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28 Best things to do on Gabriola Island BC 

Gabriola Island is one of BC’s beautiful Gulf Islands.

Sometimes called “Isle of the Arts,” Gabriola Island is just a 20-minute ferry ride away from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island so it’s nice and easy to get to. 

It’s a unique place to visit near Vancouver and it is home to over 200 artists and artisans and over 70 art galleries and studios. 

It’s not all about the art though, some of the best things to do on Gabriola Island include exploring the island’s expansive cedar forests, peaceful bays and beaches, and hiking trails. It’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. 

You can go kayaking, paddleboarding, and hiking to explore the unique caves that Gabriola Island is known for. You can even experience the phenomena of bioluminescence! 

With the expanded ferry service to the island, Gabriola can even be enjoyed as a day trip from Nanaimo.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Gabriola Island you’ll find everything you need to know below including how to get there, what to do on Gabriola Island, and where to eat and stay.  

things to do on gabriola island bc

28 Best things to do on Gabriola Island Canada

Gabriola Island is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, road trip enthusiasts and art and nature lovers. There are so many things to do and see on the island that it can be hard to know where to start. 

Luckily for you, I’ve checked out the best things to do on Gabriola Island and detailed them below for you.

1. Drumbeg Provincial Park

Drumbeg Provincial Park is a must-visit spot on Gabriola Island. 

Located in the southeastern corner of the island, the park offers stunning views of the Gabriola Passage, Valdes Island, and even all the way out to the Coast Mountains on the mainland!

Drumbeg Provincial Park on Gabriola Island has a 1 km long beach with super cool sandstone rock formations. The best time to see this is at low tide, so be sure to check the tide times for Gabriola Island. 

When I visited, I found the smooth rocks, pitted with small dimples resulting from wind and sand erosion pretty cool! I also love exploring tide pools at low tide and seeing what sea creatures I can find.

While swimming can be tricky here because of strong currents and riptides, as well as the rocks, it’s a popular place for scuba diving. 

Besides the beach, there are about 2 km of easy, well-maintained walking trails that go along the shoreline of the park and through meadows.

malaspina galleries galiano

2. Malaspina Galleries

When it comes to what to do in Galiano Island, this is one of the most popular.

The Malaspina Galleries are a beautiful set of curved sandstone formations hidden away at the end of a small dirt road in the northwest corner of the island.

They’re one of the main reasons people come to Gabriola Island and they’re well worth visiting during your trip. 

This natural gallery was formed by wind, water, snow, and ice over thousands of years.

When the tide is out, you can walk under the “rock waves,” which are a bit like a Galiano cave, and get some super cool photos. 

You can get to these super cool sandstone cave formations on foot. Just park at the end of Malaspina Drive and walk down to the coast. 

From there, walk over the rocks around the point to the Malaspina Galleries. 

I was in awe of this wondrous rock formation. What makes it even rarer is the size of its overhang! At 100 m long and 4 m high, it looks like a giant wave made out of rock!

3. Descanso Bay Regional Park

Descanso Bay Regional Park is close to the ferry on Gabriola Island and is a beautiful park with three bays, a boat launch area and plenty of opportunities for kayaking or paddleboarding

The bays in Descanso Bay Regional Park make a great spot to watch the sunset over Nanaimo. 

There’s also a campsite here which I think is one of the best places to stay on Gabriola Island. When I visited the park, I loved camping among the trees and waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and waves crashing on the shore.

gabriola island produce copy

4. Pick up some fresh produce

There are numerous small, local farms spread all across Gabriola Island where one can purchase everything from fresh produce to meat, baked goods and drinks. 

Some of our friends spent several months doing a WorkAway on one of the farms here!

AngelStar Farm is one of the more popular farms in Gabriola. They grow around 20 types of heritage fruits, herbal teas, cuttings, artisan jams and syrups, flowers, vinegar and mustards.

5. Get out on the water by kayak or paddleboard

Even a short paddle or kayak on Gabriola Island promises stunning views, amazing marine life and access to serene, untouched beaches. 

