I am so lucky, for ra-zeal … I live on the west coast of amazing Canada and have at my finger tips some awesome places to explore. This summer for a few random weekends in June and August I am blessed with the scenery of Salt Spring Island. I big style enjoy the hippy, happy bliss of Salt Spring Island and would recommend the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring or any other, to any one!
What a place. How to describe it? In one long, poor grammar and badly punctuated sentence …. A small isle of winding, hilly, crazy roads riddled with cyclists navigating from lake to lake to ocean among mountains, two wee villages, many artisan shops, some cheese shops, a winery, a brewery, a cidery and more, oh my! If it sounds quaint and yet rugged – I have gotten my point across!
Getting here: the only way here is to boat yourself (I wish), harbour plane (amazing if you can afford it), or on BC Ferries (also amazing but still expensive). I come over on the ferry. Some tips – it’s cheaper to walk as a foot passenger ($20 per human each way) and the expense of driving across is cheaper if you go mid week. Make a reservation for this sailing and check the schedule closely. This route is usually served by a small, old ferry boat with little room for cars and peeps so things fill up fast in summer. The milk run route (stops at least once at every other Gulf Island before getting to Salt Spring) is a neat idea if you have double the time but does not save you any money.
Getting around: I am all about using my own two feet to get around or at least the most enviro friendly option (biking, public transport) but on Salt that’s an adventure in itself. The island is MUCH bigger than most people assume. The roads are windy, hilly and the wilderness (trees, deer and more) meets the road right where a ‘shoulder’ for walkers and bikers should be. So walkers and cyclist must use the actual skinny roads to commute and while probably safe (many do it here) not something I prefer (I am a big fan of bike lanes and sidewalks). If you are traveling with kids here, use caution walking and biking assuming the little humans even have the leg power to get up and over the hills. So basically I recommend a car while here. There are though local taxi like services and many locals gladly pick up and drop tourists on their travels – but not my thing.
Getting eats: there is no shortage of good eats on this island. Salt Spring is as good to artists as it is to the outdoorsy and the foodies. All over Ganges and Fulford (the only ‘towns’ on the island) are restaurants from burger joints to coffee shops to pubs to pizza places to bakeries. Ganges is littered with food truck inspired locations that are really fun. Most places boast of local, organic food and many have fun twists on the usual boring fare too (duck wings instead of chicken wings). In Ganges my usual haunts like the Oyster Catcher has a great flatbread pizza, Moby’s Pub has great duck wings and the best pints, Treehouse Cafe (built literally around a tree) has awesome breakfast, Salt Spring Island Coffee has epic .. you guess, coffee, and Embe Bakery has treats for every taste. To name just a few of the yummy places about.
If you need groceries I highly recommend the Country Grocer just past Ganges Harbour to the Thrifty’s in the Harbour. I am a huge Thifty’s fan usual (mmmm west coast ranger cookies) but the one on this isle is a gong show. Sorry. But if you are here in the height of summer I would instead suggest sticking to markets for your shopping! There is a massive market in Ganges on Saturdays and Tuesdays offering veggies, breads, jams, meats and more. There are also honesty boxes all over the island. In your travels have some small cash on hand and if there is something on the roadside for sale like eggs, veggies, flowers, firewood and more – simply drop the indicated and required sum in the honesty box and take what you paid for. Easy! The organic, free range, couldn’t be any more local eggs we picked up were amazing!
Getting to sleep: there all a whole host of campsites, bed and breakfast places, and Air BnB or VRBO places across the island. There are a few inns, hotels and guest houses too. Oh and most do accommodate humans and not just fairies like this one.
I generally go the Air BnB route so I can ‘live like a local’ and find this a pretty affordable option especially as I prefer to cook most of my meals. And by cook I mean eat cereal or make peanut butter and banana toasted sandwiches. (Side note: did you know that was Elvis’ favourite sammy? Yup!)
Anywho, the camping can be fun but be warned most campsites are walk in only (aka you must hoof your stuff in by hand not car) so embrace minimalist notions if you camp. I love love love the Ruckle Provincial Park campground! Some folks just set up their camp on local beaches and parks and don’t bother with official campsite mumbo jumbo. While this route is easy on the wallet, the prospect of getting woken in the night to get in trouble for it deters me. I am…how do you say it … A wimp when it comes to authority. Park Rangers especially. They might revoke my hiking rights!
Full disclosure here – prices in high season (summer) can be steep. Take the time to explore all options and you will find something in your price range even if maybe out of your comfort zone a wee bit – even 5 star hotel peeps can enjoy a walk in campsite with no amenities right? What you maybe over spend on accommodations you can save by fishing for your own dinner or eating Elvis sandwiches at your camp site!
Getting to know the island: what better way to get to know a place than by leaving it! Seriously hike and drive and bike the island for sure but also get on a boat and see it from the water. It’s just an amazing place – as is all the other small and large islands around it! Consider kayaking; the slow, quiet commute around and about the island gives you a great opportunity to take it all in. We saw seals, otters, snakes (being eaten by aforementioned otter), star fish, osprey (the actual bird not my backpack), deer and more from the comfort of my kayak! (Check out Island Escapades if you go.)
If bobbing in the ocean where something called a Killer Whale swims about underneath you isn’t your schtick – don’t worry, the island has enough to offer to keep you entertained. Try Mount Erskine Provincial Park for the fairy door trail, Ruckle Provincial Park for a great trek from bay to bay (and awesome geo-caching), Mount Maxwell Provincial Park for a hard core hike or a 4×4 drive to the amazing summit, Peter Arnell Trail for a rain forest fix, and then cool off at Beddis Beach on the ocean or St. Mary Lake for a swim of the non-salty variety.
Now what most people will tell you about Salt Spring is that the place is full of local artisan shops – if you like amazing, homemade, interesting, one of a kind, local art then Salt Spring is the place for you! You can’t dance in circles without hitting a local artist on that island. So many and so much talent. I will be honest I have not had the chance to explore this aspect of the island yet; when I have an ocean and mountains around me I hike not shop. Once I have done all the hikes, I will check out the art.
Some more pics to give you a sense of how great this Island really is!
Hmm, I think that about sums it up – put Salt Spring on your list!