Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site

Top choice in Haida Gwaii

Takakia Lake at sunset, Moresby Island, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada.

Getty Images/All Canada Photos

This huge Unesco World Heritage site encompasses Moresby and 137 smaller islands at its southern end. It combines a time-capsule look at abandoned Haida villages with hot springs, amazing natural beauty and some of the continents best kayaking. A visit demands advance planning as the number of visitors entering the park each day is limited. The easiest way is to take a guided trip with a licensed operator; access to the park is by boat or floatplane only.

Archaeological finds have documented more than 500 ancient Haida sites, including villages and burial caves throughout the islands. The most famous village is SGang Gwaay (Ninstints) on Anthony Island, where rows of weathered totem poles stare eerily out to sea. Other major sights include the ancient village of Skedans, on Louise Island, and Hotspring Island, whose natural hot springs are back on after being disrupted by earthquakes in 2012. The sites are protected by Haida Gwaii caretakers, who live on the islands in summer.

In 2013 the magnificent Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole was raised at Windy Bay, the first new pole in the protected area in 130 years.

The easiest way to get into the park is with a tour company. Parks Canada has a lists of licensed operators on its website. Many operators can also set you up with rental kayaks (average per day/week $60/300) and gear for independent travel.

To visit independently, you must make a reservation, pay a visitor use fee (adult $20 per day, child free) and attend a 90-minute orientation. The number of daily reservations is limited, so plan well in advance, especially for the busiest period of July to mid-August. Details of the requirements are on the excellent Parks Canada website, which has links to the essential annual trip planner. The Parks Canada office is next to the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay.