Salt Spring Island is one of the busiest and best-loved of the southern Gulf Islands, located off the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island. Settled first by the Salish First Nation more than one thousand years ago, few people know that African Americans fled here to escape racial tensions in the USA in the mid-19th century. In 1858, British Columbia Governor James Douglas invited black Americans to take up land in the new colony and enjoy rights denied to them in the United States, such as citizenship, suffrage and the right to own land. Since then, it’s become popular with artists, crafters and musicians, who have since made the island their home. As a result, the island is teeming with art galleries, studios and organic farms. Planning on hopping over from Vancouver Island? Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Salt Spring Island.
How to get to Salt Spring Island
Most people head to Salt Spring Island by ferry. There are three ferry terminals in Salt Spring Island: Fulford Harbour, Long Harbour and Vesuvius. The ferry route from Vancouver via Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal goes to Long Harbour. Ferries from Crofton on Vancouver Island go to Vesuvius. The ferry route from Schwartz Bay terminates at Fulford Harbour.
For something a little more special, you can also travel to Salt Spring Island by Sea Plane. Flights take around 35 minutes from downtown Vancouver, operated by Harbour Air and Seair Seaplanes.
How to travel around Salt Spring Island
There are some 800 kilometres of winding roads snaking their way around Salt Spring Island’s lakes, woods and mountains. The island is only 28 kilometres long and 3-6-kilometres wide, so it’s small enough to cycle, but only if you’re reasonably fit. You can rent a bicycle at Salt Spring Adventures. Scooters and cars are available from Salt Spring Car & Scooter Rentals in Salt Spring Marina. Or, you could rely on the busses, operated by the Salt Spring Island Transit bus system or taxi.
If you’re short on time and want to cover the whole of the island, it’s worth hiring a car or bringing your vehicle across on the ferry.
How to spend 24 hours in Salt Spring Island
Hike up Mount Erskine
Get your bearings with a hike up moss-carpeted Mount Erksine. There are a few trails to choose from, but for the least strenuous option head onto the Juniper–Summit route. It’s the epitome of an enchanted forest, complete with ancient twisting trees and “faerie homes” – tiny doors created by local artists designed to look like the homes of fairies. Hiking to the summit takes just under two hours and offers sparkling views over the entire island and out across the rest of the Gulf Islands.
Saturday Farmers Market
If you’re visiting on a Saturday between the start of April and late October, hop east to the Saturday Famers Market. Located in the heart of the Ganges, it’s where you’ll find British Columbia’s best produce, from Salt Spring Cheese to Salt Spring Soap. Around 120 artisans and food producers set up shop here, selling everything from farm-fresh fruit and veg and organic cheeses to pottery and jewellery. Or, if you’re in town on a Tuesday you can head here for the significantly smaller produce-only Tuesday market.
Take a stroll around Ganges
Even if you’ve missed the market, it’s well worth taking a stroll around Ganges, the heart of the community. This charming seaside hamlet is the largest village on the island and also home to some of the island’s best art studios, restaurants and stores. Named after the British naval ship, the HMS Ganges (rather than the ancient River in India), it’s most people’s first port of call when it comes to picking up supplies. If it’s raining, take a stroll around the Ganges Museum, where you’ll find heaps of naval memorabilia.
Lunch at Buzzy’s Luncheonette
When it comes to lunching in Ganges, there’s a whole string of delicious options but nothing comes quite as close to heaven as Buzzy’s Luncheonette. You’ll usually spot the queue before the tiny deli itself. They serve up all kinds of deli classics but they’re renowned for ‘The Hungry Jew’. It sees two thick slices of marble rye packed with the best smoked meat outside Montreal and topped with two crispy latkes and homemade horseradish. It takes ten days to cure the meat, followed by an eight-hour smoking process and a three-hour steam. Bites like butter.
