Your Guide to Summer on 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.

Looking out over the Southern Gulf Islands from Mount Galiano

Looking out over the Southern Gulf Islands from Mount Galiano

Resting in the shade of some Garry oaks on Galiano Island

Resting in the shade of some Garry oaks on Galiano Island

Coastal textures of Pender Island

Coastal textures of Pender Island

The Gulf Islands’ pleasures and appeal are widely known, but still, it was with some pride and excitement when we read the New York Times had recently recommended them as one of 52 destinations to visit this year. And with fantastic parks and landscapes, festivals and artist tours, local food and wineries aplenty, there’s little doubt in my mind at its inclusion. There’s enough variety for just about anyone.

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

Summer living on St Mary's Lake, Salt Spring Island

Summer living on 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.

Looking out over the beautiful island blues of Prevost and Saltspring Islands

Looking out over the beautiful island blues of Prevost and Salt Spring Islands

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