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What to do in (and how to appreciate the beauty of) Haida Gwaii

The islands have a story to tell at every turn if you're ready to listen

June 9, 2016

By Jenni Elliott

Take the very essence of the Pacific Northwest, concentrate it in one area, and you get close to understanding Haida Gwaii. The Haida people have occupied the islands for over 13,000 years, and still make up almost half of the population today. But this isn’t a place to check off boxes on your tourist to-do list; it demands a type of patience, rewarding curious visitors with insights into local history that can’t be found on Trip Advisor. Maybe some transient orcas will pass by as you sit outside Jags Beanstalk coffee shop, or maybe you’ll look at some fallen trees only to realize the moss-covered logs used to house the Haida thousands of years ago. Just know that Haida Gwaii has a story to tell at every turn if you’re willing to wait—and ready to listen.

`Pesuta Shipwreck_Flavien Mabit

1.) The Pesuta Shipwreck Hike. Location: East Beach. Time: 4 hours. Terrain: Forest and beach (make sure to plan your hike around low tide).

The Itinerary

Split your time between the north and south islands to truly get a sense of Haida Gwaii. Prepare to travel by float plane and boat when required—the visitor centre in the village of Queen Charlotte will point you in the right direction.

Eat & Sleep

Most lodgings on the islands are a combination of B&Bs and tiny dining rooms. Make sure to stop by these local favourites.

The Haida House at Tllaal has 10 guest rooms and focuses on fresh, local seafood from their sister company, Haida Wild Seafood—like spot prawns from Cumshewa Inlet and Dungeness crab from the nearby beach. Reservations are required, so call ahead before you make the trip to Tlell for one of their feasts. haidahouse.com

Author Susan Musgrave’s Copper Beech Guest House, located at the northern tip of Haida Gwaii in Masset, is a quirky and cozy lodge frequented by the likes of Margaret Atwood. Expect squishy sofas and full bookcases, as well as handmade delights like Haida Gwaii three-berry pie (as found in Musgrave’s cookbook: Haida Gwaii: Foraging and Feasting at the Edge of the World). copperbeechhouse.com

© 2015 HA Photography
The Haida House at Tllaal

Take your time exploring Haida Gwaii with these three hiking routes

1.) The Pesuta Shipwreck Hike (pictured above)

2.) Spirit Lake Trail Hike

3.) Golden Spruce Trail Hike

`Spirit Lake Trail_Guy Kimola

2.) Spirit Lake Trail Hike. Location: Skidegate. Time: 2 hours. Terrain: Forest and boardwalks.

Golden Spruce Trail_Guy Kimola

3.) Golden Spruce Trail Hike. Location: Port Clements. Time: 45 minutes. Terrain: Paths.

The golden spruce was made famous by John Vaillant’s 2006 book of the same name, telling the story of how Grant Hadwin came to fell the 300-year-old tree before disappearing forever. “The book is an expression of my amazement of Haida Gwaii,” says Vaillant. “Tourists sometimes go up and just bounce off the outside; it’s not a place that reveals itself that obviously. It’s subtle.”

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