Salt Spring Island holds a special place in our hearts.
We spent a few days of our British Columbia honeymoon on Salt Spring Island.
Then since moving to Vancouver and later Victoria, we’ve escaped to Salt Spring many times for a getaway.
And even though the island is relatively small (you can drive it from top to bottom in 45 minutes), there are plenty of magical things to do on Salt Spring Island.
Best things to do on Salt Spring Island
From hiking, kayaking and beachcombing to a vibrant arts-and-crafts scene, Salt Spring is an idyllic place for an island holiday.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in Canada, actually!
Even if you’re familiar with Salt Spring, it’s worth returning for another visit, as you’ll discover lots that’s new.
Where is Salt Spring Island, British Columbia?
Salt Spring has a population of about 11,000 – and it’s long been a sanctuary for painters, sculptors and other artists (Robert Bateman is perhaps the most well-known).
Okay, let’s go check out all the best things to do on Salt Spring Island!
Best Salt Spring Island activities and experiences
1) Bicycle around Salt Spring Island
What’s new? Particularly welcome? You can now rent e-bikes on Salt Spring.
On one recent visit, we took out throttle-style “Juiced” bikes for a lovely 17-mile (28-kilometer) loop from Ganges, the island’s main village (see #2).
It didn’t take long to get the hang of these step-through beasts.
Soon we were whizzing up steep hills with little effort.
Wild pink sweet peas scented the air, and deer occasionally jumped across the road.
Cappuccino and fresh baked goodies lured us in for a break at the Fernwood Café (see #9).
And at Southey Point, we stopped to look at small boats bobbing in the harbor.
It’s a marvel that “regular” bicyclists manage the ups and downs of the island.
Salt Spring is so hilly, we doubt we would have tried going for a ride without the assist of these electric bicycles.
We still had to pedal though, so we felt somewhat smug that we were getting some exercise.
2) Stroll around Ganges
The quaint village of Ganges is the main town on Salt Spring Island, located on the east side of the island.
It’s where islanders mainly go to pick up groceries and supplies, meet for coffee and enjoy dinner out on the town.
Watch the sea planes flying in an out, pop into its art galleries, ogle the yachts and boats in the harbor, browse the cute shops and stroll the public park.
Ganges is a charming place to lazily pass the time.
3) Hike up Mount Erskine
Fairies sprinkle their magic on Salt Spring Island.
Okay, not real fairies. But you’ll spy several doors to their fairy houses on Mount Erskine.
If you’re not sure what to do on Salt Spring Island for outdoor exercise (apart from bicycling), know this – there’s some great hiking on Salt Spring Island.
One popular example: The Mount Erskine trail from the end of the Trustees Trail road to the mountain’s summit. (This hike is sometimes called the Trustees Trail or the Juniper Trail.)
A short stiff hike up the 1,600-foot (488-meter) mountain takes you past twisted old trees, moss carpets and “fairy doors.”
Carved by locals, these wee doors – some decorated with painted pebbles and bits of glass – are attached to boulders off the side of the trail.
If they don’t put a smile on your face, the OMG bird’s eye views at the summit over Sansum Narrows and toward Vancouver Island sure will.
Allow about 90 minutes for the roundtrip hike (2 hours if you meander along the top and take your time checking out the views).
4) Slurp pasta at Auntie Pesto’s
If you bicycle or hike during the day, you won’t have to worry about reining it in for dinner in the evening.
And Auntie Pesto’s in Ganges is the place to go for a fine meal!
One of the best restaurants in Salt Spring, it features an upgraded glass-walled deck, with a rollout canopy and heat lamps.
You can sit outside in comfort, from spring to fall, and enjoy the water views.
If you’re going for pasta, choose from three types of noodles – spaghetti, penne or the house-made long and wide pasta.
The seared scallops on pork belly in a mustard saffron sauce are totally delicious (they were a special the night we visited). The beef carpaccio with truffle sauce is also an excellent choice.
For a main course, you can’t beat the creamy-and-garlicky pasta carbonara, served complete with an egg yolk on top.
5) Do an artist studio tour
Spring and fall are ideal for taking in the islands’ arts-and-crafts scene.
You can take a self-guided Salt Spring Studio Tour to more than two dozen galleries and studios, meeting the artists where they work.
Watch artisans create ceramic bowls, decorative glass vases, French-country tapestries, wood-fired pottery, jade jewelry and more.
At some studios, you can even try making the crafts yourself – like weaving.
6) Browse the Salt Spring Saturday Market
If you time your Salt Spring Island visit to include a Saturday, then you’ll want to make your way to the Salt Spring Saturday Market.
It runs from April to October.
This popular market showcases the products of some 140+ stallholders, who sell what they make, bake or grow on the island.
