida village on the eastern side of the island - SG̱ang Gwaay Llnaagay - represent an outstanding example of a traditional Northwest Coast First Nations village site, complete with standing totem poles and the remains of cedar longhouses.

Haida people have a continuing presence at SG̱ang Gwaay and four other village sites between May to September as part of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program. Between two and four Watchmen live at each site serving as guardians to protect the natural and cultural heritage of these sites.

Other historical villages within the boundaries of Gwaii Haanas included Cumshewa, Clew (Tanu) and Djí-gua.

Landscape[edit]

The landscapes of Gwaii Haanas vary from deep fjords to rugged mountains, salmon spawning streams to sub-alpine tundra. Close to 90% of Gwaii Haanas is forested, 9% is alpine and sub-alpine tundra. The remaining 1% is made up of lakes and wetlands.

As water drains from the highest mountains - including the rugged San Christoval Range with peaks over 1,100 metres (3,609 feet) - it helps fill over 40 freshwater lakes. In turn, this water drains through more than 100 salmon spawning streams.

The reserve includes the Hotspring Island, with a hot spring.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Flora[edit]

The west coast of Gwaii Haanas can receive over 4,000 millimetres (157.5 inches) of rain annually. Extreme exposure to wind and rain makes the forests on the west coast boggy and stunted, and are dominated by western red cedar and hemlock. Forests of the leeward, or eastern side of Gwaii Haanas, are classic coastal temperate rainforests, dominant overstorey species include large western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western red cedar trees.

Fauna[edit]

Distinct island flora and fauna have evolved over thousands of years. Species here often differ from those found on the mainland. Many common continental species are not found on the islands, or have evolved into unique subspecies such as the black bear which is larger than its mainland cousin. Other species have been introduced relatively recently, such as the Sitka deer, ermine, raccoon, squirrel and beaver. Introduced species now exist in large numbers, much to the detriment of native plants and animals.

An estimated 750,000 seabirds nest along the shoreline of Gwaii Haanas from May through August. Many are burrow-nesters, such as the rhinoceros auklet, ancient murrelet and tufted puffin. Bald eagles are a common sight and nest along the coastline. Because the islands are along the Pacific flyway, dozens of species of migrating birds stop here in spring and fall.

Climate[edit]

Get in[edit]

Gwaii Haanas is a remote location, accessible by sea kayak, boat or chartered floatplane only.

The park reserve has no roads and is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Most visitors – both independent travellers and people on guided tours – use communities on nearby Graham and Moresby Islands as a starting point. All visits to Gwaii Haanas require trip permits, with excursions lasting anywhere from a day to a week or more.

Fees and permits[edit]

An orientation is provided to all visitors before they enter Gwaii Haanas.

If you are planning to travel with a guide, reserve directly with your selected tour operator. Your guide will deliver the orientation during the trip.

Independent travellers must make a reservation by calling toll free +1-877-559-8818, M-F 8:30AM-4:30PM.

July and August are the busiest periods and the number of visitors allowed to enter Gwaii Haanas each day is limited.

Excursion/camping fees daily/seasonal (2018):

  • Adult $19.60/$117.70
  • Senior $16.60/$98.10
  • Youth and children free

Parks Canada Passes

The Discovery Pass provides unlimited admission for a full year at over 80 Parks Canada places that typically charge a daily entrance fee It provides faster entry and is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Prices for 2018 (taxes included):

  • Family/group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): $136.40
  • Children and youth (0-17): free
  • Adult (18-64): $67.70
  • Senior (65+): $57.90

The Cultural Access Pass: people who have received their Canadian citizenship in the past year can qualify for free entry to some sites.

Get around[edit]

See[edit]

Haida village site at SGang Gwaay
  • SGang Gwaay (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). An island off the southern Haida Gwaii. The island has the remains of a village of the Haida community of 300 people and many remaining totem poles. The village was ravaged by disease in the 1880s.

Do[edit]

Buy, eat, and drink[edit]

There are no facilities in the park reserve.

Sleep[edit]

Camping[edit]

Gwaii Haanas has no formal campsites, but many small pebble beaches, sandy stretches, and headlands. Please leave each place as you found it, and try to stay out of sight and sound of other groups. Some areas are permanently or temporarily closed to camping/access.

Whenever possible, camp on the sand or rock above the high tide line to minimize impact to local vegetation. Choose a spot for gathering and cooking that is least likely to damage shoreline vegetation. Camp away from the mouths of streams, especially during salmon spawning season (mid-August on).

Use a portable stove to cook your food. Keep any campfires below the high tide line and away from drift logs. Use driftwood for your firewood, not understory branches. Keep the fire small so it burns to ash and the next incoming tide will wash it away. Remove charcoal and scatter any rocks used for a hearth. Do not stir the ashes into the sand and gravel, as they will then take longer to wash away.

Wash your dishes in the ocean with biodegradable soap and sand as a natural scrubber. After eating, immediately burn food scraps or bag them securely for packing out. Return fish entrails to the sea. Bears and other animals are quickly attracted to kitchen waste, even if it has been buried. Improperly handled food waste can create a dangerous situation for the next camper. Bring ropes and a food storage system to hang food out of reach of animals.

Reduce the amount of garbage you create. Plan meals so that you don’t have a lot of uneaten food. Choose packaging that is lightweight, compact, and reusable. Pack out all garbage. Burn toilet paper and paper in your campfire, but do not burn cans, foil, or plastics, or throw these and other garbage into the ocean.

For your time, use the intertidal flush. Make your deposit as close as possible to the water line, and cover with a rock afterwards so others do not step on it. Micro-organisms in the marine soil effectively decompose faeces.

If you have no alternative, you can use the bush. Dig a small 20-cm (8-inch) deep hole away from animal trails and at least 100 metres/yards from water sources. Bury waste completely with soil. Never bury toilet paper or feminine hygiene products. Treat feminine hygiene products as garbage and pack out.

Use small amounts of biodegradable soap when bathing. Select a location near the mouth of the stream and downstream from any place where people gather water for drinking.

Most areas that visitors find suitable for camping have historically been used by the Haida. These locations have important ecological, spiritual, and archaeological values. Treat each campsite as an archaeological site. Do not dig through middens or otherwise disturb any historical features.

Before you leave your campsite: dismantle beach furniture. Put logs and rocks back in random positions. Pick up all garbage including the tiny pieces like twist ties, paper fragments, and tent pegs.

Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

This park travel guide to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.