Gulf Islands Marine Trail (Leg 2 of Salish Sea MT)
Distance: 92 km.
Description: On this stretch the Salish Sea Marine Trail duplicates the central route of the Gulf Islands Marine Trail, running east and north of Salt Spring Island then along Trincomali Channel through False Narrows to Nanaimo. There are a multitude of side routes, possible, of course, with one being the inside route along the west side of Salt Spring Island through Sansum Narrows, as well as side routes through Stuart Channel taking in possibly the communities of Chemainus and Ladysmith. These locations are also prime day kayaking trips from the marine trail launch sites, as are many of the locations through Swanson Channel on the east side of Salt Spring Island. The camping options here are a mix of Gulf Islands National Reserve and BC Parks campgrounds, with the notable addition of Tent Island thanks to the Penelakut First Nation making it available for public use for a fee. The waters here can be generally described as some of the most placid on the Pacific coast of North America, though attention should be paid to strong currents in channels and select locations and to the high number of ferries and other marine traffic at key locations, particularly Swanson Channel.
What to see:
The Gulf Islands feature some incredible shoreline and in particular fretted sandstone that has eroded over the eons into remarkable honeycomb patterns and other formations. Sea birds and sea mammals abound, so expect a wide selection of seals, sea lions, eagles and even the occasional orca and humpback. The shoreline is a pleasant mix of arbutus, Garry oak, Douglas-fir and other trees as well as unique vegetation that thrives in the dry Mediterranean climate of the Gulf Islands.
Strong currents, turbulence. Found at frequent locations along narrow channels. Watch for turbulence, rips and standing waves at numerous areas. While narrow channels will have more violent water, currents can run strong along island shorelines and can be a considerable advantage or disadvantage to travel depending on your circumstances.
Ferries. Crossing from Saanich Peninsula or the nearby islands south of Swartz Bay means passing near the busy BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay and potentially crossing one or more ferry lanes depending on your route. Ferries can be frequent and fast with sightlines short due to the many islands and turns required by the ferries. Frequent ferries along various traffic lanes in various directions and at various times means uncertainty in Swanson and Satellite channels.
Alternative route options:
Samsum Narrows Route: Part of the Gulf Islands Marine Trail, it uses a narrow, scenic, curving and mountainous tidal channel to travel the inside route south and west of Salt Spring Island.
Ladysmith Connector: A side route to the Salish Sea Marine Trail includes the Town of Ladysmith and Stuart Channel south to Tent Island to connect with the Salish Sea Marine Trail at Wallace Island. It can also be used to connect to the Sansum Narrows route.
Ladysmith Connector North: A side route to the Salish Sea Marine Trail includes the Town of Ladysmith and Stuart Channel north to connect with the Salish Sea Marine Trail at Pirates Cove.