With the days becoming gloriously long, spring is a great time to explore the southern Gulf Islands. Not only are wildflowers like fawn lilies blooming, island life is still running at a languid pace before summer’s rush of visitors.
Getting to the Gulf Islands is also a laid-back affair. Board a BC Ferries vessel in Tsawwassen (near Vancouver) or Sidney (near Victoria) and consider the trip a mini scenic cruise. Since some of the runs stop at multiple islands, there’s plenty of time to get out on deck, inhale the salty air, and take a selfie with the ocean—and, if you’re lucky, some porpoises or orcas.
Which Gulf Island should you choose? While all are good bets for spring R & R, some offer more action than others. Here are some cool things to do on the five major islands.
Go to the market on Salt Spring Island
The busiest and most populous of the southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring (population: 10,500) is famous for its Saturday Market on the waterfront in Ganges. The 2017 season kicked off on April 1 and runs through October with local food and crafts. Keep an eye out for the delicious farmstead cheeses, and find the island’s famous lamb served at local restaurants.
Islanders have an active community calendar. The annual Round Salt Spring Sailing Race takes place from May 19 to 21, with up to 120 boats participating in the Saturday regatta event.
Make s’mores in style on Pender Island
If your idea of getting back to nature includes French press coffee and soaking in a cedar hot tub, WOODS on Pender has you covered.
Along with rustic cabins and motel rooms, accommodation options include seven sleek Airstreams and a Shasta Airflyte. Each comes with a double hammock, propane barbecue, and fire pit for that essential camping experience: roasting marshmallows.
Or head to the onsite restaurant, which serves everything from cinnamon bun French toast for breakfast to whiskey sours to toast the evening.
Hike and reap the rewards on Galiano Island
A 45-minute hike up an easy trail leads to a big payoff atop Mount Galiano. The panoramic view includes Mayne Island, the San Juan Islands, and on a clear day, the Olympic range in Washington state.
Back at sea level, reward your efforts with dinner at Pilgrimme. Named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants by enRoute magazine in 2015, this intimate spot serves up beautifully interpreted ingredients from Galiano’s rainforest, shoreline, and local growers.
Explore the past on Mayne Island
From the ferry in Active Pass, this island is easy to identify by its Instagrammable lighthouse. On shore, you’ll find a number of ways to explore Mayne Island’s rich history. The local First Nations foraged and fished from seasonal villages here for thousands of years, and Europeans flocked to Miners Bay during the mid-19th century gold rush.
You can learn more at the old community jail, which is now a museum. It’s open weekends from Victoria Day in May through Thanksgiving in October, and by appointment before then at 250-539-5286.
Afterwards, take a stroll through the tranquil Japanese garden, which is dedicated to the Japanese residents interned during World War II.
Kick back on Saturna Island
Looking for peace and quiet? This is your place. The most remote of the southern Gulf Islands, Saturna has a full-time population of just a few hundred residents. With nearly half of the island dedicated to parkland as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, there’s plenty of space to wander amid the wildflowers.