Our family has visited Salt Spring Island for decades, first on summer holidays visiting my mother when we lived in Colorado, and then again on a regular basis when we lived in Vancouver. It’s always been a great escape from the big city. Life moves at a slower pace here and yet there’s still plenty to see and do on Salt Spring Island if that’s what you want.
As the largest of the Gulf Islands, there is something for every type of traveler on Salt Spring Island whether you like to camp or you want the full five-star experience. You can see why it’s a popular place in the summer, so aim for the shoulder seasons if you can. Then you’ll feel like you have a little slice of heaven to yourself.
Keep reading to discover all you can do on Salt Spring Island from visiting local artisans to hiking, biking, and kayaking to dining, exploring galleries, and enjoying wine, beer, cider and spirits tasting. It was a real treat to return to the island and explore it with fresh eyes after an absence of a decade.
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Salt Spring Island location – and how to get here
Salt Spring Island is one of the southern Gulf Islands just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, with Crofton and Swartz Bay providing easy ferry access from Vancouver Island. From Vancouver, you can take the ferry from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal directly to Long Harbour on weekends.
Salt Spring Island is also close to Galiano Island, Pender Island, and Mayne Island – and can be accessed from these islands via inter-island ferries.
Your other option is to hop on a float plane with Harbour Air from downtown Vancouver, Maple Bay or Richmond (YVR South). Seair Seaplanes is another company offering float plane services.
Location map of things to do on Salt Spring Island
Click on the the three dots near the top of the right-hand corner to email a copy of the map.
What is the best time to visit Salt Spring Island?
Salt Spring Island is at its best in summer – so think July and August. You’ll enjoy warm, even hot weather and lots of sunshine. There’s lots to do on Salt Spring Island in the summer – from kayaking to hiking, biking, swimming and more, but expect far more visitors on the island than if you visit in the shoulder seasons. April to June and September until Thanksgiving are also wonderful times to visit.
1. Bike a loop or two around Salt Spring Island
Biking is popular on Salt Spring Island, but with narrow roads and missing shoulders, you need to choose your time to cycle. Aim for the shoulder seasons. I’d recommend picking one of the other Gulf Islands to bike in the summer. If you decide otherwise, try to avoid the Fulford- Ganges Road after the ferry gets in. It’s worth pulling over to let the cars pass.
After my downer of an introduction, I’d like to say that it can also be great fun exploring the backroads of Salt Spring Island by bike. I particularly like the bike ride from Ganges to Ruckle Park on the quieter roads and the loop around the north end of the island.
When my mother lived in Ganges, I spent quite a bit of time walking into town and poking among the shops. It’s a cute town and the hub of Salt Spring Island. It’s where everyone comes to bank, pick up groceries, go to the Saturday market, poke about art galleries, watch the comings and goings of sea planes and boats in the harbour, enjoy coffees, have a meal and wander through the park.
I love hanging out with a coffee and delicious cinnamon roll at Barb’s Buns, seeing what’s new in Black Sheep Books and ogling over what’s offered in the art galleries. I’ve enjoyed kayaking from Salt Spring Island, swimming in freshwater lakes and hikes around the island.
3. Hike up Mount Maxwell
One of the quintessential things to do on Salt Spring Island is to hike up Mount Maxwell. You only need 2.5 – 3 hours to do the approximate 5.5 km hike with just 270 metres of elevation gain. Along the trail enjoy many massive Douglas fir trees, lovely patches of vibrant green moss, and some pretty hiking through open forest.
The Gulf Islands view from the Mount Maxwell summit on Salt Spring Island – and even part way up is awe-inspiring. Try to save this hike for a clear day.
This hike starts at the end of Armand Way where you can park in a cul-de-sac. Another option is to start at the Burgoyne Bay trailhead, but that hiking route has more elevation gain and is in the trees for longer.
