Are you feeling the urge to get away this weekend (as “away” as you can get during a pandemic), but haven’t planned anything yet? Consider island hopping through the BC Southern Gulf Islands, between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Can’t secure accommodation on a tiny island last minute on a long weekend (highly likely)? Choose one and make it a day trip!
Here’s a little bit about each of the islands that is accessible by BC Ferries, with links to longer posts with more information. Remember, these are small islands & residents definitely don’t need visitors bringing coronavirus on their getaway. As with anywhere else, follow protocols (maybe go one step further and mask up whether or not you have to), and stay home if you’re sick!
Jump to: Pender, Saturna, Mayne, Salt Spring, Galiano.
Pender Island: the Penders (North and South) have a ton to offer! A handcrafted chocolate shop, a cidery, a winery, cozy cafes, a few restaurants, great hikes, a famous disc golf course, and some incredible camping, just to name a few. The layout doesn’t really allow for a “downtown” but there are a couple of areas where you’ll find small clusters of shops and eateries/cafes, like Hope Bay (waterfront) and the Driftwood Centre (including groceries, a liquor store, gas, and a public washroom). The Saturday Market is on until Oct. 10. Find out more about a weekend on Pender Island and camping at Shingle Bay.
Saturna Island: Wiiiiiind down here! I found this island to be the quietest, with maybe 3-4 options for restaurants/cafes, and the Saturna General Store being your one-stop shop for any supplies you need for the weekend. There are some lovely walks, hikes, and picnic spots here, including peaceful East Point Regional park. This is a popular place to watch whales, but whether or not you spot any majestic mammals, you’ll want to spend some time watching the ocean from the sandstone cliffs. Keep watch for (only slightly less majestic) seals, sea lions, and sea birds! Make sure you stop for a pint at the Saturna Lighthouse Pub – it’s just steps from the ferry and you can’t beat the waterfront views! Find out more about a relaxing day on Saturna Island.
Mayne Island: When Kyla and I first visited Mayne, we didn’t have a car. We didn’t see much of the island, but part of the appeal was that the trip we had planned was accessible without a vehicle. Mayne Island Camping (hellooo ocean and seal views from your tent and outdoor shower with ocean view?!?) is only about a 40 minute walk from the ferry. That can be long when you’re walking uphill and carrying your camping gear, but we either hitchhiked or picked up the community bus partway in each direction. The campground is just a kilometre to Miners Bay, where you can find a grocery store, restaurant, library, museum, access to a hiking trail, the summer Farmer’s Market, the Agricultural Hall where they host live music, and – most importantly – a brewery in the woods, just up the street. Honestly, that little corner of Mayne felt idyllic (& pleasantly quirky) to us, and I bet the rest of the island is just as magical! Find out more about camping on Mayne Island without a car.
In 2021, we went back to the campground, but this time we had wheels! With a car (or electric bike) (or regular bike if you love hills), you can venture further out to the disc golf course, Japanese Gardens, Georgina Point Lighthouse, Oyster Bay, and more. Here’s my updated itinerary for how to spend a weekend on Mayne Island.
Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island: if I get started talking about Salt Spring Island, I may never stop! Which is why I wrote a post called “Everything Salt Spring Island”. So I’ll keep this blurb brief. Look, Salt Spring has it all. I may be biased because of my local connections (Kyla grew up there and her family’s still there), but (IMHO) I’m right! If the Gulf Islands were a city, Salt Spring would be the downtown core. Ganges, while technically a village, has enough cute stores, restaurants, and cafes – not to mention the famous Salt Spring Market – to make it feel like a small town. All of the islands host unique festivals throughout the year, and Salt Spring’s Pride has to be the coziest I’ve ever attended – the whole island comes out! Beyond Ganges, winding roads will bring you to wineries, cideries, a forest brewery, hikes up small mountains past fairy doors or hikes along the coast, goat cheeseries, lavender farms, past countless farm stands, past countless hippies, to galleries… like I said, all of it! In general, it’s not the quietest of the Gulf Islands for a getaway, but you can certainly find serenity there. Ok, this wasn’t so brief afterall, but if you’re sold on SSI, you can find out even more about Salt Spring Island here!
Galiano Island: I don’t think I’ve ever called a place a ‘gem’ before, but Galiano will be the first because it’s a brilliant baguette. I only spent a day there, but I wish it could have been longer because I
want to do more hikes and stuff didn’t have room for all the food I wanted to try. Seriously, so many great food options, including the famous Hummingbird Pub (this one may be more about the atmosphere than the food itself, but what better reason to visit?). Clearly a common theme across all of the Southern Gulf Islands, Galiano has no shortage of fantastic hikes. Walking around Montague Harbour Provincial Park was a huge highlight for us – even in a popular park, we were able to find a secluded spot on the white shell beach where we could set up our hammock and take in the sun and passing boats. Don’t let bad weather be a deterrent though, it’s a nice little loop either way. Plus, a rainy day = cozy pints at the pub later! (Or cocoa at the cafe.) Find out more about a day trip to Galiano Island.
Artists and artisans, hippies and farmers, arbutus trees and sandstone rocks, quaint villages and stores, delicious – usually local – foods & drinks, country roads, unparalleled views from small mountains and waterfront campgrounds, goats and love and organic farms. To me, the Gulf Islands are quintessential West Coast, and essential British Columbia destinations.
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