Most visitors come to the Charlottes to view its abundant and unusual wildlife, and to visit the ancient Haida villages. In both cases, you'll need to either have your own boat or arrange for a guide to get you from the islands' small settlements to the even more remote areas. The islands provide superlative wilderness adventures -- camping, hiking, diving, sailing, kayaking, and fishing -- although due to their isolation and sometimes extreme weather, you'll need to plan ahead before setting out.
Graham Island is the more populous of the two major islands. Queen Charlotte City is a fishing and logging town with a population of about 1,200, sitting above the scenic waters of Beaverskin Bay. QCC, as the village is sometimes dubbed, has the majority of lodgings and facilities for travelers, as well as the administrative headquarters for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
Skidegate Village (pronounced "Skid-a-gut"), just east of the Skidegate ferry terminal, is home to the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay 'Ilnagaay (tel. 250/559-4643; www.haidaheritagecentre.com), which includes the Haida Gwaii Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of argillite carvings, made from the slatelike stone found only in the Queen Charlottes. The newly expanded facility encompasses 149 sq. m (16,000 sq. ft.) and displays historic totem poles, contemporary and historic Haida art, and extensive photo archives. Admission is C$12 for adults, C$9 students 13 to 18, and C$5 for children 6 to 12. The museum is open daily mid-June to mid-September 10am to 6pm, the same hours but Monday through Saturday May to mid-June, and Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 5pm from mid-September through April (closed Dec 25-Jan 5). Next to the museum is the longhouse-style office of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen, the Native guardians of the islands' Haida villages and heritage sites. Ask here for information on visiting these sites.
Heading north from Skidegate on Hwy. 16, Tlell is an old agricultural community and now somewhat of an artists' colony; watch for signs pointing to studios. Past the logging town of Port Clements, the highway ends at Masset, the island's largest town with a population pushing 1,500. Old Massett, just north of Masset, is one of the largest Haida settlements on the island, and a good place to shop for carvings and jewelry. Just north of the Masset town center, trails lead through the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the first southerly landfalls on the Pacific Flyway.
From Masset, continue north and then east on Tow Hill Road to Naikoon Provincial Park, where whales can be spotted from the beaches and peregrine falcons fly overhead. The Agate Beach Campground (tel. 250/847-7320) is a popular place to camp (C$14).
On Moresby Island, the principal center of population is Sandspit (pop. 460). In summer, Parks Canada operates an information center for visitors headed to the wilderness Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. There are no roads or shore facilities in the park, and access is by boat or floatplane only. Although there are many amazing sights in this part of the Queen Charlottes, you'll need to be committed to the journey to get here: The distances are great and the costs high. If you're a dedicated wildlife watcher, it may be worth it to see the rare fauna and flora. Perhaps the most famous site in the park is SGang Gwaay 'Ilnagaay, or Ninstints, on Anthony Island, an ancient Native village revered as sacred ground by the modern-day Haida. Centuries-old totem poles and longhouses proudly stand in testimony to the culture's 10,000-year heritage.
If you are contemplating traveling on your own to Gwaii Haanas, you have a fair number of hurdles to clear, in addition to arranging for a boat. Only a limited number of people are allowed to enter Gwaii Haanas per day, and these are apportioned between those on organized tours and those traveling independently. (Six standby places are also available daily on a first-come, first-served basis.) You must make a reservation and register your trip with park authorities, and also attend a mandatory orientation session before entering the park. Call Super Natural British Columbia at tel. 800/435-5622 to reserve a spot; reservations are C$15. Entry to the park is C$20 per day. The Haida Gwaii Watchmen (tel. 250/559-8225) manage access to SGang Gwaay 'Ilnagaay and other ancient villages in the park, and watchmen members there will explain the history and cultural significance of the sites you may visit. For more information, contact Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Box 37, Queen Charlotte City, BC V0T 1S0 (tel. 250/559-8818; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas), or the Queen Charlotte Islands Visitor Info Centre (tel. 250/559-8316; www.qcinfo.ca).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.