4. Enjoy a sunset on Mount Erskine, Salt Spring Island
Mount Erskine is one of the premier hikes on Salt Spring Island offering big, far-reaching views across Sansum Narrows and north up Vancouver Island. It’s also home to fairy doors – likely made by Salt Spring Island’s fairy door man. Keep your eyes peeled for these beautifully decorated doors attached to boulders especially around the summit.
It’s only 3.5 km round-trip to the top of Mount Erskine, so plan a hike an hour before sunset. It only takes about a half hour to get back down but take a headlamp to be on the safe side.
To get to the trailhead from Ganges go west on Rainbow Road. Turn left on Juniper Place and left again on Spring Gold Way. Make a right on Trustees Trail and park at the side of the road across from the signed trailhead.
5. Go kayaking
One of the top things to do on Salt Spring Island, especially in summer, is to go kayaking. You can rent kayaks (and SUP’s) right in Ganges at the marina from Salt Spring Adventure Company and take a tour or explore on your own. They have single and double kayaks and both sit-on-top kayaks and full sea kayaks.
They offer 2 and 3-hour tours including an easy circumnavigation of Goat Island in Ganges Harbour, the fantastic Chocolate Beach tour I did years ago with my mother and daughter, along with a sunset, full moon, and a bioluminescence tour – best done when the sky is dark.
One of the animals you’ll likely see on a paddle is a harbour seal. If you’re looking the wrong way, their splashes can startle you. Bird life is prolific too.
6. Visit Lavender Farms
There are two lavender farms on Salt Spring Island Lavender & Black and Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm. My most recent visit was in April when lavender doesn’t look very good. But come the summer, both places are worth a visit.
Lavender & Black is an organic, family-owned farm at the north end of Salt Spring Island. The owners, Ben and Awatief, have a beautiful property with a view of the Stuart Channel. On a visit you can learn how to grow lavender, buy lavender ice cream, and check out a host of lavender products including essential oils, body lotion, fragrances, lavender-infused honey and more. This is one place I’d like to visit in the summer when the farm is at its most beautiful.
Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm near Fulford Harbour grows 60 varieties of lavender and sells a range of lavender infused products. Look for Herbes de Provence, lavender sugar, essential oils, lotions, lavender infused neck pillows, and a whole lot more.
7. Check out artist studios on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is home to numerous galleries, workshops and studios with artists working in clay, glass, paint, wood and more. One of the best ways to experience the creative side of the island is to do a self-guided Salt Spring Studio Tour. Drop into over 20 galleries, farms, wineries, cider houses, and studios across the island and meet the artists at work. On one of our bike rides around the island, we made a point of stopping in to chat with the artists and see what they offer.
We’ve checked out the gamut of studios over the years including pottery stops, a place selling French tapestries, Sunset Farm – where a flock of sheep produce wool for knitting and weaving, to Ciderworks, and the Garry Oaks Winery. We always learn something and come away admiring the passion of the artisans.
8. Go wine tasting
There are now three wineries on Salt Spring Island you can visit – Garry Oaks Winery, Salt Spring Vineyards, and Kutatás.
Garry Oaks Winery
The Garry Oaks Winerystarted in 1999 when a couple bought a 100-year-old-farm and slowly converted it to grape-growing and wine making. All the wines are made from grapes grown on the island. Look for award winning Zweigelt and bright flavours and aromas in their Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. They have a tasting room that is open daily from May – September.
Salt Spring Vineyards
Salt Spring Vineyards produces dry, crisp champagne-style sparkling, whites, reds, pinks, and dessert wine. They feature a tasting room and sell picnics to enjoy on their scenic property.
Kutatás is the newcomer on the island. They offer Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a rosé and a couple of varietals I’m not familiar with. Visit the Saturday Market in Ganges to chat wine and make a purchase.
9. Enjoy a cider tasting on Salt Spring Island
There are two cideries on Salt Spring Island now – which makes sense given the fact that the island was once the biggest producer of apples in all of British Columbia.
The craft cidery, Ciderworks, offers 100% organic cider from Salt Spring grown fruit with no added sugar, only apple juice if necessary. They collect over 450 varieties of apples from 3,500 trees to make three different collections of cider – single orchard, flagship – and specialty cider where they can get creative.
