Monday, 27 February 2012

Sandspit - A Community Abounding in Recreational Opportunities!

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Sandspit (population 402) is a small hamlet situated on the northeast tip of Moresby Island, 14 km (9 mi) east of Alliford Bay and is the only community on Moresby Island.

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The community was appropriately named as it lies in the midst of a lengthy ‘spit’ of land jutting out into the open waters of Hecate Strait.

Sandspit has a rich history taking its roots from Haida culture, farming and pioneer life, canneries and logging.
Photo credit: North Pacific Seaplanes
Sandspit's first major industry in 1910 was a dogfish oilery, followed by a fish cannery in 1913. Today, the primary industries are transportation, logging and tourism.

 Photo credit: North Pacific Seaplanes

Sandspit services include a visitor centre, various accommodations, a grocery and liquor store, restaurants, laundromat, taxi, car rentals, outdoor equipment rental and sales, a marina and various charter operations (boating, kayaking, fishing, sightseeing).

Photo credit: North Pacific Seaplanes
Getting to Sandspit

This community is the arrival point for Air Canada flights to Haida Gwaii and has a large (by local standards) airport and a Visitor Centre.
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Other travel options include travelling via BC Ferries.

Sandspit is ‘connected’ to Graham Island by a small vehicle ferry which runs between Alliford Bay and Skidegate Landing.

Sandspit is the ‘starting point’ for those wanting to visit the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and Marine Protected Area Reserve, however, departure is by air or water, since there are no roads to Gwaii Haanas.

Recreational Opportunities

Plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities are available in Sandspit and the surrounding area including kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping and hunting.

We have tried to capture the highlights of these opportunities for you. Please also see the Sandspit community, the Queen Charlotte Visitor Centre and Go Haida Gwaii webpages for more information.


Kayaking is a great way to explore the natural world of Haida Gwaii. Sandspit, being the closest community to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, is a natural starting point for trips to that area. There are also some great areas to paddle closer to Sandspit.

  • Day Trips
For a relaxing day of paddling, try launching at Alliford Bay (where the ferry from Graham Island comes across) and paddling amongst the many small islands of Skidegate Inlet. This area is protected from harsh weather, and provides opportunities for exploring small islands, viewing the ancient Haida site of Haina on Maude Island and watching for seals, porpoises and birds.

Another option is to take your kayak to Moresby Camp, south of Sandspit, and base-camp there while exploring the bays and beaches nearby. A nice day trip is to the old logging site at Aero Camp, just east of Moresby Camp. You can also kayak near Gray Bay campground, although this area is more exposed and is sometimes more appropriate for kayak surfing than relaxed paddling.

  • Multi-day trips
Not surprisingly, most people who plan a multi-day kayaking adventure on the islands think first of visiting Gwaii Haanas. This amazing park reserve certainly offers some great areas for kayaking, and guided tours are available, as well as rentals and transportation for kayakers and their boats (see our Jan 9, 2012 Blog ‘The Gwaii Haanas Experience’).

If you are planning to kayak Gwaii Haanas, you will want to plan your trip well in advance and give yourself at least a week to enjoy the area. Guided tours to the area often book up months in advance.

For those who don't have the time or budget to visit Gwaii Haanas, another great option is to paddle around Louise Island. This island, the third largest in the archipelago, is tucked up against the side of Moresby Island south of Sandspit and just north of Gwaii Haanas. A trip around Louise Island, beginning and ending at Moresby Camp, takes about 5 days. Highlights include the Haida village site of Skedans with its standing totem poles, the graveyard at the old mission site of New Kloo, and the old moss-covered remains of logging camps at Aero Camp and Mathers Creek (adjecent to New Kloo).

Another option is to paddle through Skidegate Narrows to the west coast of the islands. A popular goal is the ancient Haida site of Chaatl, located on Chaatl Island and accessible through the protected waters of Armentiers Channel. Keep in mind that the channel at Armentiers is only passable at a high tide, although it is always possible to portage across the dry areas. This route allows you to see the wild west side of the islands without having to paddle through exposed areas. The unprotected areas of the west coast are only appropriate for highly experienced and adventurous kayakers.

  • Whalewatching! 
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If you are interested in seeing whales, the best time to visit is spring and early summer. In May and June, humpback whales migrate through Hecate Strait, and are a common sight on any tour to the south of Sandspit.

Dolphins are also most common at this time of year, although they are unpredictable and can be seen year round.

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The spring also brings gray whales into Skidegate Inlet where they feed off Onward Point and near Skidegate. Killer whales or Orcas may be spotted at any time of year, and sometimes pass by near Sandspit. Seals are a common sight, and larger sea lions congregate on rocky islets on the more exposed coastlines.
Ocean Fishing

The waters around Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) are known for world class fishing. The best area for ocean fishing is on the west coast of the islands. Huge spring (chinook) salmon, coho salmon, and ground fish such as halibut are targeted by sports fishers from around the world.

