The Getaway
Saturna Island: The Most Underrated Gulf Island

Despite being close to Canada's third-largest metropolitan area, Vancouver, rustic Saturna Island has a faraway feel. The sparse population leans older, which is part of the island's special sauce. If you're desperate to unwind and ease up on the hectic pace of urban life, this is the destination for you. Grab a book and an ample supply of sunblock and soak up Saturna's under-the-radar charms and relatively tourist-free ambiance. Nature is the star attraction, and the outdoors beckon.

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01 Location and accessibility

Aerial of Saturna Island, Gulf Islands, BC, Canada

Saturna, a Southern Gulf Island, is located between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. Open up Google Maps, and you'll see how it skirts the border between Canada and the U.S. The island is mainly accessible via BC Ferries. You can take a ferry from Tsawwassen on the Mainland or Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island to Village Bay on Mayne Island, and connect from there. The latter reaches Lyall Harbour in 1 hour and 15 minutes non-stop. Saturna is also accessible via a daily floatplane service. If you've got a private vessel, you can moor at the public wharf next to the ferry dock.

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02 Island overview

Only 350 people live on Saturna Island's 12 square miles, and around half of the island is protected as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. If you're looking for a rural escape with rich biodiversity and pristine pockets of nature, you'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere more "off the beaten track." Still, Saturna is no stranger to people. Indigenous peoples have resided here for millennia, and the island is recognized as Tsawout and Tseycum territory. Spanish explorers arrived in the 18th century and named the island after the ship that discovered the Strait of Georgia. At East Point, you'll find a 146-hectare First Nations reserve.

East Point Park Saturna Island British Columbia Canada, March 30 2014: A father and daughter looking in a tide pool at the famous Canadian Heritage site. Ramon Cliff / Shutterstock.com

03 East Point Park

Lone white building with red roof in dry grassy field at East Point, Saturna Island, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

East Point Park, next to the East Point lighthouse, is a public space in Saturna's easternmost part. Here, you'll find some of the best lookouts for whale-watching. The Southern Resident orcas pass by biannually and get super close to the shore, but binoculars are always a good idea. You can also spot seals and other marine wildlife. Snap some pics of the remarkable sandstone sculpted by the waves over many years.

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04 Mount Warburton Pike

Mount Warburton Pike's 1,630-foot summit will treat you to stunning views of the patchwork of neighboring islands and the Olympic Peninsula. This peak is one of the tallest in the Gulf Islands. You can go the easy route and drive if you're not keen on hiking. Wild goats, the descendants of a long-abandoned dairy herd, roam these parts, while raptors take to the skies. Warburton Pike was an explorer, athlete, and writer. He died by suicide after failing to enlist for WW1 due to his relatively advanced age—he was only in his 50s.

05 Hiking and walking trails

The Brown Ridge trail on Mount Warburton Pike is steep and challenging, but pretty satisfying when it culminates in jaw-dropping views. The loop at Winter Cove is just under a mile long and won't require much effort from frequent hikers. Once you emerge from the woodland, you can frolic in the tidal pools. Lyall Creek Trail passes a waterfall, and during fall, you can see salmon spawning in the stream. There's also the moderate Narvaez Bay Trail and the more difficult Monarch Head Loop for all the fit and willing folks out there.

06 Kayaking and paddling

The public government wharf is next to the BC Ferries terminal. Canoeists and kayakers can launch from this spot and hug Saturna's coastline. Paddle to the bays between Winter Cove and Boot Cove, and you'll see marine wildlife from a new perspective. The waters here are sheltered and user-friendly. Check the weather, and research the currents and the risks they pose to paddlers with your skill level. If you're not careful, your kayak can capsize or encounter bigger waves than anticipated. For peace of mind, try a tour with Kayaking Skills or Ocean River.

A small yellow kayak at East Point, Saturna Island, Canada Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

07 Biking

Adventurous White Cacasusian Woman riding a bicycle on a road. Sunny Summer Sunset Art Render. Barnston Island, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Adventure Journey Concept

Biking on Saturna Island caters to different skill levels. It's a lovely experience because you get to ride next to the ocean for significant stretches, and the island's remoteness makes for quiet, safe paths. Bring your bike on the ferry or rent one from Saturna Cycle. Roads toggle between being paved and unpaved, and you might have to hop off the bike at certain junctures, but for the most part you can let your stress melt away as you whizz along rolling hills and breathe fresh saltwater air. Set off from the General Store and camp at Narvaez Bay.

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08 Bird watching

A single Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perched on top of a red and white striped post at a dock with plenty of blue sky background. Taken on Saturna Island, BC, Canada.

Approximately 172 species of birds can be spotted on Saturna Island. East Point will help you check some feathered cuties off your list. Some recent finds include Harlequin ducks, Iceland gulls, Brandt's cormorants, and chestnut-backed chickadees. Plus, did we mention that Brown Ridge Trail is Raptor Central? Look out for eagles, falcons, vultures, and other birds of prey while you're ascending Mount Warburton Pike.

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09 Saturna Island Heritage Centre

Saturna Island Heritage Centre, located in the historic Fog Alarm Building at East Point, has lots to share about the island's rich past and cultural heritage. The exhibits shed light on the community and the knowledgeable docent can answer any questions you may have about how the island has changed over time. The FAB is a Canadian Heritage Light Station with protected status to commemorate the country's maritime legacy.

10 First Nations heritage

First Nations peoples have hunted and gathered here for centuries and have a deep awareness of the flora and fauna. East Point used to be known as Tekteksen, which means "long nose" and refers to the pointy shape of the land. Indigenous individuals in these parts tend to be Coast Salish and Sencoten-speaking. The WSANEC people used a 13-moon calendar and harvested different foods. For example, during the spring moon, seaweed and cow parsnip were on the menu.

11 Local cuisine and dining

Saturna Lighthouse Pub is a sure bet for a pleasant evening. Come for the sunset views and stay for the fresh seafood and dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. The yummy halibut fish and chips, chicken wings, and mussels are popular choices. Vibrational Cafe has lighter, healthier options like smoothies and vegan flatbreads.

12 Accommodations

Saturna Lodge overlooking Boot Cove has comfortable amenities such as an outdoor hot tub and a business centre. For a surcharge, you can get a shuttle from the ferry terminal. A continental breakfast is included, and the lodge is pet-friendly. Bella Haven on Saturna is a 550 sq. ft. beach house that sits atop Lyall Harbor.

13 Seasonal activities and events

The Saturna Lamb BBQ on Canada Day dominates the calendar. This barbecue has been a local tradition since 1950 and continues as a fundraiser for the Saturna Island Community Club. Carnivores delight in the open fire cookout, but there's more to the event than the food. Crafts, kids' games, and live entertainment add to the festive atmosphere.

14 Conservation and sustainability

In the early 2000s, Ulla Ressner and John Fry turned over 19 acres of ecologically vulnerable land to the government for a national park, and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve does a relatively good job of caretaking. The Southern Gulf Islands' tourism website offers handy hints for travelers to reduce their carbon footprint and actively encourages visitors to make climate-friendly, regenerative choices. Pack light, skip flights, hitchhike on the island, and eat local, to begin with.

15 Getting around Saturna

You can carpool, cycle, and walk, or use some combination of these modes of transport. You won't be able to rely solely on your two feet, especially not if you're short on time or traveling went the weather is less predictable. There's no bus, so if you have to use your car, try and purchase carbon offsets to compensate for your vehicle's emissions.

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