North American Travel > Saturna Island

Saturna Island

Published: March 18, 2009

This is a great place to go for a quiet weekend get-away. Saturna is the southern most of BC’s Gulf Islands. Like all the Gulf Islands it has a Mediterranean climate and is drier than almost everywhere else in the southwestern corner of the province. The vegetation is therefore different than most other places on the south coast, Arbutus and Garry Oaks are common here – this is the very northern end of the range of these lovely trees. Arbutus trees have beautiful orange bark, and interesting growth forms, they typically grow in grassy meadows, with a variety of wildflowers in the spring. Like all the Gulf islands, Saturna Island is made up of sandstone, deposited in the Nanaimo Basin between 65 and 90 million years ago. The sandstone forms cliffs both along the coast and in the interior of the island. Along the coasts it is often eroded and sculpted into fascinating hollows and caves.

There are not many ferries to Saturna, which means it is fairly quiet, there is very little traffic on any of the roads, so it is a great place for walking or cycling. The ferry dock is in Lyall Harbour, and two grocery stores and a couple of restaurants are located near there. There are several bed and breakfasts around Lyall Harbour and along the north coast, and one National Park campground at Narveaz Bay.

We visited in the fall, when the island is especially quiet. It was too cold for swimming, but perfect for walking and we mostly had the trails and roads to ourselves.

Mt. Warburton Pike, the high point of the island, was a highlight for us and a highly recommended trip. The road up is in the forest and it’s a wonderful surprise when you pop out at the top in a grassy meadow overlooking Plumper Sound and a maze of islands to the south. From the parking lot a narrow trail follows the top of cliffs for a kilometer or two along Brown Ridge, mostly through Garry Oak and Arbutus meadows. There are numerous smaller trails along the cliffs here, made by the herds of feral goats that graze up here, so be careful not to mistake these trails for the real thing.

Narvaez Bay, in the middle of Saturna’s east coast, is another lovely spot. The gravel road out to it is quiet and a pleasant walk or cycle. Once there you can have lunch at the National Park campground or on a beach or rocky promontory. In the summer there would be good swimming here. There used to be a farm at this location, and the old orchard still produces a few apples, mostly for the rather tame deer that frequent it.

East Point is at the opposite end of the Island from the ferry terminal at Lyall harbour – it has a lighthouse, a small beach and a trail along the top of sculpted sandstone cliffs. There can be strong currents around the point, at the peak flow it looks like a river rushing past. Boat Pass is another great spot for watching the tidal currents, it’s a narrow pass between Saturna and Samuel Island and standing waves form when the current is really flowing.

This is an excellent little escape from the city for a few days. It feels like a completely different environment, and definitely a much slower pace.

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