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Salt Spring Island colourfull cabin

Salt Spring Island BC Canada

A tourism and day trip review

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I was awake, but I had yet to open my eyes. I was feeling impulsive and I dared not embrace the morning light till I mustered a plan for a grand adventure. I knew it was going to be a nice day like the other previous days have been this summer so I had to decide on something to do outside. I wanted to travel, I love to drive, but I did not want to go on a long trip and wanted to be back home in Victoria that night. I always loved nature and there was no better time to go exploring the countryside and local parks.

Many years ago I used to live on Salt Spring Island (SSI) one of the southern gulf islands in between BC's lower mainland and Vancouver Island. For some reason this was a reappearing theme in my thought processes this morning. I had not been back to Salt Spring Island in over 10 years and I was curious to how little or much things have changed. I remembered how much fun me and my soon to be wife had exploring the island and its rich and diverse culture.

As I slowly opened my eyes, in unison, my lips started to sport a grin. I had made up my mind, today was going to be a grand Salt Spring Island adventure. Once the decision was made all thoughts now were devoted to the planning and timing of this Salt Spring Island day trip.

This Salt Spring Island You Tube video has sights and images of different parts of the island.  

It was around 10:00am by the time I jumped into my car and started the ignition. I made my way to a gas station and filled up on gas, fuel prices can be notoriously high on the gulf islands, better to fuel up in the city before you go. I then jumped on the Patricia (Pat) Bay Highway and headed north to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal just 10 minutes north of Sidney BC.

Approaching the Swartz Bay ferry terminal I noticed an extended line of cars lined up at the SSI toll both. It would seem I was not the only one eager for an adventure that day. It was glaringly obvious at this point I was not going to make the intended ferry, but that was okay. I knew this might be an issue and thats why I made sure to get to the ferry terminal as early as I could. Salt Spring Island ferry schedule to and from Fulford Harbour (SSI).

How much does the does the Salt Spring Island ferry cost? I paid the lady at the toll both a grand total of $32.75. The BC Ferry cost from Swartz Bay to Salt Spring Island is $4.75 for one adult and $28.00 for my vehicle. This fare is round trip. Salt Spring Island ferry fares.

The person at the toll both then gives you a receipt with a lane number on it. The directions are well advertised and once you reached your designated lane number you just simply park as close as you can to the car in front of you, unless you are the fist one in the lane you'll park at the line at the front of the well marked lane.

Once I parked my car I decided get out and give my legs a stretch. Over to left hand side of the BC Ferries parking lot is a building that houses a larger waiting area. Inside this building is a cafeteria called Land's End Cafe serving hot and cold food, there are a few arcade style video games for amusement, washrooms and semi comfortable seating. During the summer months there are farmers market style booths all around the building featuring unique crafts, artwork, clothing and jewelry. I myself made my way over to the sunglasses hut to get some new shades. This market by the ferry terminal is a welcome distraction, especially if you just missed the ferry and have a bit of time to kill till the next one.

Market at BC Ferries
Market at the BC Ferry terminal.

Market at the ferry terminal
Lands End Cafe and market.

BC Ferries parking lot
BC Ferries parking lot.

It wasn't long till the announcer came on the PA system to announce that our ferry was now boarding. Following the car ahead of me we winded our way to the berth where I drove my car over a steel ramp onto the ferry then followed the directions of a BC Ferry employee as to where I would be parking my car. After I nudged up as close as I could to the car in front of me I was free to get out and explore the ship.

The ship was a large open deck design which was great for the summer weather. There was plenty of outside seats that gave you a great view of the lovely Gulf Island scenery. There is inside seating as well on the ferry, you are also allowed to stay in your car if you want to on this ferry ride.

In addition for it being a long time since I have been back to Salt Spring Island it had also been a long time since I took a ferry ride on a warm summer day. Every one was outside enjoying this warm day, I myself, being a bit of a shutter bug, was busy taking taking pictures and chatting up the odd stranger.

Ferry outside deck
Keeping it casual on the sun deck.

Ferry car deck
View of the car deck below.

Mt. Maxwell view from the ferry
Mt. Maxwell view from the ferry.

Fullford Harbour ferry terminal
Fullford Harbour ferry terminal.

The whole ferry ride from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour SSI took about 30 minutes. Fist the pedestrians and cyclist are let off, then the motorcycles and finally the cars. Once I was off the ferry I followed the signs and made my way toward Ruckle Park.

