There are over 300 southern Gulf Islands located off the shores of south-eastern Vancouver Island however only the larger ones of Galiano Island, Mayne Island, Saturna Island, North and South Pender Islands and Salt Spring Island support a local population. These islands are famous for exceptional arts and crafts, country inns, excellent restaurants, parks, hiking, kayaking, cycling and breathtaking scenery.
The main Islands are accessible via BC Ferries from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and Tsawwassen on the Lower Mainland (in the summer several sailings go to each island daily). Decide in advance which island suits your purposes best, then consult a BC Ferries schedule to see if you can manage the connections in the course of a day's visit or will have to seek overnight accommodation. Except in summer months, ferry service to many islands is restricted to one or two sailings a day. You may find that in order to catch a ride you'll have to start your day well before dawn and return home late in the evening. The trade-off is that you'll find far fewer visitors sharing the roads, waterways, and parks with you as you travel at off-peak times.
Visitors to the Islands are always struck by their natural beauty: quiet roads where you will meet more deer or otter than motorists, vast stretches of uninterrupted shoreline with quaint lighthouses; stands of Madronna, Douglas Fir and Garry Oak; beaches and vast ocean parks. Small farms supporting organic gardening and a large natural seed repository reflect the history of the islands agricultural past including vineyards that are commanding international recognition.
And artists. The BC Gulf Islands have attracted a varied and talented group of artisans. The local studios of potters, painters, weavers and spinners, wood carvers and fabricants produce products that are distributed worldwide. Music is a major part of the islands community conscience and local groups when not on the road play to a local audience in small pubs and cafés, bringing with them enormous talent from other parts.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve consists of lands on 16 islands, plus numerous small islets and reef areas in British Columbia's southern Gulf Islands. With a total area of 33 km2 (including a 25-metre intertidal zone), it is Canada's 5th smallest national park. The waters surrounding or adjacent to park lands, extending 200 metres seaward from the natural boundary of the lands, are also protected and managed by Parks Canada.
Some of the lands included in the national park were formerly part of the BC provincial parks system. These include D'Arcy Island, Isle-de-Lis, Sidney Spit, Princess Margaret, Cabbage Island, Winter Cove,Beaumont/Mt. Norman, part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Prior Centennial and McDonald Provincial Parks. These areas have some existing recreational facilities, including campgrounds or backcountry campsites, day-use areas, pit privies and some short trails.
Need a place to stay or camp while exploring the Southern Gulf Islands?
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia