British Columbia's Gulf Islands

It has been said that British Columbia is Canada's crowning Province and that the Gulf Islands are the jewels in the crown. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit some of the Gulf Islands, can probably relate to the previous statement. The Gulf Islands really are jewels, and together with the neighbouring San Juan Islands of the the USA, make for some of the best cycle touring venues of the Pacific Northwest.

There are many islands that comprise the the blanket statement of "Southern Gulf Islands," and in 2003 the Federal Government of Canada realised that some of these beautiful and magnificent areas should be preserved for the benefit of future generations, thereby creating, The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). From the National Parks website... "The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada is comprised of properties on 16 of the Gulf Islands and over 30 islets and reefs throughout the southern Strait of Georgia. Only four of the islands - Saturna, Mayne, North Pender and South Pender - are inhabited and accessible by BC Ferries." One might wonder where the larger neighbouring Saltspring Island and Galiano Island figure in the Park Reserve - they don't! Nevertheless, several of their nearby inlets and islets are part of the protected areas.

Although the roads on most of the Gulf Islands are winding and hilly, they do make for very pleasant and usually quiet cycling. Traffic travelling to and from the ferry terminals can be hectic, but easily avoided by a canny cyclist, especially when first arriving on one of the islands via ferry. Even though cyclists are allowed to alight first, it is very wise to wait and let the motor vehicles go ahead, leaving a much quieter prospect for the ride ahead!
Campsites are available on most of the larger islands - a notable exception used to be Saturna Island which had none, but the GINPR have now created walk/boat in camping area at Narvaraez Bay at the east end of the island (only seven sites exist.) Maps are available at the main website of the GINPR. Beyond camping, there are a myriad of and bed & breakfast establishments awaiting the weary pedaller throughout the islands.

Following is a short narrative with some photos of the islands that I have visited whilst bike touring...

Pender Islands

Pender Island constitutes both South Pender and North Pender; a narrow canal separates the two Penders. South Pender is the least populated of the two. As with all the islands, riding can be hilly with some fairly steep but relatively short, challenging climbs on narrow roads. Camping is available on North Pender at a couple of places... Port Browning Marina; showers, pub, restaurant, pool, store etc. and some cabins for rent. Also camping at Prior Centennial Park (this was a Provincial park, but has been transferred to the GINPR); basic camping, water, no showers, pit toilets, treed sites. As I mentioned above, there are numerous bed & breakfast establishments throughout the island together with a hotel at Poet's Cove (Bedwell Harbour) on South Pender.

I've camped at Port Browning a few times; it is a very scenic waterfront location allowing for a relaxing view over the harbour observing boat traffic coming and going. The only bad part was that boat owners (once they've moored their boats) love to walk their dogs all over the campground - now I can't blame the dogs, but their owners for the most part were very inconsiderate about scooping their dog's poop, in fact most didn't. Hence, wherever a person was to walk there were numerous hazards; a good flashlight was essential if one was to wander the grounds after dark - nothing worse than bringing in something on the bottom of your shoe into the tent! On all occasions I was disappointed that the owners of the facility were not more diligent about creating some poop and scoop initiatives. Otherwise a nice place to camp, very close - 10 minute walk - to a variety of Pender's stores at Driftwood Mall shopping centre.

 

Camping at Port Browning

View from the tent flap
Port Browning Marina and Pub
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Galiano Island

Galiano is one of the outermost of the group and is a long narrow island. As with all the islands, riding can be hilly with some fairly steep but relatively short, challenging climbs on narrow roads. However, long distances do not need to be accomplished so the hills can be tackled at a leisurely pace.

There are two Provincial Park campgrounds on Galiano - at Montague Harbour and Dionisio Point. Dionisio is only accessible by water and is very popular with kayakers. I've camped at Montague and it is in a wonderful location. The campground has treed and open sites and facilities include pit toilets, water but no showers; there is a small pub and restaurant nearby. Lots of shell beach areas make for great walking and beachcombing opportunities. Sunsets from the Gray Peninsula area of the park can be spectacular. Other than camping, many other accommodations are available on the island and vary between cabins, inns, vacation homes and bed & breakfast establishments. Summer time boosts the island's population dramatically with tourists (and part-time residents) possibly outnumbering the permanent residents. Accommodation reservations are highly recommended during these busy periods.