Gabriola Island, although not very large, has about 100 km of jagged coastline, perfect for exploring by kayak. 

Getting out on the water is also the ideal way to explore the Indigenous petroglyphs up close.

You can rent kayaks and paddleboards from Page’s Resort and Marina. When you rent from here you can choose your duration and rentals include life jackets, safety equipment, island maps and ocean charts. 

barry point lighthouse gabriola

6. See the lighthouse from Berry Point

Berry Point offers breathtaking views of Gabriola Island, including Orlebar Point, where you can see out over the ocean and the mountains on both sides of the Georgia Strait.

Entrance Island, which is home to the iconic Entrance Island Lighthouse and its pair of resident cats, is also visible from Berry Point. 

Berry Point is the perfect spot for a sunset picnic with your loved ones!

7. Visit the Garibola farmer’s market

Gabriola Island’s weekly farmer’s market is another must-visit. 

The market is open every Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, and from May long weekend to September. You can browse over 100 stands selling local food specialties, produce, arts, and crafts.

I love visiting farmers’ markets, and the Gabriola Farmer’s Market was no exception.

The market offered such a huge range of fresh produce and unique local products, and it was a great way to spend my Saturday morning on Gabriola.

gabriola alpaca farm

8. Visit the Gabriola alpacas 

Paradise Island Alpaca Farm is a fun and free thing to do on Gabriola Island. 

Here you can meet farm several alpacas, feed them, and even check out the farm’s products, including alpaca wool, knitted clothing, and eggs. 

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10. Wander around Sandwell Provincial Park

Sandwell Provincial Park is considered one of the best things to do on Gabriola Island for both locals and visitors alike. 

The park has a long sandy beach with stunning views of the Georgia Strait. 

It’s the perfect place for swimming, relaxing, or taking a refreshing dip in the ocean. 

There is also a short hiking trail that leads down to the beach, which is less than 1 km. Along the way, you will see giant cedars and beautiful ocean views.

One of the unique features of the park is the prehistoric petroglyph carved into the sandstone rocks, which you can see at low tide. 

You might even be lucky enough to see some orcas off in the distance as you chill at the beach.

AllTrails is my go-to hiking app for finding, planning, and navigating while I’m out on the trails. With offline maps on AllTrails+ you can be confident you’re still on the right track, even without mobile signal.

11. Go golfing at Gabriola Golf & Country Club

Gabriola Golf & Country Club is one of the top things to do on the island if you’re a golfer.

The country club has a scenic and challenging 9-hole course which winds its way around lovely Hoggan Lake and is open to non-members. 

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12. Gabriola Sands Provincial Park 

Gabriola Sands Provincial Park is a narrow spit of land with beaches on both sides, a short walk apart across a grassy field that has some picnic tables. 

Both beaches have beautiful white sand above the high water mark and some cool sandstone formations and tidal pools.

The beach on the left side of the road is best for the sandstone shapes, while the one on the right is better for lounging on the sand. 

During my last visit to Gabriola Island, I spent an entire day here going between relaxing on the beach with a good book and exploring the sandstone formations.

piers gallery gabriola
img via Pier Gallery Artists Collection

13. Go shopping on Gabriola Island

Gabriola Island is known for its quirky boutique stores offering handcrafted products from local residents. 

Some of the best stores on Gabriola Island include:

On my last trip to Gabriola Island, I visited all of these stores and bought some beautiful handmade souvenirs to take back home.

14. Gabriola museum

The Gabriola Museum is an excellent place to learn about the island’s history and alternative lifestyle. 

I visited the Gabriola Museum during my first trip to the island, and it was a fantastic experience to learn about the history and culture of Gabriola Island.

The museum displays Indigenous baskets and stories of the island’s more recent hippie habitation.

There is a series of short films about different aspects of Gabriola and the museum also has a nice little gift shop. 

15. See bioluminescence on Gabriola

​​Gabriola Island is a fantastic place to witness the stunning natural phenomenon of bioluminescence. 

