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.
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?
By way of background, Salt Spring is one of the Gulf Islands.
It lies between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia (in Canada).
It’s close to Galiano Island, another of the Southern Gulf Islands. (Some people like to visit both Salt Spring and Galiano on the same trip.)
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!
1) Bicycle around Salt Spring Island
What’s new? Particularly welcome? You can now rent e-bikes on Salt Spring.
On our latest visit, we took out throttle-style “Juiced” bikes for a lovely 17-mile (28-kilometer) loop from Ganges, the island’s main village (#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.
The Mount Erskine trail is one of them.
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.
Like hiking? Then you might like to read about our awesome day hiking on La Palma in the Canary Islands
4) Slurp oysters at the Oystercatcher
The Oystercatcher is one of the coolest restaurants on Salt Spring Island.
And if you bicycle or hike during the day, you won’t have to worry about reigning it in for dinner there in the evening.
Sit out on its waterfront deck, and soak in the sunset 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.
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.
5) 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) 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, which 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 Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm
This boutique 2-acre lavender farm displays up to 60 varieties of lavender.
The lavender is organically grown, and they distill their essential oils onsite.
You can go on a self-guided tour and see how lavender is grown, cultivated, dried and turned into essential oil.
There’s also a farm shop, where you can pick up a host of products – from lavender lotion, sachets, bath salts, lavender eye pillows, natural soaps and lavender kitchen-and-bathroom cleaners to lavender sugar, honey, tea and chocolate.
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) Swim at Vesuvius Beach
Vesuvius Bay is a popular family beach with the island’s warmest sea water.
The beach is very shallow and the water calm, making it an ideal spot for swimming.
Bring water shoes to protect tender tootsies, as the area is a bit rocky (or just be careful going into the water).
Also check out the cool rock formations around the beach.
Related reading: Check out the best swimming holes and beaches in Victoria, BC
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.
On the return, 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).
The trail is relatively flat, with a few bumps up and down.
Take your lunch and make it an easy hiking day, enjoying the views along the way.
13) 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 cheese cake for dessert.
15) Try local craft beer at Salt Spring Island Ales
So, you’ve tasted wine (#11) and cider (#13). Do you want to also 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, they also use 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.
Lots of things to do in Salt Spring Island!
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.
Recommended Salt Spring Island restaurants
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
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 – almost a Mediterranean climate.
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.
How to get to Salt Spring Island
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.
Check out BC Ferries for schedules and more information.
Alternatively, you can book a seaplane flight on Harbour Air, which offers regular daily service from Vancouver and Vancouver Island to Salt Spring Island.
Going from Vancouver to Victoria? Here’s all you need to know about the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria (on BC Ferries, on the V2V passenger ferry and by bus/ferry for foot passengers)
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Photo credits: 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, 19, 31 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 5, 7, 10, 15 Salt Spring Island Tourism | 11 Oystercatcher | 13 Salt Spring Tweed | 17 Salt Spring Adventure Company | 20 Fernwood Café | 24 Garry Oaks Winery | 27, 28 Salt Spring Wild | 29 Salt Spring Island Cheese | 30 Salt Spring Island Ales | Hotel photos courtesy the hotels
On one visit to Salt Spring Island, we were invited by Southern Gulf Islands Tourism as media guests. All words, views and fairy love are our own, however. (We’re always free to write what we want, as we experience it!)