There is only one main road along almost the full length of the island, but some side roads to the east of the island are worth exploring too. Bodega Beach Drive is one that comes to mind - great views over Georgia Strait on a clear day. The northern end of Bodega Beach Drive terminates at a gate. Beyond the gate is an overgrown lane that used to be the access road to Dionisio Point Provincial Park, but due to a land owners' dispute, public access beyond this gate is trespass; although the park is still active but marine access only. Kayakers and other boaters enjoy the 30 walk-in campsites there, but the potable water supply there can be questionable. Cycling the length of the island from Montague Harbour is an easy day ride with little traffic and some good picnic site opportunities - Lover's Leap rock is definitely worth a stop, but take food and water as there are no facilities to speak of north of Montague Harbour.

 

Views around Montague Harbour

Great for Beachcombing!
Sunset from Gray Peninsula
Bodega Beach Drive
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Saltspring Island

Saltspring Island is probably the most famous of the Gulf Islands and by far, the most populated. The hub of the island is the village of Ganges, but a village in name only as it is the commercial centre for the islanders. Tourism abounds on Saltspring with attractions such as summer markets in downtown Ganges every Saturday drawing numerous visitors to sample "Island Life."

In a way, the rural ambiance of the island is losing its flavour somewhat as more and more people travel to and vacation on the island. Nevertheless, it is a fabulous cycle touring destination with many roads and areas to explore. Ruckle Provincial park at Beaver Point is a wonderful oceanside camping venue for tenters, but take supplies as stores are quite a distance away.

Click here to view my Saltspring Page

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Mayne Island

Mayne Island is the last island one sails by when heading north through Active Pass on the BC Ferry from Victoria (Swartz Bay) to Vancouver (Tsawwassen). Accessible from both terminals via the BC Southern Gulf Island ferries, the island provides mainly scenic and peaceful riding opportunities together with many hiking trails for further exploration. Population of the island is stated at less than 1000, but just as the other islands, Summer populations are always swelled by visitors. In amongst the inns, B&B's and cottages for rent, there is one commercial campground (Mayne Island Eco-Camping) at Seal Beach/Miners Bay, a short ride from the ferry terminal - a good place to drop the gear and tour the rest of the island. Be sure to take time to stop and view the heritage farms, buildings and churches, many of which were built in the 1800's. Homesteaders populated this island as early as 1859.

After alighting from the ferry, you are faced with a steep hill, which fortunately is not very long. Turning left (north) at the junction at the top of the hill will take you quickly to Miners Bay, which is the centre of the island's commerce. Deli, bakery, grocery, pub, crafts can be purchased here. A good place to grab a bite to eat and head out to Georgina Point Lighthouse where there is a small park at this heritage venue from which there are some fantastic views of Active Pass and The Strait of Georgia. There is no visitor centre on this island, so be sure to pick up the free map and visitor's guide available on the ferry or other locations. Click here to view the current map.

There is basically one route providing a loose circuit of the island, but several other roads need to be explored to reach the most desirable and scenic locations at the further reaches of the island. One particularly interesting location is Vulture Ridge, where one can frequently view many Turkey Vultures circling overhead. Vulture Ridge (Henderson Hill) is accessed via Horton Bay Road and then Beechwood Drive (mostly good gravel on my last visit).

 

Views around Mayne Island

Good Gravel Road to Vulture Ridge
Vulture Ridge Trail Sign
Heritage Church
Beechwood Road (good gravel) to Vulture Ridge
Vulture Ridge Trail Sign
Heritage Church

 

Georgina Point Light
Georgina Point Lightstation
Carving to Honour First Nations
Georgina Point Light
Georgina Point Lightstation
Carving to Honour the First Nations

 

Steep Hills!
Mayne Island Ferry Landing
Steep Hills!
Mayne Island Ferry Landing
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Saturna Island

Saturna Island is the most easterly island in the Southern Gulf Islands group and is surrounded on three sides by the Canada/USA border. A large percentage of the island is now under the protection of the Gulf islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). Although there are only approximately three hundred and fifty permanent residents, as with most of the Gulf Islands, Summer visitors and cabin dwellers swell the population, but not to an excess. Life is unhurried and peaceful on Saturna although services are limited but adequate. Besides, what does a cyclist really need? A well equipped General Store and a lovely waterfront Pub should suffice most!

