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Guide to Galiano Island: BC’s Outdoor Adventure Playground

Active, outdoorsy Galiano Island is the closest of the Gulf Islands to Vancouver and sees the most day trip traffic. Not your typical day trippers, though – lots of hikers, bikers, paddlers, fisherfolk and others interested in some of the many adventure sports on offer. Although there are only around 1,000 permanent residents on Galiano Island, plenty of visitors make their way over from the mainland and other islands to enjoy the scenery and natural attractions.

Long (27 km), narrow (6 km), hilly, covered in thick forest and surrounded by unique sandstone coastline, Galiano Island has over 50 public access points to the sea (more than most in the Gulf Islands) and is a great place to enjoy nature away from the city.

Rocky beach with driftwood on Galiano Island

Wildlife is still very prominent on Galiano Island, especially in the water where you can usually find seals, otters and dozens of varieties of marine birds (not to mention the occasional pod of orcas or dolphins).

Person sitting on rocky shore on Galiano Island

Despite the lack of any large towns, Galiano struck us as noticeably busier than the other Gulf Islands, probably because of its proximity to Vancouver, which makes it the fastest and easiest to reach. Now, of course, “busier” is very relative on the islands outside of mid-summer, as we were able to check out all the top highlights and hikes around the island without ever seeing more than a handful of other tourists at any given time.

Cute market on Galiano Island BC
Galiano Market

The scenery on Galiano Island is spectacular from pretty much any angle, with the northern and eastern coasts offering up views of the mainland mountains and the western and southern coasts overlooking a number of other islands, including Salt Spring Island, Valdes Island and Mayne Island.

Hiking in tall trees on Galiano Island

Galiano Island was originally used as a summer fishing colony by the Penelakut First Nation and other Coast Salish indigenous tribes before being settled by Europeans in the 19th century. It is named for Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, a Spanish explorer who explored the Gulf Islands in 1792.

Also check out:

Gulf Islands BC: The Ultimate Planning Guide

The Perfect Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Where is Galiano Island?

This long, narrow and hilly island is located in the Salish Sea, tucked between mainland Vancouver and the rest of the Southern Gulf Islands. It is the first stop out of Vancouver for ferries heading to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Shoreline iwth driftwood and tall trees

Galiano Island Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

Outstanding Things to Do on Galiano Island

Although it is obviously an outdoor paradise, there are also a lot of other great things to do on Galiano Island that appeal to all types.

Tour the Island by Bike, E-Bike or Moped

On two wheels is terrific way to tour Galiano Island in order to fully enjoy its natural highlights and many people bring their own bike across on the ferry to spend the day exploring. The roads are a bit narrow and there are some blind hills and corners, so you need to use caution, but for the most part Galiano Island is a great place for biking.

Biker on narrow road

Road bikes are fine for most of the roads but if you want the freedom to check out some of the smaller gravel connector roads or dirt trails to the beaches you are better off with a mountain bike or fatbike.

To cover more ground and/or save energy, you can head to Montague Harbour and rent an ebike or scooter/moped from Galiano Adventures. They rent single and double mopeds for 2 hrs / 8 hrs / overnight.

Scooters for rent

Ebikes can be rented for half/full days or overnight as well. They also offer free pickups and drop-offs (as long as you’re staying on the south part of the island) and have detailed info on trails and suggested routes.

Explore the Beaches

Galiano has a handful of rocky, scenic beaches, plus many more water access points that can only generously be called beaches but are still great places to explore and hang out.

Beach and trees

Montague Harbour Marine Park,on the west coast,has a nice, sandy beach. Down in the southeast corner, not far from Sturdies Bay, you’ll find Cain Beach, while farther up the east coast you can also check out Morning Beach and Pebble Beach, with its fascinating tide pools (at low tide).

Person on swing on beach
Swings on Cain Beach

Georgeson Bay also offers some good swimming areas on the south end of the island. To help make your decision, check out this handy map showing all the water access points on Galiano Island.

