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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.
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).
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.
The scenery 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.
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.
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What is Galiano Island known for?
Considered the adventure capital of the Gulf Islands, Galiano Island is known for its outstanding natural scenery and exceptional outdoor pursuits. Hiking, biking, kayaking and paddleboarding are all big draws, making it a popular day trip destination for Vancouverites.
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.
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.
Indulge yourself at the Madrona del Mar Spa after a day of exploring the island and wander the gardens.
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.
Driftwood Village Resort
The Driftwood Village Resort has cozy cottages with kitchen facilities if you want to eat in and wood burning fireplaces.
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.
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 the 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.
12 Fantastic 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.
1. Tour the Island by Bike, E-Bike or Moped
On two wheels is terrific way to tour the 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.
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.
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.
2. 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.
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).
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.
3. 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.
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.
4. 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.
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.
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.
5. 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.
Once at the shoreline head to the right to find some interesting rocks.
6. 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.
Bodega Ridge Hike
8 km / 3 hrs / 250m
This fantastic trail offers stunning views west across Wallace Island, Secretary Island and Salt Spring Island to the mountains of central Vancouver 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.
Pebble Beach Loop
3 km / 1 hr / 80m
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.
7. 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.
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.
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.
8. Find the Galiano Island Caves
Some of the most impressive and memorable sights on the island are these bizarre sandstone cave galleries and rock formations that have been created by centuries of erosion.
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.
Be aware that the rocks can be slippery even when they look dry so use caution.
9. 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.
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.
10. 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”.
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”.
11. 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.
Art and Soul Craft Gallery is one of the older galleries and is 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
12. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
Galiano Island Map
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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.
How to Get to Galiano Island BC
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Salt Spring Island
The most populous and developed of the Gulf Islands, bustling Salt Spring Island offers a huge variety of activities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Malaspina Caves are particularly memorable.
Hugely popular in summer, scenic and diverse Hornby Island is known for a variety of highlights, including local wine, art and crafts.
There are several outstanding beaches and a few excellent hiking trails.
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.
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.
Trip Planning Resources
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- For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site.
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- If you’re interested in local guided tours, including everything from city tours to cooking lessons to adventure activities, check out the huge range of options at Get Your Guide.
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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.
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