Bioluminescence occurs when marine organisms, like plankton and algae, emit a blue-green light when they are disturbed or agitated.

The result is a display of sparkling lights in the water that can be seen at night as you swim or paddle in the water.

The best time to see bioluminescence in Gabriola is during the summer months when the sky is clear. 

Some of the best spots to witness this phenomenon include Descanso Bay, Sandwell Provincial Park, and any of the island’s beaches. 

You can either go for a swim or take a kayak or paddleboard out onto the water to get a closer look.

While bioluminescence can be difficult to predict and not guaranteed, it is well worth staying up late for the chance to witness this stunning display of natural beauty in Gabriola Island’s waters. 

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16. Go fishing on Gabriola Island

Gabriola Island is home to some of the best salmon fishing year-round. 

Silver Blue Charters is a highly-rated salmon fishing charter that operates on a comfortable 25-ft SeaRay Amberjack. They offer 3-hour wildlife tours that change with the seasons but are always impressive, with sightings of eagles, seals, sea lions, orcas, and humpback whales.

17. Explore local art on Gabriola Island 

Gabriola Island is renowned for its thriving arts scene, with over 200 artists and artisans living on the island. 

The Thanksgiving Studio Tour is a popular event where local artists welcome visitors to their galleries. You can pick up a Studio Tour Guide from the Gabriola Arts Council to decide which studios to explore. 

There’s also Gabriola Island’s “yellow flag program” where a yellow flag outside a home or studio signals it’s open to visitors. 

You’ll find all sorts of art mediums as you wander the island, including paintings, sculptures, woodworking, and jewelry. 

18. Attend an art exhibition

Attending art exhibitions is a great way to explore the art scene on this Gulf Island. 

The Gabriola Arts & Heritage Centre and Nova Art & Craft Boutique are two spaces that regularly host art shows. I recommend checking their social media to see when the next event is taking place.

gabriola island sandstone copy

19. Find your favourite Gabriola Island beach 

Gabriola Island is a beach lover’s paradise, and the best part is that most of its beaches are easily accessible to visitors and not tucked away on private land.

Gabriola Island beaches are all different. Some are rocky with driftwood, and others are sandy and have great tide pools or sandstone formations. 

Some of the popular beaches on Gabriola Island include Gabriola Sands (Twin Beaches), Descanso Bay (especially at sunset), Drumbeg Provincial Park, Brickyard Beach, Whalebone Beach, Sandwell Provincial Park and Berry Point. 

The beautiful beach at Degnen Bay is one of the best beaches, offering fantastic views of Valdes Island, a great mix of features, and petroglyphs. At low tide, you can walk to Lock Bay to see ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock.

20. Explore scuba diving sites 

Scuba diving is excellent in the Gulf Islands, and Gabriola Island is no exception. 

While there are no dive shops currently open on Gabriola Island, you can book tours and rentals from Nanaimo and then head out to scuba sites on Gabriola from there. 

Drumbeg Provincial Park is a fantastic spot for diving, and those with their gear can dive right from shore. 

For more experienced divers, the Gabriola Passage offers diving at Roger’s Reef.

gabriola island hiking

21. Go hiking on Garbiola Island

Gabriola Island has over 170 km of hiking trails to discover, and most of them are pretty quiet.

The Drumbeg Provincial Park Loop is only 1.5 km long and can be completed in less than 30 minutes, but it offers excellent scenery in the trees and along the coast, where visitors can marvel at some of the largest driftwood ever seen. 

Another great Gabriola Island hike is in the Elder Cedar Nature Reserve.

Here you can enjoy easy forest walks surrounded by huge cedar trees while hiking Gabriola Island.

You can even walk through one of the hollow trees!

22. Experience the Sunday Market and Silva Bay

If you’re visiting Gabriola Island on a Sunday, make sure to check out the Sunday Market, a smaller version of the Saturday Market. 

The focus is on art, and the scenic location at Silva Bay makes it stand out.

23. Petroglyph Heritage Park

Another of the top Gabriola Island attractions is this park.