Beach access sign

Stock Up at the Galiano Farmer’s Market

Across the Gulf Islands, Saturday Farmer’s Markets serve as social and commercial focal points. On Galiano Island, from 10 am – 2 pm every Saturday from April until the end of September you can check out their bustling market featuring everything from produce and baked goods to seafood and local arts and crafts. It is located in Lions Club Park on Burrill Road.

Galiano Island farm stand selling plants
A roadside farm stand

Even if you aren’t around for the market, there are also several local farms that sell products throughout the week. One of the most popular choices is Cable Bay Farm, near Pebble Beach.

Get Out on the Water

A large number of Galiano day trippers arrive hoping to get out on the water in some way, shape or form. Featuring unique sandstone coastline, surrounded by fantastic islands and with amazing mountain scenery in the distance, touring with a kayak, canoe, boat or SUP is the perfect way to enjoy the area. Any of those options will provide a good chance of spotting whales, seals, sea lions and otters, along with the serenity of a gorgeous ocean scene.

Kayaks at dock on Galiano Island

Gulf Island Kayaking is a family business that has been operating on Galiano Island since 1985, making them one of the oldest sea kayak outfitters in BC. We had a long chat with the owner, Ben, who is full of great tips for visiting the island.

Kayak tour leader

They are located in Montague Harbour Marina and offer a wide range of equipment rentals and guided kayak tours. Rentals start at 2 hours and can extend for multiple days, while their guided half and full day kayak excursions are popular and come highly recommended.

Or perhaps you like the idea of covering more ground and not working up a sweat. Galiano Adventures rents out 17ft Hourston Glascraft 70 HP outboards for 3 to 8 hours for anyone with a drivers license and previous boating experience.

Explore Bellhouse Provincial Park

This grassy hill within walking distance of the Sturdies Bay Marina features some fascinating limestone formations, was named for the very first innkeepers on Galiano Island and offers some of the best viewpoints over Active Pass. Whether you’re watching the regular ferry traffic passing back and forth, the occasional pod of Orcas that frequent the area in certain seasons or just enjoying the scenery, Bellhouse Park is well worth a stop.

Rocky shore line on Galiano Island Bellhouse park

Once at the shoreline head to the right to find some interesting rocks.

Head Out on a Hike

Galiano Island hiking is justifiably popular and there are over 75 kilometres of beautiful forest and coastal trails scattered around the island. The Galiano Trails Society was created specifically to promote and improve hiking on Galiano Island and their website features a variety of hiking maps. If you happen to be around the last Sunday of every month you can join them at 1 pm on one of their trail building projects.

The Galiano trail options are practically endless, but here are some of our picks for best hikes on Galiano Island.

Mount Galiano Trail

6 km / 2 hrs / 300m elevation gain

Despite leading to the highest point on the island, the trail to Mount Galiano is not overly strenuous, leading through a forest of cedars and Douglas firs past plenty of wildlife including falcons and eagles. The views from the top are stupendous.

AllTrails Map

Bodega Ridge Hike

8 km / 3 hrs / 250m

AllTrails map

This fantastic trail offers stunning views west across Wallace Island, Secretary Island and Salt Spring Island to the mountains of central Vancouver Island.

Hiker on trail on Galiano Island

Unlike the Mount Galiano Trail, the Bodega Ridge hike has open views almost the entire way and it is easy to shorten it to just 4 km (return) by turning around at one of the best viewpoints around the halfway mark.

View of other gulf islands

Pebble Beach Loop

3 km / 1 hr / 80m

AllTrails Map

This relatively flat and easy loop goes through a nice mix of terrain, from Douglas Fir forest to some truly memorable coastline. Try to time your visit for low tide so you can explore the tide pools.

Check Out the Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park

We’ve already mentioned Montague Harbour as a place to hang out at the beach or rent an ebike or kayak. Well, there’s more! It is also a popular yachting harbour and famous for having some of the best sunsets in the Gulf Islands. Plus, the entire park covers 89 hectares, so obviously there is plenty more to see.