You’ll find the cidery on the Fulford Ganges Road. Be sure to stop, go in and buy a flight. Then take it outdoors and enjoy the view of the orchards and the water while eating a delicious apple fritter or a piece of pizza. It’s a perfect way to spend an hour!
Salt Spring Wild Cider
I didn’t have a chance to taste any of ciders produced by Salt Spring Wild Cider – but I heard great things about both the cidery (crisp cider more akin to traditional English cider) and their cheese and charcuterie plates. They say, “the food they serve is meant to be drunk with cider.” They do take reservations for their restaurant.
The cidery makes artisanal craft ciders from both heritage pears and apples that grow on Salt Spring Island. Families and pets are welcome on a visit.
10. Quaff a beer at Salt Spring Brewing Co.
Salt Spring Brewing Co. offers fresh, unpasteurized beer made with water piped from a mountain spring, without any preservatives brewed in small batches with local hops and malted barley.
Enjoy a flight of cold beer or a pint along with some snacks in their tasting room. They are dog-friendly.
11. Check out the Saturday Farmer’s Market
Going to the Saturday Farmer’s Market is a much-loved tradition for locals and visitors. It starts up in early April and run until the end of October from 9 AM – 3 PM, rain or shine.
Go hungry is my best advice, as there is plenty to tempt you once you’re there. Some of the food is fresh from the farm, and there’s lots of home baking. Not only are there over a dozen food vendors, but soap sellers, wine, cider and spirit booths, jewellery, leatherwork, paper goods and more.
12. Visit a craft distillery
For those of you who love artisan distilleries be sure to visit Salt Spring Shine for gin, vodka and moonshine made with 100% BC honey. All spirits are handcrafted, and hand bottled on Salt Spring Island. I can’t comment on their taste but according to the owner you can expect smooth flavours. Go see for yourself – at either their tasting room or at the Saturday market.
13. Walk the Fernwood Dock on Salt Spring Island
It’s worth a visit to the Fernwood Dock. It’s across the street from the Fernwood Café and right on Fernwood Point Beach. On a nice day I could see spending time watching the boats go by before heading to Fernwood Point Beach for a little beachcombing and bird watching.
14. Visit Salt Spring Island Cheese
Salt Spring Island Cheese was started by David Wood in 1996 after six years of trial and error both on the farm and in the kitchen. The cheese is all made using only traditional methods and 100% pure goat milk, sea salt, dairy culture, and rennet. Their packaging as you can see in the photo, is gorgeous – and their products continue to stand the test of time.
This is a fun stop because not only can you taste and buy products, but you can see and pet the goats. When we visited in spring, there were several very new baby goats and many a pregnant ewe.
15. Hike in Ruckle Provincial Park 15+ km of trails
Ruckle Provincial Park is a favourite of locals and visitors alike – offering a mix of fields, an active farm (off limits), and a stunning seascape. I have friends that camp religiously in the park every summer, pitching a tent in a meadow overlooking Swanson Channel. From their tent they can see seals, sea lions and if they’re very lucky, killer whales.
There are 78 walk-in campsites, a five-minute walk from the parking lot. There are only 10 campsites you can reserve, with the rest being first come, first served. In 2023, they are $20/campsite per night. There are also 8 sites for RV’s or campers and 59 non-designated sites in the park.
Ruckle Park is a fantastic place for hiking with 15+ kilometres of trails. One of the premier hikes takes you from the parking lot all the way to Yeo Point – but by no means do you have to go that far to get a taste of how beautiful the hiking is. Follow the coastline past beautiful arbutus trees, tiny pocket beaches – that would make great picnic spots, up and over roots and rocks, past Bear and Coppermine Points, with many lookoffs out to Swanson Channel. Turn around and retrace your steps when you’ve had your fill.
Ruckle Park is one of the must visit places on Salt Spring Island.
There are lots of beaches scattered around Salt Spring Island. A smattering of the better beaches is described below.
