Getaway to Chatterbox Falls • British Columbia Magazine

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The dip of a paddle quietly broke the glassy surface of Princess Louisa inlet, sending methodical ripples out across the remote fjord.

It was, undoubtedly, a moment frozen in paddling time. The kind you live for. Perfect sunny warm weather. Not a wisp of wind. Not a soul around.

Stroke after easy stroke, I propelled my board slowly toward the setting sun. With each pull, the stand-up paddleboard glided effortlessly down the empty inlet. It was more paddling art than effort, a brushstroke on saltwater canvas which quickly disappeared before anyone could take notice.

Photo by Tim Milne.

More luck than good planning landed my wife Jennifer and I in the middle of nowhere up the Sunshine Coast. We were looking for one last trip to cap British Columbia boating and paddling season before tougher inhospitable weather arrived. A close friend had suggested Chatterbox Falls and Princess Louisa several times, noting it romantic and magical. And not far away.

Princess Louisa Inlet isn’t that far, hidden away in traditional territory of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. Located 180 kilometres north of Vancouver, the inlet is a mere eight kilometres long and never wider than about 1.5 kilometres. Accessible only by boat or air, Princess Louisa is reached from the Strait of Georgia via scenic Jervis Inlet.

While Princess Louisa’s magic is indisputable and world class, Chatterbox Falls is the crown jewel. A majestic waterfall located at the inlet’s head, Chatterbox tumbles down toward saltwater, spraying those who venture a hike up its boardwalks and flank. There’s a public dock, wilderness campsites, a shelter and pit toilets. A few more campsites are available on nearby MacDonald Island. In spring, up to 60 waterfalls adorn the inlet’s steep granite, but Chatterbox, at 40 metres tall, is the grandaddy of them all.

To make Chatterbox our reality, the time to rally arrived. The new marine forecast was on hand: winds light for three days solid. In addition, a warm forecast and nothing but sunny skies was in place for the South and Sunshine coasts. Music to nautical ears.

My wife and I set departure for the next morning and planned three nights on anchor with a chance to squeeze in a final paddle trip. Now, normally we might take more time getting organized, but on this quickdraw occasion, time was fleeting and hustle was key. After sorting out kids and a few work items, we planned our trip to hit Malibu Rapids at the entrance to Princess Louisa at slack tide. Currents at Malibu run up to 10 knots and the route is rocky and boulder-filled, so hitting a slack was definitely key for a leisurely passage.

Perfect for leisurely exploring, there is little to no current in Princess Louisa's eight-kilometres of tidal waters, once you're through Malibu Rapids. Photo by Tim Milne.
Perfect for leisurely exploring, there is little to no current in Princess Louisa’s eight-kilometres of tidal waters, once you’re through Malibu Rapids. Photo by Tim Milne.

We departed Vancouver early on a Wednesday morning, last day of September, with just over three hours to make Malibu Rapids by deadline. Our 30-foot boat was easily up to the task, cruising at 55 km/h and tackling the trip with little effort. As I throttled up and headed north, conditions were glasslike, smooth and sunny. The Strait of Georgia was easy and before long we banked right into Agamemnon Channel.

As our boat charged onwards through the winding passage, we passed the village of Egmont and made our way deep into Jervis Inlet. Big snow-capped mountains soon appeared and the inlet felt fjord-like. We’d cruised the 180 kilometres from Vancouver in just over three hours, reaching the top of Jervis. After floating for a few minutes and checking out the 2,100-metre, big-mountain terrain, I pointed the boat at the entrance to Malibu Rapids and inched toward our destination.

Arriving at slack tide made our final leg decidedly uneventful. Just the way we like it. As we motored on, the steep granite walls rose up to greet us from dead calm waters. Warm sunshine. Complete solitude.

Princess Louisa Inlet, accessible by boat or plane, is one of the most scenic places to drop anchor, paddle and admire waterfalls on the West Coast. Photo by Tim Milne.
Princess Louisa Inlet, accessible by boat or plane, is one of the most scenic places to drop anchor, paddle and admire waterfalls on the West Coast. Photo by Tim Milne.

In addition to its massive natural presence, Princess Louisa Inlet has deep Sechelt Indigenous history and a funky story. The inlet was the early stomping ground of miner James F. MacDonald, who purchased land around Chatterbox Falls in 1927. The original custodian and conservationist of the area, MacDonald deeded his property to the Princess Louisa International Society in 1953, returning to the sunny inlet each year for decades to come. The Sechelt Nation historically called the place Swiwelát or Suivoolot, loosely meaning “warm and sunny.”

Affectionately known as “Mac,” MacDonald feared development of the inlet and took many measures to keep it pristine. The society partnered with BC Parks in 1964 to manage the marine park and expand its protections. Together they kept the area in its natural state and have welcomed guests to Princess Louisa Inlet ever since.

One of the more welcoming features near Chatterbox Falls is a set of five moorage buoys, a signature BC Parks addition. The park ranger had directed us to the far buoy as it got hours more sunshine each day. And for that advice we were seriously thankful. With the boat tied up our day’s adventure had reached its twilight.

We grabbed paddleboards and headed out on evening still waters. An easy paddle without a soul in sight, and it was back to the boat for apres-float and barbecue. The sun slowly dipped behind the steep glacier-built walls and thoughts and talk turned to Chatterbox Falls the next day.

A true remote coastal gem, Chatterbox Falls was bathed in warm Sunshine Coast light as we paddled to shore and set off on the short hike. A twisty path gave way to the roar and spray of water cascading down its rocky course. My wife and I took a little time and hung out, appreciating the solitude and quiet beauty of the place.

Whether paddling or just staring at scenery, it didn’t take long for Chatterbox Falls and Princess Louisa Inlet to slow things down. No cell phones. No hustle and bustle. It was simply the perfect setting for leisurely paddling and epic gazing. We spent the afternoon cruising the length of the inlet, creeping along steep rock walls and exploring mossy shorelines. Time pretty much stood as still as the water.

And time remained an almost abstract concept while hunkered down in the marine park. Jennifer and I kicked back, paddled daytime away and barbecued on the boat each evening. The weather in the tiny 300-metre deep inlet never really changed. Warm, leisurely and serene.

We awoke on Saturday, a stunning morning, and packed our gear for a final day of paddleboards and boating back down to the Strait of Georgia. As soon as we departed Malibu Rapids and started down Jervis Inlet we were again captivated by mountain views and deep blue reflective water. Several times we stopped the boat and simply paddled around, taking in the final rays of afternoon sunshine.

Some places just ooze tranquility and peace, and this trip up the Sunshine Coast to Chatterbox Falls provided all that, seclusion and more. With every dip of the paddle, you couldn’t help but realize how fortunate you had been. It wasn’t easy turning the boat southbound for Vancouver, but 100 miles of smiles helped carry us home.