As with all the Gulf Islands, riding can be hilly with some fairly steep but relatively short, challenging climbs on narrow roads. Riders should be courteous and not impede traffic unnecessarily. Most drivers that I encountered on Saturna were patient and gave me ample room when passing.

Until the GINPR involvement in the Island, there were no camping facilities on Saturna. A few Bed and Breakfast establishments were the only option for anyone wishing to spend a night or two there. Now, at the southeast edge of the island, the GINPR created a walk-in oceanfront camping area at Narvaez Bay. The campground is in a spectacular location and potential campers would not be disappointed. However, there is NO potable water at this campground and only seven marked campsites. Fees are minimal though ($4.90 when I visited) and on a first come, first served trust basis. Narvaez Bay Road begins at the Saturna General Store and is paved for about 4km, then the road turns into a packed dirt/gravel road for about 3km. At the end of which there is a 1km steep, somewhat rideable, dirt trail down to the camping area.

Even if one doesn't relish camping at a site without potable water, Saturna Island is well worth a day trip to enjoy the splendid views and serenity offered there.

 

Here's a slideshow of my last visit to Saturna Island.
(Mouseover the image for controls and full screen mode)

 



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Texada Island

Click for Larger Map

Map courtesy of the Ravenous Raven Lodge and Restaurant, Texada, BC
Click on the map for a larger version

Texada Island is the largest in the group that are commonly referred to as the "Gulf Islands." And although is a 116 sq miles in area, it is largely sparsely populated with approximately 1200 permanent residents mostly centered around the villages of Van Anda and Gillies Bay where most of the island's commerce is also located. Technically, Texada is considered one of the "Northern Gulf Islands," whilst the others on this page are "Southern Gulf Islands." A regular ferry service sails the short passage to Blubber Bay at the north end of Texada from Westview in Powell River on the mainland. In the 1800's Texada was a booming island with gold, copper and iron mines in full production. Now limestone from three large quarries is the main export from the island.

Watch for Deer!
Watch for Deer!

Once the ferry docks at Blubber Bay, I let the cars and trucks unload and disappear up the road (good practice at most ferry terminals), leaving me with a peaceful ride on quiet roads. For the most part, there is really very little traffic to contend with other than the ferry travellers, but plenty of deer on the loose to look out for! Be prepared for the hills again though! Texada is also a hilly island almost immediately from the ferry landing, and if you're hauling your camping gear on your bike, be prepared for some granny gear grinds! A rugged island indeed, but there are some fantastic views and locations to be discovered whilst riding on this gem of an island.

Texada is popular recreation area with campgrounds located at Shelter Point Regional Park, Shingle Beach, Bob’s Lake Forestry Campground plus other remote camping opportunities further south on the island. Roads on the north end of the island are somewhat narrow but generally paved. Whereas roads on the south of the island are logging/gravel roads. Other than camping, numerous bed and breakfast establishments dot the north island for accommodation alternatives. Shelter Point Park is probably the most popular campground and frequently busy during the summer months. However, besides the ocean-side camping sites, there is an overflow campground a short distance from the main park. Fabulous sunsets are commonly seen at the main park where there is a beach, swimming area and some fire rings available. A structure fire in late 2012 destroyed the rustic cafe concession that existed at the park, but a food truck serves up some goodies at present. There is a movement to build a new cafe with hopes of being ready for the 2014 season.

If you plan to camp on Texada, pick up supplies at either Van Anda or Gillies Bay where there are general stores that have a good selection of food, beverages and other supplies that you may need for camping.

Apart from the campgrounds, there are many areas of Texada to explore either via bike, foot or car. Texada Island is well worth a visit, even for a day trip.

 

Here's a slideshow of my last visit to Texada Island.
(Mouseover the image for controls and full screen mode)

 

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