The Princess Louisa Inlet Tour





Photos by Adrian Young

by Stu Young
After the long chug up breezy Jervis Inlet, it was the silence that surprised me most when we burst through Malibu Rapids and slipped into the still waters of Princess Louisa Inlet. One-hundred-and-sixty kilometers NNW of Vancouver, at the tip of one of the long saltwater fingers that reach far up into the Coast Mountains, Princess Louisa has the serenity of a mountain lake.


The other surprise was the large rustic lodge guarding Princess Louisa’s mouth. Malibu Camp was the first structure we’d seen in 32 miles of unbroken wilderness.


Built in the 1930s for wealthy tourists and movie celebrities, the lodge, then known as the Malibu Club Hotel, is now run by the interdenominational Young Life Canada as a summer camp for teenagers. Consisting of a number of log buildings spread over the sunny foreshore, Malibu Camp with its woodcraft-style architecture, rambling galleries, totem poles and ancient swimming pool, harkens back to the glory days when this royal fjord was summer home to the likes of John Barrymore and Ronald Colman.


Our boat, the MV Papoose, edges up against the dock and we step ashore for a 45-minute tour of the grounds and gift shop. The atmosphere of the place could be marketed as Essence of Old-Fashioned Canadian Mountain Lodge, a nostalgic amalgam of buffalo-head nickels, maple leaves, Hudson Bay blankets, wooden Indians and Group of Seven images.Louisa Hotel


Back on board our boat, the captain throttles up and we glide out into midstream to continue up the inlet. A surplus US Navy boat originally designed for river reconnaissance duty on the Mekong during the Vietnam War, the Papoose seems the perfect craft for these deeply cleft mountain inlets. The guns are long gone, and Nikons and videocameras take their place; the Papoose has been refitted to carry up to 40 passengers.


Princess Louisa is a classic glacier-cut fjord, a kilometer wide, two hundred meters deep, and sheltered by mountains rising up to 2500 meters from its placid surface. Due to the serpentine folds of the Coast Mountains, the inlet itself is invisible from Jervis; Captain Vancouver passed by here unawares in 1792, taking it for the mouth of a creek. Named by cartographers after Queen Victoria’s mother, it was originally known to the Sechelt First Nations by the more descriptive name of Suivoolot, “Sunny and warm”.


The drone of the motor bouncing back from the granite cliffs, the hypnotizing spangle of sun on the waves, and the gargantuan proportions of the geography lull me back into myself. After the exhilaration, wind and waves of the long cruise up Jervis, all the passengers are settling into a contemplative trance. Above us on both sides the mountains look down like a corridor of guardian kings.


The magical charm of Princess Louisa was described by Erle Stanley Gardner in Log of a Landlubber as, “a calm tranquility which stretches from the smooth surface of the reflecting water straight up into infinity”. A lot of eloquent verbiage has been written over the years about the inlet and its reflecting mountains, granite gorges, ever-changing skies, and plunging streams; none of which quite conveys the traveler’s impression that he’s in a very special place.


Half an hour later the Papoose nears the head of the Inlet. We hear Chatterbox Falls long before we see it, rounding a final bend to confront a glacier-fed stream thundering 120 feet down to meet the tidal waters of Louisa. Granite cliffs to the left of the falls stand about 1300 meters high, giving rise to a “Yosemite of the North” comparison.


A collection of sailboats near the outflow from the falls marks Princess Louisa Provincial Marine Park. This area was originally owned by James F. (“Mac”) Macdonald, a well-traveled prospector/philosopher who was first captivated by its charm in 1919, and managed to purchase it in 1927. Macdonald built his cabin there but shared the area with visiting “Indians, trappers, loggers, fishermen and yachtsmen”.


Legendary film star John Barrymore, arriving with his wife on their 110-foot yacht, was Macdonald’s first celebrity guest. They enjoyed “Mac’s” hospitality many times over the years, soaking up the tranquility of the Inlet during the day, and eating, drinking, and playing cards in the cabin at night.


One summer Hollywood producer Mack Sennett showed up with his bathing beauties and movie cameras. Chatterbox Falls and other areas of the Inlet appeared later in scenes from the film “Alaskan Love”. “Mac” believed most people spend far too much time doing, getting and accomplishing. “The world needs ten million full time thinking loafers (not rumpots or wealthy playboys) dedicated to … bringing this cockeyed life back to its normal balance.” He considered himself more custodian than owner of “this beautiful, peaceful haven”, and granted his property in trust to the public in 1953, with the stipulation that it never be commercialized. “Mac” remained living in a houseboat on the property until 1972, when he was 83 years old.


Today the 44 hectare Princess Louisa Marine Park on Mac's homesite has a dock, with campsites and hiking trails near the falls. It continues to be a world-famous yachting destination. Depending on the tour company you choose, you can explore here at the park, or visit Malibu Camp at the head of the inlet, or both.


There’s a lot of magnificent coastal scenery to absorb on the run up Jervis Inlet, long before you reach Princess Louisa. Even before passing the town of Egmont, at the mouth of Sechelt Inlet, there are native rock paintings to be seen on the cliffs of Agamemnon Channel. After Egmont you’ll likely see seals basking on the rocks of Miller Islet. Then the walls of Jervis itself rise up, with the occasional clearcut razored into their shaggy green slopes, exposing the zigzag tracery of the logging roads beneath.


There are more rock paintings in Princess Royal Reach, and faint signs of the Britain River forest fire that wiped out a logging camp in 1956.


If you catch the first sailing of the Queen of Surrey from Horseshoe Bay, it’s physically possible to make a return journey to Princess Louisa Inlet in one long day. It’s not recommended though. At least one overnight on the Sunshine Coast will make for a more relaxing trip.


A number of excursion companies offer summer schedules and charter trips, generally departing from Pender Harbour. For further information: