Salt Spring Island is one of the quirkiest places I have visited within British Columbia. Known for its rugged coastline and creative community, Salt Spring Island is a laid back bohemian paradise. Located between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring makes for a perfect weekend getaway from Vancouver, or day trip from Victoria.
This decidedly quirky island has much to offer from its whimsical art studios to its breathtaking hiking trails. Many a view can be found in this verdant landscape. There is plenty to see and do on Salt Spring Island. Read on to discover the best things to do on Salt Spring Island and truly experience a taste of island life.
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Where is Salt Spring Island?
Salt Spring Island is part of an archipelago known as the Southern Gulf Islands, which lie between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Other nearby Gulf Islands include Galiano Island, Mayne Island and Pender Island.
When to visit Salt Spring Island
There is never a bad time to visit Salt Spring Island but as it is a seasonal destination, the summer months are the best for experiencing the Island in all its glory.
Since the Gulf Islands experience a temperate climate, Salt Spring is a great year-round destination, with the summer being the busiest. The shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are perfect if you want less crowds, and temperatures are still relatively warm.
I visited Salt Spring Island over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and the weather was fantastic. And because it was a long weekend, all the local shops and restaurants were still open. Some businesses on the island only operate in the peak seasons, so make sure you research ahead of time what will be open.
Where to stay on Salt Spring Island
- Cusheon Lake Resort – I stayed in a beautiful log cabin at Cusheon Lake Resort and had such an amazing time here. The log cabins are spacious and well-equipped with a TV, WiFi, and kitchen utensils and appliances. The canoes, kayaks and paddle boards are free to use all throughout the day. Life jackets are available but you may want to bring your own. This is a quiet area and beautiful for a fall getaway.
- Salt Spring Inn – The Salt Spring Inn is located right in the heart of the town of Ganges. The location is great for walking to the Saturday Markets as well as local restaurants and the Ganges Harbour.
How to get to Salt Spring Island
Getting to Salt Spring Island does require taking a ferry or flying. It is surrounded by water after all! The great thing about Salt Spring is that it is one of the larger of the Southern Gulf Islands and therefore has many more options to get there. Salt Spring is a pretty accessible island, whether you are coming from Vancouver, Victoria or Nanaimo.
- From Vancouver: One of the more popular routes for day trippers and weekenders is the Tsawwassen to Long Harbour route with BC Ferries. There are two itineraries for this route, direct with no stops, and a route which stops at the other Gulf Islands first. If taking the longer route, you will remain on board at each stop until you reach your destination. The ferry time varies depending on the departure time and route. Make sure to check ferry sailing times ahead of your trip to see which routes operate when. The Tsawwassen to Long Harbour route is reservable in both directions.
- From Victoria: To get to Salt Spring Island from Victoria you’ll need to take the ferry from Swartz Bay terminal which is around a 30-minute drive from downtown. The ferry from Swartz Bay is a short 35-minute journey. The ticket price also includes cost for return journey back to Vancouver Island, so you won’t pay anything on the return leg. This also applies to the Vesuvius Bay terminal (if you are returning to Vancouver Island only) This route is non-reservable and first-come-first-served.
- From Nanaimo: For getting to Salt Spring Island from Nanaimo, you’ll take the ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius Bay. Just like the ferry from Swartz Bay this is a short 20-minute sailing and ticket price includes return journey, This route cannot be booked and is first-come-first-served only.
- From other Gulf Islands: Gulf Islands Water Taxi connects Salt Spring with Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands. This company only operates between July and August. See the schedule for more details. Aqualink also offers sailings between these islands on Saturdays.
Important things to know:
- There are three ferry routes to Salt Spring Island and they all leave from different terminals. Make sure you know which ferry terminal you will be arriving and departing from.
- The ferries from Tsawwassen to Long Harbour can be reserved in advance. This is the only route that does not include return ferry cost. You will need to pay for each ferry separately and both directions can be reserved in advance.
- The ferry to Salt Spring Island gets very busy on weekends, especially in the summer months. Reserving ahead of time is highly recommended. There can be as little as 3 ferries to and from Salt Spring to Tsawwassen (Vancouver) a day. If you have not reserved, get there early for stand-by.
I travelled to Salt Spring Island over the Thanksgiving long weekend and didn’t reserve any ferries. I was lucky to get on the ferry going there on stand-by. We got to the terminal 2 hours early and there were still people ahead of us in the stand-by lane.
On our journey back to Vancouver we decided to head to Swartz Bay via Fulford Harbour and take the ferry to Tsawwassen from Swartz Bay. We decided to do this as there were many more ferries leaving from Swartz Bay that day and only 2 from Salt Spring (Long Harbour) that were both fully-booked. The ferry from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay was free – this ferry route is included in ticket prices! Even if you are coming from Vancouver.
Traveling by floatplane to Salt Spring Island is by far the most fun way to get to the island. Harbour Air operates out of Vancouver and total travel time from Vancouver is approximately 35-minutes one way.
How to get around Salt Spring Island
The best way to get around Salt Spring Island is by car. Public transport is scarce on the island and if you want to explore the island fully you’ll want to have a car.
Things to do on Salt Spring Island
1) Stay in a rustic cabin or quirky Bnb
There are a wide variety of places to stay on Salt Spring Island, from camping to luxury retreats. Staying in a lakeside cabin is the perfect way to spend a weekend getaway on Salt Spring Island.
- Cusheon Lake Resort – This resort features 1,2 & 3 bedroom log cabins that sit at the shores of Cushion Lake. The secluded location is great for a quiet getaway and offers access to free canoe, kayak and paddle board rentals.
- The Cottages at Salt Spring Island – Enjoy a relaxing lakeside retreat at the Cottages at Salt Spring. These rustic cottages are located on the shores of Bullock lake surrounded by mountain vistas. On a rainy day the fireplace is the perfect to get cozy.
- The Sanctuary – The Sanctuary is a spacious and incredibly stunning cabin which sleeps up to 6 people. This is the kind of place where you can relax, unwind and disconnect from technology.
2) Grab coffee at Salt Spring Coffee
Coffee is a must when venturing out for a long day of exploring. Head to Salt Spring Coffee, a local favourite, to get your caffeine fix. Located in the heart of Ganges, this coffee shop offers sustainable environmentally friendly coffee and delicious sandwiches and baked goods.
3) Hike to the summit of Mount Erskine
Salt Spring Island is home to an abundance of hiking trails that cater to every type of fitness level and ages. One of the most popular trails on the island is Mount Erskine. This is a moderate hike that rewards you with panoramic views from the summit.
The hike itself is fairly easy for the average hiker with the trail being relatively wide the whole way and easy to navigate terrain. I recommend taking the loop counter-clockwise so you can do the steepest part at the start.
This is one of my favourite hikes in British Columbia because the trail itself is so unique and describes Salt Spring Island perfectly. Along the trail up to the summit you’ll pass by several cute fairy doors. The term “away with the fairies” definitely describes the laid back culture of Salt Spring.
4) Watch the sunset from Baynes Peak in Mount Maxwell Park
There is no shortage of sunset spots on Salt Spring Island. To experience the best views, head to the west side of the island.
Baynes Peak in Mount Maxwell Provincial Park is lovely at sunset with broad views across the Saanich Inlet. To reach Baynes Peak you can either hike or drive. The hike to Baynes Peak is an easy to moderate trail. If you are hiking via the Mountain Trail the elevation gain is 166 metres and total length of 2.3 kilometres.
The drive to the summit of Baynes Peak is a dirt road that is rough with steep bumpy sections so a 4×4 vehicle is recommended. We saw many non 4×4 cars parked part-way up. It’s possible to park at the start of the forest service road too, and hike the rest of the way.
5) Bioluminescence Kayak Tour
One of the most unique things you can do on Salt Spring Island is take a bioluminescent kayak tour. There are certain times of the year that this activity is best suited. Bioluminescence is best seen from mid-June to mid-September when the water is warm and sky is dark.
If you are visiting outside of these months, you can still enjoy a kayaking tour but you probably won’t see the bioluminescent plankton. A Kayak tour to Chocolate Beach is another popular kayaking tour from Salt Spring Island.
6) Explore Ruckle Provincial Park
Ruckle Provincial Park is one of four Provincial Parks on Salt Spring Island. Surrounded by beautiful ocean views, this wonderful park offers great picnic spots and trails interwoven among lush forest and rugged rocky outcrops.
Not only is Ruckle Provincial Park a stunning area to take a walk, it has a rich cultural history. It started as a farm owned by Henry Ruckle who emigrated to Salt Spring from Ireland. Although the family donated much of the land to the province in 1974, they still continue to raise sheep on nearby private land. Ruckle Farm is the oldest continually operating farm in British Columbia.
7) Visit a Lavender Farm
There are two different lavender farms you can visit on Salt Spring Island, Lavender & Black and Sacred Mountain Lavender. The best time to visit a lavender farm is around May to June when the lavender is in full bloom. These two lavender farms are situated at opposite ends of the island, so I would recommend visiting one or the other depending on your accommodation or plans.
8) Go cheese tasting at Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
Famous for their artisan goat cheeses, a visit to Salt Spring Island Cheese is a family owned and operated company and a must do when visiting Salt Spring Island. Their array of beautifully packaged cheeses can be found throughout British Columbia and are very popular across the province.
Before tasting some of the cheese on offer, there is a small self-guided tour of the factory which details the process of making the goats cheese. All cheeses are handmade using traditional methods and natural ingredients (my favourite was the truffle goats cheese. Mmm!) Before you leave make sure to tour the barn and meet the goats!
9) Stop at one of the many farm stands
A trip to Salt Spring Island wouldn’t be complete without having visited one of the many farm stands. Farm Stands are a staple on Salt Spring Island and each one is more whimsical than the next.
It’s almost impossible to drive around the island and not see a farm stand. Most of them are cash only, where you leave your cash in the money box and take what you like. Some even offer e-transfer.
You will see a wide array of stands selling everything from fresh produce to flower arrangements and lip balm. Handmade soaps are popular on the island and many stands offer their own. This is a great way to support local and take home a unique souvenir.
10) Take a walk along Fernwood Dock
Head north of the island and take a beautiful walk along the Fernwood Dock. The Fernwood Dock spurts out from a beautiful rugged beach and showcases a 360 degree view of verdant mountains and coves.
Just opposite the dock is the Fernwood Café, another great café to grab lunch.
11) Go cider Tasting at Salt Spring Wild Cider
Being from England, I naturally love cider! And here in Canada it’s sometimes hard to find a good fruity cider like back home. Salt Spring Wild Cider produces artisanal craft cider from apples that are grown right here on Salt Spring Island. They have some of the best flavours I have tried in BC. My personal favourite was the elderflower cider.
Ordering a flight is the best way to sample the ciders at Salt Spring Wild. I really loved the fact that each cider is served in a different shaped glass. There is also a food menu featuring small and large plates.
If you find a flavour you like you can order the full size to go from the store. The bottles are designed with a swing top so that you can keep the cider fresh. The cider house is open 7 days a week year-round.
12) Eat Lunch at the Tree House Café
The Tree House Cafe is now one of my favourite restaurants in BC. The food is incredible and really affordable. The Tree House Cafe is a quirky eatery designed to look like a Tree House, it even surrounds a huge century-old plum tree.
Throughout August and September the Tree House Cafe offers live folk music nights know as “Music under the stars”.This place is extremely popular and waiting for a table in peak times should be expected.
