Desolation Sound is not far from Cortes, but if you don't want an expedition, you can day paddle out and back at various spots with safe conditions and interesting locations.
The campground at Smelt Bay is a bit of a minimalist experience, but we liked the beach and the quiet forest. Kayakers can easily launch and land at the beach. We paddled south to Sutil Point (sometimes called Reef Point) and we enjoyed seeing seals and many birds around the shoals, but paddlers have to watch for many submerged rocks. Explore this area in good weather only. If you try to round the point, you will have to deal with currents so consult your tide tables.
We preferred the paddle north to Mansons Landing. Mansons Bay is a popular anchorage. Aside from viewing the yachts, there is a beach, a public dock, a spit, and an adjoining lagoon (at high tide). It is also possible to paddle out to Marina Island (it is on our tbd list).
We found the paddling in Cortes Bay a good choice offer shelter from the winds on a stormy day. There is a good launch by the dock, a yacht club, a seaport, many cliffside homes, sandstone cliffs and a series of islets to explore. We were able to land on one of the Cod Islets and explore. On a calmer day, we would paddle out to the Twin Islands. We enjoyed paddling over toward Mary Point, paddling in and out of the bays along the way. There is a half day of paddling out of Cortes Bay.
At Gorge Harbor, we were able to launch near a public dock. There is a full-service campground there, a restaurant, a marina, boom logging, shellfish farming, oyster beaches, and some large vessels in anchorage. A full tour of the Gorge is a good paddle. We chose not to exit through the surge channel. The currents in the narrow channel travel at 4 knots, except at slack tide. We paddled to the mouth and it looked to be reasonable challenge, but we would make sure no boats were entering or exiting before starting. We instead landed on Ring Island and hiked around the edge and back.
We drove across the island and launched our kayaks at Squirrel Cove. A sand and pebble beach makes a good staging spot for any adventures beyond, although parking is at a premium in this area. This is a major anchorage for all the boats traveling to and from Desolation Sound, We rounded the point and then toured the long protected harbor to see all the anchored boats. We aimed for an adjoing lagoon that only a kayak could enter. The entrance channel is only about 2 meters wide and when we arrived, it was draining down so we had to paddle very hard up a very shallow "waterfall" to get into the entrance. The saltwater lagoon had seals, herons, and various birds, rocky shorelines and coves, one small beach, and several islets. We returned back down the channel in slack tide. The channel was now twice as wide and twice as deep, so it was much less exciting. We then paddled past Protection Ilsland and over towards Boulder Point, but didn't venture farther.
We left Cortes without doing Carrington Bay, Van Donop Inlet, and all the north side trails. This is on our "bucket list", but Desolation Sound is higher on the list.
The kayaks are ready to launch from Squirrel Cove for our week in Desolation Sound. Watch for us.