Of British Columbia's gorgeous Southern Gulf Islands - an archipelago of hilly, forested gems in the Georgia Strait, off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island near Victoria, BC - Salt Spring Island is both the most populated and the most visited. For a somewhat sparsely populated, rural island with just over 10,000 year-round inhabitants, it's also a surprisingly active and vibrant center of LGBT culture. There's a well-attended Salt Spring Island Gay Pride celebration over a full weekend each September, and quite a few businesses in the main community of Ganges and elsewhere around the island are gay-owned.
Life on Salt Spring Island moves at an easy pace, and folks here are friendly and helpful. The main draws are enjoying the natural scenery and relaxing. There are ample opportunities for kayaking and boating - you can rent watercraft or take a guided tour. And Salt Spring Island has a pair of fantastic parks laced with hiking trails and dotted with picnic areas - for a higher-altitude experience complete with soaring views of the surrounding islands and waters, head to Mt. Maxwell Provincial Park. If you're more in the mood for traipsing along a spectacular coastal trail and enjoy a picnic lunch with the possibility of spotting whales and sea lions just offshore, make your way to pastoral Ruckle Provincial Park, at the southeastern tip of the island.
Traveling to Salt Spring Island? Here are tips on getting here by ferry and seaplane.
Looking for a place to stay on Salt Spring Island? Check out the upscale Hasting House Hoteland the economical Salt Spring Inn.
How to Get to Salt Spring Island - Salt Spring Island Ferry Options
Often appearing on maps and in print as Saltspring Island, this picturesque retreat is easily reached by BC Ferries from both the mainland and Vancouver Island. It's just a quick hop to the southern Salt Spring Island village of Fulford Harbour by ferry from town of Sidney, on Vancouver Island, which is just a 20-minute drive north of the provincial capital, Victoria. From the city of Vancouver, it's easiest to get here from the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen, which has multiple ferries each day to Sidney, where you can then catch the second shorter ferry to Salt Spring Island. Alternatively, if you're coming from points north on Vancouver Island (or you've caught the ferry from North Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, you could take the quick ferry ride from Crofton, Vancouver lsland to tiny Vesuvius, on the west side of Salt Spring Island. See the latest Salt Spring Island ferry schedule and fare information at BC Ferries.
By far the fastest and most convenient way to get here is by catching a float plane, which although more expensive is also a lot of fun - the views of the Georgia Strait and Vancouver Island are stunning. Regularly scheduled and charter float-plane service is available to Salt Spring Island from downtown Vancouver as well as Vancouver International Airport on Saltspring Air, which also offers charter services to other Gulf Islands and also to Pat Bay, on Vancouver Island near Sidney. Airfare ranges from about $110 to $130 each way from Vancouver to Salt Spring Island, and the flight takes around 40 to 45 minutes. Seaair also has flight service from Vancouver Airport, and the U.S. carrier Kenmore Air has flights from Seattle to Salt Spring Island.
However you get here, it's easiest to really get around and explore the island by car, so consider bringing your own - just factor in that ferry fares rise considerably when you bring a car on the boat (from Sidney to Fulford Harbour, for example, the per-passenger round-trip fare is around $13, and a car costs about $38). If you're on a bit of a budget, however, or you plan to spend most of your time in the pedestrian-friendly village of Ganges, you could still very much get by without a car, relying on taxis as well as the quite efficient and affordable Salt Spring Island Transit System buses for the occasional longer trip as well as transportation to and from the ferry terminals.
Cycling is also a very popular way to get around. There are rentals available in Ganges (Salt Spring Island Adventure Co. is a good bet), and the island is lovely to see on two wheels. Also, local buses on the island do accommodate bikes. Just note that roads are often a bit narrow and sometimes quite hilly, so wear proper equipment and pay attention.
Hastings House Hotel and Restaurant, Ganges Harbour
Every last detail has been considered at Hastings House Country House Hotel (160 Upper Ganges Rd., 250-537-2362), one of the most relaxing and lovely boutique lodgings in western Canada. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, which places an emphasis both on distinctive upscale accommodations and farm-to-table-driven dining, this tranquil country house retreat on a 22-acre garden- and forest-laced bluff overlooking Ganges Harbour has just 18 suites, ranging from classic timber-ceiling rooms in the historic manor house to airy deluxe units in the newer hillside section to a couple of roomy cottages with full kitchens. All are furnished with a mix of antiques and newer pieces that feel at once rustic and chic. Indeed, throughout this property known for its spot-on, friendly service, the vibe is easygoing yet refined. The intimate, finely appointed Wellspring Spa offers a range of first-class treatments, from facials to shiatsu. It's an upscale experience, with rates starting around $265 in the off season and $425 during the prime summer high season, but this exceptional property completely delivers, and a full English breakfast and afternoon tea are included in the rates.
Whether or not you stay on property, do at the very least try to make it to Hasting House for a meal. The two restaurant options are both outstanding, with the more formal prix-fixe option ideal for a leisurely experience and the lighter and more casual Bistro option perfect if you want to sample the outstanding seasonal cuisine in a cozier atmosphere. The Bistro is a great value, too, with entrees running between $25 and $35, and a three-course prix-fixe available for just $42. This is the sort of delicious culinary adventure that could cost twice as much in a big city. The menus in both the fine dining room and bistro change according to what's fresh, but sample dishes have included crispy duck-leg confit with braised lentils and a blackberry reduction in the Bistro, and venison carpaccio with onion marmalade as well as herb-crusted wild Pacific halibut with vegetable quinoa and arugula pesto in the formal dining room. In both areas, you can choose from an extensive and impressive wine list that includes some local bottles produced right on Salt Spring Island.
Salt Spring Inn and Restaurant, Ganges Harbour
Set right in the center of the lively but still completely relaxing town of Ganges, the gay-owned Salt Spring Inn (132 Lower Ganges Rd., 250-537-9339) offers both clean and affordable accommodations and a terrific bar and restaurant serving three meals daily, plus local beers and wines. The two-story inn has accommodations on the upper level - a total of seven compact but warmly decorated rooms, some with private bath and others sharing a spotless hall bathroom. If you're traveling on a budget, the shared-bath rooms are a super bargain, starting at just $90 in high season (it's a bit more if you want a front room, which enjoys a view of across the street of the harbor). During the off-season (Oct through mid-May), the rates drop to as low as $65, and for a room with private bath, it's still quite reasonable to stay here - just $165 in high season, which is quite competitive on this island. In the center of town, it's a five-minute walk from numerous cafes and restaurants, and there's a full-service grocery store across the street. The staff is friendly and helpful, and if you may even have a chance to meet the feline innkeeper, who stays out of guest rooms but might be found milling around the small lobby.
In the ground-floor Salt Spring Inn Restaurant, which has both a cozy indoor tavern space and two levels of seating outside in front, overlooking town, you can feast on reasonably priced, eclectic fare, ranging from local seafood to international dishes. Sunday brunch and, on other days, breakfast, are highly popular. Consider the smoked salmon scramble or buttermilk waffles topped with seasonal fruit. Make it a truly relaxing affair by ordering an Island Mimosa with orange juice and champagne, topped with peach schnapps. Lunch and dinner favorites include panko-crusted coconut prawns, pan-seared crab cakes, salad topped with local Salt Spring Cheese Co. goat cheese, pizzas topped with a variety of ingredients, blackened-halibut tacos, lamb burgers with apple-mango chutney, and buttermilk fried chicken - just tasty, hearty comfort fare made with fresh ingredients.