The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve was established in 2003 and encompasses 15 islands and many islets and reefs. Graced by a Mediterranean climate, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is the 40th national park in a system of 43 across Canada situated in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.
Each island, including North and South Pender, Saturna and Mayne, provides its own unique experience for visitors throughout the almost 9,000 acre park with peaceful, panoramic water views and stunning natural scenery.
What To Do at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
Whale watching: Head out to Mayne or Saturna island for a few hours of whale watching. Bring along a picnic to enjoy or just relax near the water where you can survey the area. These islands are ideal for catching glimpses of the wildlife, including sea lions, birds and whales. In the waters surrounding the islands, orcas, grey, humpback and minke whales swim around and provide you with exciting visuals when they come above water. Your other option is take a charter tour from Salt Spring, Galiano or Pender Islands served by OutDoor Visions Marine Safaris.
Kayaking: Spending time on the water is a must when visiting Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. A great way to do that while getting in some physical activity is to head to Cabbage Island or Portland Island and hire a kayak (or canoe) to glide around and witness nature while paddling about; we recommend Pender Island Kayak Adventures (PIKA), which offers quality sea kayak tours, rentals and lessons in the waters around the North and South Pender Islands. Not only will you have a blast, but it gives you a chance to take a break from the fast pace of living and simply float along for a while.
Geocaching: Adventure seekers will love geocaching. Geocaching is an interactive treasure hunt using GPS, and it’s a perfect way to have a ton of fun and explore the park. You can participate in a program or choose a self-guided trip around the islands’ best natural and cultural locations. Geocaching is sure to take you to places on the islands you might not have otherwise investigated. There are two geocaching loops that take you on a guided hunt around the islands. The Gulf Islands Survivor Challenge is a family friendly, laid back treasure hunt spread throughout the park. The first cache location is provided and then you must follow a series of clues to find the remaining caches. The Top Ten is a more strenuous treasure hunt for adventure seekers who love to “choose their own adventure.” Caches are not listed in a particular order, so it’s up to you to create a route to find them all.
Hiking: Another fantastic way to explore the park is to take a hike. Gulf Islands National Park Reserve features a variety of options for day hikes and walks that are perfect for people of all ages and abilities. You can choose from shoreline trails along the beaches, uphill climbs to panoramic views or forest hikes to get closer to nature. On South Pender Island, you can get some outdoor exercise hiking up Mount Norman, where you’ll be greeted at the top by 360 degree views of the park in all its glory.
Visiting the beach: Whether you’re looking to lounge out and soak up some vitamin D or splash around in the ocean, visiting the beaches of Gulf Island National Park Reserve is a terrific way to spend the day. Build sandcastles and create flowing stories about the royalty that live in them at Sidney Spit or hear the sea lions bark at East Point. Even though the water can be chilly, swimming is popular at the park, especially during the toasty summer months.
Cycling: For other exercise enthusiasts, Gulf Island National Park Reserve offers an array of options for cycling tours. Mayne Island is the best option for cycling due to the shorter road networks. Take a bike tour of the whole island and discover interesting stops along the way. North and South Pender Island and Saturna boast hilly, winding roads making for a more challenging yet exciting ride with beautiful scenery as you go by. Traveling on the ferry is easy with a bike so it’s not a problem to move between islands with ease; for additional info visit here or here.
Enjoying cultural experiences: Head over to Russell Island and wander through the forest trails to a Hawaiian Homestead. During the summer in the afternoons and evenings, descendants of original settlers paint pictures with stories of their ancestors’ lives on the island. You can also visit the Pender Island Museum or the Fog Alarm Building at East Point to interact with island locals and hear all about the history and culture of the islands.