Vacations to Gulf Islands, Canada

Aerial view of Hornby Island, Northern Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada
Aerial view of Hornby Island, Northern Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada (courtesy, Tourism British Columbia)

In the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, the 225 Gulf Islands are mostly tiny specks of land in a cold sea, accessible only by private boat. But six—the islands of Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne, Galiano, Saturna, and Gabriola—are served by ferries and floatplanes and have a variety of attractions and hotels. Secluded beaches, forest trails, dramatic coastlines, winding country roads, and fantastic lookout points provide the setting for regular encounters with whales, dolphins, bald eagles, deer, and seals.

People here are laid-back and friendly and the pace tranquil. Community spirit is rich and artistic endeavor high. Almost every island has a self-guided studio tour with maps and special art events. Seasonal farmers' markets overflow with local food and handicrafts. The Saturday Market on Salt Spring Island is the largest, with 140 market tables and tents.

Natural highlights include beaches, forest trails, high points, and tide pools, but the array of attractions also includes old architecture, petroglyphs, spas, vineyards, and a disc park. With so much to do—hiking, biking, sea kayaking, beachcombing, sightseeing, wine tasting, and more—simply relaxing may be a challenge.

Each Gulf Island has its own unique character.

Salt Spring Island
This largest, most populous, and most diverse of the islands has a strong farming tradition in addition to its thriving arts and culture community. In summer, visitors are treated to live music every night and a dozen or so festivals, including the excellent Salt Spring Island Saturday Market. Kayaking and hiking are the favorite sports, though horseback riding, hang gliding, birding, and scuba diving round out the list of activities. Be sure to book accommodations well in advance.

Pender Islands
North Pender Island and South Pender Island are linked by a one-lane bridge. Otters, seals, and herons frolic among picnicking families on the islands' numerous secluded beaches and coves. Kayaking, cycling, and disc golf give active adventurers plenty to do.

Gabriola Island
Superb kayaking complements ancient petroglyphs and intriguing shorelines. The North Road–South Road loop offers cyclists an 18.6-mile tour with ocean views. Families visit Joyce Lockwood Community Park to see creatures in tide pools and Gabriola Sands Provincial Park to find sand dollars and moon snails at low tide. The beach overlooking False Narrows is home to great blue herons and is a good place to find eagles, sea lions, and seals in spring. On Gabriola, the "Isle of the Arts," works of art are often left on display unattended. To purchase the work, just leave cash or a check.

Mayne Island
Historic buildings line the waterfronts of Miners Bay and Village Bay. The Springwater Lodge, built 1892, is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the province. Find shops, galleries, services, and a number of lodging options in Miners Bay, the island's hub. Outside of town, paddling, diving, and cycling opportunities await. Hikers will enjoy the 45-minute summit climb up Mount Parke. Less aggressive hikers can stroll on any of the island's fine beaches.

Galiano Island
Long, narrow, and thickly forested, Galiano is sparsely populated and laced with hiking trails that lead to points with outstanding views across Montague Harbor. The trail at Bodega Ridge Provincial Park features a narrow ridge and panoramic vista. The island has an amazing selection of parks and nature reserves and a dramatic coastline where wildlife is seen year-round.

Remote Saturna is the least developed and least populated of the Gulf Islands. You can spot whales and sea lions from the shore in East Point Park. Winter Cover Marine Park has a tidal marsh teeming with birds, and Mount Warburton Pike is the second-highest point in the Gulf Islands at 1,303 feet. Just a couple of general stores, a pub, a café and bakery, a vineyard, and some art galleries dot the island.

Published: 2 Mar 2010 | Last Updated: 17 Feb 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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