Saltspring Island

By Siena Anstis   Trail Canada

If you are looking for rest and relaxation between arduous West Coast trail hikes and bar hopping in glittery Vancouver, Saltspring Island offers any traveller the perfect refreshment.

Saltspring is the liveliest of the Gulf Islands, which spot the strait between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The Island itself is easy to access, from Vancouver, just hop on a direct ferry from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and from Victoria grab a direct ferry from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.

If arriving from Victoria, you will dock into Fulford Harbor, Saltspring’s hippie central. Saltspring is world-renown for its natural-hippie products, clean soaps and vegan organic food: Fulford Harbour gave birth to these healthy and healing creations.

…And by Harbour, Fulford is a small gathering of cafes, with a small one-ferry dock, communal docks for private boats, a second hand store also selling natural India-imported cloths, clothes stores with funky hats and a jewellery store selling glass beads and random trinkets.

Begin your trip on the right foot with a coffee and a meal at the Treehouse Café: the food comes in huge servings, try the Hippie-Burger loaded with vegetables and a spinach salad and a homemade dressing on the side. The Morningside Café, right up the road, sells delicious organic treats like thick slices of carrot cake and soy chocolate brownies.

Fulford Harbor is one of the main villages on Saltspring, and is also known as the “South End” to local residents. When leaving Fulford, there is one main ‘highway’ (you can’t miss it), which will bring you to Ganges (about 15 km away) and the centre of the town. Since Saltspring does not boast a bus system, a kind Finnish lady has set up a shuttle bus service that will take you to the centre of Saltspring, Ganges, for a flat fee of $10.

Once in Ganges, I would recommend having a rental car waiting for you, or get used to hitchhiking, which is Saltspring’s most favoured means of transport and entirely safe. Driving from Fulford to Ganges, don’t forget to stop at Saltspring’s vineyards and try some black berry port or buy some produce from the many stands dotting the roadside.

Ganges is the hub of Saltspring. During the summer months, a market is held every Saturday in Centennial Park, Ganges’ central park. The market boasts every natural product from bunches of dried purple lavender, to fresh picked chanterelles, to Saltspring’s famous goat cheeses. There’s also a great number of artisan stands selling beautiful glass-blown sculptures, silver and hemp jewellery, ceramics and Saltspring woven loose hippie pants.

Ganges is located right on the ocean and has a beautiful harbour stretching along the park, so grab a few treats from Saltspring Roasting Co, a local café, and some fair trade coffee and go dangle your feet off the docks.

The town itself is flooded with restaurants and small boutiques. Mouat’s bar, which is just a bit out of town, but within walking distance, offers great music-packed nights, as does Barb’s Buns (right in the centre of town), which is a great place to enjoy a glass of red wine and listen to tilting vocals. The Ganges Tree House Café is a unique restaurant housing a tiny kitchen and an outside patio under a massive, leafy tree; Tree House Music plays every night during the summer and accommodates a vast style of artists.

Saltspring boasts a huge number of beaches. Vesuvius Beach, in the “North End” of the island has warm water all summer long – you can swim with the incoming ferries connecting Saltspring to Crofton, a small city near Duncan. South End Beach off of North End Road, which is father away and sometimes hard to find, has huge flat rocks stretching out into the water and small sandy spits; although the water is frigid, the endless horizon is breathtaking beautiful during a sunset.

If you’re looking for some adventure and a get down and gritty approach to staying on Saltspring, Ruckle Park, in the South End of the island offers some of the best camping in the West Coast. With clean, easy to access, and “ a-no-trailers” allowed policy, Ruckle Park gives you paradise at night and at day. The campground spans over endless kilometres of coastal access – you can literally and legally sleep on the beach. Make sure to attend some of the park sponsored events, which will teach you to make unbreakable tree bark string amongst a slew of other odd activities.

Ruckle Park also offers great hiking trails along the coast, barking seals and crazy natural rock formations. The park is also split with a farm and a few heritage sites (mostly crazy old barns), with stands selling fresh eggs and produce. In the spring, sheep can be heard bleating through the forest, and calves are found running free in the fields.

Spending a day in Ganges is ample excitement, during the summer months the town is constantly buzzing. If you pass the irresistible Glad’s Ice Cream, which makes their waffle cones on the spot (the enticing and dizzying aroma that comes out of there), stop for a frozen yoghurt. If you are looking for ultimate relaxation, Saltspring has a number of full treatment spas, but never forget the beaches and the lakes on Saltspring which make the greatest part of its charm. Saltspring is famous for its vast selection of peaceful lakes from skinny-dipping only (Blackburn Lake) to swimsuit-preferred lakes such as St. Mary’s and Cusheon.

Saltspringers are proud ‘locals’ and sometimes adverse to tourists (so give them priority when parking, just look for car stickers saying “I’m a local!”.) Their attitude is understandable considering that Saltspring’s population doubles during the summer months. Exercising polite manners and picking up your garbage will get you far – Saltspringers are also some of the friendliest people in Canada and have gave birth to the concept of West Coast kindness and hospitality, many will be glad to give you directions, lend a helping hand or maybe even give you a tour of the island.

Last of all, if you are a young university student at the University of Victoria or in Vancouver, come check out Saltspring for a cheap get away; grab a friend and get ready to stick your thumbs out to hitch rides around the island. Spend the day at a beach and head downtown at night where you’ll have no trouble making friends with the Saltspring’s young population at Mouat’s pub or at Treehouse Café.

Saltspring Island Features

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