Maybe pick up some gemstone jewelry, ceramics, gluten-free coconut chocolate shortbread, herbal skin products, healthy kale chips or a fresh-baked pie?
7) Go kayaking
If you love getting out on the water, one of the best things to do on Salt Spring Island is to go for a paddle.
If you’re new to kayaking, a guided tour around Ganges Harbor is a great introduction to the beauty of the Gulf Islands from the perspective of a kayak.
You’ll visit a centuries-old First Nations white shell midden beach and learn about the area. Keep an eye out for otters, great blue herons and harbor seals too!
Other tours take you meandering through the kelp beds along the shoreline of smaller uninhabited islands and Prevost Island.
8) Smell lavender at Lavender & Black
Created in 2016, Lavender & Black is a high-end, visitor-friendly lavender farm.
It occupies a stunning property on the north end of the island. As it’s built around existing fir, arbutus and maple trees, it feels natural and fluid in design.
The lavender is organically grown, and Ben and Awatief (the friendly couple who own the property) distill their essential oils onsite.
Pop in during opening hours (see below), and you’ll likely be greeted by Ben. He’ll explain how lavender is grown, cultivated, dried and turned into essential oil.
You can also learn about the different types of lavender.
English lavender is sweeter and more delicate, while French lavender is stronger and better suited for room spray.
Awatief also makes lavender ice-cream – buy a cup to enjoy while wandering the farm.
Then check out the beautiful array of lavender products for sale, from lavender body lotion, linen spray and kitchen-and-bathroom cleaners to lavender-infused honey, tea and salt.
Lavender & Black is well worth a visit, and one of the most interesting Salt Spring Island attractions.
There’s another lavender farm on Salt Spring Island too
Displaying up to 60 varieties of lavender, the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm is a boutique 2-acre lavender farm, located on the south end of the island.
It also has a farm shop, where you can pick up a host of lavender products, including sachets, bath salts and natural soaps.
This farm is open from April to October at specific times. In July and August, it’s open 7 days a week.
9) Stop for coffee at the Fernwood Café
The Fernwood Café is a delightful spot for a casual breakfast, morning coffee or lunch.
We first stumbled upon it bicycling the island. You could say it’s one of the “Salt Spring Island secrets” (though it’s not a secret to locals).
Picnic tables set under umbrellas, amid crabapple trees on the lawn, offer sea views of boats sailing by.
Bird feeders hanging from the branches attract all sorts of chirping feathered friends.
For quelling a craving for baked-goodies, the pecan cinnamon orange cake with a maple glaze, moist cranberry loaf and fresh-from-the-oven rosemary and cheese scones are particularly yummy!
10) Soak up the sun at Vesuvius Beach
Vesuvius Bay is a popular family beach, with the island’s warmest ocean water. The wide beach is very shallow and the bay is calm, making it an ideal spot for swimming.
Facing west, the beach is a heat trap.
And the water is actually warm! Okay, it’s warm for Canadians on a hot sunny day, not “Caribbean warm” but noticeably warmer than the ocean water at our beaches in Victoria, a 35-minute ferry ride away.
Kids are intrigued by all the tiny fish and crabs you see when wading out into the water.
Also check out the cool rock formations around the beach.
Bring water shoes to protect tender tootsies, as the area is a bit rocky (or just be careful going into the water).
Also bring your own shade umbrella and sunhats as there’s no shade late in the afternoon (except by the outdoor biffy at the far end of the beach, and no one wants to sit there).
Vesuvius Beach is a great spot to watch the sunset too.
Park at the side of Langley Street, then walk down a flight of wooden steps to access the beach.
11) Go wine tasting
You may know about the wineries in the Okanagan Valley in the interior of B.C. But you can also go wine tasting on Salt Spring.
There are two wineries on Salt Spring Island you should visit.
Garry Oaks Winery is on one of the oldest farms on the island, where the wines are hand-produced. They’re known for their Pinot Noir and Zweigelt (a red varietal developed in Austria).
The winery has a tasting room for trying their small-lot estate wines.
The other winery, Salt Spring Vineyards, produces dry and crisp sparkling, white, rose and dessert wines. They also have a tasting room.
You may bring your own picnic or buy cheeses, meats, tapenade and bread from them – to enjoy at a picnic table on the grounds.
12) Hike Ruckle Provincial Park
As avid hikers, we love hiking Ruckle Provincial Park.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in Salt Spring Island – with forest, fields and shoreline dimpled with mussel-filled tidal pools – and 9+ miles (15 km) of trails.
A popular Salt Spring Island hike is the Yeo Point hike.
From the parking lot (beyond the park gate), you can follow a coastal trail winding through hemlock and cedar forest, past a lovely pebble beach, to King’s Cove and then Yeo Point.
This route to Yeo Point is about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) one way.
