Smelt Bay Provincial Park
Guide

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Introduction

RVers who yearn for adventure should plan a camping trip to Smelt Bay Provincial Park. Smelt Bay is the only provincial park on the southern peninsula of Cortes Island. Cortes Island is one of the many islands located in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands archipelago. The remote location of the park is ideal for RVers and outdoor recreation seekers who crave the wilderness year-round. Cortes Island is warmer and more temperate than other islands because its location protects it from cold winds and extreme snow. Cortes Island is located in the Inside Passage between Campbell River, mainland British Columbia, and Vancouver Island.

The remote location, surrounded by wilderness, wildlife, and a rural lifestyle, is one of the many reasons why campers visit Smelt Bay Provincial Park. Getting to the park requires a bit of planning because no roads lead to or from the mainland to the island. Visitors who want to bring their RV must take a ferry that transports cars. The alternate modes of transportation to the island, other than the ferry, are water taxis or floatplanes.

One you reach Cortes Island, you will be captivated by the landscape. The island is thickly forested and has lakes and beaches. The view from almost any direction is breathtaking. If you plan on staying on Cortes Island while venturing off for some water adventure, like exploring the fjords in Desolation Sound, Smelt Bay Provincial Park is the perfect jumping-off point for unforgettable experiences.

RV Rentals in Smelt Bay Provincial Park

Transportation in Smelt Bay Provincial Park

Driving

RVers heading to Smelt Bay Provincial Park should be aware of the RV restrictions before taking the ferry. The roads and campsites don’t accommodate large trailers and RVs. People with truck campers or small RVs under 21 feet are best suited for this campground.

From the Whaletown Ferry Terminal, Smelt Bay Provincial Park is located 9 miles (15 km) south. The signs leading to the park will help guide you to your destination. Information on the ferry schedule is available online as departure and arrival times vary depending on the day and the time of the year.

Parking

The park is open year-round, and guests pay overnight fees only during the peak camping season. Campers with reservations may check-in between 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The gates close overnight from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am.

Public Transport

Public transportation to Smelt Bay Provincial Park isn't available at this time. The ferry and the water taxi services connections between the mainland and Cortes Island.

Campgrounds and parking in Smelt Bay Provincial Park

Campsites in Smelt Bay Provincial Park

Reservations camping

The Smelt Bay Campground

The Smelt Bay Campground is a small campground with a limited number of sites available for reservation. The remaining campsites are first-come, first-served, so people who prefer last-minute camping plans will have a chance of finding a spot for the night. The sites at the Smelt Bay Campground are unserviced with picnic tables and fire rings, and many of the sites are multi-level surrounded by a thickly wooded forest. The tiered sites help to create an atmosphere of that out of a fairy-tale. The campground is best for small trailers less than 21 feet long, car-top campers, and tents. There are vault toilets and drinking water faucets available during the summer months. When the weather falls below freezing, the park winterizes the drinking water until the weather is consistently above freezing. Firewood is available for sale on site. In British Columbia, generator use is only permitted between the hours of 9:00 am to 11:00 am and from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

First-come first-served

The Smelt Bay Campground

Most of the sites in the Smelt Bay Campground are first-come, first-served. Campers who don’t have reservations may arrive as early as 7:00 am and as late as 10:00 pm to find an open site. Read about the campground’s amenities and facilities in the reservations section.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Smelt Bay Provincial Park

In-Season

Paddling

The scenic fjords that surround Cortes Island offer epic sea kayaking and canoeing opportunities for adventurous water-lovers. Casual paddlers may take their sea kayaks and other sea-worthy paddling boats into the ocean, but to truly experience the grandeur of the water and the sea, it is best to sign up for a guided tour or excursion. Cortes Island has a reputable outfitter that helps guests with their paddling needs. For questions on paddling, tours, or kayaking trips, visit the local outfitting company and see what kind of boating experience is best for you!

Fishing

Anglers who like to saltwater fish will enjoy the challenge of ocean fishing at Smelt Bay. If you have a boat, the gravel boat launch will help you get access to the ocean during high tide. Anglers generally fish for salmon and many other species of finfish. Pick up a Tidal Water Sport Fishing Guide for information on fishing rules, regulations, and the best bait to use during the different fishing seasons. Please remember that all anglers must possess a valid British Columbia fishing license before heading to the water.

Wildlife Viewing

The animals that live near Smelt Bay Provincial Park are native to the island and make the park their home. At any time, guests may spot bears, cougars, or wolves. These animals are beautiful to see from afar, but all wild animals should be kept at a distance. To prevent harming the animals, all guests must adequately store their food and their toiletries and keep pets on a leash at all times. Near the water, you might be lucky enough to spot animals like otters, seals, and sea lions.

Off-Season

The Cortes Island Museum & Archives

After spending time outdoors, sometimes it is nice to find activities inside, so you don’t have to worry about the weather. The Cortes Island Museum & Archives is less than a five-minute drive from Smelt Bay Provincial Park, and it is the place to visit if you like to learn about local history. The museum has both permanent and rotating exhibits as well as self-guided tours. The museum hosts a series of events and special programs on topics ranging from culture to the area’s wildlife. The events and exhibits change often, so there is always something new and exciting to learn while visiting the Cortes Island Museum & Archives.

Day-Use Area

Smelt Bay Provincial Park has a small day-use area where visitors can relax and enjoy the beautiful British Columbia weather while watching for wildlife or meditating quietly by the sea. The picnic area is close to vault toilets and drinking water, and there is a parking lot where day guests and friends of overnight guests may park. The day-use area also has a small, sandy beach where beach-lovers can dip their toes in the water, go for a swim, or sit seaside. People interested in exercise may walk along the park’s main roads since there aren’t designated hiking trails within the park.

Smelt Spawning

During the fall, head to the shoreline and witness the capelin, also known as smelt, fish-spawning phenomenon. The spawning season helped to encourage the naming of Smelt Bay Provincial Park. In late September and early October, tens of thousands of fish spawn ashore. The female smelt lay 65,000 eggs, and within two to three weeks, the eggs hatch, and the shoreline becomes a feeding frenzy for marine life. Visitors who come to the park during the spawning season not only get to see the smelt but also they get to witness the mass influx of birds and other marine life presents during this time. Salmon, seals, seabirds, otters, sea lions, gulls, bald eagles, and herons are just some of the species that flock to the shoreline during the smelt spawn. If you visit during the spawning season, don’t forget your camera. It’s an event you will want to share with your friends and family!

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