The Southern Gulf Islands are the Canadian islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia in the Strait of Georgia. This area is comprised of around twelve inhabited islands, and several hundred more smaller islands and islets. The Gulf Islands are part of a large archipelago that includes Washington State's San Juan Islands. Many of these islands, and the waterways around them, carry the names of the Spanish and English explorers who arrived in the area in the 18th century.
The Gulf Islands afford almost limitless opportunities for boating, kayaking, cycling, diving, hiking, or just communing with nature.
The Southern Gulf Islands that are regularly visited are:
- Gabriola Island - Just a short ferry from Nanaimo.
- Thetis Island - Connected by ferry from Chemainus.
- Kuper Island - Home of the Penelakut First Nation.
- Salt Spring Island - The largest and most populated Gulf Island.
- Galiano Island - Long and narrow. Galiano is the second largest of the Gulf Islands.
- Mayne Island - Directly across Active Pass from Galiano Island.
- Pender Island - Actually two islands, North and South, connected by a bridge.
- Saturna Island - Remote and unspoiled.
- D'Arcy Island
BCFerries operates car ferries to the larger Southern Gulf Islands. Free reservations are strongly recommended, especially in the summer and can be made online at BCFerries or by a Toll Free (North America only) phone call to 1-888-BC-FERRY (1-888-223-3779).
Ports of call include Otter Bay on Pender Island, Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island, Village Bay on Mayne Island, Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island, and Fulford Harbour, Long Harbour, and Vesuvius, all on Salt Spring Island. Travelling within the Southern Gulf Islands sometimes requires first taking the ferry to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, then changing ferries and doubling back to your destination.
Some of the islands are also serviced by float planes from either the Vancouver harbour or airport.
Some of the Southern Gulf Islands are connected by an inner-island ferry service. However, it is sometimes required that people travel to Vancouver Island to get from one island to another.
There are also passenger only water-taxi services which can be used to travel between the islands.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada
- This park was established in 2003 and safeguards a portion of the gorgeous Gulf Islands archipelago. It is comprised of lands and marine areas spread out over 15 islands, as well as numerous islets and reefs. The larger islands of Saturna, Mayne and Pender are serviced by BC Ferries, while smaller islands are accessible by private watercraft, or chartered vessel. Please see the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve's Licensed Operators List for a list of charter businesses that are licensed to operate in GINPR.
- Islets are an important haul-out for marine mammals, and serve as nesting sites for marine birds. Therefore, islets within Gulf Islands National Park Reserve are Authorized Access Only. The only exceptions are Lot 65 (Little Samuel Island) and Dock Islet, both of which are available for day-use by kayakers and boaters.
- The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) offers incredible opportunities for boating, kayaking, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing, as well as for exploring the rural communities that exist in the Southern Gulf Islands.
- Saturna Island is accessible by ferry, float plane, private watercraft or chartered vessel. Almost half the island is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. There are hiking trails at Winter Cove, Monarch Head, and Lyall Creek and a spectacular view of Boundary Pass from the top of Mt. Warburton Pike. East Point is a prime location for watching the marine life that feeds in the turbulent and fertile waters of Boiling Reef, and if you're lucky you may spot an orca whale from shore. Here you will also find the original Fog Alarm Building (FAB), which was rehabilitated by the Saturna Island Heritage Committee and transformed into an intepretive centre for visitors. In the summer months, visitors can speak with a FAB volunteer, and learn more about Saturna Island's rich natural and cultural history. Visitors to Saturna can also take in any number of Interpretive Programs,led by one of the National Park Reserve's knowledgable interpreters .
There are 7 walk-in (1.7km) or kayak-in backcountry campsites available at Narvaez Bay, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Campsites are accessible from the parking lot at the end of Narvaez Bay Road, and camping fees apply.There is no fresh water available at Narvaez Bay, so please plan accordingly .
- Tumbo Island and Cabbage Island can be visited by kayak or boat. On Tumbo, an easy 3.5 km loop trail provides ocean views of Cabbage Island and the San Juan Islands as it wanders through Garry Oak, Arbutus and coastal Douglas Fir forests. Except for a private resident that has a life tenancy agreement with the National Park Reserve, the whole island is parkland. Cabbage Island is popular with boaters as there are 10 mooring buoys located in the protected waters between Cabbage and Tumbo Islands. Cabbage also offers 5 rustic, backcountry campsites (some with picnic tables available). There is no fresh water available on Cabbage Island and no campfires are allowed, regardless of season. Camping and mooring fees apply.
