The remote and pristine Bute Inlet is a deep fjord located amongst the narrow tidal passages at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia. Carved deep into the mountains of mainland British Columbia’s west coast, the wilderness and mist-shrouded inlet boasts magnificent coastal scenery and abundant wildlife.
Considered one of the grandest fjords in the world, the inlet is surrounded by the rugged coastal mountains that heave out of the emerald waters and rise to heights of nearly 10,000 feet, capped by the Homathko Icefield and numerous other glaciers in the surrounding mountain ranges.
Bute Inlet is 75 km (47 miles) long, with an average width of 3.7 km (2.3 miles) and a maximum depth of 650 metres (2,130 feet). The upper reaches of the inlet comprise steep granite bluffs, numerous hanging valleys, and splendid cascading waterfalls.
The area is the traditional home of the Homalco Band of the Coast Salish people, who lived for thousands of years in several large villages on Bute Inlet and on Stuart Island at the mouth of the inlet.
The first European contact with the First Nations people of Bute Inlet was recorded by the expedition party of explorer Captain George Vancouver during his survey of the Northwest Coast of now British Columbia during the summer of 1792.
There are two main rivers flowing into Bute Inlet, both emptying into Waddington Harbour at the head of the inlet; the Homathko River and the Southgate River. The larger of the two, the Homathko, drains an interior watershed containing several permanent icefields. Runoff to Bute Inlet is highly seasonal, peaking with snow and ice melts in July.
During the Cariboo Gold Rush an ambitious but impractical attempt to build a wagon road from the Pacific coast via Bute Inlet to the Cariboo gold fields was thwarted in the spring of 1864. Led by their Chief Tellot, Natives from the Chilcotin Nation in the interior descended from the mountains surrounding Bute Inlet and killed the crews working to build the road, stopping any further attempt to establish an alternative and shorter route from Victoria to the goldfields.
Today, Bute Inlet is a paradise for photographers, sports fishermen, hikers, kayakers, mountain climbers, wildlife enthusiasts, and experienced backcountry users. A small sawmill at the Homathko logging camp on the Homathko River delta is operated by a few seasonal loggers.
Location: The only access to Bute Inlet is by boat or floatplane. The best departure point for approach by water is Campbell River on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The one-hour boat ride due north navigates Sutil Channel and Calm Channel.
Some of the province’s largest icefields feed the watersheds of British Columbia’s coastal ranges, including one of the largest icefields south of the Arctic Circle, Homathko Icefield, located above Mt. Grenville (3,109m/10,197 ft) and Mt. Queen Bess (3,289m/10,787ft).
Located between Stuart Island and the mainland at the entrance to Bute Inlet are very strong whirlpools called the Arran Rapids, and just to the west, the Yuculta Rapids. These spectacular rapids are generated by powerful tidal currents that race through the narrow channels like rapids in a river, flooding and ebbing at up to 10 to 15 knots. Natives are recorded as having assisted Captain George Vancouver’s men by using ropes from the shore to pull their longboats through the Arran Rapids.
Fifty kilometres inland from the head of Bute Inlet is Mt. Waddington, the highest peak in the Coast Range and the highest mountain wholly within British Columbia, at 13,260 feet. The mountain is named after the English educational pioneer, Alfred Penderell Waddington (1801-1872).
The new and modern salmon enhancement program at the Taggares-Homalco Hatchery on Bute Inlet is operated by the Homalco First Nation, raising and releasing coho salmon smolts into Bute inlet. The program projects that 15% of the released coho will return as mature fish, generating significant economic activity and over 120 jobs in the sportfishing and related tourism industries. The Yuculta Rapids Salmon Enhancement Association operating in the Stuart Island and Sonora Island area also works toward the same goals; the betterment of sports fishing and ensuring the future viability of pacific salmon stocks.
Wildlife: On a visit to Bute Inlet you may encounter bald eagles, cougars, and grizzly bears and black bears feeding along the shoreline and foraging for shellfish. In the emerald waters of the inlet look for otters, sea lions and seals, transient orcas, minke whales, porpoise and pacific white-sided dolphins.
Fishing: The Homathko and Southgate rivers provide world-class fishing for all 5 species of salmon, steelhead, large cutthroat throat and Dolly Varden. With Bute Inlet exposed to the huge number of salmon migrating south down the east coast of Vancouver Island, the area offers world-class fishing, both saltwater and freshwater.
Hiking: The remote Homathko logging camp on the Homathko River delta at the head of Bute Inlet is the starting point for organized multi-day hiking trips into the rugged alpine Coast Mountains. These wilderness hikes traverse granite ridges and snowfields high above the picturesque inlet. The Homathko River Valley provides easier hiking along old logging roads and trails that reward the hiker with magnificent views of the inlet and valley below.
The Homathko River-Tatlayoko Protected Area comprises 17,575 hectares of coastal rainforests and wetlands along the upper reaches of the Homathko River. Unique features of the surrounding area include the spectacular Waddington Canyon on the Homathko River, extensive icefields, the aquamarine Tatlayoko Lake, and valuable wildlife habitat, including the Mosley Creek wetlands and valley migration corridors through the Coast Range. The area is remote and access is difficult, with no trails or roads within the park. Tatlayoko Lake is accessible by boat, and there is a road and a forestry recreation site along the eastern shore of the lake. There are boating opportunities on Tatlayoko Lake, and consistent afternoon thermal winds also create good windsurfing conditions. The Homathko River is considered too dangerous for canoeists, kayakers, or rafters.
Great Bear Rainforest: Seven million acres of ancient rainforest in the Central Coast region of British Columbia, the world’s largest area of unprotected intact temperate rainforest, is earmarked for protection by the government of British Columbia and the First Nations Groups who live there. The Great Bear Rainforest features coastal temperate rainforests, pristine watersheds, rugged shorelines and steep mountainous terrain, ranging from Bute Inlet in the south to the Alaskan panhandle in the north, including Princess Royal Island. This vast and precious area is home to wild salmon, grizzlies, black bears and Kermode (spirit) bears, wolves, eagles and other wildlife.
To the south of Bute Inlet is Campbell River, which bills itself as the Salmon Capital of the World. One of the four main fishing centres on Vancouver Island, Campbell River is a convenient departure point for travel to Bute Inlet.
Also to the south, and a little closer to Bute Inlet, is Quadra Island, the largest and most populated of the Discovery Islands, best known for its natural and beautiful wilderness scenery and its excellent salmon and freshwater sportfishing. Heriot Bay on the southeast coast of the island provides a good boat departure point for Bute Inlet, as does Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island.