Grouse may cross your path, and sometimes, orcas (killer whales) can be seen frolicking out at sea.
Recently, we also saw majestic bald eagles flying overhead, a white-tailed hare scampering across the trail (quick as a bunny!), deer and, near the farm, many fat woolly sheep, some even causing a “sheep jam” on the trail.
Have a look at this map (the download link is given below).
The trail is relatively flat, with a few bumps up and down, from the starting point (#1) to Bear Point (#2).
A bit of a ways beyond Bear Point, the trail gets much more rugged, rooty and more up-and-down, with some hill climbing (in fact, a sign at Bear Point warns that the trail beyond is rugged).
However, the last section from King’s Cove to Yeo Point (just over half a mile) is easy again.
There’s a stunning sandy-and-pebble beach at Yeo Point (Yeo Beach). It’s the perfect place to munch on your lunch and snooze in the sun on the sand.
On the return, you can take the inland trail from King’s Cove, passing Merganser Pond and the heritage farm with its grazing sheep, back to your starting point – about 2.2 miles (3.5 km).
Pack your lunch and make it a leisurely hiking day, enjoying the views along the way.
It’s an easyish hike if you’re young and fit – a more moderate hike if you’re 50+.
13) Walk the Chris Hatfield Trail
Pssst! Want in on a secret?
Apart from locals, not many people know that you can enjoy the back end of the Yeo Point hike in Ruckle Provincial Park (described in #12 above) by starting at the endpoint, Yeo Point.
To get there, you take the Chris Hatfield Trail.
It’s an easy trail through the forest, a little over a half mile long.
You should still wear proper hiking shoes or boots, as roots can trip you up. At one point, there’s a rope to help you get down (and back up) a short steepish slope.
After crossing a small bridge, you come to an unmarked fork.
The left trail runs alongside a creek to Cusheon Cove. The straight-ahead trail leads to Yeo Beach.
It’s worth heading left to Cusheon Cove for the beautiful views (just a short walk), then backtracking to take the trail to Yeo Beach.
Once you’ve checked out Yeo Beach, you can then turn right along the coastal trail – it’s the last section of the Yeo Point hike (from Yeo Point to King’s Cove).
This section is our favorite part of the Yeo Point trail.
It’s mostly flat, hugs the coast (past moss-covered boulders) and meanders through fields of tiny white wild flowers. The ocean views are breathtaking – with ferries and sailboats plying the glittering blue waters.
14) Taste cider at Salt Spring Wild
As well as making wine, Salt Spring Island also produces cider.
The craft cidery, Salt Spring Wild, turns out cider from organic orchard apples as well as wild apples that grow on the island.
Don’t think sugary sweet cider. Salt Spring Wild’s crisp cider tastes more like traditional English cider.
Their staples are a dry cider (one of the driest ciders ever!) and a semi-dry version.
But the cidery also produces some interesting blends, like a ginger root cider and a wild berry cider.
14) Visit Salt Spring Island Cheese
You must also visit Salt Spring Island Cheese, which makes the yummiest artisan goat cheeses.
At the farm shop, you can sample everything from chili chevre to a mild blue brie cheese to a traditional goat milk feta.
You can also peek through viewing windows into the rooms of the cheese-making facility.
If you’d like to stay for a light lunch, their café (open in summer) serves house-made soups, pizza, salad and a scrumptious goat cheesecake for dessert.
16) Swim at Cusheon Lake
One of the most popular places to swim on Salt Spring Island is Cusheon Lake. The water is warm and ideal for swimming, especially from late May to the end of September.
The public access is at the Cusheon Lake Public Viewpoint on Cusheon Lake Road.
There’s a small stretch of grass off the side of the road, with a shallow sandy beach entry and a tilted dock (that could benefit from some repairs).
Children love to dive off the dock into the water, while their moms sit around chatting, their feet dangling in the water.
You’ll also find a port-a-pottie and parking for about 10 cars.
Go in the afternoon, and it will be busy and hard to find a spot to park or hang out on the lawn or dock.
But if you time your dip for after 6:00 pm, you may only have to share the peace and quiet with perhaps a handful of other folk.
In fact, jumping into Cusheon Lake at the end of the day before showering for dinner turned out to be one of our favorite things to do on Salt Spring on our most recent visit to the island!
17) Try local craft beer at Salt Spring Island Ales
So, you’ve tasted wine (#11) and cider (#14). Do you also want to try beer?
There’s even a craft brewery on Salt Spring, where you can enjoy beer flights in their tasting room and on their patio.
Salt Spring Island Ales makes organic beer without any preservatives or chemicals.
The water for the beer is piped straight from a mountain spring into their brew house, and their beer is all made by hand. Whenever they can, the brewery also uses locally grown hops, honey and heather.
