You want to check out one of the Southern Gulf Islands but you only have one day to spare… is that enough time? Obviously, the more time on a peaceful island the better, but you can absolutely do a lot on Saturna in a short time. I recently took a solo day trip there, and had about about 6 hours to spend between ferry trips.
There are lots of options for Saturna. I’ll give you a sample itinerary, based on how I spent my day, with suggestions for alternatives (i.e. for packing more into your day than I did)!
One day on Saturna Island:
Morning coffee & supplies: Once you get off the ferry, grab a coffee or smothie at Vibrational Cafe (on your right immediately after you drive off). There’s a small tourism office in the same complex, with plenty of maps and brochures to give you some ideas. On the other side of the cafe is a bike rental shop, if you’re keen on hills! You can also pick up a coffee, groceries and any supplies you need for the day at the General Store, just a minute up the road. It seems like most ferry traffic heads straight to the store; when I was there, there was a bit of a wait to get in, to limit the number of people inside. Best if you wear a mask! Remember to be conscious of the needs of island residents – this is the only grocery store on Saturna.
Casual walk: Take East Point Road for a few more minutes to Winter Cove Park. Xwiwxwyus (“kwik-wi-us”) Trail is a lovely 1.5 km, flat loop out to a coastal viewpoint. Some of it is a boardwalk through salt marshlands and the rest is a flat trail. I spotted a few herons; it’s a good place for bird-watching! The point, looking out at Samuel Island, was so peaceful, it’s your classic West Coast landscape, Arbutus trees, eroded sandstone rocks, towering Douglas firs.
Picnic and wildlife-watching: East Point Park (at the end of East Point/Tumbo Channel road) is known for its whale-watching (click for more info). Southern Resident Pods may swim by between May and November, and transient orcas and other whales may be spotted year-round. I set up a picnic on a bench in a huge open grassy field on a cliff, with almost no one else around. I didn’t see any whales, but the view was still spectacular. After zooming in on a nearby rock, I noticed a whole bunch of sea lions(/seals? I never know!) The open trail winds around to a small shell beach, with plenty of space to lounge on the rocks. Around the other way, below the lighthouse, are more rocks, perfect for picnic-ing, where I sat for a long time watching seals(/sea lions? Still don’t know!) and birds, listening to my audiobook, eating a Nanimo bar, just West Coastin’.
Grab a drink: Saturna Lighthouse Pub is the perfect spot to wait for your ferry. Right on the water, you can enjoy a BC beer while you watch kayakers paddle by, and keep an eye out for the ferry. The line up is up the hill just outside, and it’s a good place to get some sustenance if, like me, your trip home involves 2 stops at other islands!
What else to do? My day was actually a bit sparse. If I hadn’t spent so much time enjoying my picnic and audiobook and watching seals at East Point, I would easily have had time for at least one more activity. I’m saving these for next time, because I was consciously trying not to cram too much in! But If you prefer to do a little more, or you’d prefer to be a little more active, consider these options:
- Narvaez Bay hike: about 5km round trip, this trail leads down to a beautiful shoreline with a few different trail options. This is also where the main campground on Saturna is. It’s totally booked for most of the summer, so check ahead of time if you’re hoping to camp.
- Mount Warburton Pike hike: this is what I’m most looking forward to for next time! I just didn’t feel like driving up the steep gravelly potholey road by myself, but I hear the views of the surrounding islands are MORE than worth it! There’s a gorgeous hike along the ridge at the top, and apparently you may spot some local, feral goats!
- Thomson Park/Saturna Beach: If I went back with friends, I’d probably hit up the beach and the park with a new disc golf course and bocce fields!
Getting there and around: Saturna is easy to reach by ferry from Victoria, Vancouver, or the other Southern Gulf Islands. Make sure to check the current schedule, and take note of stops and transfers on your route, as this will slow down your trip. Reservations are recommended on the Vancouver route, and on weekends (especially long weekends), I’d recommend arriving at the ferry lineup quite early. (I went for my pint at 3 for a 4:25 ferry, since I knew everyone leaving that afternoon for ANY destination would be on the same ferry. It wasn’t full, but on a Sunday afternoon it might have been a different story.)
I hate to say it, but a car is the best way to get around Saturna. There’s no bus. Hitching is generally “safe” on the Gulf Islands (I’m not personally encouraging you to hitch!), though definitely not safe during a pandemic. People love to cycle the Gulf Islands – in theory, I’d also like to do this, but those HILLS! If cycling’s your thing, it’s a good option (though bear in mind there are no bike lanes). I also read that you could hike from the ferry up Mt. Warburton Pike, so although not having a vehicle would leave most of the island off limits, I doubt you’d have a bad day doing a full day hike plus a visit to the pub!