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Gulf Islands, British Columbia

To see a few of our photos of Gulf Island favorites click here:  Gulf Islands photos.

British Columbia Gulf Islands.  The Canadian Gulf Islands are just across the border from the San Juans and also have some world class cruising.  There are many wonderful harbors, some very nice towns and marinas, and lots of easy cruising.  The newly formed Gulf Islands National Park Reserve encompasses a large portion of the Gulf Islands.  There are a few simple rules for crossing the border but nothing onerous or difficult.  Despite the occasional story to the contrary, we have never had a bad or difficult experience with immigration officials, either Canadian or U.S.  Our advice is simple.  Remember that they have a job to do with some very specific rules.  Try and make their life a little better and easier by knowing and obeying the rules and by being respectful and courteous.  (How hard is that?)  When the U.S. dollar loses value it can be expensive to stay at marinas and buy fuel or food and alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed in Canada so budget for some extra expenses.

The following list includes some of our favorite places in the Gulf Islands.  For a complete list of marine parks click here:  Marine Parks in British Columbia.  There are many destinations other than just the following small list.  That’s why we have been able to cruise the Gulf Islands for nearly 30 years and never be disappointed. 

Beaumont Provincial Marine Park. Beaumont Marine Park is located in Bedwell Harbor just a short hop across Boundary Pass from Stuart Island.  In bad weather the passage can be rough but that’s usually not the case in the summer.  Look out for ships going to and from Vancouver, B.C.  The Park is very nice and a good place to grab a buoy or anchor.  Its closed to shellfish gathering but there are nice campsites ashore and a healthy hike through the woods to the top of Mt. Norman.  Poets Cove Resort is in Bedwell Harbor with a marina and an immigration check-in during the summer.  Resrevations are suggested.  The resort has a very nice pool for guests, a very small store, a pub with good food and live music on weekends, and a fuel dock.  We like to stay at the park and then dinghy over to the Resort to have a cold beer, explore the beach, and look at the fancy boats in the marina.

Cabbage Island Provincial Marine Park.  This one is a little tougher choice for a favorite.  Its a very small island with eight mooring buoys and extremely limited anchorage in Reef Harbor.  Entry and exit to the buoys and Reef Harbor requires careful navigation and steering because the entry is lined by reefs on both sides for considerable distance.  The harbor is exposed to the prevailing winds from the northwest and waves and swells coming down the Strait of Georgia.  We have been here on a buoy during high winds and it’s bumpy and unpleasant.  However, in calm and fair weather this is a nice spot, close to the San Juan Islands, with wonderful tide pools at low tide and good clamming and oyster gathering when the season is open.  There is a small sandy beach and some primitive campsites.  If the buoys are all taken its possible to anchor on the southeast side of Tumbo Island and go ashore from there but this should only be considered a fair weather anchorage, for experienced cruisers.

Chemainus.  Chemainus is a nice little town on Vancouver Island with a new (but somewhat small) marina.  It is a popular stop so expect it to be crowded.  Reservations are advised.  The marina is right next to a ship loading terminal so it may be noisy.  However, the town is famous for its murals and outdoor events during the summer.  Its a short walk from the marina to a large waterfront park with shade trees, picnic tables, and a gently inclined beach for wading or swimming.  There are numerous public buoys at the park but no dock for moorage or dinghies.  The mooring field is totally exposed to wind and waves from the north so it will be bumpy if the wind comes up.  The small ferry runs from Chemainus to Thetis Island so a good way to visit Chemainus is to anchor or dock at Telegraph Harbor and walk to the ferry for the ride across Stuart Channel.

Ganges.  Ganges is a community located on Saltspring Island.  The town has grown a great deal in the past 15 years and it now features full scale shopping for groceries, hardware supplies, boating supplies, all manner of gifts, and many restaurants and other eateries.  On weekends during the summer months Ganges is very busy.  There are three public docks.  The first (Ganges Centennial Marina) is located to port as you approach the town, behind a rock breakwater, with entry off a shoaling bay.  This is usually very full with many commercial vessels.  As you enter straight into the main harbor, the outer dock (Coast Guard dock or “breakwater” dock) is the smaller of the two public docks that are ahead and to port as you enter the harbor. The larger of the two is named Kanaka Public Visitors Dock.  Both of these are also usually very busy during the summer.  They offer good moorage at a reasonable price, without power.  There are also two private marinas,  Ganges Marina and Saltspring Marina.  Saltspring Marina is at the north end of the harbor and is a longer walk into town.  There is ample room to anchor but it is exposed to all south winds and a long fetch, which can blow substantially even during the summer.  Expect to find many boats anchored.  Floatplanes come and go constantly during the day and taxi to and from from the “breakwater” dock.  Do not anchor in the float plane taxi area.  The town is fun to visit but it is busy and noisy.  On weekends there is an excellent “farmers” market.  As you approach and leave Ganges watch carefully for the many crab traps and their floats that lie in the bay.  Be especially careful if proceeding in windy conditions as the waves will make it difficult to spot the crab trap floats.

