Your Guide to BC’s Southern Gulf Islands

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Galiano Island | Ben Giesbrecht

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 BC Ferries vessel bound to BC’s beautiful Southern Gulf Islands.

A wave behind a ferry boat in the open ocean. Mountains are seen in the fast distance.

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.

Two images side by side. On the left, two sheep graze in an open field. On the right, a small brown desk with a green chair. A portrait hangs above the desk.

Homesteading scenes from Saltspring’s Ruckle Park heritage farm

Homesteading scenes from Salt Spring’s Ruckle Park heritage farm

A man dives off a dock into a lake.

Swimming in St Mary 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 cheese twists or a gelato 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.

A person watches the sunset on Sidney Island on the beach. Their feet are seen at poking out the edge of their orange tent on the sand.

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 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.

A cloudy sunset on the Southern Gulf Islands.

Evening ferry ride after a weekend on the Southern Gulf Islands


Originally published in January, 2016.

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