Take a studio crawl
Salt Spring Island is teeming with artists and artisans and, beyond the Saturday market, one of the best ways to experience this scene is by hopping from studio to studio. Salt Spring Island Tourism has provided a helpful map for navigating your way around them too.
The Glass Foundry, a three-minute drive out of Ganges on a rural farming acreage. Mark founded the studio in 1996 and transforms around 12,000 pounds of scrap glass into sculptures, glasses, lights and bowls every year. It’s open from 10–5 pm daily. Further south still, there’s Serendipity Studio, which sells a wide variety of unique watercolours, oils, cards and farm wool.
North of Ganges, you’ll find independent studios like Quail Run Pottery & Fused Glass, which sells thrown pottery for homes and gardens, as well as fused glass. Lavender & Black, on the northwestern tip of the island, is an organic lavender and helichrysum essential oil distillery, where you can shop for blends, skin care and botanical fragrances. If you’re in the market for beautiful pottery, book an appointment at Mudpuppy Studios or hotfoot to Zak Studio, which is open in the afternoon from Thursday to Sunday. French Country Fabrics offers up a slice of Provence for Francophiles too.
Sample Salt Spring Cheese
Salt Spring Cheese produces some of the province’s best-loved cheese. You’ll find it at speciality grocers all across Vancouver, but it’s worth saving to sample at the source. Located on the southern stretch of the island, the site encompasses the farm and production site, as well as a farm shop and cafe. You can get up close to some of the animals, watch cheese being made through the viewing windows and sample of the farm’s best cheeses, as well as locally-produced chutneys, jams, crackers, vinegar and honey. Come summer, you can also grab a bite of some of their latest culinary creations in the cafe.
Go wine tasting at Salt Spring Vineyards
There are a few wineries dotted around Salt Spring Island, but Salt Spring Vineyards is undeniably atmospheric. They create lovely, laid-back wines running form traditional champenoise-style sparkling wines to robust reds. They’re all made from 100% local island grames, hand-crafted and farmed sustainably, then harvested every October. You can book a wine tasting or enjoy the grounds with a picnic and a bottle or two.
Sip of Saltspring’s finest ales
If ales, beers and ciders are more your tipples of choice, bypass the wineries and take a ‘pub crawl’ around some of the island’s breweries and cider farms. Salt Spring Brewing Co. is an excellent place to start. Founded in 1998, it offers beer flights, pints, snacks, to-go-beers and growler fillers, with a tasting room and a spacious veranda. Or, head to Salt Spring Wild Cider for artisanal craft ciders made from heritage pears and apples. Try one of their cider flights for the chance to try some more unusual flavours, and pick up a bottle of ice cider for your next camping trip.
Home to one of Salt Spring’s three ferry terminals, Fulford Harbour is a quaint village with a surprising number of amenities. It’s the ideal jumping-off point for many of the island’s best recreational activities, but it also offers a handful of brilliant boutiques.
Sunset on a kayak
Work off those calories from earlier and head out onto the water for sunset. At Salt Spring Adventures, you can rent sea kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks for $45 for two hours, which will give you plenty of time to explore.
Dinner at Tree House Cafe
Tree House Cafe is one of the most magical and memorable restaurants on the island. Built around a huge plum tree and festooned in fairy lights, you can tuck into hearty pasta dishes, Mexican specialities, gourmet burgers and sandwiches, all washed down with a Salt Spring Island Ale. Throughout the summer from 6 pm–9pm, you can enjoy Music Under the Stars too, live music every night.
Where to sleep in Salt Spring Island
Most of the island’s best accommodation is concentrated around Ganges and Fulford, where you can also enjoy all of the marina’s facilities. For an upmarket nights’ sleep, try Hastings House Country House Hotel. The converted country house offers 18 tastefully-decorated suites with idyllic views out over the bay. The restaurant is excellent too, offering an organic and seasonal-based menu. Or, for a more rustic experience, try one of the island’s many log cabins. There are dozens to choose from and most offer barbecues and log fires.