With a bit of planning (using ferry schedules), you can explore all the islands within a few days. Each island has a different ambiance. Accommodations range from lavish country inns to waterside campsites.
Salt Spring is an especially easy trip from Victoria, so if time is short, make this your top choice for a day trip.
If you are traveling from Vancouver, do this itinerary in the reverse.
Named for its natural salt springs, Salt Spring Island is the largest and most developed island in the southern archipelago. Winding country roads weave through pastoral landscapes and its busy bohemian village hub, Ganges. Plan on a half-day to explore.
Use a second day to tour the island’s art studios, galleries, farms, and parks (Ruckle Provincial Park is the prettiest).
Saturna is the remotest Gulf island with the fewest amenities. If you don’t want to escape civilisation, make this a day trip. You need a car to tour its lush forested tranquility; East Point Regional Park is particularly beautiful. No car? Then visit the Saturna Island Vineyards on an afternoon excursion from one of the other islands, especially out of Poets Cove on Pender Island.
Marinas and coves on North and South Pender Island attract sailors, while cyclists and walkers seek out parks and trails. Beaumont Marine Provincial Park is one of the prettiest hiking and picnic destinations; pick up a bottle of wine from Morning Bay Vineyards before heading out. Kayakers often paddle over from neighboring Saturna and Mayne islands. Poets Cove is one of the best destination resorts in the archipelago.
Mayne Island is the main transfer point for ferries scooting from one island to the next. The small village around Miners Bay was originally the rest area for miners rowing and sailing across from Vancouver Island to the mainland during the Gold Rush. Venues like the jail (now a museum) and agricultural hall are modest landmarks. Be sure to see the tiny church, St. Mary Magdalane, and Active Pass Lighthouse.
As the closest island to Vancouver, Galiano Island‘s laid-back community has worked hard to stay close to its rural and hippy roots. The main road runs the length of the long, skinny island, and takes you from the ferry to pretty coves and marinas, and into densely packed forests. There are wonderful walks in and around Galiano Bluffs Park and Montague Provincial Park, plus kayaking out of Montague Harbour. Galiano Inn & Spa, a few minutes’ walk of the ferry dock, is the place to stay.