Your Guide to BC’s Southern Gulf Islands

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You lean back, relaxed. It’s a bright clear summer day and the sun warms your arms, your face. Scanning the horizon for signs of whales or porpoises, you hear an old fuzzy familiar sing-song tone and you sit upright to listen to the safety announcements. A soft pacific wind, fresh and salt-scented, blasts you in the face, ruffles your hair. Now this is really living. This is a ferry bound to BC’s beautiful Southern Gulf Islands.

On the ferry to the Southern Gulf Islands

On a ferry to the Southern Gulf Islands

Long a favourite refuge for BC residents and visitors alike, the Southern Gulf Islands are quiet little havens of sunny arbutus-lined rocks, damp fern forests, pastoral farmland, and robust rural communities, perched between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC. Each island has its own particular charms but each feels similar, familiar, apiece. Although a perennially popular destination, with a myriad of islands and amenities to choose from they rarely feel overrun and even in the height of the summer tourist season there are always plenty of quiet corners to be found, tucked-away on beaches or on dry golden hilltops or in the dark earthy woods.

Homesteading scenes from Saltspring's Ruckle Park heritage farm

Homesteading scenes from Salt Spring’s Ruckle Park heritage farm

Swimming in St Mary's Lake, Saltspring Island

Swimming in St Mary’s Lake, Salt Spring Island

We’re always thrilled at the prospect of going back, and it’s almost time to start planning our next trip. We’ll visit Salt Spring and drive up rock-faced Mt Maxwell for views out over the islands, farms, and channels; stop in at Ganges for Barb’s cheesesticks or a frozen yogurt from Glad’s; and visit the Ruckle Heritage Farm. We’ll go back to Galiano and hike up the eponymous mountain, camp at Montague Harbour Provincial Park, and check out Bodega Ridge. Or maybe it’s time we return to Saturna to scamper along the wild goat paths on Mt Warburton, visit the coves and rocky points on Pender, go for a kayak picnic on Mayne, or see the gorgeous eroded sandstone beaches and ancient petroglyphs on Gabriola.

Watching the sunset from Sidney Island in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

Watching the sunset from Sidney Island in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

Or maybe we’ll rent kayaks and visit some of the smaller islands BC Ferries doesn’t service. We’ll paddle from island to quiet island, pulling up on beaches to watch the red rosy sun go down. We’ll hear barking seals and cawing seagulls and the slow lulling lapping of waves, and spend a good long week touring of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I don’t know. But no matter where we go one thing is certain: there’ll be enough to explore here for many years to come.

Evening on the ferry back from the Southern Gulf Islands

Evening ferry ride after a weekend on the Southern Gulf Islands