The Petroglyph Heritage Park is by the Gabriola Museum and it’s a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

The trail takes you along a walkway with replicas of petroglyphs etched into the sandstone. 

The path leads through beautiful Garry Oaks and a lovely meadow, so you get a great combination of history and nature. 

gabriola island cider

24. Visit the Gabriola Cidery

Ravenskill Orchard & Cidery is a must-visit spot on Gabriola Island for cider lovers and anyone interested in heritage apples. 

The orchard is dedicated to reviving wild apples that once grew throughout the region through organic farming methods. 

You can pick your own apples or purchase caramel apples, apple butter, and craft ciders.

I highly recommend tasting some of the cider as it’s delicious and perfect on a sunny afternoon. 

On some Fridays throughout summer there’s live Folk Music too. I’d advise getting there early when this is happening since the patio fills up quickly!  

Best places to eat on Gabriola Island

While Gabriola Island food may not be as defined as some of the other Gulf Islands, such as the places to eat on Galiano or Salt Spring Island’s restaurants, these four options are great for a tasty bite.

​​25. Drink a beer at Skol Pub

Near the Gabriola ferry terminal, Skol Pub is perfect for grabbing a quick beer if you have some time to spare before your ferry ride. They also offer takeout options if you’re in a hurry. 

During the summer, there may be a food truck nearby for more food choices.

mad rona galiano

26. Grab coffee at Mad Rona’s Coffee Bar

Mad Rona’s is the only coffee shop on Gabriola Island and is known for its excellent coffee and charming ambiance. 

Their coffee comes from Drumroaster Coffee, a small-batch roaster on Vancouver Island and they do great breakfast sandwiches and burritos.

There’s a beautiful patio to enjoy your coffee and breakfast on too. 

27. Take dinner at Surf Lodge & Pub

Enjoy lunch with an ocean view at the historic Surf Lodge & Pub, which has been serving guests since 1940.

The lodge’s interior has a mix of old furnishings and wooden beams from driftwood which makes it feel super cosy and inviting. 

28. Enjoy pizza from Woodfire Restaurant

For a cozy atmosphere and satisfying comfort food, visit Woodfire Restaurant.

It’s one of the best Gabriola Island places to eat and they’re known for their pizzas, poutine, and pasta.

Oh, and be sure to save room for dessert!

gabriola island things to doo

Where to stay on Gabriola Island BC

Since it’s a small island, there’s not a huge choice when it comes to Gabriola Island accommodation.

However, there are still a couple of great hotels on Gabriola which I’ve detailed below.

Surf Lodge & Pub, Galiano

If you’re planning a trip to Gabriola Island The Surf Lodge and Pub is one of the best places to stay.

You’ll have the option to choose units with a cable flat-screen TV, a fully equipped kitchenette with a fridge, and a private bathroom with free toiletries and a shower.

After a day of exploring the beautiful surroundings with a hike or bike ride, you can unwind in the garden or shared lounge area.

The property provides a perfect setting for relaxation and comfort, making it an ideal place to stay during your trip to Gabriola Island.

Book your stay here.

Gabriola Central B&B

Experience a comfortable and relaxing stay at Gabriola Central B&B located in the picturesque Gabriola Island region.

This accommodation features a seating and/or dining area in some units, providing you with the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring.

Your stay includes a free breakfast, consisting of fresh fruits, bread, peanut butter, and various jams, cereal, cheese, butter, and coffee and tea.

Check prices & book here.

Camping on Gabriola Island

Camping on Gabriola Island is the best way to experience the island’s natural beauty. There are a couple of campsites on the island, detailed below 

Descanso Bay Regional Park

Descanso Bay Regional Park Campground is an excellent option for camping on Gabriola Island. It is a family-friendly park with a beautiful beach, ideal for swimming and picnicking. 

The campground has more than 30 forested tenting sites, some with ocean views. You can also park your campervan or RV here but there are no showers or sani-dump.

During summer, I recommend reserving your camp spot online. 

