Though campground after campground appeared fully reserved on a sunny July weekend, I remembered that cyclists don’t follow the conventional rules.
One amazing thing I learned on our PanAmerican cycle is a “can do” attitude where camping can be found, bikes can be fixed and hills can be climbed.
We happened to know a beautiful provincial campground on Galiano Island that’s a bit of a cyclist secret. Tucked away on the northern tip of the island, there’s no car access so roads are quiet, the scenery is gorgeous and there’s always sites even on the busiest of weekends. In other words, a cyclist paradise.
We rode across the flat farmlands of Delta where growing development encroached onto the lush fields of potatoes just starting to flower and blueberry bushes in long rows.
It was a quick morning ride to Twassassen Ferry Terminal under clear blue skies and a blustery breeze that made riding feel effortless in a short stretch when it was perfectly blowing at our backs. I could smell the ocean as we rode on the long straight roadway into deep water where the ferry docks were.
One hour later, we arrived at Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island and the Twassassen Ferry Terminal (and Delta Port beside it, which was actually more visible with its giant loading cranes) was faint in the distance across the Salish Sea.
We rode off the ferry and continued riding. The island roads were busy for the first bit as cars unloaded onto the one road from the ferry terminal. We climbed through the small “downtown” of Galiano with ice cream shops, diners, laundromat and a real estate office.
After turning onto Portier Pass Road, which runs the length of the island, the cars quieted down and the climb really started. It was just the sound of me huffing away and my wheels slowly cranking away in the filtered sunlight through the trees. The air is slightly thick with humidity, giving it a truly temperate rainforest feel.
All of that energy put into the ascent is soon given back in a fast downhill ride as we bisected the width of the island. However, that was only the first hill and Galiano is a hilly island. None of the hills are that long or unmanageable but keeps life interesting and is that perfect level of challenging that keeps riders coming back over and over again.
As we turned onto Vineyard Way (detailed riding directions are below), we entered the last big climb….and this one was fully in the baking hot sun.
However, as we got onto the ridge-line, it truly became a cyclist dream as virtually no cars come up this way and the view looked out onto the brilliant blue waters surrounding the island. There were some up and down but mostly down as we descended to Dionisio Point.
Cars were blocked at a gate and it became a paved cyclist path through the forest for the next couple km. As we crossed into the park boundaries, we interestingly crossed the 49th parallel north and the road became dirt.
At camp, we set up our tent at a site overlooking the ocean and wave sculpted sandstone shelf through some trees. At the shoreline, the water and wind over the years have carved surreal shapes into the weathered sandstone.
We explored along the stone shoreline, scrambling up and down rocks and over sea worn logs. We relaxed on the sandy beach by Dionisio Point guarding the active Portier Pass. Bryan splashed around in the warm shallow waters in the ebbing tide of the lagoon on one side of the point while we both tried to swim in the deeper waters in the other side of the point. I got to my knees before I considered myself cooled down sufficiently.
We sat on the beach, relaxing on the hot sand and watch boats battle the rapids in Portier Pass. After we filled up our water bottles and headed back to the tent for dinner, watching the waves while sharing a mickey of Fireball, talking with with some of the other cyclists and finally sleep.
Route – Sturdies Bay to Dionisio Point
Leaving the ferry terminal, continue on Sturdies Bay Road for 3km until a junction, locally called “The Corner”. It’s a couple dips to scenic views of the calm bay but generally a gentle uphill. 6% grade leaving the ferry terminal (gear appropriately! First time, I totally failed changing my gears low in time and made for a really hard climb) and then 6% grade last stretch past the Hardware Store. Got extra time? There is the Hummingbird Pub of the corner at the end of the 3km!
Turn right onto Portier Pass Road for 13.7km of up and down. After a short downhill to take a breath, a 2.7km rather steep climb starts through the beautiful woods. Yay for shade! There are basically three steep climbs (hello 10% grades) among a few more short, gentler climbs until Vineyard Way.
Turn right onto Vineyard Way at around the 16.7km mark and then it is a steep 2.1km climb up to Bodega Beach Drive that gives you a little breather by flattening out somewhat in the middle by a lake.
At the top of the hill, turn left at the T-intersection with Bodega Beach Drive. At Bodega Beach Drive, it is a stunning ride with a spectacular view of the water far down below you. There are still some gentle uphill portions but it is overall downhill. At around 23.3km or so, things get a little political and the road becomes private. It is a local dispute between a developer and the island trust so the road is technically closed. While things were heated in the past, it seems that it has settled down and there is actually a small parking lot for vehicles at the gate. Of course, this may change in the future so be prepared to ride back to Pebble Beach (Cable Bay) or Montague Harbour to camp. However, for the time being, this just means paradise for cyclists as it is a beautiful paved road through the forest with no cars!
At around 25.3km, the Dionisio Point Provincial Park begins and the road turns into an even lovelier dirt path through the forest. It follows an old dirt road leading to an overgrown parking lot so it is ridable even without mountain bikes. The total riding distance is about 27.4km, about 2-3 hours riding time with plenty of breaks.
The elevation gain is technically the same in both directions. After all, the ride starts at sea level and ends at sea level from either direction. However, the ride back to the ferry terminal feels a bit easier. The elevation profiles show that there are less steep climbs. Look at all that purple (indicating 10% grades) on the outbound ride!
Ignore the final descent/ascent out of Dionisio Park because there were no roads for the mapping device to follow so it is not accurate in terms of elevations.
Camping at Dionisio Point Provincial Park
At Dionisio Point Park, there are two campground areas, each with 15 sites. One is nestled in the woods up the hill behind the water pump and campground sign just after the parking lot. The benefits of this area is that it is close to the swimming beach and water pump and is easy to get to. The other camping area is back before the “parking lot”, turning towards the two picnic table group campsite and continuing towards the water. It goes along a small trail for a fair distance and then there is a campsite area above the sandstone shelf right by the water. Both sites have outhouses and a pay station. It is $5 per person per night, which is either payable via the parks website or at the drop box in the park. In the summer, a ranger will also come by to collect fees.