Explore BC’s Famed Southern and Northern Gulf Islands by Boat
The Southern and Northern Gulf Islands are located just off the coast of Vancouver Island. Whether you’re looking for a family wilderness adventure or a bit of pampering at one of the many resorts, the Gulf Islands deliver. Because all the islands offer their own special welcome and slice of island life, you can’t go wrong with whichever destination you choose.
Planning a longer trip? You can easily cruise around the entire group of islands and islets starting from either the south or north set of Gulf Islands. Because of their mild Mediterranean climate and calm waters, all of the Gulf Islands are great to visit anytime. They’re the busiest from May-September when visitors flock to the endless stretch of sandy beach at Hornby Island’s Tribune Bay, or the lively market at Ganges Village on Saltspring Island.
For private moorage, try Cabbage Island or Wallace Island. These are located just between Saturna and Galiano Islands and boast their own white-sand beaches and incredible sunsets. A fantastic spot for a picnic and to snorkel and scuba, these tiny islands will have you feeling like you’re alone in the world. Read on for more about visiting the Gulf Islands.
Major Gulf Islands to Explore
Just 5 kilometres from Nanaimo’s harbour, Gabriola Island provides a great starting point for any Gulf Island exploration. With gorgeous beaches, warm water and a growing residential community, Gabriola is known as Isle of the Arts, offering annual studio tours and the opportunity to meet one on one with its many artisans. With great moorage and a variety of accommodations, you can easily settle in for a day or a week on this laid-back island.
Called the Gem of the Salish Sea, Galiano Island offers beaches created from sandstone galleries, hiking, whale watching, golfing and spa accommodations. Montague Marine Park is one of the oldest Provincial Parks in all the Gulf Islands and is still the most popular with its unique white shell beach. Montague Marina and Harbour is ideal for small craft with power and a fuel dock and is a good starting point for exploring all Galiano has to offer.
For access to all amenities and slips for boats up to 100 feet, Pender Island is the perfect place to moor. For excellent dining and a cozy sleep on land, book a stay at Poet’s Cove. At this 4-star resort, you’ll enjoy outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs, the Susurrus Spa, eucalyptus steam cave and your choice of cottage, villa or lodge room. Enjoy 5 freshwater lakes on North and South Pender Islands, fish for cod, flounder, snapper, salmon and trout, hit the links at the golf course, meander along gentle hills or hike up Mt. Daniel for rewarding views of the harbour.
Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island has become a world-class destination and a mecca for everything from artisans to luxury resorts. First developed on apple orchards and farming, Salt Spring offers a wide variety of activities, luxury accommodations, gorgeous beaches and top-quality farm to table organic food and wine. Visitors to Saltspring can moor at any one of its three marinas: Ganges, Musgrave Landing, or Salt Spring Marina. Salt Spring Island is also home to a large sailing club, so you’ll always be in good company.
Saturna Island offers boat launches at Lyall Harbour and Winter Cove. With a tiny population of 350 year-round residents and limited accommodations, it’s recommended to reserve your trip well in advance. Enjoy clear views of Mt. Baker, seal-watch at East Point Park, and relax in the sand at Thomson Park. A much more remote getaway that’s still mainly undeveloped, Saturna is an excellent spot to unwind.
Originally joined with Penelakut (Kuper) Island, Thetis become its own island when a shallow cut was dredged back in 1905 to allow boat traffic. Today, what’s known as “The Cut” is a stunning passage between the two islands, allowing access to popular Telegraph Harbour. If you’re going to be cruising through The Cut, it’s important to watch tides carefully in this shallow passage. With roughly the same population as Saturna, Thetis is home to a close-knit community, sandstone beaches and two marinas (Telegraph Harbour and Thetis Island Marina and Pub.)
10 minutes from Buckley Bay, Denman and Hornby Island provide some excellent island-hopping opportunities. The Denman Island Community Dock is a public wharf just down the hill from the main village, making it a great place to moor and restock supplies at the General Store, or grab a freshly baked treat from Irma’s Kitchen.
Hornby Island is decidedly more developed and has something for every member of the family. Sometimes called Canada’s Hawaii, it features long stretches of smooth sandy beaches and crystal-clear water for world-famous diving. Spend the day picnicking and playing on the warm sand, exploring the forest, practicing yoga with the locals and then wind down with a visit to Island Stars for some guided stargazing. Spend the night rocking in the gentle waves at Ford’s Cove or book a stay with one of the nearby resorts or B&B’s.
The largest of the Gulf Islands, Texada is known as “the rock” and is home to a full range of amenities including moorage at Sturt (Marble) Bay. Ideal for watching whales and dolphins from the shore, Texada is a naturalist’s paradise as well. Discover incredible archeological sites, see the waterfalls at Stromberg Falls, or hike around one (or two!) of the ten lakes on the island. You can also explore the secluded bays and coves of nearby Jedediah Island.
We live in an incredible area of the world, with limitless options for outdoor recreation, wildlife watching, fishing and more. Thinking about upgrading your boat before the new season begins? We offer a wide variety of new luxury Pursuit boats as well as pre-loved yachts and cruisers. Whether you’re looking for a yacht big enough to host a large party, or for a cozy getaway for two, our team at Van Isle Marina looks forward to helping you find the perfect boat for your next trip. Contact us via phone or web form to get started or come see us in sunny Sidney, BC.
*Please note some destinations have been intentionally left off the list due to Covid-19 visitor regulations. Because conditions and closures are set to change at any time, please check current Gulf Islands closures.