Cortes Island is an ecological paradise, with beautiful lakes, lagoons, forests, and white sandy beaches. Known for its abundant wildlife, shellfish, and self-sufficient people, Cortes offers visitors a wide variety of things to see and do.
There are three settlements on Cortes: Whaletown at the ferry dock on the west side of the island, Manson's Landing with its sandy beaches, and Squirrel Cove, an anchorage facing Desolation Sound. The moment you step onto a ferry heading for the islands, the pace relaxes and the smiles break out.
Cortes was named and mapped by Spanish explorers in the late 1700s. The Klahoose First Nation, with traditional territory stretching from Cortes to Toba Inlet, had winter campgrounds on the island and settled in Squirrel Cove permanently in the 1800s. The island currently has about 900 full-time residents, with most living on the southern portion.
Situated at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland, Cortes Island can be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Quadra Island.
A 10-minute ferry ride from Campbell River lands you at Quathiaski Cove on the west coast of Quadra Island. A 15-minute drive across to the east coast of Quadra brings you to Heriot Bay, the ferry terminal for the 45-minute ferry trip across Sutil Channel to Cortes Island. Water taxis also operate out of Campbell River to Cortes.
The Cortes Island Museum, on Beasley Road next to the firehall, provides a fascinating glimpse into the cultural and natural history of Whaletown and the surrounding area. Varied displays include Windows on Whaletown and the work of naturalist and author Gilean Douglas. The museum is open from late spring until early fall.
One of the island's more unusual attractions is Wolf Bluff Castle, located in Cortes Bay. Built by owner/operator Karl Triller, the five-storied structure has a dungeon, dining hall, eight bedrooms, and three turrets. Visitors can tour the castle.
Cortes is at the gateway to world-famous boating destination Desolation Sound. The area is a sailing and sea kayaking mecca, and boasts incredible views of the mainland mountains and inlets.
Mansons Landing Provincial Park was established in 1974 to expand the diversity of marine park experiences in the northern Gulf Islands archipelago. Located on Cortes Island, this beautiful park fronts the water on both Hague Lake and Manson Bay. Recreational opportunities include fresh water swimming in Hague Lake, and marine wildlife viewing in Mansons Lagoon.
Located on the southern peninsula of Cortes Island, the park is named for the capelin fish that spawn ashore by the tens of thousands. Females lay up to 65,000 eggs on the shore in late September and early October, which hatch in 2 to 3 weeks. These small silver-green, sardine-sized fish draw a variety of other marine life to the area, including salmon, seals, sea lions, seabirds, and otters. Gulls, Bald eagles, cormorants, herons, and oystercatchers can also be seen here. This scenic park features a beautiful pebble beach that extends from the park frontage at the south end of Smelt Bay around the shoreline to Sutil Point. The beach is backed by mounds which are believed to have been built by Coast Salish First Nations as a form of defense.
With its long, narrow sheltered inlet, Ha'thayim Marine Provincial Park in the Discovery Islands is a popular anchorage for recreational boaters. Located on the northwestern tip of Cortes Island, the inlet can be entered from northern Sutil Channel. This undeveloped marine wilderness park encompasses lakes, estuaries, a salt water lagoon, and the old-growth forest Coast-Salish First Nations call "Ha'thayim". Wilderness camping is permitted and the area is popular with cruising boats seeking remote tranquility in this beautiful area. The park features a number of secure anchorages providing protection from the elements. Von Donop Inlet is located at the southern terminus of the scenic Inside Passage. This mostly sheltered route has been popular with boaters for thousands of years. Today, yachts and kayaks have replaced hand trollers and dugout canoes as the methods of travel through the western route of Discovery Channel, where Ripple Rock made passage sometimes treacherous, or through the eastern approach through Yuculta Rapids. Opportunities for wildlife viewing, camping, hiking and exploration exist in this rugged park, which features reversing tidal rapids, steep-sided fjords and tidal flats within its boundaries.
Hiking and Biking on old logging roads, many of which are overgrown, will take the adventuresome into seldom visited habitats. Carrington Bay and Von Donop Inlet provide a maze of trails, and Gunflint Lake and Hague Lake are surrounded mostly by parklands, with a series of marked trails at the end of Quais Bay Road.
Salmon Fishing in the region is legendary. The waters around Quadra and Cortes Islands have yielded some of the largest salmon ever caught on BC's west coast. Although much of the activity is centred in nearby Campbell River on Vancouver Island, there's plenty of action around Quadra and Cortes Islands. Spring salmon migrate from April through to September. Bluejacks and Coho salmon arrive in May, followed by Tyee in July, August and September. Charter boat operators are available for fishing or wildlife viewing excursions. If the fish aren't biting in the saltchuk ('chuk' is a Native word for water) just turn your attention to the fish in Hague Lake. The freshwater lake is partly incorporated in Manson's Landing Provincial Park, a rarity in the provincial marine park system.
Cortes Island is a dream destination for berry picking. Blackberries, salal, huckleberries, salmonberries and thimbleberries abound on the island in season.
There are numerous lagoons with abundant shellfish and shorebirds. Manson's Landing Provincial Park is the most accessible, and shellfish may be legally collected here and at Smelt Bay, Squirrel cove and the beach south of the government wharf in the Gorge Harbour. Watch for posted signs, check the legal limits and keep away from oyster and clam leases, which are marked with red concrete blocks at their corners.
Cortes has a thriving arts and crafts industry. Drum makers, potters, painters, carvers, and other artisans live and work on the island. Cortes Craftshop in Squirrel Cove, a co-op of island artists and craftspeople, showcases local work. Island galleries and gift shops also sell local art and crafts.
Blessed by some of the clearest waters in the world and inhabited by a diverse array of marine plant and animal species, the area around Quadra Island is a mecca for scuba divers. The HMCS Columbia was sunk off Quadra's shoreline in 1996, creating an artificial reef for underwater life. Named one of the top locations for diving in the world by the Jacques Cousteau Society, Quadra offers a variety of dives for people of all ability levels. Local dive companies offer charters and equipment rentals.
Quadra Island Tourism
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia