I like getting pampered as much as the next person, but I also like to venture places where I can tune into my unique rhythms and reconnect with myself (hello comfortable clothes, no makeup, and no pretense that I’ll spend time doing anything with my hair).
One quick ferry ride from Vancouver, you’ll find yourself at lovely Salt Spring Island. Prepare for some decompression time, because your worries don’t follow you here. If you’re in the lower mainland and looking for a quick weekend getaway, you should head over to Salt Spring.
Chill, offbeat, and free-spirited, Salt Spring Island is certainly a place to check out if you’re on BC’s west coast. You won’t find any fast food or chain restaurants here—everything is a one-off which is part of the charm and appeal. When I get away from home, I don’t want to find the same things that are in my neighbourhood.
Where to Go When You Arrive On Salt Spring Island
From the ferry terminal you’ll drive into Ganges, which is the central hub of the island. This is where to load up on food, fill your cooler with beverages, and connect with the locals. Chatting with folks that live here allows you to find out what’s going on and learn of the best restaurants and places to check out.
Talk to the people anywhere you go. You learn so much.
We parked in Ganges to grab some food and wandered into Centennial Park where there was a sword-fighting class going on. Obviously we parked our butts and watched. Who knows when we’ll get this opportunity again? Have you ever seen such a thing? It looks fun. When a sword connects with the limb of your opponent you have to pretend you’ve lost the limb. Priceless.
Places to Explore on Salt Spring
The Salt Spring Island Market
Centennial Park also plays host to the famous Salt Spring Island Summer Market on Saturdays. Be warned: it is insanely busy since it’s the place to be every week. Don’t miss out though.
The market is a feast for all the senses: there is so much to see, listen to, eat, and don’t even get me started on the delicious aromas wafting around. I lost Dan twice in the crowd due to delicious smelling food that redirected his attention.
The vendor stalls have all types of artisanal trade: fresh-baked bread, ohm beads, floor paintings, blown glass, pottery, the list goes on. Kids booths were set up down the middle of the market aisles, where the tiny entrepreneurs sold their homemade jewelry, origami, and baked goods. Some of those young folks have a real future in business.
For anyone wanting to showcase their talent and make a few bucks, busking circles are available. If a chalk circle is empty, anyone can jump in and wow the crowd for profit. We did not, mostly because people wouldn’t pay to see any of my stupid human tricks.
Raffi, of Baby Beluga fame, was there for his Raffi Foundation, which is also located on the island. Dan isn’t one to get giddy over a celebrity sighting (we do live in Vancouver, after all), but seeing Raffi made him more stoked than I’ve seen him in a long time. It may have been the highlight of the Salt Spring trip for Dan.
Dan is a serious musicophile and always has his ear to the ground when it comes to what’s happening in the music scene. We grabbed some coffee in Ganges Alley and went back to the park since they were setting up for some kind of music show. Keep in mind, this is Salt Spring Island, so bands may not be the type of music you expect.
The band that played was an eight-person giant xylophone troupe. You can’t make this stuff up. I’ve never heard music like that before. It was carefree and fun, bringing both children and adults to dance on the grass. I learned so many new dance moves; I’m already looking forward to the next family wedding so I can show them off.
If you’re not into hiking, that’s okay. Mount Maxwell welcomes everyone, hikers and non-hikers alike. You can drive to the top of Mount Maxwell and take in the spectacular views, including the water and surrounding islands. Pro tip: make sure that your car can handle rugged terrain since you’ll be leaving the comfort of paved roads on your way up.
Make Sure You See the Whole Island
Due to time constraints, we drove around the entire island to make sure we didn’t miss anything. If you have the ability, rent a scooter or an e-bike to make the experience even more fun.
The island is gorgeous; there’s greenery galore and a ton of arbutus trees. If you’re into the outdoors, there are many places to pull over to hike, including Duck Creek Park, which is favoured among locals.
There are some other things you’ll want to see including the Garry Oaks Estate Winery and Salt Spring Vineyards & Tasting Room. Consider starting the day with breakfast at the restaurant at the Salt Spring Inn. The homemade jam they serve is a sensation.
Have a day where you just meander without a plan and you’re sure to make some very memorable finds.
Honour Markets at the Side of the Road
If you drive around, you’ll see honour market booths set up everywhere. Locals have a table or stand set up at the ends of their driveways where they’ve left wares for you to purchase using the honour system.
You’ll find eggs, produce, baked goods, flowers, coffee beans, and other objects for purchase at these roadside stalls. There isn’t anyone there to take your money, they just trust that you’ll leave the right amount of cash when you take anything. I found this to be remarkably charming—perhaps I’m jaded from living in the city, but it does my heart good to know that there is still trust out there in the world.
Accommodation on Salt Spring Island
We stayed in two places on Salt Spring to get the most out of our experience.
We wanted to do a little camping, but our plan to do so was a little last-minute. We didn’t end up at the campground we wanted, but we did pretty well, if I do say so.
Ruckle Provincial Park
Our first choice for camping was Ruckle Provincial Park, however, you need to be a planner to secure a spot here—we were too late to make a reservation. We did drive over to check it out. It’s pretty neat.
You can camp right by the water, and there are some great hikes in the area. The parking lot is a ways away from the campgrounds, so you’ll need to carry/wheel in your gear to spend the night. We wandered one of the hiking trails nearby and really enjoyed the family-friendly area. We’ll definitely be back to camp here.
Mowhinna Creek Campground
We ended up staying just outside of Ganges at Mowhinna Creek Campground. If you don’t like being too far removed from society when you’re camping, this is a great place for you.
The site caretakers are such likable people and the campground was immaculate. For your campfire, they’ll sell you a bundle of wood and provide you with matches from the front office, and they’ll deliver it to your site themselves. They sell a few convenience items in the camp office, but you’re only a few minutes from Ganges, so you’re close enough to go pick up anything you may have forgotten.
Each site was set up so you couldn’t see your neighbours through a curtain of thick greenery, but they were close enough that you could hear them, so if you do visit, mind what you say after dark since there are little children everywhere. The campground has a playground for the kids, flushing toilets, and pay showers—some of the comforts of home for those who need them.
We Stayed in a Treehouse!
Our second accommodation was an Air BnB treehouse overlooking the water. This is one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed during a getaway. When we opened the doors to our gorgeous rental, we were greeted with a warm welcome note from our gracious and thoughtful host, Dory, and a bouquet of fresh local flowers. I loved the small touches to make us feel welcome.
The treehouse has huge windows facing the water, where you can watch the sunset from the patio, or even from the bed. Despite the small size (it is a treehouse, after all), the place comes with a ton of amenities: a sun nook for reading, king size bed, coffee/tea, bar fridge, a few local snacks, access to a fire pit, BBQ, kayaks/paddleboards, and a new best friend named LuLu (Dory’s super friendly and affectionate dog). I could live here; the setting is peaceful and serene. Forget wifi and put your phone away. This is a great place to chill and clear your head—you may even be inspired to pick up your notebook and write.
If you’re heading to Salt Spring, you need to stay in this treehouse. It was love at first sight. Honestly. Such a serene and well thought out design and setting.
There is much to explore in Salt Spring Island. It felt like we were further away from home than we actually were, which was nice to mentally separate from our day-to-day obligations and really savour every moment that Salt Spring has to offer.