Cortes is the perfect escape for those hoping to explore immersive isolated coastal wilderness while maintaining modern amenities. Cortes resides at the entrance to Desolation Sound, despite the name this region is a vibrant treasure of the Pacific Northwest. Everything nature has to offer is within reach. Sand covered beaches, welcoming lakes, great day hiking, and of course expansive seascapes dotted with neighbouring islands.
Located on the northern reaches of the Salish Sea, between Campbell River on central Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia, Cortes Island is accessed via ferry from Heriot Bay on the east coast of Quadra Island. Campbell River is the departure point for ferry access to Quadra and Cortes Islands. A 10-minute ferry ride from Campbell River lands you at Quathiaski Cove on the west coast of Quadra Island. Driving 15-minutes across to the east coast of Quadra takes you to Heriot Bay, the ferry terminal for Cortes Island. You can also take a water taxi from Campbell River to Cortes.
Access to Cortes Island can also be made by plane, either through a non-profit private airstrip, Cortes Island Aerodrome on the south end of the island, or by seaplane to many of the island’s protected harbors.
Cortes Island is about 13 km wide and (8 miles)25 km long (16 miles). The southern half of Cortes lies within the rain shadow of Vancouver Island, creating a drier climate than the northern half of the island. Most of the island’s population lives on the southern half where there is drier climate than normal created by a rain shadow from Vancouver Island.
The main islands that make up the chain of the Discovery Islands group are Quadra Island, Cortes Island, the Outer Islands (East and West Thurlow Islands), Sonora Island, Stuart Island, Maurelle Island, Read Island, Raza Island, and East and West Redonda Island.
For those who like to lace up their boots and shoes and hit the trails. There is literally something for everyone. For easier hikes, there are quite a few trails that meander through the beautiful forests. Some of these include:School-to-Sea Hike in Manson’s Landing Provincial Park, Hank’s Beach, Siskin Lane, and Whaletown Commons. For the thrill seeker, one noteworthy option is climbing Easter Bluff or Green Mountain. There are wonderful views from the summit, including that of the mainland’s Coast Range, Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea.
Smelt Bay Provincial Park is perfect place to walk the beach and take in the gorgeous scenery. There is a lot of wildlife here, so have a camera at the ready. You have two options, firstly go north from Smelt Bay to Manson’s Landing or go south to the tip of Cortes before looping back in the direction of Hollyhock Beach. Both hikes typically take 2-3 hours.
Explore Ha’thayim (Von Donop) Marine Provincial Park. It is situated on the northwestern tip of Cortes Island and is accessible only by boat. It has 1,277 hectares, which provides some of the wildest trails on Cortes. Depending on your ability, the trails can take 1-3 days to finish.
There are campsites available. Cliff Peak, the highest point on Island, can be found here as well, and provides incredible views to the Coastal Mountains.
Be mindful of wolves that have been spotted in the area. If possible, bring a trail map for a visual reference guide.
Arguably one of the most popular marine areas in all of BC, Cortes has a plethora of docks, bays, boat ramps, and other places to launch, that keep the sea farer coming back year after year. Some of the most popular harbor and anchorage points include: Cortes Bay, The Gorge Harbour, Masons Landing Marine Park, Squirrel Cove, and Whaletown Bay. Not to worry, as each of these areas provides local amenities so that each and every boat can be restocked.
For kayakers the whole coast along Cortes is your playground. There are also several local guides who can instruct and take you to some of the most spectacular inlets in all of BC.
There are several events on Cortes that provide a lot of fun for the whole family. The Seafood Festival happens in May at the Gorge Harbour Marina, and offers some incredible cuisine to the palate. Cortes Day is another festival, which takes place in Smelt Bay Park. There is food, fun & games, and even a parade. It usually takes place in July. And if you want to test your skills, as the best architect of sand, then you should come in August to the Cortes Sandcastle Competition. Or just simply come to watch others build, while you relax.
The Klahoose First Nation, a northern Coast Salish tribe is native to this area. The Toba Inlet flooded in the 1800’s forcing the Klahoose Band to make Squirrel Cove their permanent residence.
The entire island is part of the traditional territories of the Wei We Kai, Kwiakah, Homalco, and Klahoose First Nations, with the office of the Klahoose First Nation located on the island. The island’s southern tip is also part of the traditional territory of the Sliammon people.
The Spanish cartographer, Valdez, charted these waters in 1793 and named Cortes Island and nearby Hernando Island after the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Hernando Cortes. The Spanish never maintained any settlements on the Island, yet the name Cortes, as well as other Spanish names became popularized in the region and still remain.