Exploring British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island on e-bikes

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).

Categories: Biking, British Columbia | Tags: , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Exploring British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island on e-bikes

  1. I have never tried an e-bike before … but I think it’s something I will really enjoy when getting to those hilly sections – my (normal) bicycle make me sweat way too much 😉. And I love those honour stands (saw plenty of them on our Camino in Spain) and the ones you visited, had really nice treats! Oh, and how cute is that fairy door – love it!

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  2. This was just a delight Caroline. And your photos are gorgeous. We’ve been to SSI many many times, staying anywhere from a weekend to over a week. We were there a couple of weeks ago just for a day trip from Vancouver Island – had lunch at the Tree House (always a fave) and a little hike in Ruckle. It’s one of the best of the Gulf islands I think.
    Alison

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    • Thanks Alison. I don’t know what took us so long to finally get to SSI, but I know we’ll be back. Besides being beautiful, it has such diversity of things to do and see. We only got a taste of the lovely hikes. Ruckle is a gem and I want to find more of those fairy doors going up to Mt. Erskine. It’s amazing how such a short, localish trip can feel so fresh and rejuvenating

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  3. What a great day! I tried an e-bike for the first time this summer, and I loved it! Like you, I like getting exercise and looked kind of askance at these, but my bike also had different levels of assistance, so I could make myself work as much or as little as I wanted. (Your bikes look lighter-weight than the one I had; my only complaint was that the bike was soooo heavy.) The island itself looks charming, and like many other readers, I loved the idea of the honor system bake stands!

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    • I know…I definitely feel differently about e-bikes after our test drive! I was still getting a good workout and it enabled us to cover so much more area than we would have on our regular bikes. Mike also put up with my endless explorations of dead end streets and hilly side trips (read: much more harmony). I agree that the bikes are heavy. It didn’t bother me at all when I was riding but lifting them up to put on a car hitch would not be fun. If we buy e-bikes I doubt we’d schlepp them on a plane to Europe like we’ve done with our regular bikes.

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  4. We are certainly sold on e-bikes as well. Riding full suspension Giant Trance is a great way to see the country, although the possibility of finding “baked goods stalls” is rather remote in our outback area 🙂 Glad to see you will be soon be a full convert.

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    • Riding a full-suspension e-bike must be great fun. I need to do more research and “test drives” as, in addition to road touring, I also like to ride cross country trails. The bake stands definitely added to the great ride. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Wow, yet another wonderful place to add to my Canadian travel wish list particularly due to those beautifully dense rain forests, delicious food and steep, craggy bluffs!! You should actually see the length of my Canadian Bucket List, Caroline – I would, most likely, need a few years to work my way through it! I am glad to see you had beautiful weather for exploring Salt Spring Island, and I am glad you had a chance to make wonderful memories.

    I know that Electric bikes have the same wheels, handlebars and body geometry as regular mechanical bikes, but I haven’t tried one yet. I’d say that gliding up hills without getting out of breath and tackling strong headwinds with ease would be something to look forward to, but then again – I love the fitness benefits of riding a regular bike. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    • I think we’re even, Aiva; my Ireland list has grown substantially from all your beautiful posts.
      Before trying the ebike, I was concerned about the exercise aspect too. I learned that one can still get lots of exercise. As I mentioned on another comment, the bikes we rented had four settings of progressively greater assistance. I tried to keep it at a low setting, and often completely off. I’m not ready to trade in my regular bike, but ebikes are awesome for some situations. I think back at our cycling trip to Normandy and Brittany and ebikes would have been quite useful on lengthier excursion like that.

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  6. This sounded like an adventurous outdoor travel and gastronomic experience, Caroline. So much to see and do in the outdoors just as much as there is to eat. It’s amazing to hear there are weekly markets on Salt Spring Islands, and there are farm stands all round as well. So nice of the couple to top up your order and you got to have the pumpkin cheesecake. 50 cents doesn’t sound much but I guess when you run out of cash on hand and are wanting to try homemade local food in your case, it means a lot. A small gesture can sometimes buy a wonderful experience 😀

    Looks like you picked a good time of the year to visit. Beautiful views all round from the trees all around Ruckle Provincial Park to the waters along the Chris Hatfield Trail. Had to chuckle there at the end when you got back on your usual bikes. I am sure you will be e-bike riding again sometime soon 😊

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    • Thanks Mabel. I so rarely carry cash these days, but I managed to find almost enough change in various pockets to buy those treats. It was indeed nice of the couple to donate the extra bit we needed. It was a good reminder to bring cash for our second day of exploring.
      I love local travel in fall for the colours and the more relaxed pace versus summer tourist season. We were lucky to find a good weather window (can be difficult here in October). Since returning it has been raining almost non-stop.
      I’m sure there will be more e-bike excursions in our future.

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  7. Although I always enjoy your hikes and cycle rides and marvel at the beauty of the landscape, Caroline, this island is one I can bookmark as a bucket list destination. It ticks all the right boxes for me. I adore the concept of honour stands and love the idea of finding fairy doors . . . Magical.

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    • I absoloutely think you’d enjoy Salt Spring Island, Jolandi, and especially in the quiet season. As an avid gardener, I think you’d appreciate the beautiful local produce and flowers and the high quality cottage industries that exist on the island. The fairy doors were so lovely to stumble upon; I’m sorry we had to rush through that hike to catch our ferry.

