World renowned for its ancient Haida villages dotted with totem poles, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve encompasses the southern half of Moresby Island as well as 137 smaller islands in the south of the archipelago—a total of 1,480 hectares (3,660 acres) of land and 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of coastline.
It’s a remarkable place. Ancient brooding totems and remnants of mighty Haida longhouses stand against a backdrop of lush wilderness—dense trees, thick spongy moss, and rock-strewn beaches with incredibly clear water. Colonies of nesting seabirds and an abundance of marinelife—killer and minke whales, sea lions, tufted puffins—all add to the atmosphere.
Jointly managed by Parks Canada and the Haida nation, the park protects the homeland of seafaring Haida. The Haida inhabited this area for almost 10,000 years, but by the early 1900s, less than 100 years after their first contact with Europeans, their communities were abandoned, the inhabitants having been wiped out by disease or having moved to Old Massett  and Skidegate .
Nan Sdins (Ninstints) on tiny SGaang Gwaii (Anthony Island) near the south end of the park, was once home to around 300 Haida and had been occupied for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Today, a string of weathered totem poles stretch along the shoreline, with the nearby ruins of cedar longhouses slowly being consumed by the surrounding rainforest.
Anthony Island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, just 97 years after the last Haida families had abandoned their remote home. Gandle K’in (Hotspring Island), the site of another abandoned village, has the bonus of oceanfront hot pools that held special healing and spiritual qualities to the Haida.
For general park information, click through the links on the Parks Canada website (www.pc.gc.ca ). To contact the local park office, call 250/559-8818.
The only access to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve is by air or sea. Most visitors arrive as part of a guided tour. The least expensive option is Moresby Explorers (250/637-2215 or 800/806-7633, www.moresbyexplorers.com ), with a boat trip to Skedans costing $205 per person. An overnight trip with accommodations in a floating cabin is $615, and a four-day excursion to all the park highlights is $1,460. This company also provides kayak rentals and drop-offs for those heading into the park unguided.
Archipelago Ventures (250/652-4913 or 888/559-8317, www.tourhaidagwaii.com ) combines the best of the park into a six-day tour that costs $2,300 per person. The main mode of transportation is a stable 42-foot mothership, with the focus on kayaking, hiking, and soaking up culture in the abandoned Haida villages.
Ocean Light II Adventures (604/328-5339, www.oceanlight2.bc.ca ) uses the 71-foot Ocean Light II for eight days of sailing, visiting all the best-known abandoned Haida villages, exploring the waterways, and searching out land and sea mammals. All meals and accommodations aboard the boat are included in the rate of $3,500 per person.
If you aren’t visiting Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve as part of an organized tour, you need to reserve a permit through Tourism BC (250/387-1642 or 800/435-5622, $15 per booking). A limited number of permits are issued for each day, in addition to six spots that are set aside on a standby basis. These can be claimed at the Queen Charlotte Visitor Info Centre  (in Queen Charlotte City) at 8 a.m. on the day of departure.
Either way, you must also purchase the permit itself (adult $19.60, senior $16.60, child $9.80 per day) and participate in an orientation session. These are held at the Haida Heritage Centre  Monday–Saturday at 9 a.m.