Granite Falls Paddle Camping: Out Of This World!

Paddle camping with a Standup Paddleboard (SUP) has been a dream of mine for a while. As a SUP lover, I think a version of heaven might be to paddle to my heart’s content, camp at beautiful waterfront locations, then wake up to paddle some more.

I sold this idea to my good friend and fellow SUP enthusiast Johnny, and together we planned for a paddle camping trip in Say Nuth Khaw Yum Provincial Park (aka Indian Arm). Initially I thought we should camp at Twin Island as our first trip, which is a very manageable 5.5km from Deep Cove.

“How about Granite Falls?” Johnny asked two weeks before our trip. Granite Falls is a much more daunting 18km paddle all the way to the end of Indian Arm. It’s a free, first come first served provincial campground, only accessible by paddling (motorboat day moorage available at a dock or can be left in the water overnight).

I was excited but nervous. The famous southerly Anabatic (inflow) Winds reliably and strongly picks up before noon in warm season and continues all afternoon into the evening. If we couldn’t make it back before noon on our return leg, we would probably be either stranded for an extra night or forced to attempt a moonlight paddle.

To test our abilities, we did a practice 12km paddle from Barnet to Jug Island, and we were confident we could manage the wind, the waves, and maintain a 4km/h paddle speed for 18km. The trip should be doable in 4.5hours plus break time.

We also reviewed the weather forecast and tidal charts. The conditions were perfect; it was going to be warm and sunny but not too hot, with rising tide to push us in, and falling tide to bring us out. Even the moon was full so a surprise moonlight paddle would actually be moonlit as well.

Part 1: Deep Cove to Granite Falls

With all the variables lined up, we met at Deep Cove just after 10am on a Wednesday. Ample overnight-allowed street parking was available when we arrived.

Empty Rockcliff Road. Parking here and the nearby parking lot is unrestricted.

We launched at 11:20am and rode the inflow wind north.

Deep Cove Kayak getting ready for their customers.
My load out.

We stayed on the western shore of Indian Arm since there were more resting spots. We took a quick 15 min lunch break around 1:30pm for some energy bars on a rocky beach. The inlet was mostly lined with rocky cliff faces, so the rest stops were pretty precious.

Happy paddlers.
Lunch break.

The water got increasingly choppy in the afternoon, with waves reaching about 1 foot at times. Surfing the waves downwind was very exciting. The tracking app said I reached a max speed of 10.8km/h and an average speed of 5.0km/h. Johnny took a couple involuntary but refreshing dips in the ocean. With his leash, PFD, and good reboarding technique, he got back on his board before I could even approach him to help.

Choppy waters as we approached Bishop Creek Campground

We went past Bishop Creek Campground but the wind and waves pushed us along so we didn’t get to stop and explore the area.

After rounding Croker Island, the majestic Granite Falls appeared. The only remaining obstacle: crossing the channel with a strong crosswind. This was the hardest 1km of the entire paddle. I had to give it all just to stay on course. Note to paddlers: if you’re paddling the western shore of Indian Arm in a windy afternoon, crossing the inlet south of Croker Island and riding the wind north to reach Granite Falls might be easier.

Fighting the cross wind from the south to reach Granite Falls.

After a 17.9km, 3 hours and 35 mins epic downwind paddle, we arrived at Granite Falls.

Part 2: Around Granite Falls

We were worried that the Granite Falls Campground would be full, since every other provincial campsite is full during this pandemic. Thankfully, we found the campground essentially empty, save for one other SUP paddle camper. We picked a great spot under some tree shades but with a great view of the inlet.

Our tent and the waterfall

We set up camp and cooked enough food for four people, and devoured a whopping 700 calories each.

The campground had a bear cache for anything that might attract wildlife and two cool outhouses. They featured an innovative “flushing” mechanism where the user steps on a pedal to move a rubber belt, which transfers solid waste to compost while diverts liquid waste to be absorbed by the soil. This is far superior than the traditional outhouses with their dreaded giant poop holes in the ground and the associated mosquitoes and flies everywhere.

After dinner we took a refreshing dip at a pool by Granite Falls (which was warned against by an official sign but being a walled off pool fed by a weaker side branch of the waterfall, the water current looked safe enough for us to manage. Dip at your own risk though.) The water from the falls was freezing so we didn’t stay long. The thundering waterfall tumbled 150 feet down the granite surface making it an awe-inspiring experience.

We found a second wind after the cold dip, and we headed out to explore the Indian River Estuary. The sunset was supposed to be around 9:20pm, but being in a deep valley, we were soon paddling in the shadow of the mountains

The river was tranquil and calm, with a multitude of birds making a cacophony of sounds. We didn’t paddle far into the river due to the earlier-than-predicted dusk. We turned back and returned to camp, finishing our 6.4km tag-on paddle after our already longest-ever 18km trip.

Paddling back with Wigwam Inn in the background.

We had a 2nd dinner (another 650 calories each) then called it a night.

The sun sets behind mountains, but the colors were still very nice.

The evening temperature was a balmy 14 degrees, so we forwent the rain fly. Sleeping under trees with a view of the ocean at my feet was another awesome new experience.

Part 3: Granite Falls to Deep Cove with visit to Twin Island

To beat the inflow wind that predictably picks up before noon, we got up at first light at 4:30am. After breakfast and packing up, we launched at 6am.

Glassy morning launch

We followed the eastern shore this time, staying in the cool shadows until we reached Twin Island at 8:40am. If we paddled back on the western shore we would have been baking under the sun much earlier.

Looking back north
Ah, the sun! We much preferred the cool of the shade.

We explored Twin Island a little, finding more than half of the tent pads occupied. Unlike Granite Falls, the tent pads are scattered throughout this small rocky island. To use the outhouse, one would have to navigate the rocky trails, which were short enough but could be hazardous at night.

Looking towards South Twin Island

After Twin Island, it’s a skip to Raccoon Island then crossing the inlet to Deep Cove. We discussed the prospect of bringing our families to Twin Island for another paddle camping adventure. The 5.5km paddle is short enough, doable in about 1.5 hours, but having to cross the inlet with the inevitable boat traffic may push this out of the comfort zone of beginners.

By the time we arrived at Deep Cove around 10:30am, the southerly wind was already starting. It was quite manageable still, but after paddling for more than 40km in 24 hours, we were both getting tired. We were very thankful that we left early enough to not have to deal with the inflow wind at full force.

Busy Deep Cove even on a Thursday morning

Somewhat surprisingly, the street with ample parking the day before (10am) was fully occupied on our return (10:30am). For overnight paddlers, I would recommend arriving before 9am on a weekday. Or closer to sunrise time on a weekend, or if you don’t want to deal with the strong wind and waves.

The tracking app logged our return paddle at 17.6km for 3 hours and 50 minutes, with an average speed of 4.6km/h.

Thus, we finished our first overnight paddle camping trip. Paddling to a destination as beautiful as Granite Falls and spending leisurely time without worrying about rushing back, then paddling back at the crack of dawn is truly a wonderful experience.

The successful first attempt took lots of planning and (over)preparation. We took twice the amount of water plus 2 water filters, 3 times the amount of cooking fuel, and twice the amount of food we needed for this trip. We had 4 walkie talkies plus a satellite messenger. We even had redundant bear-safe food storage (we put a bear can inside a bear cache. LOL ok that’s my mistake. I forgot there was a bear cache.) Our wives knew our return plan. We leashed everything down, including our glasses. Johnny even brought a second pair of glasses.

All that is to say, please do your homework before embarking on a paddle camping trip. Some good resources are here, here, and here.

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