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  8. It’s amazing to know that in such a relatively small island, there are so much to see and so many interesting diners to try. I’ve read about honor system farm stands in the past, but after reading this post I’m still impressed that it actually works. Just now I looked up an old article on NPR about the psychology of this system. Apparently, it makes people’s life good in two ways: we get something delicious and we get a good feeling about ourselves. Both make us feel good about the world. It’s funny how you thought there was something wrong with your regular bike after using the e-bike. The only time I tried it was in Bagan, Myanmar, and I loved how smooth and quiet the ride was.

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    • Thanks for insight on the psychology of the honour system. It is absolutely true that I felt good on more levels than just getting the tasty treat. Even though I didn’t meet the makers of the treats, I felt a connection and a good feeling that I was supporting a small, local business and that a system like this can exist.
      An e-bike in Bagan sounds like a great idea. In addition to the smooth, quiet ride I think I’d appreciate the electronic assistance cycling in hot places.

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  9. Very informative post. You provide all the information one could need to visit this island. I was there 30 years ago so I should rent an e-bike to see how much it’s changed.

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    • Thanks Patrick. I’m sure you’d see changes! If you’re going to cycle on Salt Spring, I highly recommend using an e-bike. On our regular bikes, we probably would have seen only half as much and had lots of cranky moments on those hills.

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  10. This looks so pretty, especially with the fall colors! The cider sounds really tasty (what a unique flavor combo in the one you described), and the waterfront areas look so peaceful and relaxing. Some of the photos reminded me of a couple places I used to go on the Washington coast when I lived out there. BC has so many hidden gems… clearly it’s time for me to make a return visit.

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    • The flavour combo sounds a bit weird for cider but it totally works. The ginger version was great too. I’m hooked; we had it for Canadian Thanksgiving dinner last weekend. We love the Washington coast too. Arguably, San Juan Island is even better for cycling, but all the islands have their individual charms. Hope you can make it back to B.C. again!

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  11. I have never been to Salt Spring Island but have wanted to go for a while. Reading your post though I realized that I didn’t know much about it other than the market and the cheese! I hadn’t thought of it being so hilly. I’ve also never ridden an e-bike but have seen several whizzing by us on the hills in Golden. I’m usually cursing at them or me as I huff and puff (not aloud though, just to myself). I can see how they make a big difference though when you want to see more sites rather than have a workout. Funny how you thought something was wrong with your bike when you got back on it! I love the idea of the honour system farm stands! They even had a fridge! And the views look incredible,both on Chris Hatfield and Erskine trails. At first I thought the astronaut must have been from the island! Sounds like you had a couple of fantastic days on Salt Spring. Maggie

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    • I’ve been a bit anti-ebike in the past but I’ve changed my mind. They serve a great purpose, as you say, in enabling one to see more while cycle touring. We also met an older, local couple who said that ebikes have completely changed their lives; before they were sedentary and now they are out enjoying themselves and feeling healthy. I was pleasantly surprised too that you still get plenty of exercise. E-bikes vary, but the ones we rented had four “boost” levels and you can completely turn off the assist. I won’t be getting rid of my regular bike, but an e-bike would make a nice addition for these type of trips.
      I’m glad we saw Salt Spring in the off-season. Friends have told me it gets pretty crazy in summer. I was convinced the trail was named after the astronaut (and I even found a blog post that claimed this) but the spelling is different and after some research I learned that Chris Hatfield (with a t, not a d) is a local historian and owned a lot of the land that is now part of Ruckle Provincial Park. Common mistake, I’m sure.

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  12. I have yet to try an ebike, but it looks like a fun way to get around. Salt Spring Island looks beautiful. The roadside stands seem dangerous with all those delicious baked treats, but hey, I’m sure they were well deserved after all that cycling!! It’s always good to support the locals!

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    • Yes, thank goodness we were getting exercise as all those baked goods and cheese were just too tempting. I too like the fact that Salt Spring has developed such wonderful local food production.

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  13. Morning. I first heard of ebikes only a month or two ago. I imagine they are becoming more and more popular. Any idea when they came on the market?

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    • They’ve been around since the 1990s but have only got popular in the last few years (and it depends on where you live). On our 2018 cycle trip in Germany we saw lots of e-bikes there but hardly any here in Vancouver. I can’t believe how many e-bikes I see here now, but we have healthy bike culture and there are hills!

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      • This looks and sounds like an absolutely perfect trip! Such a wonderfully varied bouquet of great views, scenery, forest and food delights! Love the moss covered forest, the secret cove and the view across the channel! So gorgeous!

        The idea of the honor system food and flower stands is quite amazing. Amazing that it works! I can think of quite a lot of places where it would NOT! Yummm the cheesecake, mussels, goat cheese and all other food mentions made me drool!

        Great post! So fun! And those d bikes sound like my kinda bike!!!

        Peta

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        • You are so right Peta; the honour system would not work in many places. We met a lady at one of the stands who was originally from Brazil. She was joking (but not really) that not only would the treats all be taken, but the fridge and entire structure would be carted away. They do occasionally have theft issues on Salt Spring, but for the most part it works.
          The island has a great mix of nature, art and food delights. I’m glad we were getting some exercise because we really indulged in the food part.

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