Bikepacking Saturna Island: Narvaez Bay, Mount Warburton Pike and East Point6 min read

Saturna Island is another excellent weekend getaway destination which can be easily explored by bike. This island is the smallest which I’ve visited so far – only about 31 square kilometres in size and just a bit over 10 kilometres in length. It’s the most easterly of the Gulf Islands surrounded on the three sides by the Canada/USA border. It’s probably the most rural and sparsely populated island with only about 350 people living there permanently. Like the other Gulf Islands, this one is not an exception – it’s very hilly and offers tremendous natural beauty and variety of outdoor activities including kayaking, hiking, cycling, swimming, finishing and wildlife viewing. Nearly half of the island is in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve which protects a portion of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands natural region and is part of the traditional territory of the Coast Salish First Nations.

Narvaez Bay

Narvaez Bay is one of the most serene and undisturbed bays in the southern Gulf Islands. It was named after an early Spanish explorer Jose Maria Narvaez who was a captain of a 33-foot schooner called the Santa Saturnina. In fact, Saturna Island takes its name from his ship. Narvaez was responsible for exploring and naming many of the Southern Gulf Islands and the San Juan islands and charted the Strait of Georgia in the process.

Getting here is extremely easy – from Lyall Harbour Ferry Terminal head southeast on East Point Road for almost two kilometres until you reach Saturna General Store (the only one grocery and liquor store in the whole island!) and continue onto Narvaez Bay Road. At the end of the road, there’s a parking lot for cars and a bike rack to lock your bikes. However, cyclists are allowed to continue to bike the last 1 kilometre down the trail to the campsite.

Total distance: 9.26 km
Max elevation: 134 m
Min elevation: 4 m
Total climbing: 204 m
Total descent: -207 m
Average speed: 14.63 km/h
Total time: 01:07:18

 

Narvaez Bay offers seven online reservable walk-in rustic campsites with some additional space available at overflow area. Keep in mind that there’s no potable water available and no campfires are permitted at any time.

Sunrise at Echo Bay
Sunrise at Echo Bay

In the area, you can enjoy outstanding cliff-side views of Echo Bay from the short trail leading down to the rocky point. Another side trail off to Monarch Head takes you to a look-out to Boundary Pass and the San Juan Islands. On both of these trails, bikes are not permitted, but they’re worth to explore on foot!

Mount Warburton Pike

View from Mount Warburton Pike viewpoint
View from Mount Warburton Pike viewpoint

I’ve spent one night at Narvaez Bay, and in the morning I’ve decided to head out and check out the Mount Warburton Pike viewpoint – the tallest mountain on the island. However, I didn’t want to go back all the same way I came so after checking my maps I’ve found some trail going along the rim of the Brown ridge straight to the viewpoint. So I’ve decided to go on an adventure and take this trail without actually knowing what to expect. It turned out that this trail was very narrow and steep – initially made by feral goats. It was not bikeable, but I’ve chosen to keep going and pushing my bike hoping that eventually trail flattens out on the top of the ridge and I’ll be able to ride at least for a little bit. However my assumptions were wrong – narrow trail kept going along the rocky bluffs, steep slopes and occasional fallen trees. Even though it was really challenging to push my heavy bike all the way up (and, in fact, it’s not the first time I’m ending up on non-bikeable trails) but the panoramic views of the surrounding Gulf and the San Juan Islands, wild goats, soaring eagles and other birds were remarkable and gratifying!

Total distance: 10.9 km
Max elevation: 400 m
Min elevation: 5 m
Total climbing: 617 m
Total descent: -222 m
Average speed: 7.17 km/h
Total time: 02:58:19

 

Winter Cove

Winter Cove Park is located on the northwest end of Saturna Island, only about 5 kilometres from the Lyall Harbour ferry dock.
First Nations have long and continuous ties with Winter Cove – it is a place of great cultural and spiritual significance. Winter Cove was traditionally a stopover point, while travellers waited for the right tides to cross the strait.
People from different Coast Salish nations lived here, meeting and trading with each other. A variety of seaweeds, clams, fish, octopus, crab, seals, loons and ducks have been harvested and shared here. Today, picnic tables are placed on the grassy field beside the cove which is also used for events such as the annual Canada Day Lamb Barbeque. There’s a short circular trail leading through a Douglas-fir forest with some educational signs along the way.

East Point

Sit back and relax at East Point
Sit back and relax at East Point

With almost half of Saturna Island protected as national park reserve – East Point is a real gem. It’s an excellent place for onshore whale watching as the southern resident killer whales pass by almost daily in the summer months. Besides, there are so many features to explore – from shorebirds, seals, sea lions, colourful sea stars to intriguing patterns on the smooth-shaped sandstone cliffs and stunning views across the Strait of Georgia. During the summer months, you can discover the island’s fascinating stories at the small museum in the iconic heritage Fog Alarm Building.
To find the park, head south on East Point Road and follow it to its end. The 10 kilometres stretch from Winter Cove to East Point is mostly flat, and the road goes along the shore allowing to enjoy stunning views!

Total distance: 37.31 km
Max elevation: 397 m
Min elevation: -3 m
Total climbing: 605 m
Total descent: -966 m
Average speed: 18.54 km/h
Total time: 05:24:38

 

Lyall Harbour

Refreshing beer at Saturna Lighthouse Pub
Refreshing beer at Saturna Lighthouse Pub

At the end of my trip, while I was waiting for a ferry to arrive at Lyall Harbour, I’ve learned two things. First, as a cyclist, I was pleased to hear that just a few steps away from the ferry dock at the Arbutus Point Campground there’s a token-operated shower. Second, literally next to the ferry dock there’s a Saturna Lighthouse Pub where you can get some food and refreshing drinks. The best part is that approximately half an hour before the ferry arrives, BC Ferries employee will come to the pub and sell you the tickets, so you don’t have to worry about anything.

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