Ruckle Park

Ruckle Park was originally a private homestead for Henry Ruckle. Over the years the family donated most of the land, but still retained a portion of it for themselves. This is one of the best parks in the Southern Gulf Islands. Though it is not a large park it has some incredible picnic areas with stunning views of the other Gulf Islands (mostly Pender Island), wildlife, the ferries and sailboats that pass by. This is a great spot for a peaceful romantic or family picnic. You could come to Salt Spring Island just for this reason alone. But wait, there's more!

Though Ruckle Park is a great place for a picnic, it is an even better place to camp. This is some of the best beach camping in and around Victoria BC. The Ruckle Park campsite is managed and you can effectively camp all year round. Check out the camping information for Ruckle Park for more details.

picnic table in ruckle park
Picnic with a view at Ruckle Park.

couple watching sail boats in Ruckle Park
Enjoy some good company and a great view.

girl watching ferry go by in Ruckle Park
Contemplate, meditate and appreciate.

Ruckle Park campsite on Salt Spring Island
Best camping spot ever!

Moving on from Ruckle Park, I made my way back to the Fulford – Ganges (yes, named after the Ganges river in India) Highway. At the entrance to the park they have a little pioneer historical site, there was a family of turkeys running around, I regret not getting a picture of them, they were really cute. So on I went to go have a look at the small churches they have on Salt Spring Island, both are along the same stretch of road.

small Salt Spring Island Church
St. Paul's Catholic church.

I was about to get back into my car after visiting the second church when I noticed a wallet on the ground. I picked it up and it had two items in it a BC drivers license and a crisp 10 dollar bill. I thought this was going to be my opportunity of the good deed of the day. The gentleman's address was on the license, I pulled out my trusty tourist map that I got for free on board the ferry and found the road where he lived. He was probably hitchhiking and in a rush when he dropped his wallet.

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There is a long history of commonplace hitchhiking on Salt Spring Island. Up until recently there has been no reliable form of public transportation. I myself when I lived on SSI hitchhiked with relative ease, everyone always gives everyone a ride, it's a small and friendly community. Even visitors are surprised how easy it really is to get around by hitchhiking on Salt Spring Island. Though hitchhiking is technically illegal and there is now public transportation, you will see people from time to time standing on the side of the road with their thumb sticking out. BC Transit bus schedule for Salt Spring Island.

The hitchhiking was probably brought on by the large hippie movement that came to Salt Spring Island during the 1960`and 1970`s. Their influences are alive and strong to this day, you can see it in the festivals, at the public market and in the shear number of artists that inhabit the island. In fact SSI is international recognized as an artist community.

The hippies also brought their marijuana, Salt Spring Island once had the reputation of being the pot capital of BC. This tends to be mainly a sub-culture and you will not be likely see evidence of it out of the open. Marijuana is illegal in BC Canada. There was also for a time a nudism sub-culture on Salt Spring Island. One of my earliest memories of SSI was when my parents and I went camping in the early 1980`s and we past by one of the many lakes, on the dock there was a lady standing as naked as can be.

As I was driving around Salt Spring Island, it was a hot summers day I noticed a lot of people swimming at the lakes (none of them naked). There are 3 main lakes where you can enjoy a cool swim on a warm day. There is Weston Lake on Beaver Point Rd. On the way to Ruckle Park. Cusheon Lake is off the main road, you can access it via (surprise, surprise) Cusheon Lake Rd. The biggest of the lakes on Salt Spring Island is St. Mary Lake on the northern part of the island, you can access it off of North End Rd. I hear these lakes are stocked with bass, so if you like to fish you might be able to get a nibble.

Mt. Maxwell

With my good deed being presented before me I tucked it away for a while and decided to make my way further toward Ganges (the largest town on Salt Spring Island). On the way I wanted to drive up Mt. Maxwell, but you have to turn up a funny road called Cranberry Rd., I drove by it, had to turn around and come back. WARNING! The road up to the top of Mt. Maxwell is really bad. It's steep, narrow, washboard surface and potholed, my engine started to overheat on the way up, but half way there is an area you can pull over, I highly recommend you pull over and give your car a rest. A 4x4 vehicle would be handy up this road.