Genoa Bay.  Genoa Bay is a pretty spot on the north side of the entry to Cowichan Bay.  There is good anchorage in the bay (but somewhat exposed to the SE) and a small and friendly marina.  The Genoa Bay Marina has an excellent cafe and a Gallery with nice arts and crafts.  There is ample transient moorage but this is a popular spot so its best to make reservations.

Maple Bay Marina.  This is a very sheltered marina located north of Sydney, along the north reaches of Samsum Narrows.  When going to or from Maple Bay you should try to use the current (2-3 knots) to your advantage.  The marina is very nice, with many recent upgrades and improvements.  The upland areas are immaculate and the restaurant has good food and service.  There is a free shuttle to the town of Duncan for shopping and exploring.  There are showers, laundry facilities, recycling and garbage disposal, and a covered picnic area for group fun.  Maple Bay Marina is one of the nice places in the Gulf Islands and a highly recommended stop.  Its a beautiful location, with access to town and the peace and quiet we all appreciate.

Montague Harbor Provincial Park.  Another nice provincial park with lots of buoys and a small private marina west of the park.  The harbor is protected and large with lots of room to anchor.  The park has nice beaches and nice camping facilities.  There is a dock for boats under 12 meters with lots of room for dinghys.  Adults can take the free bus to the pub a few miles away and enjoy good food, beer, and live music.  At low tide there are tide-pools to explore and lots of room for your dog to run and play in the woods or on the beaches.  You really can’t go wrong by stopping at Montague Harbor.  Its safe, easy & fun.  Public buoys in Montague Harbor have increased in price to $12.00 per night.  If its too crowded in the main harbor settled weather anchorage is possible off the beach on the north side of the park.  However, only anchor here is there will be no winds from the north.

Nanaimo.  Nanaimo is “the big city” with numerous marinas and several yacht clubs with reciprocal moorage.  Arrive by boat from the Strait of Georgia or via Dodd Narrows.  The city is just across the bay from Newcastle Island Marine Park.  Nanaimo is a convenient layover for the trip across Georgia Strait to the Sunshine Coast, Princess Louisa, Desolation Sound, and points further north.  The city marina has long parallel fingers and if the wind is blowing it can be tricky to navigate the relatively narrow fairways to tie to the dock.  If conditions warrant, ask for help when you call in for a slip assignment.  The sounds of the city are very present here so its not quiet and peaceful.  Nanaimo has a customs check-in point and is a great place to get provisions.  The supermarket is a short walk from the docks.  We often spend a night at the marina, get food, beer, and other supplies, then motor over to Newcastle Island if we need to wait a day or two for fair winds to cross Georgia Strait.  During our stay in 2010 we noticed numerous signs warning of break-ins, thefts, and vandalism on boats in Nanaimo.  We also noticed increased security gates in the Nanaimo Boat Basin and uniformed security guards.  Keep this in mind when you leave your boat unattended.  Lock valuables below before leaving.

Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park in Nanaimo Harbor.  This is one of our perennial favorites.  You must go all the way north in the Gulf Islands and through Dodd Narrows (ONLY AT SLACK WATER ! ) to get here but its worth it.  The harbor at the park can get very crowded but there’s lots of dock space and moorage is usually available on weekdays.  It will be crowded on the weekends.  Newcastle Island is a very large park with long trails through the woods, lots of interesting history, and easy access to Nanaimo.  There’s a small passenger ferry that goes back and forth constantly.  It makes a nice day trip for ice cream and beer and other provisions.  If you have kids or a dog Newcastle Island is a great spot.  You can take your dinghy to the pub on Protection Island for a good dinner and draft beer.  The restrooms have been rebuilt, with expenditure of $400,000.00.  This seems like a lot of money for two restrooms with showers but they are very nice, clean and spacious.  The old restrooms were dingy so its a big improvement.  Newcastle Island is still an excellent spot to visit.  The town of Nanaimo has finally taken steps to remove derelict “live aboard” vessels anchored or tied to private “buoys”.  Several still remain but there is now more room to safely anchor.  We always enjoy Newcastle Island and invariably end up staying longer than planned.  In 2011 the harbour and anchorage received substantial improvement in the form of over 50 new mooring buoys.  These are neatly aligned, limited to 40′ boat length.  Cost is $12.00 per night.  This eliminates anchoring in a large area but protects the eel grass on the bottom and prevents the problem of dragging anchor in the winds that can sweep in from Georgia Strait.  The buoys are a great alternative to staying at the docks, which are inefficiently managed with boats tied up in such a way as to make access in and out extremely difficult or impossible.  The new buoys are a wonderful addition to a crown jewel provincial park.

Oak Bay.  Oak Bay is a residential suburb of Victoria.  Entry to the marina requires care and attention.  There are rocks and reefs in the approach so be sure you know where you are as you transit between the buoys.  There is limited room to anchor in the bay among the numerous private buoys.  We like to stay at the Oak Bay Marina and then walk up to the small business district for groceries and other supplies.  You can take the bus into Victoria and avoid the trip around Trial Island into the busy Victoria harbor.

Pirates Cove Provincial Marine Park.  This park has a small bay on the north side for anchoring with a tricky entrance that demands full attention.  Use your chart and guide book to enter, preferably on a flood tide near high tide.  GO SLOW.  Keep the beacon that marks the end of the reef well clear on your port side as you enter and keep the red buoy to starboard..  You will need to anchor and shore tie because this place gets crowded. The private marina (for island residents) takes up a good bit of room in the bay.   Instead of anchoring in the small north bay, in settled weather there is good anchorage off the beach on the south side of the park.  The water is warm enough for comfortable swimming.  Additional anchorage is possible in nearby Herring Bay.  This bay lies at the northwest end of Ruxton Island.  Its best to enter Herring Bay from the north.  There is an uncharted rock lying in the west entrance to Herring Bay.  Its there, we have seen it, and we have seen it grab a large sailboat!  The anchorage in the south bay is exposed to south winds but offers good shelter in the prevailing NW winds.  The beach is very pretty, sandy, with lots of driftwood.  There are new (much nicer) outhouses and the old manual fresh water pump still works great.

Preedy Harbor.  Preedy Harbor is located on the west side of Thetis Island, next to the ferry terminal and a short walk along the paved road to Telegraph Harbor.  It’s well protected from northwest winds with lots of room to anchor and very scenic.  It’s a quiet and peaceful alternative to the hustle and bustle of Telegraph Harbor but the ferry comes and goes regularly during the day (1.5 hour intervals).  There is a public float to land your dinghy and a great spot nearby for swimming when the weather is warm.  The ferry ride to Chemainus is short and the trip is a great way to spend a day off the boat.  The beach is sand and pebbles but the upland areas are private.  There is a beautiful view of the Capernwray Harbour Bible School and Conference Centre on the shore and uplands just north of the ferry terminal.  It is very pretty.

Portland Island & Princess Margaret Marine Park.  Because of easy access from nearby Sydney, Portland Island gets crowded on weekends.  However, its a beautiful park with lots of trails through the woods and over the beaches.  The small cove on the south side gets full but you can anchor (with reasonable skill) and take a shore tie to one of the steel rings in the rocks on shore.  There is a dinghy dock.  Royal Cove on the north east portion of the island is a good anchorage that also has steel rings for shore ties.  However, it is open to ferry wash from the big B.C ferries that pass by to the north so be prepared to rock and roll during the day.  It can be a bit uncomfortable.  We like Portland Island but we try to visit on Tuesday or Wednesday when it is less crowded.

Silva Bay.  Silva Bay lies on the east side of Gabriola Island just north of Gabriola Passage.  Silva Bay has good anchorage but if the wind blows hard in Georgia Strait it will get rowdy in Silva Bay.  When entering, give a wide berth to “Shipyard Rock” and keep the beacon on your port side.  GIVE IT PLENTY OF SPACE.  There are two marinas.  Silva Bay Marina and Resort (with recently new docks and remodeled facilities) and Page’s Resort and Marina.  Silva Bay is a popular stop for boats headed north and south in Georgia Strait.  Call for reservations during the summer.  Silva Bay can be difficult in windy weather.  Even though there is little fetch, the wind can whip through the bay.  The bay is often very crowded with anchored boats.  According to locals, the efforts in Vancouver and Nanaimo to eliminate derelict “live aboard” boats has resulted in increased numbers in Silva Bay and nearby Degnan Bay.  On summer weekends expect Silva Bay to be crowded.

