With its fantastic beaches, parks, ocean views and incredible sunsets, Gabriola Island has much to offer.
Gabriola is the northernmost island of the Southern Gulf Islands and is located approximately 5 km east of Nanaimo.
A 20-minute BC Ferry ride gets you from the Nanaimo Harbour to Gabriola (Descanso Bay). Depending on the season, ferries run almost every half-hour, starting at 5:45 am until 11:00 pm.
You can also arrive by float plane or your own private boat.
Fun Facts about Gabriola
- Gabriola Island is 14.5 km (9 mi) in length and 4.5 km (2.8 mi) wide.
- More than 200 artists and artisans reside and work on the Island, which is why Gabriola is also known as the Isle of the Arts.
- The natural and artificial reefs around Gabriola Island boast some of the best marine life diving on British Columbia’s coast.
- The earliest archaeological record on Gabriola is a cave burial dated back to around 1500 BC.
- There are several locations on the Island where you can view petroglyphs. Although commonly believed to be thousands of years old, due to being carved in the soft sandstone, they are almost impossible to date, and as well, eroding rapidly.
- Gabriola has more public beach access points than any other Gulf Island.
Map of Gabriola via Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce.
Natural Wonders of Gabriola Island
The best part of Gabriola is the beaches and shoreline. You can kayak through beautiful bays, marvel at sandstone creations naturally carved by the wind and waves, search for wildlife and sea life, watch stunning sunsets, or swim in the salty ocean.
And speaking of beaches, Gabriola has more public beach access points than any other Gulf Island! Look for the yellow concrete blocks indicating ‘public access’. If walking trails are your thing, check out this great list created by GaLLT.
The following locations are a few of my favourite best spots to visit while exploring Gabriola Island.
Located only 1.5 km from the ferry terminal, the park is in an ideal location, whether driving, walking or biking. This park offers three bays, as well as a small boat launch area, that allows one to explore and view the unique sandstone shoreline by kayak or boat. The bays are an incredible spot to watch the sunset over Nanaimo.
There are also 32 camping sites available that can accommodate trucks and trailers, motorhomes and tents. All of the sites are forested, private, and several have ocean views.
Read about Descanso Bay in more detail.
Getting there: Once you leave the ferry terminal, turn left onto Taylor Bay road and watch for the entrance sign to the Regional Park.
This is what put Gabriola Island on the map! Over hundreds of years, these sandstone sculptures were naturally eroded and carved by wind, waves and frost, leaving a spectacular sight to see. When the tide is out, you have plenty of opportunities to walk under the “rock waves” for a perfect photo.
Getting there: From Taylor Bay Road, turn left onto Malaspina Drive and park at the very end. On foot, follow the trail until you reach the point. The galleries are found on the left side of that point.
Gabriola Sands Provincial Park
Due to this area having a beach on either side of the road, it is known locally as Twin Beaches. The beach on the left side of the road offers opportunities to explore unique sandstone formations, while the other provides soft white sand. The lovely sandy beach and shallow water make for excellent salt water swimming, especially for little ones. And the large grassy lawn provides a perfect spot to picnic or play group games.
Getting there: Just after Taylor Bay Road turns into Berry Point Road, turn left onto Ricardo Road.
Sandwell Provincial Park
With its long sandy beach and views of the Strait of Georgia, this area is a favourite destination for residents and visitors alike. A short 800-metre hike through the woods leads down to the beach and a day-use picnic area. The final portion of the trail is quite steep and can be slippery, so proper footwear is needed. Once at the bottom, it’s a beautiful spot to relax or take a refreshing dip in the ocean waters.
Facilities at this park include 2 picnic tables, pit toilets and an information shelter.
At low tide, visitors can walk down the beach to view a prehistoric petroglyph carved into the sandstone rocks, east of the day-use area.
Getting there: Take North Road and turn left on Barrett Road, following park directional signs.
Overlooking scenic Gabriola Passage, Drumbeg offers excellent views of the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountains on the mainland. The park contains a kilometre-long sand and pebble beach with unique sandstone rock formations, best seen at low tide. The area is popular for diving, hiking, nature viewing, sunbathing and picnicking.
Visitors should use caution when swimming in the ocean at this park, as riptides and currents can be dangerous. It is, however, a great place to sit and keep on the lookout for sea life.
There is approximately 2 km of easy, well-maintained walking/hiking trails that meander along the shoreline of this park, and through Garry Oaks and open meadows.
Facilities at this day-use-only park include a grassy field, pit toilets, picnic tables, hiking trails and an information shelter.
Getting there: Take South Road to Stalker Road and follow signs to the park.
Exploring Gabriola is best by vehicle, however many do go over on their bikes. Please note, that there are no sidewalks or bicycle lanes on the island, so you must ride or walk single file. There are several very narrow roads, a few road sections that are in poor condition with uneven edges, etc., and tons of deer! E-bikes are welcome and a common sight.
If you are a walk-on passenger, Gabriola does have a community bus service. GERTIE operates daily, except on Sundays and Stat holidays. Please read the rider information clearly before using this service.
Skol Pub is conveniently located near the Gabriola ferry terminal. We stopped there for takeout while waiting in line for a ferry. (Yes, the ferry can get extremely busy during the summer and you may have a few sailing waits). During the summer, they may be a food truck near the terminal as well.
Just up the main road going through town (North Road), you can find several other great places, such as Mad Rona’s Coffee Bar and Woodfire Restaurant.
Need a Place to Stay?
These are our favourite natural areas to explore while on Gabriola Island. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below.
This article was fully updated, in June 2022.
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