Out and About Cortes Island

Cortes Island is know as the entry point to Desolation Sound and contains an abundance of spectacular wilderness scenery, wildlife viewing, recreational activities, artisans, and services. Cortes Island is also part of the Discovery Island Group.


Every Island has a story …

Spanish naval officers presumably named the island after Hernando Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, in 1792. The Coast Salish may have been the first people to settle the island, but a smallpox epidemic hit in 1862, largely depleting their population. The Klahoose people subsequently arrived from the north of the island and still live in Squirrel Cove .Whaling was the first major industry on Cortes Island and the first station was established in 1869 at Whaletown. However, the overzealous industry diminished the whale population so severely within the first two years that profitability was questioned and the station closed. Now, sheep raising, fruit orchards, and logging continue on as Cortes’ primary industries.In 1886, the first settler from the Shetland Islands established a trading post for providing the Salish with their necessities. Michael Manson also provided freight and passenger services to the logging camps in the area. By 1895, Cortes had a post office and a schoolhouse. Due to its relative isolation, ferry services only connected Cortes to Quadra and Vancouver Island by 1969, with electricity to follow a year later.

Who lives on Cortes?

Cortes Island has a stable population of approximately 900 year round residents, but this doubles in the summer months. Most of the population resides on the southern parts of Cortes, as the north has mainly been used for logging. The Klahoose, an indigenous people, live in Squirrel Cove.

Where is it and how do I get there?

Though the northernmost Gulf Island may be a challenge to get to, it is well worth the visit! Travel to Cortes Island is 55 minutes by BC Ferries from Campbell River via Quadra Island to Cortes Island. There are 6 ferries a day to Whaletown Bay on Cortes. Check the BC Ferries web site at www.bcferries.com or call 1-888-BCFERRY (BC) or (250) 386-3431 (Victoria)

When should I go?

The temperate climate (the mildest in all of Canada) makes the Gulf Islands the perfect destination almost any time of the year. Enjoy spring as early as February; warm, sunny, and dry summers; the vibrancy of fall; and, frost-free winters perfect for hiking, cycling, or kayaking. You really can’t go wrong no matter when you plan to visit!

What should I do when I get there? 

Hague Lake Park, with its white sandy beach, is a popular picnic and hiking location. Also visit Smelt Bay Provincial Park where you can spend the whole day beach combing. Boaters will enjoy easy access to the three marinas: Gorge Harbour, Squirrel Cove, and Von Donop Marine Park. A general store provides for most provisions one might need while on Cortes Island. Popular outdoor activities to try while visiting include hiking, cycling, birding, whale watching, kayaking, canoeing, fresh and salt water fishing, and much more.

What are some of the Island’s unique features?

Artistic Abundance ... 

Cortes Island supports a thriving arts community. Drum makers, potters, painters, carvers, and other artisans all live and work on the island.

Discover the Water ... 

Cortes is popular with recreational boaters exploring Desolation Sound and has several marinas and protected anchorages and marine parks around the island. 

A Variety of Visitor Services & Celebrations ...

The island has many services, including stores, restaurants, a bank, campsites, accommodation, and great swimming at Hague Lake. Smelt Bay Provincial Park offers camping, day use areas, and a beach and meadow area where outdoor celebrations are often held by the locals. 


Where should I stay? 

No matter what your budget will allow there are a number of  accommodation options available to you! Gulf Island Accommodations


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