Popular varieties? The mildly floral Heather Ale is a light delicate beer. The Dry Porter is dark, crisp and bold in flavor.
In summer, the brewery also makes a Nettle Ale and a blueberry-infused Warbler Wheat Ale, among other choices.
18) Eat oysters at the Oystercatcher
On the waterfront in Ganges, the Oystercatcher has a great waterfront deck.
Soak in the sunset and the marina views as you mull over the menu. We couldn’t resist the deep-fried oysters and mussels in a ginger cream sauce – accompanied by lots of fresh-made focaccia.
There’s often live music in the evenings. One time we went, we listened to the former lead singer from the Kelowna-born “Grapes of Wrath” band strum soulful guitar tunes from the 80s.
It was all very chilled, just like Salt Spring itself.
Recommended Salt Spring Island restaurants
This is one of the more upscale restaurants on Salt Spring Island (no burgers or fish-and-chips). Auntie Pesto’s uses local cheese, meat and produce for its seasonally inspired menus.
It’s open Wednesday to Sunday for dinner only. Highly recommended!
Dine on local ingredients at the Oystercatcher on its waterfront patio in summer or by the river-rock fireplace in winter.
Salt Spring Inn
The Salt Spring Inn is open daily year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner for hearty, home-style food.
You can’t miss it if you’re looking for this restaurant in Ganges – the roses and flowers growing over its picket white fence are eye-catching.
Feeling healthy? The organic salad with goat cheese is excellent.
Feeling sinful? Try the warm ginger spice pudding with whipped cream and toffee sauce.
This delightful café serves all-day breakfast and lunch year-round (not open on Wednesdays in winter). Its coffee is locally roasted by Mt Maxwell Roasters.
Where to stay on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island accommodations range from a luxury Relais & Chateaux country house to B&Bs, affordable hotels and cottage rentals with kitchens.
The best of the Salt Spring Island hotels is Hastings House.
Surrounded by flowering gardens, this small luxury country house hotel is located on the Ganges Harbor waterfront.
Rooms vary at this lovely Relais & Chateaux property – from stand-alone cottages to hillside suites to English country-style manor rooms. But they all come with down duvets, candles and local Salt Spring Island soaps.
A special treat is waking up to fresh-baked muffins and hot coffee, discreetly delivered to your doorstep each morning.
The formal dining room (with white tablecloths and silverware) serves up delicious farm-to-table cuisine.
Hastings House: Check rates and availability
The Cottages on Salt Spring
Bring the family!
On Bullock Lake (where you can swim), each of the Cottages have two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a full kitchen.
The Cottages on Salt Spring: Check rates and availability
The Sanctuary Retreat & Spa
This top-rated two-story house is an architectural gem, just a 3-minute drive from Ganges. With three bedrooms (sleeping seven people), two bathrooms and a full kitchen, it’s perfect for a family or friends.
Perks include a fireplace, a hot tub on the deck and sweeping ocean views.
The Sanctuary, Salt Spring: Check rates and availability
Hedgerow House is a sweet, professionally-run B&B with three ensuite guestrooms in a flower-filled garden in Ganges.
The master room upstairs has a king-size bed and patio.
Hedgerow House: Check rates and availability
Best time to visit Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring is often the envy of the rest of Canada, because it enjoys such a good climate – feels almost Mediterranean.
The best time to visit Salt Spring Island is between May and September.
These months are the warmest. They’re also the driest months – and see little rain.
You can expect temps in high summer (July and August) to hit the 80s F (high 20s C). But cooling sea breezes mean it’s never too hot.
Spring and fall are cooler and you might experience a little drizzle.
September is a glorious month, because it’s still warm, the leaves are starting to turn golden and the island is less busy.
We’ve also lucked out with gorgeous weather in early June – hot enough to swim at Vesuvius Beach and Cusheon Lake!
How to get to Salt Spring Island, Canada
If you’re coming from Vancouver, BC Ferries offers non-stop service from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to Salt Spring Island (90 minutes). Reservations are recommended for booking vehicle passage from Vancouver on BC Ferries.
If you’re coming from Victoria, the ferry takes 35 minutes from the Swartz Bay terminal to Fulford Harbor on Salt Spring.
Alternatively, you can book a seaplane flight on Harbour Air, which offers regular daily service from Vancouver and Vancouver Island to Salt Spring Island.
Lots of things to do in Salt Spring Island, BC!
That wraps up our Salt Spring Island travel guide.
One thing’s for sure. This enchanting island will cast its spell on you.
You’ll discover tons of fun things to do on Salt Spring Island – and you’ll end up wondering why on earth you didn’t visit (or revisit) sooner.
More Salt Spring Island travel information
See the Salt Spring Island tourism website.
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Photo credits: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 17, 19, 21, 25, 27 to 32, 37, 40 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase