Sidney Spit is just one of several dozen wonderful parcels of land that comprise the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The properties are spread across a dozen islands, creating a compelling reason to hop throughout the southern Gulf Islands.
The national park reserve is also perfect for exploring by kayak, with many of the best locations accessible only by boat. The reserve also includes dozens of islets off-limits to visitors.
Cycling: If you plan an island-hopping trip through the Gulf Islands, consider leaving the car behind. The islands are great for cycling, although hilly in many areas, so expect a workout. A bike will help you avoid ferry lineups, which can involve multi-ferry waits during peak summer periods. The national park campsites on the main islands are not necessarily accessible by bicycle, though, such as Mount Norman/Beaumont on South Pender Island. It is walk-in or paddle-in only as the trail is too rugged for all but the most extreme bikers. In addition, places like Narvaez Bay are technically off-limits to bikes, even if ideal for bike camping.
Here is a listing of some of the properties that would be of special interest to explorers.
McDonald Campground: The Gulf Islands National Park reserve includes McDonald Park, located on the northwestern outskirts of the town of Sidney off Highway 17, just minutes from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. This is a convenient staging ground for trips of all types into the national park. There are 50 vehicle-accessible and six walk-in campsites.
D'Arcy Island: D’Arcy Island is a beautiful little island set off in a small cluster south of Sidney Island notable for having been home to a leper colony from 1890 to 1924. Fearing the spread of the disease, the City of VIctoria banished the lepers here, moving the colony to Bentinck Island off Sooke in 1924. Numerous relics of the colony dot the island, the most visible on the west shore where the crumbling foundation and walls of the caretaker’s residence remain. Trails round the island and cross it, linking the campsite on the east side of the island to the colony ruins on the west. The campground is tent pads and a group site dispersed in the forest behind the beach.
Portland Island: Portland Island was acquired by the province in 1958 and made a gift to Princess Margaret. In 1967 she returned it to B.C. as a park for Canada’s centennial year, so naturally it was named Princess Margaret Marine Park. It has since been transferred into the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. It is a pleasant mixture of protected coves, sandy beaches and a rich intertidal ecology popular with boaters and kayakers. Trails round the island and cross it. Camping is at Shell Beach, Arbutus Point and at the Princess Bay anchorage. There is no ferry service, limiting access to boaters and paddlers.
Roesland, North Pender Island: This national park property, purchased in 1996, encompasses the Roesland Resort, a destination popular in the 1920s. The previous owner still retains a small portion of the land within the park boundaries. Roe Islet, included in the parkland, is accessible by a footbridge and makes a pleasant stroll through old Douglas-fir. Numerous old buildings dot the Roesland property, mostly derelict cabins from the old resort, but also the 1908 Roes homestead, rebuilt for the Pender Island Museum. A new walk-in or paddle-in campsite is at Shingle Bay on the property's south end.
Monarch Head, Saturna Island (pictured): The view from the cliffs at Monarch Head on Saturna Island are probably the most fantastic within the national park. A short trail leads from a parking area near the top of the ridge line. A branch of the trail continues down to the camping area at Narvaez Bay as well as to a pretty headland trail alongside Echo Bay. Camping at Narvaez Bay is by paddle or foot only. Nearby is East Point, a great stroll on grassy headlands over former lighthouse grounds to view the turbulent currents offshore.