- Mayne Island is accessible by ferry, float plane, chartered vessel and private watercraft. There are two Gulf Islands National Park Reserve properties on Mayne Island. The first is located at Bennett Bay, where you will find one of the nicest sand beaches in the Gulf Islands. An easy 1.5 km flat trail leads to remnant old-growth forest at Campbell Point and superb views from the point across to Georgeson Island. The second is at Georgina Point, the site of a historic lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1885 and marks the Eastern entrance to Active Pass. Georgina Point (GINPR) is a great place to watch passing boats, and marine life such as harbour seals and orca whales
- Pender Islands A significant portion of North and South Pender Islands (which are connected by a bridge) are part of the National Park Reserve.
Prior Centennial Campground is a 17 site, drive-in campground operated by Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Amenities include potable water, pit toilets, picnic tables and fire pits (seasonally available). Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-737-3783. Beaumont is a popular destination for boaters as it offers 15 mooring buoys. There is a camping area on shore that features 11 rustic backcountry sites (hike-in or kayak-in only). There is no fresh water available at Beaumont, and no campfires are permitted, regardless of season. Currently, there is no reservation system in place for Beaumont (GINPR). Hiking trails on Pender Island include Beaumont (a difficult 1.5 km hike), Mt. Norman (a difficult 1.5 km, 244 metre elevation hike up to a panoramic viewpoint) and Roe lake (a moderate 1.5 km hike). At Roesland, a 15 minute stroll will take you to a former cottage resort dating back to the early 1900's, where you will also be able to visit the locally-operated Pender Island Museum.
- Prevost Island includes James Bay and Selby cove, which are located on the northern tip of the island. Prevost boasts 10 backcountry kayak-in or boat-in campsites. A camping fee applies, and can be deposited in the secure lock box. Outside of the National Park Reserve, Prevost is privately owned and used by the owners for farming and animal husbandry. Please respect the privacy of these individuals.
- Russell Island -- a small island at the mouth of Salt Spring's Fulford Harbour-- is only accessible by private watercraft or chartered vessel. There is a short trail from which you can see Gary Oak, Arbutus, Douglas Fir, stands of shore pine, open meadows of native grass with a variety of wildflowers. In summertime, the heritage Mahoi House is open to visitors during the afternoon and early evenings (except Sunday evenings) and descendents of the original Hawaiian (Kanaka) settlers are on hand to share family stories.
- Princess Margaret (or Portland Island), is a favourite among boaters and kayakers. There is no ferry service to Portland, but visitors can refer to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve's Licensed Operators List for a list of charter buisinesses that are licensed to operate in GINPR. You can camp overnight at one of three backcountry camping areas (Arbutus Point, Princess Bay and Shell Baeach). The island features cliffs, protected coves and sandy beaches and a 6.5 km shoreline loop trail (which can be shortened by taking one of two cross-island wooded trails). During high season, volunteer marine hosts moored at Princess Bay are on hand to provide visitors with park information.
- Sidney Spit on Sidney Island is accessible from May until September by private vessel or by the privately-operated walk-on passenger ferry that departs daily from the town of Sidney (please call GINPR for more information about the Sidney Spit ferry service: 1-866-944-1744). With its seemingly endless white sand beaches, Sidney Spit it is a very popular spot for families and travellers looking to unwind. Its sand bluffs, tidal flats and salt marshes teem with birds and marine life. The National Park Reserve operates 26 walk-in camp sites between May 15th and Sept 30th. Potable water is available at Sidney Spit, but because of high sodium content it should not be consumed by those with heart or kidney ailments. Mooring buoys and dock space are also very popular with boaters. The group camping area (for 10-30 people)and sheltered picnic area needs to be reserved in advance by calling the National Park Reserve office (1-866-944-1744).
- Isle-de-Lis (or Rum Island) is a very popular retreat for paddlers. This small island features douglas-fir and arbutus, as well as vegetation--such as the prickly pear cactus-- that reflects the mild Mediterranean climate of the Southern Gulf Islands. The name Rum Island originates from the island's former role as a liquor cache during the Prohibition. Isle-de-Lis(Rum Island) features 3 backcountry campsites. There is no potable water available, and there are no campfires allowed, regardless of season. Neighboring Gooch Island is private property; do not trespass.
- D'Arcy Island With striking views of the Gulf islands, numerous coves, cobble beaches and sheltered campsites (7 sites), D'Arcy Island is a haven for kayakers. There is no potable water available on D'Arcy, and no campfires are permitted, regardless of season.
- McDonald Campground (Vancouver Island) A drive-in, frontcountry campground located near the quaint town of Sidney-by-the-Sea. McDonald Campground's proximity to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal  makes it an excellent base of operations for exploring the Southern Gulf Islands. Municipal bus service into Sidney, Victoria, or to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal is also available from McDonald Campground. McDonald Campground boasts 49 sites, and offers amenities like potable water, pit toilets, picnic tables and fire pits (seasonally available). Reservations for McDonald Campground (GINPR) can be made by calling 1-877-737-3783.
For more information about Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, including maps, visitor guides, camping and mooring fees,and interpretive program scheduling, please visit the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve website .