13) Visit the Saturday Market
The Saturday Market is one of the most popular things to do on Salt Spring Island and is frequented by both locals and tourists. Visiting the market is the best way to experience the island way of life and purchase any local trinket or souvenirs.
With over 100 vendors you’ll find everything from local soap makers and jewellery makers to fresh produce and handmade garments.
The market is located right in the centre of Ganges town just by the harbour which is beautiful for an afternoon stroll.
14) Go shopping in Ganges
Other than the Saturday Market there are plenty of opportunities to shop local on Salt Spring Island. One of my favourite stores on the island is Salt Spring Soapworks, offering a range of soaps, skincare and haircare products rich in organic ingredients and natural botanicals. This is the perfect place to pick up some bath bombs and enjoy some r&r.
15) Salt Spring Art Studio & Gallery Tour
Experience Salt Spring Island’s thriving arts community by touring the plethora of art studios and galleries. The Salt Spring Studio Tour is a self-guided tour which takes you to a variety of studios including glass, pottery and interior design studios. The town of Ganges to home to many art galleries and most are all within walking distance of each other.
16) Go wine tasting at one of the many vineyards
Salt Spring Island may be famous for its apples that grow on the island but it’s also known for its vineyards. There are many wineries on the Island that you can visit for a wine tasting tour. Some of the most popular include Garry Oaks Estate Winery, Salt Spring Vineyards & Tasting Room and Kutatás Wines.
17) Go canoeing or kayaking on the lake
The Gulf Islands experience a moderate climate year-round which means spending time on the lake. There are 5 main lakes on Salt Spring Island including St Mary Lake, Stowell Lake, Blackburn Lake, Cusheon Lake and Weston Lake.
In the summer months (June to September) the lakes are perfect for taking a dip but when the cooler months come you can still get out on the lake by canoe or kayak.
18) Grab a beer flight at Salt Spring Brewing
If cider and wine aren’t your thing, head to Salt Spring Brewing Company and enjoy a flight of craft beer surrounded by nature. The brewery is open Wednesday to Sunday.
19) Relax in a sauna at Salty Pear
Surrounded by the sounds of nature, the barrel sauna at Salty Pear is the perfect way to end a morning of hiking. The sauna can be booked as a non-guest of Salty Pear and are two bookings per day with each time slot being a total of 2-hours. The cost for each session is $35.
The sauna is a DIY experience where you’ll need to start the fire yourself. When we arrived there was no lighter but we found a box of matches, so I would recommend bringing your own lighter. It’s also recommended you bring some tinder and fire starters in case there are none left.
I booked the 12pm – 2pm slot which was the first time slot of the day and there was plenty of wood and tinder etc.
20) Have dinner at Auntie Pesto’s
Auntie Pesto’s is an Italian restaurant specializing in pasta dishes. This eatery is located right on the harbour with fantastic views across the water. The pasta here is amazing! Try the Dill Seafood Alfredo – you won’t regret it! This place is very popular and can get very busy so reservations are recommended.
21) Try the gelato at Glad’s Gelateria
Gelato is always a good idea after dinner! Glad’s Gelateria is close to Ganges Harbour and within walking distance of many restaurants and cafes. Glad’s makes small batch gelato and is some of the best I have tasted! The pistachio did not disappoint.
22) Spot one of the many Fairy Doors!
There are many things that make Salt Spring Island magical, but one of the cuter reasons is the collection of tiny fairy doors that can be found throughout the island.
Many of the fairy doors can be found on the Mount Erskine trail but there are still many more scattered all over Salt Spring Island.
23) Enjoy Sweet Treats & Pastries at Embe Bakery
Every small town has it’s famous local bakery, and Salt Spring’s is Embe Bakery – one of the yummiest bakeries I’ve visited in BC to date.
Embe Bakery is locally owned and they have a huge variety of cakes and pastries including cupcakes, strudel and sausage rolls (which are seriously good!). We came here several times on our trip, purchasing one of their pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and returning to grab more sausage rolls for the ride home.
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