Driftwood and rocky beach on Galiano Island

First off, it is a renowned bird watching park any time of year, and particularly in winter when large flocks of migratory birds drop in. There are white shell beaches, atmospheric forests, unique tide pools and even a fair bit of history. In Montague Harbour Park, you can visit a number of indigenous shell middens formed from centuries of harvesting.

Walker on white shell beach on Galiano Island
The white shell beach

Over time, the shells have been slowly being crushed by waves to create the current beaches. Spearheads, arrows and carvings have been discovered dating back as far as 3,000 years.

Meanwhile, you can hike the short (2 km) Gray Peninsula Loop from the campground to a stunning and unique rippled rock formation formed by ancient glaciers.

Person hiking beside ocean on Galiano Island
On the Grey Peninsula loop trail

Find the Galiano Island Caves

Some of the most impressive and memorable sights on Galiano Island are these bizarre sandstone cave galleries and rock formations that have been created by centuries of erosion.

Person sitting in Galiano Island caves

The Galiano caves are technically located below private property but you can still visit as long as you stay below the high tide line. Drive to the end of Retreat Cove Road, then follow the faint (but marked) trail down beside the dock (avoiding the private property to the left) then make your way over the rocks around the point to the galleries.

Person walking down to ocean beside dock

Be aware that the rocks can be slippery even when they look dry so use caution.

Rocky shore line on Galiano Island

Check out the Views from Bluffs Park

For even more – and possibly even better – Active Pass views, head to Bluffs Nature Protection Area on the south end of the island. Established in 1948, Bluffs Park is the oldest park on Galiano Island and visitors are treated to exceptional views across the Southern Gulf Islands all the way to the Olympic Mountains of Washington state.

Hiker on trail in Galiano Island
You can drive almost to the edge if you follow the AllTrails map (road wasn’t on Google Maps but make sure to walk along the edge for a while)

Deer, eagles and turkey vultures are commonly spotted, not to mention the occasional pod of orcas. There are also some short, easy hiking trails in the park if you feel like exploring.

Deer in the ditch
One of the many Galiano Island deer

Stop by the Kunamokst Mural

One of the most interesting artistic creations in BC is the gigantic Kunamokst mural in the Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa. Designed for the 2010 Olympics by 190 different artists (30 from Galiano Island) who were only given a colour palette and the theme “wild west coast”.

Mural of killer whale on Galiano Island

All the different murals were later combined into one masterpiece depicting a mother and baby orca. The entire mural is over 6 metres by 3 metres and the name “Kunamokst” is Chinook for “together”.

Close up of mural
Closeup of one of the sections

Shop for Local Galiano Island Art

Like most of the Gulf Islands, there is a vibrant art community on Galiano Island and it is always fun to check out the latest display, exhibition or gallery.

Yellow House Art Centre is a contemporary gallery and public art venue.

Yellow house and prayer flags

Art and Soul Craft Gallery is one of the older galleries on Galiano Island, focused on promoting local arts, crafts and clothing.

Some of the other studios worth checking out are: Cabra Gallery Museum, Crooked Duck Studio, Jeanne Erickson Art, Cedar Grove Pottery Gallery and Fenton Design Silver Jewelry

Play a Round of Golf

If you want to hit the links, stop by the pretty 9-hole Galiano Golf Course. At less than 2,000 yards, it is fairly short but the scenery is outstanding, the greens surprisingly lush and there are a variety of tee boxes so you can mix up the difficulty however you choose.

Green on a Galiano Island hole

Where to Stay: Galiano Island Hotels

Galiano Island accommodations can be in short supply in summer but there are a few good choices if you’re looking to spend multiple days on the island.

Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa

For location, amenities and comfort you can’t beat Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa. Enjoy the views of the bay, easy access to a sandy beach and relax in your spa bath or by your fireplace.