Sydney Spit Marine Park.  This is a very popular park just a few miles from the town of Sydney.  There is a small passenger ferry that goes back and forth to town.  The Park has a decent size dock suitable for smaller craft (under 30′).  There are numerous buoys and lots of room to anchor but the mooring area is inside of a shallow sand bar that must be navigated carefully.  The chart for the area accurately shows the best way in and out.  There are beautiful beaches, trails through the woods and excellent crabbing.  Something about the white sand beaches draws us back to Sydney Spit time and again.  However, if you are looking for peace and quiet this is not the place.  Planes going to and from Sydney fly over and there will be lots of other boats during the summer.  You may see some gorgeous sunsets and the lights of the city twinkle from across the bay.  If you have a British Columbia fishing license do some crabbing while you are here.  Its an excellent spot to catch crab.

Port Browning.  One of our old favorites that feel from grace because of serious maintenance problems is back in favor.  Port Browning Marina has new management and very significant improvements.  The restrooms are completely new, the office and small store is re-opened, the pool is repaired and upgraded and clean and nice, and the grounds are cleaned up.  We had a very good dinner at the PUB for $30.00 (including the $2.00 beers.)  The docks are in fair shape but very usable.  Moorage is $1.25 per foot and power is $5.25 (20Amp) and $8.00 (30Amp).  There is limited water on the docks (not for boat washing).  The Marina staff are friendly and helpful.  Port Browning has a nice beach and good anchorage if you don’t want to pay to be at the Marina.  The walk to shopping is short and the stores are great for provisioning.  If you and all your crew have NEXUS permits you can use Port Browning Marina as a port of entry.  Call NEXUS at least 30 minutes before arrival for an appointment.  Call the Port Browning Marina for a slip assignment by cell phone or on VHF 66A.  We are happy to be able to list Port Browning as one of our “favorites” once again.   Port Browning is a NEXUS check in harbor.  If you use NEXUS to check in at Port Browning you will be instructed to arrive at a specific time and wait 5 minutes for an officer.  However, if you actually tie up at the Marina you may be asked to pay a $15.00 “landing fee”.  Alternatively, you can simply approach the marina and stay close to see if the officer shows up.  If not, you are free to proceed.  (The “landing fee” is charged to prevent persons from tying up at the marina then staying for hours while exploring the surroundings or going shopping at the nearby stores.)

Telegraph Harbour.  Telegraph Harbour indents Thetis Island from the south.  There are two marinas and space to anchor.  However, float planes arrive and depart continuously during the day and it will be crowded during the summer.  On the west side of the Harbor is the Thetis Island Marina and at the head of the harbor is the Telegraph Harbour Marina.  Both are popular and nice.  You can walk to the Chemainus ferry for a short ride across to the town of Chemainus.  For kids, the Telegraph Harbor Marina may be a better choice because there is more room to roam and play ashore.  Adults may prefer the Thetis Island Marina for the Pub and liquor store.

Victoria.  If you have time to visit Victoria it’s worth the effort.  Victoria is a beautiful city with excellent marinas, restaurants, and a world class museum.  Docking in front of the famous Empress Hotel is a treat.  The inner harbour waterfront area is full of entertainment by street musicians and performers.  This is a big city so lock your boat and don’t leave valuables lying around.  When you enter or leave the harbour obey the speed limit and stay outside of the float plane landing area.  The channel is clearly marked by buoys and patrolled.

Wallace Island Provincial Marine Park.  This is a nice island with lots of room to roam ashore.  However, the two harbors are small and will be crowded during the summer season.  You will have to anchor and stern tie to shore because there is very limited space to swing.  Try to arrive on a weekday late in the morning or just after lunch to get a good spot to anchor in the north harbor, Princess Cove.  The south harbor, Conover Cove is quite small and shallow so its best for smaller boats.  If you are not experienced at anchoring and shore tying and comfortable being in a tight spot, Wallace Island is probably not a good choice.  .