It was two firsts for us: visiting Salt Spring Island and riding electronic bikes. After 20+ years of living in Vancouver, Mike and I finally made it to Salt Spring Island. We love exploring places via bicycle and have been curious about trying e-bikes. Hilly Salt Spring Island, off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island, is just the place to test them out. Bikes set on turbo boost, we cruised up those nasty hill and discovered Salt Spring Island’s charms, pain-free.
Salt Spring Island is the most visited of B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. Its bustling Saturday Market, vibrant artistic community, foodie-culture, and nature attract many tourists over the balmy summer months. While we may have missed out on some of the summer fun, our mid-week visit in early October was perfect to see the fall colours and feel the island’s relaxed vibe.
Salt Spring Island is not big—about 27 km (17 mi) long and 14 km (9 mi) wide—but its many hills make for challenging cycling. I can’t even count the number of times we were thankful for the e-bikes we had rented at Salt Spring’s OutSpokin’ Bike Shop. With the exception of Fulford-Ganges Road, which is busy and offers little to no shoulder, most of the other roads are a pleasure for cycling.
This post features favourite scenes and experiences on Salt Spring during our two and a half day, bike-only visit (we left our car in Vancouver). It’s not intended as a comprehensive guide as the timing and duration of our trip did not allow us to check out all the island’s offerings.
Discovering the Tuesday Market in Ganges
Ganges is the main town on the island. It sits along a picturesque harbour and is filled with galleries and cafés. We were sorry to miss the town’s famous Saturday Market but were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon the Tuesday Market. While only a fraction of the weekend size, we were charmed by the displays of late season produce, homemade preserves and fresh baked breads.
Cycling along Walker’s Hook Road and northeast coastline
Walker’s Hook Road hugs the coastline; it has beautiful ocean views and easy beach access points. Fernwood Point, with its long, red-painted pier makes a great pit stop. The popular Fernwood Road Cafe is right across the street but unfortunately it’s closed on Wednesdays (the day we were there). At the northern tip of the island we discovered a secluded cove at Southey Point—a detour we never would have taken on our regular bikes.
Pigging out at honour system farm stands
It was nearing snack time when we stopped at a small roadside stand. A couple had just pulled up in their car. With great enthusiasm the man said, “This is the best bake stand on the island. The pumpkin cheesecake is to die for.” It was the first of many honour system stands we sampled. Thank you to that nice couple who topped up our cash payment by 50 cents so I could have my cheesecake and Mike his slice of apple pie. Yum! Some stands have an e-transfer payment option, but most just have a cash box. These honour system stands sell farm-fresh eggs, flowers, homemade jams and baking, and more. They were both a delight and an astonishment for us city slickers.
Dining at Salt Spring Wild Cider House
I never enjoyed cider until we tried Salt Spring Wild Cider. The cidery, just outside Ganges, features a large variety of traditional and modern ciders. I got completely hooked on the bitter orange rosemary cider. The cidery has cozy indoor and heated outdoor dining with a delicious menu of local specialties like lamb sausages, mushroom toasts, and figs stuffed with cambozola cheese. So good we went back a second time.
Salt Spring Island also has a craft brewery and several wineries. Sadly, we didn’t have time to try these local liquids.
Cycling from Ganges to Ruckle Provincial Park
The combination of bucolic landscapes, crisp autumn air, and peaceful country roads made our cycling excursion from Ganges to the southeastern part of the island about as good as it gets. We particularly enjoyed the rural beauty of Beddis Road and the peek-a-boo views of Weston Lake along Beaver Point Road. Before our hike in Ruckle Provincial Park (more below) we stocked up on picnic supplies at Barb’s Bake Stand (on Beaver Point Road) and at the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company. The latter is one of the island’s top attractions and is a great place to sample and buy numerous varieties of goat cheese. They also sell goat cheese ice cream—sounds weird but we heard rave reviews.
