A family journey to a jewel of the Salish Sea, Princess Louisa Inlet

From the May, 2019 issue of 48° North.

Mention the name “Princess Louisa Inlet” to nearly any boater who has had the privilege of visiting its mountain-flanked waters and impressive waterfalls, and you’ll likely see a twinkle in their eyes. It has been raved about in books, blogs, cruising guides and in personal accounts for as long as people have been visiting the hallowed locale. And for good reason, the setting is a stunning crown jewel in a cruising ground seemingly filled with them.

From the moment we bought our 1984 Grand Soleil 39, Yahtzee, in Seattle in 2012, I began hearing captivating descriptions and emphatic pleadings about Princess Louisa, which is sometimes lovingly referred to as “PLI” or “Louisa” by its biggest fans. “It’s amazingly gorgeous, you have to go!” gushed one starry-eyed boater.

“Oh, you absolutely have to visit Princess Louisa Inlet! It’s a must,” rhapsodized another experienced Salish Sea cruiser.

Then, just before untying our dock lines in Pender Harbour for the trip up Jervis Inlet to get to Princess Lousia, it was simply yet eloquently described it to us as “Heaven on Earth.” Little did our young family of four know just how true that glowing sentiment would be.


It’s important to flesh out the nuts and bolts and cruising considerations of actually getting to this magical spot. For sailors coming from Puget Sound, putting PLI on your summer cruising list means that you need to have one major component on your side: Time.

Many experienced PLI visitors we talked to before and after being there say that two or three full days in the park is an adequate amount of time. And we agree. But when planning a trip to Princess Louisa Provincial Park, you also need to remember to allow for a day up Jervis Inlet and a day back. At 40 miles one way, this can be a long motor, especially for those of us who prefer to sail. I would venture to guess, along with a notable lack of wind in the summer, that the distance factor is a major barrier for many sailboats looking to make the trek. Don’t let it deter you, though, it’s well worth the time and diesel.

Located along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, many cruisers from Washington choose to filter through the San Juan and Gulf Islands before hopping across the Strait of Georgia to Pender Harbour (not to be confused with the North or South Pender Islands in the Gulf Islands) and then up to Louisa. Given that sizable distance alone, the voyage requires adequate time and schedule considerations that prudent cruisers will be exceedingly familiar with. If you try to do the trip in a hurry, you’re likely to feel rushed, which may dampen the experience.

Before heading up Jervis Inlet, Pender Harbour offers an ideal place to anchor or find moorage, and fuel and provisions are nearby. Once you start your way up the inlet, there are no suitable overnight anchorages until you get through Malibu Rapids. That said, if your crew is keen to cut out a few miles, you might choose to drop the hook in the Harmony Islands in Hotham Sound. Doing this and getting an early start will allow you to play the currents properly and maximize your time in the playground that is PLI.


Rounding the corner from Hotham Sound into Jervis Inlet after a tranquil night spent in the Harmony Islands, layers of clouds clung to green mountaintops that shot straight up from sea level. The haze soon parted to reveal jagged peaks speckled with snow and the farther we traveled up the long passage, the more the mountains seemed to shred the clouds apart, revealing sunshine and a bright blue sky.

The spectacular scenery was a feast for the senses as we navigated Yahtzee northeast towards Malibu Rapids, the sporty entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet. With reported currents up to 9 knots at times, and an S-curve midway through the rapids, care must be taken. Plan accordingly. We made it about an hour and a half before slack water – the best time to enter or exit this infamous pass. Being early, we hoisted the sails and tacked lazily back and forth across the inlet on a fresh breeze instead of milling about under power to wait. Soon we heard the VHF crackle to life. Outbound cruisers chattered about traversing the rapids from the other side, signaling our cue to lineup with the two boats in front of us to transit the storied rapids into Louisa.

Once through the narrow passage, which was far less painful than we had been led to believe, Princess Louisa Inlet lay ahead in all its glory. Shortly thereafter, while working our way through the 3.5-mile dogleg, our collective jaws hit the deck. Sheer cliffs majestically rose from the sea, and water spilled over them from dramatic, snow-capped peaks that reach skyward thousands of feet above. A deep azure sky contrasted the scenery and rays of sunshine broke through fluffy white clouds across the water.

Near the head of the inlet, the pinnacle of it all soon came into view: Chatterbox Falls. Bursting from the bright green forest, the falls were running in full force and the sound could be heard over our chugging diesel engine long before we reached the Princess Louisa Provincial Park dock. The sheer volume of water emanating from the woods is a sight to behold. In that moment, it hits us, we’ve made it to Louisa.

It was Friday afternoon when we nosed Yahtzee’s bow up to the park dock, where just a handful of other cruising vessels occupied the moorage area. After tying up near the end of the pier, we quickly readied the crew for shore and made for the lush green forest and gushing Chatterbox Falls.   

Our eldest son, Porter, ran down the dock with excitement and we soon found ourselves hiking beneath electric green trees and passing over clear mountain streams on our way to the Chatterbox. Climbing up the slippery, moss covered rocks next to the falls, we opened our arms into the mist without saying a word. On cue, a rainbow spread through the falling water and the moment was almost too good to be true.

From the jaunt to Chatterbox onward, our time in PLI had a choose-your-own-adventure quality to it, and it was pure splendor. We set out in our kayak and dinghy to explore more waterfalls and peer through gin-clear water. The boys were in their element playing in the sand with dramatic cliffs and waterfalls framing their daily lives. And Jill and I even found time to relax, take in the scenery around us, and share cocktails with fellow cruisers on the dock. Over and over, we confess to one another that words just don’t do Princess Louisa Inlet justice. Believe it or not, pictures don’t either.

Departing the park dock early on Sunday morning to catch the tide, we were treated to the last light of a full moon while the sun rose in the opposite direction. Making our way towards Malibu Rapids, I looked back for one last glance of Chatterbox Falls and the mountains above. The scale of the place is amazing and for boaters who have the desire and means to experience it, I’d say make it happen. A little slice of heaven awaits.