Front of Galiano Island Inn

Indulge yourself at the Madrona del Mar Spa after a day of exploring the island and wander the gardens.

Beach and Galiano Island hotel

They have even been voted British Columbia’s most romantic elopement spot. But even if you aren’t eloping you can enjoy all this beautiful hotel has to offer. Try out the excellent on-site restaurant and get a table on the patio to enjoy the views.

Click here for Galiano Oceanfront Inn prices

Driftwood Village Resort

The Driftwood Village Resort has cozy cottages with kitchen facilities if you want to eat in and wood burning fireplaces.

Sign for Galiano Island accommodations

Pick one of the cottages with a view of the ocean from the patio where you can watch the ferries pass by and a spa bath. Enjoy the easy access to nearby beaches.

Click here for Driftwood Village Resort prices

Galiano Island Camping

To get a bit closer to nature, there is no better way to enjoy the natural beauty of Galiano Island than to spend a few nights under the stars.

Montague Provincial Campground

Yes, of course, Montague Harbour Provincial Park has a campground as well. Considering how many other Galiano Island things to do are located in the park, setting up camp in this well-equipped Galiano Island campground can be a great choice. There are excellent hiking trails and even better sunsets, plus one of the better beaches on Galiano Island.

Campground with picnic table on Galiano Island

Within walking distance of the marina’s shops, Montague Provincial Campground features 44 walk-in campsites, 23 vehicle-accessible sites and 1 group site. There are wheelbarrows available to haul your gear to the walk-in sites, plus potable water, picnic tables, trash bins and pit toilets. There are no showers but when the time is ripe you can pay $2 for the public shower at Sparkles Laundromat in Sturdies Bay.

Dogs must be kept on leash and you can reserve sites through the BC Parks Reservations website.

Dionisio Point Provincial Park

For a much wilder and more exotic camping experience, head to Dionisio Point Marine Park on the far northeastern tip of Galiano Island. Overlooking Porlier Pass and Valdes Island, there are no roads to Dionisio Park and it is only accessible from the water.

A gorgeous area filled with cute coves, rocky points and sandy beaches, this is the place to get away from it all. There are 30 basic sites and you have to pack out all of your trash. There aren’t any bears to worry about, but crows and raccoons will happily dig into any unattended food.

The park is open year-round, fees are $5 per person per night and you can self-register at the information shelter or online through BC Parks.

When to Visit: Galiano Island Weather

As with most of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Galiano Island enjoys a very mild, temperate climate. Summer offers the best weather (25/13C high/low and very little rain) and the most things to do on Galiano Island. In summer, the days are longer, the trails drier, the water calmer and the beaches more festive. This area actually gets the least rain of anywhere on the west coast of BC.

View of other gulf islands
We got sun, clouds and a smattering of rain during our May visit.

However, the weather is fairly mild all year-round (7/2C in January) so a winter visit can also be great for people looking for a quieter getaway with empty beaches and hiking trails. Of course, there is also more rain (and sometimes even a bit of snow), many tourist services shut down for the winter and even the restaurants, shops and hotels might only be open on weekends.

The shoulder seasons (May/June or September/October) usually offer the perfect mix of good weather and fewer people. Early summer is a good time for wildflowers and fall provides the warmest water of the year.

Where to Eat: Galiano Island Restaurants

Pilgrimme

Very close to Montague Harbour, Award-winning Pilgrimme was voted the third-best new restaurant in Canada in 2015 by En Route magazine and is a must-visit for foodies coming to Galiano Island.

Sign for Galiano Island restaurant

Chef Jesse McCleery uses only the best local ingredients for their constantly evolving menu. Tables book up quickly so you should make a reservation well before your visit.

Nimma Nimma Restaurant at Bodega Ridge

You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find two world-class culinary experiences on an island the size of Galiano but the popular Nimma Nimma certainly deserves to be in the conversation. With a unique setup and exceptional food, it is worth a stop as well, although their hours tend to fluctuate based on catering projects.

