Get Island Hopping! The Best Gulf Islands to Visit from Vancouver Island!

There are so many things to look forward to when you’re visiting British Columbia. The bountiful natural beauty, quaint cities and towns, access to the ocean, and friendly people are just a few things. But one of the most unique aspects of this part of Canada is off the coast of Vancouver Island. Between Vancouver Island and the lower mainland British Columbia, in the Strait of Georgia (more commonly known by the First Nations name: the Salish Sea), there are many little islands known as the Gulf Islands. Not only does each Island have a different ‘personality’ with distinct communities, geography, accessibility, and population size, but collectively they have a unique Mediterranean climate and are intrinsically a part of the Canadian West Coast identity. While you’re staying on Vancouver Island, taking the opportunity to explore some of these islands, spend the day shopping and dining, soaking up the atmosphere and culture of these hidden gems is always a great idea. Choosing which Island to visit can be a daunting task though, which is why we’re here! We’ve created a list of the must-see islands, how to get there and what to do while you’re visiting! 

Salt Spring Island

By far the largest of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring is known as an alternative resort destination on the West Coast with a healthy blend of bohemian aesthetics and philosophies blended perfectly with high-end amenities and highly sought after experiences. While you’re on Salt Spring Island, there is so much to see and do – especially in the summer months! Whether you’re looking to do some shopping, cultural activities, outdoor recreation or find some R&R at the spa, it’s all here! We’ve made a list of our favourite spots on this gorgeous Island, and trust us, you’ll want to go more than once!

How to Get There: 

From Swartz Bay: If you’re staying at the top of the Saanich Peninsula at an EMR Sidney property, you can very easily get to Salt Spring via the Swartz Bay BC ferry terminal. Ferries to and from Salt Spring from Swartz Bay typically depart every two hours so you can go at any time of the day! It’s always a good idea to check the sailing times here. No need to pre-book your sailing, simply drive up to the terminal and purchase your ticket for the next sailing! From Crofton: If you’re staying in the Cowichan Valley at a stunning EMR home – it’s easy to get to Salt Spring! All you have to do is drive thirty minutes north to the little town of Crofton, where you’ll find a little ferry terminal ready to take you to Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring! Make sure to plan your trip accordingly and check sailing times here!

Pender Island

Pender Island itself is a misnomer, because this Island is actually two! North and South Pender Island are separated by a canal that was dredged in 1903 however they have been connected by a one lane bridge that was built in 1955 and still stands today. Unlike Salt Spring Island, Pender Island is a fairly quiet Island where you can easily find yourself one of the only people on a forest trail or enjoying a beach spotting the orcas – if you’re looking for some peace and quiet this is a great option! North Pender is known for the pristine natural ecosystems, friendly people and laid back vibe. Here, you can find activities like golfing, boat rentals, fishing charters, great dining, quaint shopping experiences and incredibly friendly people! Below, we have a handy list of our favourite things to do, places to see and food to eat when you’re on Pender! 

How to Get There:

From Swartz Bay: There is only one way to get to Pender Island from Vancouver Island, and that’s via the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. While the ferry terminal is just a stone’s throw away from the EMR Sidney properties, it’s an easy (and beautiful) half-hour drive from Victoria as well! If you’re staying at any EMR Victoria property, visiting the Gulf Islands for the day is absolutely possible! If you’re interested in Island hopping, there are many routes to other Gulf Islands from Otter Bay on North Pender Island! Check out all the Southern Gulf Island schedules here to plan your trip to North Pender! 

Galiano Island

This long, thin Gulf Island, named after the 18th century Spanish explorer who explored the West Coast of Canada in 1792 Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, it is equidistant between Vancouver’s Tsawwassen BC ferry terminal and Swartz Bay. Galiano is known as the wildest gulf island because of the mountainous geography and expansive forests and is a perfect getaway for amateure and expert botanists, as this island holds an abundance of rare, native plant populations. Plus if it’s raining on Vancouver Island, there is a good chance that the sun is shining on Galiano as it is one of the driest, sunniest Gulf Islands! With beautiful, peaceful beaches, incredible views of Mayne Island and Active Pass, wooded trails, artists’ studios, galleries and lovely marina, visitors will have no trouble finding things to do on this remarkable Island.

How to Get There: 

From Swartz Bay: Galiano Island can be accessed via the Swartz Bay ferry terminal from Vancouver Island. The Sturdies Bay terminal is also a stop on many routes to and from other Gulf Islands so if you’re interested in exploring more than one Island on your outing, you can! If you’re staying at an EMR property in Sooke or Metchosin, it might seem out of reach to make a day trip to a Gulf Island but in fact, you’re only an hour away from Swartz Bay ferry terminal! Whether you’re going straight to Galiano and back or if you want to do some Island hopping, make sure to check the schedule here before you go!

Gabriola Island

Just off the coast of Nanaimo, there is a fun, funky northern Gulf Island with a great upbeat vibe and an incredible art community called Gabriola Island. It’s a favourite Island for Vancouver Islanders to visit and is home to an active, friendly, permanent community who are proud of their home. Known as the Isle of the Arts, it has the highest per capita number of resident working artists and has a unique sense of community that you can really feel! If you’re interested in checking out local artists, simply look out for the yellow flags! If you see a yellow flag flying outside a home or at the end of a driveway, you know that the studio is open and the artist is there to greet guests! With white sand beaches, incredible sandstone bluffs, towering evergreens, an abundance of wildlife, fun farmers markets and a truly unique community of residents, Gabriola is a special place. 

How to Get There:

From Departure Bay: The only access from Vancouver Island to Gabriola is via the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo. So if you’re staying at an EMR Nanaimo or EMR Parksville & Qualicum Beach property you’re in luck because you’re at most, a twenty minute drive away! The crossing is a beautiful 20 minutes and absolutely worth it to spend a day exploring this special Gulf Island!