Soak up the Pacific Coastal Culture

Posted on


Photo: Jeff Reynolds

Now that we are re-exploring the world again, authenticity is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity for travellers seeking to immerse themselves in local cultures, and the natural environments they stem from.

In the wild Pacific Northwest, home to old growth forest, sky-high waterfalls and 50,000 km of coastline, the environment has defined a culture where gumboots are standard footwear, time is marked by the rise and fall of the tide, and the ocean is the road.

The region’s unique geography and natural resources, such as cedar and salmon, are intwined with its abundant coastal towns and First Nations communities, who have developed a rich and continuing culture of music, art, and storytelling here.

In this story, we explore the west coast destinations that showcase elements of coastal culture, shaped through millennia.

Adventure That’s Unequivocally West Coast

Photo: Jeff Reynolds

In the last twenty years, local tour companies in B.C. and Alaska have evolved some of the world’s most compelling travel experiences: journeys and facilities carefully crafted to immerse guests in the natural and cultural wonders.

Maple Leaf Adventures is one of these grassroots wilderness expedition companies. Founded in 1986, we operate weeklong, boutique-sized expedition cruises that invite guests to explore coastal towns, taste and sip through locally produced food, wine, and craft beer, experience wildlife phenomena usually reserved to nature documentaries, and connect with coastal communities in an authentic way.

Hop Aboard Coastal Icons

Photo: Kevin Smith

The coastal characters that guest meet start with the little ships themselves.

There are few roads on the continent’s edge, so 8 to 24 guests live and dine aboard one of Maple Leaf’s three expedition yachts: Maple Leaf, a 92-foot sailing ship built in Vancouver in 1904, with a pedigree as a luxury yacht and a tough long-liner; Swell, a 90-foot tugboat built in Vancouver in 1912 that served communities as a workboat for 92 years; or Cascadia, a 138-foot catamaran, recently refit by craftspeople and crew in Victoria and relaunched in 2019.

Just stepping onto the deck of these small boats, lovingly maintained by a local crew over generations, is an experience. Mahogany gleams, coastal art imbues them with spirit, and each boat’s open wheelhouse or bridge allows guests observe the ship’s navigation. Even learning how to move aboard (some boats have ladders) or refer to the ships (forward and aft, not front and back, for example), requires cultural learning. Multiple times each day, naturalists guide guests ashore for wildlife viewing, beach exploration, rainforest walks and other unscripted activity.

Forge Connections with Locals

Photo: Jordan Lambe

Innovative spirit, a quest for tranquility, respect for nature, and love of diverse cultures bind the people of the west coast. These are also the fabric of a Maple Leaf Adventures trip.

The crew themselves are veterans of coastal research projects, coastal explorations, and the marine world. They welcome guests’interest in this expertise and lifestyle, from understanding coastal navigation to  a bear’s body language or a chef’s ability to make delicacies from foraged food. 

In many destinations, Maple Leaf Adventures also brings guests to meet locals living far from cities: from elder-fisherman Billy Protctor in the Broughton Archipelago, to Indigenous guides and families on many parts of the coast, to artists such as carver Tommy Joseph in Sitka, Alaska. With special permission, guests also enjoy the deep history of white midden beaches, culturally modified trees, clam “terraces” and, occasionally, ancient petroglyphs.

Discover a Living, Breathing, Coast

Photo: Phil Stone

B.C. and Alaska are bursting with more than just human culture— mammals here also appear to have culture, from the matrilineal, multi-generational families of orcas to the mysterious traditions of grizzly bears. This living exhibition of land and sea offers the perfect opportunity to forge connections with the coast as people of the water have for generations.

Destinations include:

  • Alaska: A colourful tapestry of coastal history, Southeast Alaska has cultural connections to Russian, Scandinavian, American, and many First Nations cultures including Tlingit and Haida. With smaller boats and fewer people, our expeditions allow deeper interaction with the cultures, landscapes and wildlife of Alaska than other kinds of cruise travel.
  • Haida Gwaii: This rugged archipelago off the northwest coast of B.C. is home to culture like nowhere else, born of respect and intimacy with the land and sea. Like the towering cedars, the roots of the Haida people are entwined with its natural wonder. A spectacular weeklong adventure will introduce you to cultural enclaves off the roadmap, where art and storytelling has a profound, lasting impact and local culture is being protected and nurtured.
  • The Great Bear Rainforest: Vast tracts of temperate rainforest encompass 1,000-year-old cedars, waterfalls spouting off the sides of moss-covered mountains, granite-dark waters, and glacier-cut fjords. Just seeing a whale breach the surface of the water evokes the raw emotions that tie generations of coastal cultures together. Visit untouched wilds with crew who have spent their lives on the coast.
  • Broughton Archipeligo: All along the forested islands and waters of the Broughton Archipeligo, humans have thrived for millennia, and this trip will introduce you to both ancient and modern coastal culture. Sharing a meal, a walk, a conversation with locals, guests are able to feel a natural connection. Sailing summer breezes in what is sometimes called the “Serengeti of the sea”: a region rich in wildlife, complex whale communities, and ancient human cultures.

Emailed Newsletter

Subscribe to our occasional enewsletter and look forward to doses of inspiration including photos, videos, webinars and special offers.


Printed Newsletter

Sign up to receive our annual print newsletter delivered straight to your mailbox, keeping you up-to-date with new itineraries and special offers.


Request Brochure

Order your free travel guide to the best of our wild west coast, including the Great Bear Rainforest, Haida Gwaii, Alaska, and more.

request brochure