A couple years ago my sister moved to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands that lie between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The Gulf Islands are a short ferry ride away but have a totally different climate zone (think warmer and drier) than Vancouver thanks to the rain shadow effect. That means that Galiano is a great place to explore year round and you’ll have it mostly to yourself when the summer crowds are gone. It’s possible to head to the island as a day trip from Vancouver or Victoria, but spending a few nights there is really the way to experience it since there is a fair amount to see. Here are some outdoor adventure suggestions to get you started.
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Hiking at Montague Harbour Provincial Park
The hike around the Gray Peninsula in Montague Harbour Provincial Park is the easiest and most laid-back hike on Galiano. It is also the prettiest. The hike starts and finishes at the main picnic area parking lot and loops around the headlands and beaches of the Gray peninsula. If the tide is out you can forgo the trail almost entirely and walk on the beaches.
This shorter trail is only 2km long but can take up to an hour to walk as you’ll want to stop along the way to snap photos and take in the views of Montague Harbour, nearby Parker Island, and Saltspring Island across the channel. I also have it on good authority (from my sister) that this is the best place on the island to watch the sunset. I have to agree: it was spectacular.
Hiking the Bodega Ridge Trail
This trail isn’t by the ocean. Instead you’ll spend the whole hike walking along the spine of Galiano Island in Bodega Ridge Provincial Park. The trail follows the ridge top from southern the trailhead at the end of Cottage Way north to another trailhead on Manastee Road near the Bodega Ridge resort, a total distance of about 8km but reportedly the northern section is a bit overgrown and has no views. Therefore the best way to do this hike is to do a quick out and back hike from the Cottage way trailhead, covering about 5km total distance. After a short stretch of hiking in the trees for about half a kilometer you’ll emerge at the cliff edge with panoramic views to the west across to Wallace Island, Saltspring Island and the mountains of Vancouver Island.
The path follows the cliff for another couple of kilometers, ducking in and out of groves of arbutus trees and manzanita bushes as you get more views to the north as well. Turn around whenever you’ve had enough, or when the trail starts to go sharply downhill.
Hiking to the Summit of Mount Galiano
Fittingly the highest point on Galiano Island is Mount Galiano, standing tall at a whole 311 meters high! The hike up to the top follows locally maintained trails and some forest roads and has nothing special to see, but that’s not why you hike here. You hike here for the spectacular view! You emerge from the trees onto an open bluff with a little grove of Garry Oaks and an incredible view down to the ferries doing tight turns to get through Active Pass.
It’s a great spot to bring a picnic lunch. The hike is about 6km round trip and gains about 250m in elevation so it’s a steady climb uphill but never exceptionally steep. There are four different trailheads but they all meet up and share the same trail to the top and all junctions have little laminated signs. I like the Alistair Ross trail from Georgeson Road since it has the easiest parking and it isn’t too steep.
Biking the Length of the Island
All of the Gulf Islands are a road cyclists dream: good pavement, little traffic and lots of good views. The only downsides are the hills (so many little hills) and the lack of shoulder. But if you are in reasonable shape, you’ll do fine. Since Galiano is a long and narrow island the only logical route is to cycle from the ferry terminal in the south to the end of the paved road in the north, and then back, covering about 50 scenic kilometers along the way. On the weekends you can probably time the morning and early evening ferries so that you can do this as a day trip and avoid bringing your car but it’s also a great outing if you are staying the night on the island. The nicest biking on Galiano is the 10 or so kilometers at the northern end of the island which are mostly flat and often have views of the ocean.
There are a couple of great places to stop along the way including a few marked beach access trails down to pocket coves, the Lover’s Leap roadside viewpoint, a cairn marking the 49th parallel and the Tapovan Sri Chinmoy Peace Park which has walking trails and an outhouse (the only public washroom on the route).
These are just some of the most popular outdoor adventures on Galiano – my sister tells me there are many more so I’ll just have to go back and see. Have you hiked on the Gulf Islands? Tell me about it in the comments.
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