Hiking the Chris Hatfield Trail
The Chris Hatfield trail, at the northernmost tip of Ruckle Provincial Park, is still a relatively well-kept secret. Named after a local who built the trail (and not to be confused with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield) this easy, roughly 3 km trail winds it way through a moss-draped forest and along a coastline dotted with pretty coves. Munching on cheese twists from Barb’s Bake Stand while sunning ourselves at Yeo Point was a slice of heaven.
Our short trek was a great introduction to Ruckle Park trails and it whet our appetite for more on a return visit. The trailhead for the Chris Hatfield hike starts at the end of Meyer Road, but the main entrance to the park (and camping) is on Beaver Point Road.
Savouring the Mount Erskine views
I was pushing our luck by squeezing in another hike before catching the ferry back to Vancouver. But the e-bikes saved the day as we rode up, up, up (painlessly) to the Mount Erskine trailhead at the end of Trustee Trail Road. The hike itself is only about 3.5 km with a few moderately steep sections. There are a several dramatic viewpoints enroute to the summit as you hike through an enchanted forest—keep your eyes peeled for fairy doors. The sky was a bit gloomy but it was still a worthwhile effort as we looked over the Salish Sea.
And, the verdict on e-bikes is…
We zoomed back down the hill from Mt. Erskine to Ganges in record time, dropped off our e-bike rentals and climbed onto our regular bikes for the 6 km ride to Long Harbour Ferry Terminal. A quarter way up the first hill, I stopped and in panting gasps said to Mike, “I think there’s something wrong with my bike.” That’s what happens after renting an e-bike! We’re sold…on e-bikes and Salt Spring Island.
How to get to Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is served by BC Ferries with three ferry terminals: Fulford Harbour, Long Harbour and Vesuvius Bay. Reservations are highly recommended. Refer to the BC Ferries website.
From Vancouver (Tsawwassen Terminal) BC Ferries sails to Long Harbour. It takes 1.25-3.5 hours depending on the number of stops. It is possible, and sometimes quicker, to sail from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria) and then catch a BC Ferry to Salt Spring’s Fulford Harbour.
From Victoria, Vancouver Island (Swartz Bay Terminal) BC Ferries sails to Fulford Harbour. It takes 35 minutes.
From Crofton, Vancouver Island, BC Ferries sails to Vesuvius Bay in about 25 minutes.
Note: Masks are mandatory on BC Ferries.
Harbour Air provides floatplane service to Salt Spring Island from Vancouver.
Where to rent a bike
We rented our e-bikes at OutSpokin’ Bike Shop in Ganges. Contact them ahead of time to ensure they have availability.
Maps of the island are available at the Salt Spring Visitor Information and the bike shop. In addition, we used John Crouch’s book Cycling the Islands, a guide for cycling the San Juan and Gulf Islands. Here’s a link to an excellent map of the island.
Where to stay and eat
Salt Spring Island has small, full-service hotels, B&Bs, camping and other options. A good place to check out the array of offerings is on the Salt Spring Island Visitor Information website. If you’re traveling without a car (like us) it is convenient to stay in Ganges or Fulford for easy access to services. Book early during peak season and weekends.
We stayed at the charming Wisteria Guest House B&B. It’s located an easy 10 minute walk from downtown Ganges and they serve killer breakfasts.
In addition to the yummy food/drink at Salt Spring Wild Cider House, and our many snacks at farm stands, we had a great splurge dinner at House Piccolo in Ganges, a delicious lunch of fresh mussels at Seaside Restaurant in Vesuvius and afternoon coffee/sweets at the funky Ganges Treehouse Cafe (their savoury menu looks good too). Restaurants can get booked up far ahead during high season. Not a problem in October except that some places cut back on operating days/hours. Check ahead.
Note: We were asked for our B.C. Vaccine Card with QR code at all restaurants we went to. Out of province and international visitors must show appropriate proof of vaccination. Refer to the B.C. Government website for current information.
For more cycling in the Pacific Northwest, check out my post: Cycling on San Juan Island (Washington State).