Hummingbird Pub

Meanwhile, for simple pub grub on a nice, relaxed patio, check out the Hummingbird. They also run a free bus service in high season (with onboard entertainment).

Ocean and trees

How to Get to Galiano Island BC

Can you do a day trip to Galiano Island?

Yes, as the first stop for ferries between Vancouver and Victoria, Galiano Island is the perfect day trip destination, especially for outdoor lovers. Although somewhat long (27 km), Galiano Island is also very narrow (6 km) so it is possible to explore all the top sites in a single day (although it will be easier if you have the entire weekend).

If you bring a vehicle, you can easily cover the island from tip to toe, but even bikers can manage it and foot passengers can rent ebikes or mopeds once they arrive.

Galiano Island Ferry

The Galiano Island ferry arriving in Sturdies Bay is the most common way to reach the island.

Ferry to Galiano Island from Vancouver

There are usually 2 non-stop ferries per day to/from Vancouver (Tsawwassen ferry terminal) that take about an hour and can be reserved in advance (highly recommended). If you need more options it is also possible to book a thru fare that goes all the way to Swartz Bay and then on to Tsawwassen (which takes much longer, obviously).

Cars loading on the ferry
Loading onto the ferry to Vancouver

Either way, the schedule changes periodically so you will want to go to the BC ferries website to confirm the most up-to-date times and book a spot.

Ferry to Galiano Island from Victoria

In summer, there are 3-4 ferries per day that take about 1.5 hours to travel between Galiano Island BC and Victoria-Swartz Bay.

Cars on the Galiano Island ferry
On the ferry from Mayne to Galiano

Some of them stop at Mayne, Pender or Saturna, while others go directly to Vancouver Island.

Other Gulf Islands

Most of the other Southern Gulf Islands are served by 2 ferries per day to (or from) Galiano Island – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So if you are planning to do some island hopping you’ll need to plan your route carefully.

Galiano Island Water Taxi

On Saturdays in July and August, a water taxi runs back and forth between Galiano Island (Sturdies Bay) and Salt Spring Island (Ganges). The rest of the year you may be able to catch the same boat from Monday to Thursday when it doubles as school and public transportation.

Galiano Island Seaplane

The fastest way to get to the island is by air. In summer, Seair has 2 flights per day from Richmond to Galiano Island. Flights arrive and leave from Montague Harbour, only take about 20 minutes and cost $157 one-way (with discounts for students and seniors).

Float plane and white clouds

How to Get Around Galiano Island

Even though Galiano Island is not a big place, it is still too big to get around on foot so having a car is your best bet. You can bring your own car across on the ferry or, if you are looking to rent a car in Vancouver, we highly recommend Discover Cars. We got a terrific deal booking just a week ahead and were very happy with everything.

Rental car and tall trees
Our trusty rental car parked at Bluffs Park

If you want to try to rent right on the island, try Smart Cars out of Galiano Oceanfront Inn, although supply is very limited. For something a little more exciting, you can rent ebikes and mopeds from Galiano Adventures.

Smart cars for rent

Whatever you end up driving (or riding), pay close attention as the roads are narrow and winding, there are often quite a few cyclists and deer tend to pop up when you least expect them.

Bike

Yes, Galiano is small enough to explore by bike, just follow the same advice as above, stay to the right and consider bright, reflective clothing (since for you the stakes are even higher).

Galiano Island Community Bus

While I wouldn’t want to rely on it for transportation throughout your whole visit, the Galiano Island Community Bus is a great choice to get from the ferry to your main destination. It was shutdown through the pandemic but eventually will run from April through September from Friday afternoon until Sunday night. It travels between Sturdies Bay, the marina, the Saturday market and the golf course all the way to the north end of the island. Check the Galiano Bus Facebook page for the latest info.

Another option is the fun Hummingbird Pub Bus, captained by Tommy Transit and running daily in high season between the pub, marina and campground.

