The summer sun is beating down on a deliriously lovely tongue of white sand, warming our bare feet. We walk the mile-long half-moon shaped beach; the turquoise waters roll ashore at a relaxing rhythm. It’s easy to imagine we are visiting an atoll somewhere in the South Pacific, but no. We are one mile north of the U.S./Canadian border strolling along Sidney Spit in the Canadian Gulf Islands. The spit is one of many parcels that make up the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
This magnificent park reserve, with plentiful wildlife, scenic views, and historic sites, is in the southern Gulf Islands, and a very popular area for both Canadian and American boaters. Before the park’s establishment in 2003, many of the islands and marine ecosystems were in danger of being lost to development and unmanaged use.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada is composed of a patchwork of small reserves, undeveloped islands and donated properties. It’s spread across 15 islands, numerous islets, and reefs totaling 14 square miles of land and ten square miles of underwater preserves.
Not all the sites have been acquired for recreational boaters. Some have been reserved to protect land and marine ecosystems unique to the southern Gulf Islands. Parks Canada also ensures the protection of the islands’ cultural assets. Along with recognizing the importance of the islands to the Salish First Nation people, the buildings and artifacts of the early Kanaka (Hawaiian) and Chinese settlers.
Fragmented as the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve may be, it’s easy to experience much of it by boat.
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
Half Dozen Favorite Stops
Sidney Island sand bluffs, tidal flats, and salt marshes teem with birds, and marine life provides lots to explore. Roaming the trails of the island and discovered the remnants of various settlements, sites of First Nation cultural and spiritual significance and evidence of abandoned brick factory. Anchor, hang off a buoy or tie to the dock.
Also known as Princes Margaret Island was presented as a gift to Princess Margaret in 1959. She returned the island to British Columbia in 1967. The island features an abundance of wildlife, trails, protected coves, and sand beaches.
Portland Island offers two anchorages, Princess Bay, and Royal Cove.
Russell Island is blessed with many natural features typical of the southern Gulf Islands. Open meadows of native grasses host yearly bursts of camas lilies and a variety of other wildflowers. The shell midden beaches are testaments to its first inhabitants, the First Nations people who date back 3,000 years. A forested trail takes you to the homestead of Hawaiian settlers. On summer afternoons and evenings, descendants of the original settlers will regale you with stories of their ancestor’s lives on the island.
Anchor on the northwest side of the island with fair holding over a thin and seaweed bottom.
Beaumont, South Pender Island
Plenty of park mooring buoys and room to anchor available for visiting boaters. Visitors can beach their dinghies or kayaks to enjoy this popular picnic, camping and hiking spot.
A switchback trail from the campground leads to the top of the 800-foot Mount Norman revealing spectacular vistas of the San Juan, Gulf and Vancouver Islands. It’s a steep, well-maintained trail and the one hour hike up is well worth the effort.
Tumbo & Cabbage Islands
Cabbage and Tumbo Islands are a nesting site for oystercatchers and bald eagles and provide some of the most magnificent sunsets in the Gulf Islands. Unusual geological formations showcase the Cabbage Islands’ glacial past and Tumbo’s 2.2-mile trail offers breathtaking views. It also can be a good place to set the crab trap or drop a hook.
Ten mooring buoys are located between the islands, where there’s also room for anchoring.
Visiting boaters tend to favor anchoring in James Bay and Selby Cove located at the north side of the island where park lands form a narrow point adjacent to a deep cove with a shoreline that varies including steep rock faces, gentle rising rock shelves, and gravel beaches. The head of James Bay shoals quickly. It’s easy to spend a day wandering the shoreline and uplands where there is evidence of old homesteads including split cedar fences and remains of fruit orchards.