Tucked away at the southern end of the Gulf Island chain, and difficult to reach, Saturna Island is easily the least spoiled of the Gulf Islands. A remote and sparsely populated rural hideaway, with bountiful wildlife and tremendous natural beauty, Saturna Island features a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, kayaking, swimming and fishing.
Home to First Nations peoples for thousands of years, Saturna was explored by Spanish sailors and named in 1791 after their naval schooner, the Santa Saturnina, one of the ships in the Spanish expedition that discovered the Strait of Georgia.
Tourism is important to the livelihood and economic well-being of most of the Gulf Islands. Visitors to Saturna should plan ahead, as there are no campsites on the island and accommodations are limited, so lodging reservations are recommended. Much of the population of Saturna is centred around Lyall Harbour and Boot Cove, and a few homes are scattered throughout the island.
Nearly half of the newly created Gulf Islands National Park incorporates undeveloped wilderness land on Saturna Island. This park will be one of only two national parks in the Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands region – the Pacific Rim National Park being the other.
Location: Saturna Island is located in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC. Check the ferry schedules to Saturna Island, as the service is not as frequent as it is to other islands. There are no direct ferry sailings from Victoria or Vancouver to Saturna (Lyall Harbour). To reach Saturna from Tsawwassen ferry terminal south of Vancouver, catch a Gulf Islands ferry to Village Bay on Mayne Island, and from there connect to Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island. Access from Swartz Bay north of Victoria on Vancouver Island is also by way of Village Bay on Mayne Island. The ferry service varies with the season and the day of the week.
Saturna Lamb Barbeque: Saturna’s big social occasion – and the Gulf Islands’ most celebrated event – is the annual Lamb Barbeque, held annually on Canada Day (July 1, 10am to 4pm) at the ball field in Winter Cove Marine Park. Centred around a traditionally prepared lamb BBQ, the feasting and festive tradition began in 1949, and includes all-day events, carnival games and a beer garden with draft beer, cider and wine. Booths offer local crafts, a dart booth, a coconut shy for the kids, and a bingo table that runs for most of the day. The feature meal is local lamb barbecued over an open fire and carved onto your plate, coleslaw, Spanish rice and a bun. Coffee and cookies round out your meal. www.saturnalambbarbeque.com.
Visit the Saturna Island Vineyards, situated on a bench of land nestled between the waters of the Pacific and a magnificent soaring sandstone and granite cliff face on the south side of the island. The vineyards are bounded by picturesque Campbell farm and the newly designated parkland to the east, and Thomson Park and Saturna Beach to the west. There are sixty acres of vines under cultivation, which makes Saturna Island Vineyards one of the largest estate vineyard and winery operations in the province. The vineyard opened in 1999, and is easily accessed by road or by boat at Saturna Beach.
Saturna Outdoors: Saturna features scenic walks, awe-inspiring views, and easy access to beaches. Highlights include East Point Park and the sandy beach at Thomson Park.
The 497-metre (1,630 foot) summit of Mount Warburton Pike offers a panoramic view of the surrounding Gulf and San Juan Islands, to be shared with wild goats, soaring eagles, falcons and vultures. This is the trailhead of the Brown Ridge Trail to Taylor Point.
Boat Launches are located at Lyall Harbour and Winter Cove. The best swimming spots are located at Veruna Bay, Russell Reef, Thomson Park, East Point Regional Park, Lyall Harbour Beach and Narvaez Bay.
Canoeing & Kayaking: The government wharf next to BC Ferries’ terminal at Lyall Harbour is an ideal launching point for kayakers and canoeists who want to explore the bays and channels between Boot and Winter Cove. Explore tiny islets and magnificent sculptured sandstone cliffs – watch for seals, sea lions, and pods of killer whales.
Fishing: East Point Park is a good place to spin-cast for salmon that feed in back eddies created by the swirling currents.
Russell Reef offers rock shelves that can be explored at low tide, a pebble beach for swimming, and wildlife that includes seals, sea lions, sea otters and tidal marine life.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve: Significant portions of Saturna Island have been designated as protected areas by the Gulf Islands National Park to protect and preserve the unique environment of Saturna, including magnificent Narvaez Bay, with trails to Narvaez Bay, Echo Bay and Monarch Head, and Taylor Point Park, the historic site of a sandstone quarry and remnants of a heritage stone house.
Winter Cove Park (Gulf Islands NPR) is located on the northwest end of Saturna Island, only about a mile from the Lyall Harbour ferry dock. A nature-lover’s paradise, the 91-hectare park is situated in the most beautiful part of Saturna Island. Picnic tables are placed about an open, grassy field beside the cove, a sunny location in which to enjoy yourself. Winter Cove is a popular recreational area with swimming, fishing and kayaking being favourite pastimes. There are no camping facilities, and camping is prohibited in the park. A circular trail meanders through a coastal Douglas-fir forest carpeted with wildflowers in spring. Continue past a marsh, on to a rocky outcrop and out along the shoreline. Paddle to it from the federal dock, about 30 minutes one way, or follow East Cove and Winter Point Roads to reach it.
East Point Park (Gulf Islands NPR) is one of two public spaces on the island. Islanders lobbied hard in the past for the creation of this serene day park beside the East Point lighthouse. Depending on the height of the tides, you’ll find more or less of the shoreline revealed during your visit, just as, depending on the clouds, you’ll see more or less of Mount Baker’s magnificent snow cone rising above the eastern horizon. The lower the ocean, the more there is to explore here. Walk the weathered snout of East Point and discover the many colours revealed by erosion in the smooth-shaped limestone. Offshore, the curious eyes of harbour seals will follow you around. If you’ve brought a hand-carried boat, you can launch from the beach to explore the shoreline, but beware the tidal currents that churn through Tumbo Channel. To find the park, head south from the ferry dock at Saturna Point along East Point Road and follow it to its end.
To the west of Saturna are the Pender Islands, the second most populous of the southern Gulf Islands. While most people simply refer to Pender Island in the singular, there are in fact two islands, separated by a narrow canal and united by a bridge. Much of the land is green and rural, with a balmy sub-Mediterranean climate, seven parks, and over 20 clearly-marked public beach accesses.
North and west of Saturna is Mayne Island. Rolling orchards and warm rock-strewn beaches abound on Mayne Island, a rustic 21-square-kilometre island offering picturesque seascapes, pastoral farmlands, and rich west coast forest.
Island Hopping: Travelling between the Southern Gulf Islands and Northern Gulf Islands can be accomplished in small hops. Each of these islands is a world unto itself, each with its own history, culture and colourful characters – each island deserves at least a day or two for exploring.