So many great adventures await you in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, it can be hard to know where to begin. To get you started, Parks Canada staff members share some of their favourite experiences.
When it comes to scenic campsites, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is full of absolute gems and all of them are worth a visit. One of my favourites however is Cabbage Island. Its soft white sand beaches and the sheltered waters of Reef Harbour provide refreshing swimming opportunities on a hot day, making Cabbage feel like a tropical oasis in the Salish Sea. You can paddle over to the adjacent Tumbo Island for the afternoon and explore its fascinating landscape, taking in the excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, and then returning to the campsite on Cabbage Island for the night. Sometimes you may even have the island to yourself! Whenever I visit this site, I feel like I am a world away from the hustle and bustle of daily life!
I have two preschool-aged kids, and Winter Cove is the perfect place to make many discoveries without exhausting their little legs. We start in a field with beautiful ocean views and picnic tables, then we shift from running around with a ball to hiking into the woods and crossing a fun boardwalk surrounded by dragonflies and neat plants. Later, we pop out at a quiet spot near the water. The whole experience is even better when we bring a local baked good to enjoy once our trek is complete!
The best view (and highest elevation) in the Gulf Islands is found at the top of a long, windy road up Mount Warburton Pike on Saturna Island. Hiking to the top is a rewarding challenge if you’re up for it! If the ferry schedule permits, continue your scenic drive to East Point for some whale watching from land.
The most memorable experience I’ve had in the park reserve was participating in the Sea Garden Restoration Project at Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island. It was an amazing experience learning about the history and cultural significance of the sea garden rock wall, as well as helping restore it for future generations. You can learn more about the project online and get your hands dirty by volunteering.
The understory profile of the Garry oak ecosystem is incredibly lush and beautiful to see when it is intact. The exclosure on Sidney Island is one of my favourite spots for this reason. These areas are protected from being over-browsed by deer and so provide essential habitat for songbirds and many native plants to thrive − like the Huckleberry, the Trumpet Honeysuckle, and the June Plum. Sidney Island is a special place to experience because of the contrast between its hot sandy beach and dappled, shaded forest. Not to mention it’s an easy getaway − just a short ferry ride away from Sidney.
My favourite hidden gems are great destinations for paddlers. Launch from Fulford Harbour on Saltspring and circumnavigate Russell and Portland Islands. Arbutus Point is a gorgeous campsite where you can listen to songbirds and watch the sunset. Just remember that the three campgrounds on Portland Island are not reservable (so arrive early for the best spot). For a second night, decide between going north to James Bay on Prevost Island or south to Rum Island. If you’re a new paddler eager for adventure, consider hiring a guide from our licensed operators list.
Portland Island has lots of hiking possibilities, including various loops or just the easy walk from Royal Cove to Princess Bay. The real gem is the south side of the island. The walk has lots of variety: up and down, forest to open slope, and a spectacular view of passing boats and ferries. If you’re lucky you could even catch a glimpse of whales! Plan a picnic on the sloping rocks facing Moresby Island. In the spring you might also see Chocolate Lilies on Pellow or Turnbull Points."
After camping at a waterfront site in Narvaez Bay on Saturna Island, I love taking a book out to Echo Point and finding the perfect reading nook. I’ve spotted orcas, porpoises, and even spent the whole day in the company of resident seals. The steep cliffs in Echo Bay and the emerald green water make for a stunning view. In the evening, watch the sunset from Narvaez Point and make some new friends at the campground, which is usually peaceful and serene.
Shingle Bay has a rustic feel that only the best backcountry sites have, and it’s only a short walk from the parking lot, so it's also very accessible. When the tide is in you get to enjoy a sandy beach with a shallow bay that's perfect for swimming. When the tide is out it reveals a really neat intertidal area to explore! You also have options for camping since half of the campground is closer to the beach and exposed to the sunshine, but the other half is set back into a shady picturesque apple orchard. But my favourite thing about Shingle Bay by far, is that it has the best sunsets on all of Pender Island.