The feral goats have names (Stripe-and-Spot is an example), and they outnumber the resident humans (about 300). Want to test the battery and brakes on your electric-assist bike? The Missing Link, a stretch of road with a sustained grade of up to 20 per cent, will do nicely. And don’t forget to wave; it’s a rule of Island Etiquette on Saturna, the most easterly of British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands.
“Saturna Island welcomes bike explorers and wishes them luck on all the hills,” says the Island Etiquette hand-out.
This mountainous island has two finger-like main roads that are scenic and cycle-friendly – if you can handle a few killer hills. Traffic is light – we meet more deer than cars – except when a ferry arrives. Because roads are narrow, Island Etiquette sensibly requires bikes to wait until all off-loading motor vehicles have driven away.
The road to Narvaez Bay is the shorter (24 km, return) and easier of the two main roads. About two-thirds of the distance is gravel, but the gravel is actually more smooth than the paved portion.
“This road is so much prettier on a bike,” observes Doug, as we pedal the longer main road, which leads to East Point Park (34 km, return). In the past, we have travelled this road in a car, but enclosed in a vehicle we didn’t fully appreciate the views or take the time to stop and explore the various shoreline access points.
The Missing Link, a long, steep section that connects the two main roads, is a scary prospect for timid cyclists. We climb up easily, thanks to Turbo, the highest level of battery-assist (usually we run in Eco, the lowest level). What goes up must come down, and yikes, this is a big descent with a steep drop-off. Yes, we know it’s bad form, but we acknowledge clinging to the brake levers with a death grip.
Hikers welcome, too
About half of Saturna Island is parkland, protected under the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. This means there’s plenty of room to hop off the bikes and explore.
Brown Ridge is the range of the Island’s feral goats, released from early farms. For an introduced species, these goats get a lot of love. Take a look at a local photographer’s story about Milli Goat. These ruminants have created trails that run along the ridge, providing a world-class cliff walk.
Aptly named East Point is a prime area for wildlife viewing, as nutrient-rich waters churn around the point. Pods of orcas pass by regularly, and the weathered sandstone shoreline is a pleasant place to wander while waiting for whales to appear. Sea lions, harbour seals, porpoises, and several species of birds are almost guaranteed.
Winter Cove contains an easy, peaceful nature trail that loops through skunk cabbage wetland, salt marsh, and along the shoreline before returning to a popular picnic area.
Narvaez Bay offers a few different trails to explore. Short trails lead to Echo Bay and Little Bay, where there are seven walk-in campsites. Monarch Head is a three-km figure-eight trail with a view of Boundary Pass and Washington State’s San Juan Islands.
Getting to Saturna Island requires some planning and familiarity with the BC Ferries schedule. Sailings are limited, and reservations are not taken (from Swartz Bay), so cars are sometimes left behind. Cyclists are generally assured of boarding, walking on along with the foot passengers.
Narvaez Bay campground has seven reservable backcountry sites: an excellent choice for those who hike, bike, or paddle in. We opted for a roofed accommodation closer to the action (the ferry terminal, pub, and ice cream store): Saturna Lodge, a rustic property built in the 1920s as a mill manager’s house.
The road to Mount Warburton Pike, where the Brown Ridge trail begins, is not cycle-friendly: four kilometres of steep, narrow, windy gravel. Laura, our host at Saturna Lodge, kindly shuttled us to the top. The Lions Shuttle and the Car Stop program are other ways to get around, for those who arrive car-free.