Sandspit, located at the eastern end of Skidegate Channel, is a perfect base for day-tripping to the west coast. As a result, Sandspit is home to some excellent guiding businesses, as well as a modern marina, fuel services, and a tackle shop.
River Fishing

Sandspit is also a great base for river fishing in the many creeks on north Moresby Island. Fly and tackle fishermen target the coho, chum and pink salmon that return to the streams every fall. In the winter months, steelhead can be caught as well (although they are catch and release only). Many of the great river fishing spots on Moresby Island are accessible by road from Sandspit, and accommodations are readily available in the fall, when most tourism slows down.

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The Sandspit area has a good selection of hiking trails and routes for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and fitness levels. Camping gear is available for rent or sale at Moresby Exlporers. Some trails wind through tall old growth forest, while others follow shorelines and still others climb to mountain tops.

Following are some of the more popular hikes found in the Sandspit area:

  • Onward Point

The 10-15 minute walk around the Onward Point trail is favourite with Sandspit families. The looped trail leads from a parking lot between Alliford Bay and Sandspit out onto a rocky point with a gazebo. This is the best area to look for gray whales in the spring, as they like to feed just off this point. The trail winds through picturesque forest, and is easy to follow.

  • Dover Trail

The trailhead for this hike is on the west end of Sandspit, very close to the marina. The highlights of this trail are the pristine old-growth forest and the rich plant life along the banks of Haans Creek, where salmon spawn in the fall. The Dover Trail is within the Damaxyaa Conservancy.
The Spit

The route around the tip of the sand spit that gives the town its name is probably the most popular trail with locals, since it is within an easy walk of most homes in Sandspit. This is also one of the best areas on the islands for bird watching.

  • Cumshewa Head Trail
The trail from Gray Bay to Cumshewa Head is a multi-day hike suitable for experienced and fit hikers only.
The rocky, exposed coastline of Cumshewa Head makes for breathtaking scenery, but can be difficult to hike. The trail is within the bounds of Kunxalas Conservancy, and those who make it all the way to Cumshewa Head will find themselves at the beautiful, sheltered cove of Kunahalas, an ancient Haida camp-site where traces of the remains of a long-house are still visible.

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  • Gray Bay Rec Site

A favourite recreation site for locals and visitors alike is the campground at Gray Bay. This site is about 45 minutes drive south of Sandspit along the Copper Bay Main gravel road. The turnoff to Gray Bay is well marked.

Gray Bay is a 5 km crescent-shaped beach open to the Hecate Stait to the east. The fine sand beach is great for walking, flying kites, beachcombing, kayak surfing, and accessing various hiking trails. Gray Bay has nine multi-party campsites well spaced along the curve of the beach. It is located in Kunxalas Conservancy.

  • Sheldon's Bay Rec Site 
If you like the look of Gray Bay but want even more privacy, check out Sheldon's Bay, a small, little-used campground located 3 km from Gray Bay and also within Kunxalas Conservancy. This site is accessed by turning off near Gray Bay on a rough gravel road. The flat grassy area around the interesting salt lagoon at Sheldon's Bay was used for grazing cattle by early settlers, and remains of the fence are still visible today.

  • Moresby Camp
This rec site is about 1 hour drive from Sandspit. It can be reached by following the main gravel roads from Alliford Bay or Sandspit (these two routes join to form a loop road) and turning off onto the Moresby Main, which ends at Moresby Camp. It is the most southerly point on the islands that visitors can access by vehicle. Moresby Camp was once a large logging camp, but the buildings and equipment are long gone. They have been replaced by a handful of gravel campsites, a large parking area, a day-use shelter, and a modern cement boat launch. Be aware that there is no fresh water available at the campground.

Moresby Camp is the starting point for many tours to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, and is also a great place to launch a small boat or kayak to explore the area and catch some fish or prawns. It is very safe to leave your vehicle parked at Moresby Camp while out on the water.


The north Moresby Island area is great for hunting, using Sandspit as a base or camping at any of the area's rec sites. The most common target species is Sitka Blacktail Deer, a smaller subspecies of blacktail (or mule) deer. This species was introduced to the islands around the turn of the century, and is now extremely overpopulated due to the lack of natural predators.

Although the deer here are small, they also lack the gamey taste of larger mainland deer, making them a popular meat with locals and visiting hunters. The bag limit is high on the islands due to the negative impact of the deer on native plant species and forest regeneration.

Much of the forest around the Sandspit area is second-growth of various ages, including many recent cuts. This makes for perfect deer hunting territory, which can be accessed by the area's many gravel roads. This is a good area for a family hunting trip, since you can return to town every evening and the chance of seeing deer each day is high.

For more information, check out the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Synopsis.

Sandspit is a warm and friendly community abounding in recreational opportunities! Come visit!

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