There are no taxis on Galiano Island.

Gulf Island Hopping

The lovely, forested British Columbia Gulf Islands are scattered throughout the Georgia Strait between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. They are roughly divided into two sections, the Northern Gulf Islands of Denman and Hornby, and the more numerous Southern Gulf Islands. The other south islands that are inhabited, have accommodation options and BC ferry connections are Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne and Saturna.

Sunset over calm water at Gabriola Island BC
Sunset on Gabriola Island

However, there are several other small islands that can also be visited if you have access to your own boat, a few of which also have accommodation options or basic camping. Valdes Island and Thetis Island have places to stay and people occasionally also visit Mudge Island, De Courcy Island, Ruxton Island, Portland Island and Prevost Island.

Each of the beautiful BC Gulf Islands features its own unique sights and personality. Spending a week or so island hopping through this superb area is sure to be one of the most memorable trips you can take in Western Canada.

Mayne Island

Home to Miners Bay, once the most important harbour on the Canadian Pacific Coast, Mayne Island is full of small, hidden beaches, nice hikes and the exceptional Japanese Gardens, our pick for the most surprising attraction in the Gulf Islands.

Person walking on path in Mayne Island's Japanese Garden

The 16 Best Things to Do on Mayne Island

Salt Spring Island

The most populous and developed of the Gulf Islands, bustling Salt Spring Island offers a huge variety of activities.

Picnic table and vine leaves at a Salt Spring Island winery
One of the Salt Spring wineries

It is one of the best places in British Columbia to shop at local farm stands and in summer offers an impressive array of live music venues.

21 Reasons to Visit Spectacular Salt Spring Island

Pender Island

Pender Island is actually made up of North Pender and South Pender, the two divided by a man-made channel back in the early days of European habitation.

Rocky point and lighthouse on Pender Island BC

Both sides are fantastically peaceful and feature some of the best viewpoints in the South Gulf Islands, including Gowlland Point, Mortimer Spit and Magic Lake.

Ultimate Guide to Pender Island

Saturna Island

Wild and mountainous Saturna Island is tucked into a small pocket of Canadian territory with the USA surrounding on three sides. It is one of the least known and least visited of the Gulf Islands and is a great choice for those looking to get off the beaten path.

Gabriola Island

Just a hop, skip and jump from Nanaimo, one of the main Vancouver Island cities, Gabriola Island is a wonderful place to enjoy a rural feel, intact forests and some very unique sites.

Person standing in the Gabriola Island Malaspina Galleries

The Malaspina Caves are particularly memorable.

17 Best Things to Do on Gabriola Island

Hornby Island

Hugely popular in summer, scenic and diverse Hornby Island is known for a variety of highlights, including local wine, art and crafts.

A glass fronted restaurand with rocks out front and ocean to the side at Hornby Island camping site of Ford's Cove

There are several outstanding beaches and a few excellent hiking trails.

14 Amazing Things to Do on Hornby Island

Denman Island

Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbour, Hornby Island, Denman Island has plenty to offer visitors in its own right. Not the least of which is a much quieter, more natural experience.

Denman Island's local bookstore with a cherry blossom tree in front

With impressive hiking, serene beaches and more deer than you can honk your horn at, it is worth setting aside some time to explore before jumping on that next ferry to Hornby.

11 Outstanding Things to Do on Denman Island

Galiano Island Summary

Galiano Island is the closest of the Gulf Islands to Vancouver and it boasts a wealth of natural highlights, two things that have made it one of the top adventure destinations for people looking to escape the city. Hiking, biking, kayaking and camping are all popular things to do on Galiano Island, although it is also perfectly acceptable to simply relax, hit the Farmer’s Market or one of the many art galleries and simply enjoy the views.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

Salt Spring Island Camping and Glamping

The Ultimate Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Spectacular Waterfalls on Vancouver Island

Snug Cove on Bowen Island: Top Reasons to Visit

Best Easy Hikes in North Vancouver

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