Riding “Strong Waters” ~ Skookumchuk Narrows, BC Canada

Yellow plastic Kayak at Rest on dirt overlooking Skookumchuk Narrows, BC, Canada

Kayak at Rest
Roland Point, Skookumchuk Narrows, BC, Canada


Anyone who has had anything to do with boating or waters in the Pacific Northwest has heard of the legendary Sechelt Rapids at Skookumchuk Narrows. Boats, especially sail boats, need to pay careful attention to tide charts, and only attempt the narrow pass between Sechelt and Jervis Inlets at slack tide.

Spectators and kayakers, of course prefer their waters wild.

Skookum is “strong” or “powerful” in Chinook Jargon, the Amerind pidgin long used in the Pacific Northwest as a trade language. Chuck means water, so skookumchuck is literally “strong water”: “rapids” or “whitewater”. Like many other works from Chinook, the word is in common usage today in the English of British Columbia, and refers to the powerful tidal rapids at the mouths of most of the major coastal inlets.

The waters at Skookumchuk Narrows live up to their name: they are famous for their spectacular whirlpools and whitewater. “On a 3 metre tide, 200 billion gallons of water flow through the narrows” at speeds up to – and sometimes exceeding – 30km an hour. Depending on the height of the prevaling tides, there can be more than 2 metres drop in water level from one side of the rapids to the other.

I grew up hearing stories about the rapids and had always wanted to see them. Located on the north end of the Sechelt Peninsula, vehicle access is reliant on car ferries. We had a small window of opportunity last summer, on our way to the Earls Cove Ferry Terminal, just north of Egmont where the 4 km walking trail to the Narrows starts.

Dirt path through tall Douglas fir trees.

Trail to the Narrows
Most of the path through the tall Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Western Red Cedar, is well maintained and easy walking.

View through trees to Secret Bay, Egmont

Secret Bay
We pass isolated Egmont homes and have a view down over the boats housed in the Bay before entering the Skookumchuk Narrows Provincial Park.

Close-up: Sword Fern leaves

Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)
The temperate rainforest is rich with moss and ferns.

Moss draping over branches of a fir tree.

Spanish Moss
According to one source, this moss lives on nutrients from dust particles and moisture in the air.

A delicate white Fungus surrounded by olive green moss.

Delicate Fungus
The dark, moist, forest floor plays host to all manner of vegetation.

A view of Brown Lake from behind leaves; wooded mountains in the background.

Almost Abstract
A view of Brown Lake, from behind a tangle of leaves.

Landscape: View of Skookumchuk Narrows from the south.

The Narrows
Although we have missed the strongest tide, we can hear the white waters before we can see them.

Close-up: Long Pine Needles on the new tip of a tree

Pine Needles

Silhouetted behind trees, people watching over the churning water of Skookumchuk, BC.

Watching Water
Silhouetted behind trees, people watch the churning water.

Landscape: people sitting on a rock overlooking kayaks on Sechelt Rapids.

Sechelt Rapids
Kayakers paddle against Sechelt Rapids as we watch from North Point.

Kayaks paddling into the eddies of a flooding tide.

Before the Change
Kayaks paddling into the eddies of a slowly-flooding tide.

Kayaker paddling into white water: Skookumchuk Narrows

Solo Kayaker
Paddling hard against the current…

Kayaker on silky waters hiding the strong currents of Skookumchuck, BC

Deceptive Calm
The silky waters almost hide the strong currents of the flood tide.

Chasing Waves

Thank heavens for waterproof jackets and the spraydeck (or “skirt”) that keeps the water from filling the kayak!

Landscape: whitewater on the flooding tide at Skookumchuk; mountains in the background.

Kayakers test themselves against the slowing flood tide over Sechelt Rapids.

Landscape: A lone kayaker rides through the tide change at Skookumchuck.

Riding The Tide
A lone kayaker rides through the tide change at Skookumchuck.

Landscape: view of the tide line from Roland Point.

The Tide
View from Roland Point.

Kayakers in helmets and wet-weather gear stand on the rock at Roland Point, Skookumchuck

End of Day
As the light drops and the tide falls, the kayakers call it a day.

Yellow Kayak on bare ground, Pacific Northwest woods in the background.

Yellow Kayak

Dirt pathway through stems of hemlock cedar and fir trees.

The Path Out
Time to walk back through the hemlock, cedar and fir.


Still Waters
The forest greens are reflected in the still waters of Brown Lake; stark contrast to the Rapids.

Watching the kayakers paddling madly against the oncoming currents and tides rather made me wish I was a little better at it!

Text: Happy TravelsOh well.

We settled for the brisk walk back to the car and a quick drive to the Earls Cove Ferry, where our water transport was much more sedate.

‘Till next time!

Pictures: 29July2012

  • Signe Westerberg - March 14, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    just gorgeous… I love the look of rapids and am totally scared to death of them. So admire those healthy bods who get to play in such an outstanding location. Beautiful pictures as always Ursula…thank youReplyCancel

    • Ursula - March 15, 2013 - 12:31 am

      Thanks, Signe!
      Watching those girls (most of them were female) paddle put me to shame! I last five minutes before resting my arms – and that is on still waters. 😉ReplyCancel

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