The beach at the end north end of the Jack Foster Trail is a 45-minute walk on a trail off Southey Point Road at the north end of the island. The trail takes you to a mixed gravel-sand beach with nice views of the Trincomali Channel
Beddis Beach at the end of Beddis Road is a beautiful white crushed shell beach but swimming will be cold. It is on the east side of the island.
Ruckle Park is at the southeast end of the island and although there isn’t any sand, the beachcombing over boulders and flat rocks is excellent.
Fernwood Point is a great beach during the summer and is found to the left of the Government Wharf at the intersection of North Beach Road and Walker’s Hook Road in the northern part of the island. You can walk out along sandy mudflats but beware of live (which are black) sand dollars. There are great tidal pools to explore too.
17. Hike the Chris Hatfield Trail
You only need an hour to knock off the 2.8 km round trip Chris Hatfield hike. It takes you to scenic Yeo Point at the northernmost tip of Ruckle Park. Although Yeo Point is accessible from the main parking lot in Ruckle Park, it’s a longer, more arduous out and back hike.
The Chris Hatfield hike also provides for a side-trip to scenic Cusheon Cove. To get to Yeo Point you’ll reach a trail that’s part of the Ruckle Park trail network. Go left and follow it to the end, ideally via a small mixed rock and sand beach.
To get to the Chris Hatfield trailhead drive west on Beaver Pond Road towards Ruckle Park. Turn left onto Bulman Road and then right onto Meyer Road. You can park at the end of Meyer Road but be sure you don’t block any of the resident’s driveways.
18. Go for a swim
Salt Spring Island is a fantastic place for freshwater swimming in summer. Cusheon Lake is perfect with its warm water and a sand beach entry. There is public access which you can see on the Salt Spring Island things to do map.
Beddis Beach, near the end of Beddis Road is a great one for a morning ocean swim. The waters are shallow so kids and families will love it.
Vesuvius Bay Beach near the Vesuvius ferry terminal is a perfect place for a sunset swim. The water is the warmest ocean water you’ll find for swimming on the island.
19. Eat well on Salt Spring Island
For an island with a population of around 10,600 residents there sure is a lot of choice when it comes to restaurants.
Tree House Cafein Ganges offers light meals outdoors under a 77-year-old ornamental plum tree. Nice ambience.
House Piccolo in Ganges offers a European style menu with west coast influences. Delicious food.
Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe is just steps from the ferry in Fulford Harbour. There is a café attached to the informal but reasonably priced restaurant.
Moby’s Pubin Ganges offers good portions of pub type food with a view of the harbour. Friendly waitstaff and speedy service with the goal to have a drink in your hand within 7 minutes of sitting down. And they did on our visit!
Salt Spring Innis in the heart of Ganges. Look for well priced pasta, pizza, burgers and seafood.
Fernwood Road Cafe is perfect for coffees, pastries, breakfast and lunch. On fine days eat outside enjoying the view of boats passing by.
Auntie Pesto’s is a fantastic choice, especially with its outdoor deck complete with heat lamps. Enjoy dock side Italian-themed meals with great water views.
At one point in Salt Spring Island’s history, the island grew more varieties of apples than the Okanagan. Apples are celebrated on the island every fall with the Salt Spring Apple Festival. It takes place Sunday, October 1, 2023. In past years over 400 kinds of apple have been on display. You’ll find plenty of activities and lots of apple pie to sample.
For pricing and availability check out Hastings House Country House Hotel. We treated ourselves to a stay here and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the fresh, warm muffins delivered to our room by 7:30 AM every morning and the beautiful gardens with a harbour view.
Other accommodation options
There are lots of B&B’s around the island so it’s important to give some thought as to what part of the island you want to be close to. If you like to dine out, you’ll probably want to stay somewhere close to Ganges. The following options would be excellent choices.
In summer, the Cusheon Lake Resort, located on its own private beach would be wonderful for a family.
Wisteria Guest House with its one-acre garden is consistently rated superb. It’s a 10-minute walk away from Ganges.