The parking lot at the top of Mt. Maxwell is only a stones throw from the look out. There are picnic tables and outhouses for your convenience, no running water. The view from the top of Mt. Maxwell's Baynes Peak is well worth the drive up that crappy road. It is a unique view of the southern part of Salt Spring Island, other Southern Gulf Islands, the strait of Juan De Fuca and beyond. Watch as turkey vultures ride the thermals and soar BELOW you. This great and unique view is made possible by the almost shear cliff that maximizes your field of vision. It is well fenced off, don't climb or go around the fences, unless you are a seasoned rock climber. How high is Mt. Maxwell? It is 600 metres above sea level give or take few metres, conflicting sources puts it a little over and a little under.

top of Mt.Maxwell
Enjoy the view up top of Mt. Maxwell.

boats look small from so high up
The little boats don't look real from so high up.

view of Salt Spring Island Valley
View of the valley and raod that ends up in Fullford Harbour.

Small docks below
More toy boats and docks.

view from the top of Mt. Maxwell wide angle
Wide angle view of Fulford Harbour and Gulf Islands.

Soaring Turkey Vulture
Turkey vulture soaring on a thermal below me.

Mount Maxwell west view
NW view from the top of Mt. Maxwell.

Saturday Market

Once I had my fill of the beautiful scenery I headed back down the Mount Maxwell and edged further toward Ganges. Ganges is a quaint and eclectic town that can be a busy place in the summer. Full of tourists, parking can be hard to come by, but if your patient one will open up eventually. This was an especially busy day because the Saturday market was in full swing. The Saturday's farmers market is open from 8:00am till 4:00pm from April to October. This is also a great opportunity to get to see the local merchants and artist out showing the best that Salt Spring Island has to offer. You could easily spend a few hours moseying around exploring the market and surrounding shops as well.

Salt Spring Island is host to many unique festivals and events, if you are thinking of enhancing your trip, you may want to consider aligning your schedule accordingly. Salt Spring Island calendar or events.

Ganges Saturday market on Salt Spring Island
Saturday market in Ganges.

As the day had now long past its zenith, it was time for me to be making my way toward home. I did not want to have the same kind of wait at the ferry terminal that I had on the crossing to Salt Spring Island from Swartz Bay, I thought I would instead take the ferry from Vesuvius to Crofton on Vancouver Island. The BC ferry from Vesuvius has many more frequent sailings and they cross late into the evening too. The ferry from Fullford Harbour to Swartz Bay is much more infrequent. Salt Spring Island ferry schedule from Vesuvius (SSI) to Crofton.

Vesuvius is just a short drive from Ganges, but I wanted to explore the north end of Salt Spring Island. Well, the north end is pretty quite. It seems to be largely residential, a couple of farms and St. Mary's Lake is always a big draw for people. There is one interesting part of the road as you leave Ganges along Upper Ganges Road there is a very huge hill, if you are in your car or on a bike and want a bit of a thrill, you must experience this crazy hill.

After gallivanting around the north side of Salt Spring Island, I arrived at the Vesuvius ferry terminal that was full! I actually had to park just outside of the ferry parking lot on the street with other vehicles soon falling in behind me. I thought to myself that I was going to miss another ferry because it was going to be full and I'll have a long wait ahead of me. Amazingly when we did board the ferry I and others behind me were able to get on save only for a few vehicles at the very end of the line. So the lesson here is that even if the Vesuvius ferry parking lot is full you still have a good chance of getting on the ferry.

Sunset Farm
A farm on northern Salt Spring Island.

Vesuvius Bay
View of Vesuvius bay from the ferry.

Crofton ferry sun deck
Relaxing out on the sun deck.

Vesuvius ferry terminal
Vesuvius ferry terminal.

The ferry ride was short and sweet and the only view of interest is the Crofton Pulp Mill, and its not all that pretty to look at, but interesting. The sun was setting on my drive back over the Malahat Drive to Victoria and I was reflecting to myself what a beautiful day it was, the many different places that I explored on Salt Spring Island and my good deed, of course. I indeed found the home that was on the drivers license in the wallet I found. I knocked on the door but no one was home, I left the wallet at the base of the front door so I'm sure they would stumble upon it at some point.

Crofton Pulp Mill
Crofton pulp mill.

I hope your Salt Spring Island adventure turns out to be just as good or better than mine. Ciao.

Darshan Montgomery

Map of Salt Spring Island


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