Page’s Resort Campground

Page’s Resort is a private campground on Gabriola Island among the forest with gardens and ocean views.

It offers a range of secluded tenting sites, RV parking up to 26 feet, and an open area for small groups.

Some sites have available electricity, and amenities like dish cleaning stations, washrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and barbeques are conveniently located in the picnic area.

You can also rent kayaks and paddleboards and there’s a market store selling liquor, coffee, produce, and meats, and purchase ice cream, snacks, groceries, pharmaceuticals, bait, clothing, and more.

things to do on salt spring island (5 of 6)

How to get to Gabriola Island BC

Gabriola Island is just 5 km from downtown Nanaimo and is easily accessible by ferry from Nanaimo. 

Nanaimo to Gabriola Island

If you’re traveling from Nanaimo, there are over 20 sailing times a day from Nanaimo Harbour to Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island.

The route is first come, first served and takes just 20 minutes to cross.

It’s important to note that the last ferry leaves Gabriola Island at 10:30 pm so make sure you’ve made plans if you’re planning to visit Gabriola for the day and check the Garbiola ferry schedule in advance.

Vancouver to Gabriola Island

If you’re coming from Vancouver, you have two options for getting to Gabriola Island. You can get there on the Gabriola Island ferry or by seaplane. 

The ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay in Nanaimo takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes. 

You should book your ferry in advance, especially if you’re traveling at weekends or in the summer. 

Once you arrive at Departure Bay in Nanaimo, it’s just a 10-minute drive to Nanaimo Harbour to catch the ferry to Gabriola Island.

If you’re looking for a more scenic option, you can take a seaplane from Vancouver to Silva Bay on Gabriola Island.

Gulf Island Seaplanes offers short flights to the island. 

Getting around Gabriola Island BC

Many people wonder ‘Do you need a car on Gabriola Island?’ And while exploring Gabriola Island is easiest with a car or a bike, the island is quite small so if you’re a keen hiker or walker, you could visit it without a car. 

However, if you are planning to cycle on Gabriola Island, there are no sidewalks or bicycle lanes.

The roads are also quite narrow so cycling on Gabriola Island is best reserved for confident, experienced cyclists. 

Gabriola Island also has a community bus service called GERTIE. The bus runs daily, except on Sundays and public holidays. It also tries to coordinate its service with the ferry schedule.

Another option for getting around Gabriola Island is by taxi. There is only one taxi on the island, so it’s best to call ahead of time to schedule a pickup.

FAQs on Gabriola Island things to do

Where is Gabriola Island?

Gabriola Island is located off the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, near Nanaimo.

When is the best time to visit Gabriola Island?

The best time to visit Gabriola Island is during the summer months for warm weather and outdoor activities.

Can you walk around Gabriola Island?

While Gabriola Island covers about 58 square kilometers, making it a challenge to walk around it entirely, there are many trails and scenic routes for shorter walks.

What is typical Gabriola Island weather?

Gabriola Island has a mild coastal climate with cool, rainy winters and warm, drier summers.

Is Gabriola Island worth visiting?

Definitely, Gabriola Island offers a mix of natural beauty, art, and a tranquil atmosphere, making it a perfect getaway.

What is Gabriola Island known for?

Gabriola Island is known for its arts community, stunning sandstone formations, and beautiful beaches.

Can you do a day trip to Gabriola Island?

Yes, Gabriola Island is accessible by a short ferry ride from Nanaimo, making it suitable for a day trip

Final thoughts on the best things to do on Gabriola BC

As you can see, there are so many options when it comes to the best things to do on Gabriola Island. 

From visiting Sandwell Provincial Park, with its large sandy beach and fantastic ocean views, to exploring the art on Gabriola Island and the Malaspina Galleries and their awesome sandstone cave-like formations!

If you’re looking for more guides to the Gulf Islands like these Gabriola Island things to do be sure to check out my travel guides to what to do on Salt Spring Island, these Galiano Island things to do, what to do on Hornby Island and the best things to do on Pender Island too.

Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Hannah

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