Salt Spring Island is a beautiful, unique place with a lot of fantastic natural space, impressive coastline and a fiercely independent identity as an oasis of art, music, sustainable farming and rustic lifestyles. They have even went so far as to create their own currency, the Salt Spring dollar. It is hard to find these days, though, and isn’t accepted anywhere off the island, although small children can often be fooled into accepting it in lieu of tooth fairy money.
Salt Spring Island BC is the largest and most populous (11,000) of the Gulf Islands tucked in between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Of course, size is relative in this chain of tiny land masses, as even on Salt Spring you can easily drive from one end to the other in less than an hour.
Salt Spring Island (occasionally just SSI but NOT Saltspring Island or Salt Springs Island or anything involving the word “springy”) were first inhabited by the Salish indigenous people and has a rich history including Hawaiian descendants and African-Americans who moved to SSI after emancipation.
It later became the first of the Gulf Islands to be settled by Europeans in 1859. Renamed Admiral Island at the time, the name has since been changed to Salt Spring in reference to the salt springs found on the northern part of the island.
As the largest and most developed of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island offers the most entertainment and activity options, although people looking for remote and untouched wilderness might have more luck elsewhere. Private residential ownership on the island has also left very few spots where the public can access the ocean or beaches.
The history of SSI is quite rich, they include Hawaiian descendants and the Afro- American emancipated who fled from the USA looking for a better life.
On the bright side, in summer you can find an organic farm stand every kilometre or so, live music every night of the week and any variation of art gallery you can imagine. There are also far more accommodation options on Salt Spring Island than anywhere else in the Gulf Islands, with choices to suit every taste and budget.
Check out: The 10 Best Hotels on Salt Spring Island
Where is Salt Spring Island?
As the main island of the Southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island sits in the Georgia Strait directly between Vancouver on the mainland and Victoria on Vancouver Island. Surrounded by several other, smaller Gulf Islands, Salt Spring enjoys a protected location while still falling directly on several of the main ferry lines. It is also just a short ferry trip from Nanaimo, the second-largest city on Vancouver Island.
Gulf Islands BC: The Ultimate Planning Guide
What is Salt Spring Island known for?
Considered a throwback to another time and lifestyle, Salt Spring Island prides itself on its sustainable farms, organic produce, local wines and wide range of art galleries and live music. The Saturday Salt Spring Market draws visitors from all over BC, while the beaches and ocean activities are massively popular in summer.
Where to Stay: Salt Spring Island Hotels
There are some great choices for places to stay on Salt Spring Island. Here are a few of our favourites from our list of the 10 Best Salt Spring Island Accommodations.
Hastings House Country House Hotel
If you are looking for luxury in a central location with spa services, Hastings House on Salt Spring checks all the boxes. It is a short walk from the beach and some rooms have a view of the ocean.
Relax at the spa with a massage, reflexology or facial at the Wellspring Spa that is in the small renovated barn surrounded by the gardens and cedar trees.
It is conveniently located within walking distance to Ganges. Accommodation options range from deluxe rooms for two up to a three bedroom cottage. They deliver you fresh muffins each morning and a hot breakfast is included.
Click here for Harbour House Hotel Salt Spring prices
Wisteria Guest House B&B
Enjoy the 1 acre English gardens at the Wisteria Guest House which feature beautiful cascading wisteria flowers and the guest terrace. Check out the sitting areas in the garden that are perfect for enjoying that sunny day. Or check out the large lounge with a self serve hot beverage station on those chillier days.
The Wisteria has 9 different rooms to choose from, each with its own feel and is conveniently located in Ganges within walking distance to most attractions while maintaining a feeling of peace and quiet.
They are known for their delicious breakfasts and you might even get a visit from Steve the cat.
Click here for Wisteria Guest House prices
Cusheon Lake Resort
With its own private beach, the Cusheon Lake Resort is the perfect Salt Spring Island accommodation for families. There is even a playground for the kids as well as all the water activities including a private dock for them to jump into the lake.
The cottages fit 4 to 7 people with a well equipped kitchen, fireplace and deck with views of the lake and surrounding forest. The property is pet friendly if you want to bring the whole family along.
Enjoy the rustic charm of these Salt Spring Island cabins and the convenience of being only 10 minutes from Ganges.
Click here for Cusheon Lake Resort prices
Salt Spring Island Camping
Camping here can be a special experience, especially for tenters. While there are a few RV sites available, the narrow roads and small sites make tenting more convenient.
Also, you can check out our full guide to 7 Unique Salt Spring Island Camping and Glamping Options.
Garden Faire Campground
The basic but quirky and eclectic Garden Faire Campground is within walking distance of Ganges and is a great choice. Over 20 years old, it features over 50 sites, each uniquely decorated and many divided by wooden fences.
Two-thirds of the sites are for tenting, while the rest are open to small RVs (26 ft or less). They also have a couple of tents already set up and available for rent if you don’t have your own.
Surrounded by tall trees, there are both drive-in and walk-in sites, pit toilets and a pretty unusual (but fun) outdoor shower attached to a tree. And keep your eyes peeled for fairy doors hidden among the trees…
Ruckle Provincial Park Campground
Boasting a glorious location right on the water, Ruckle Provincial Park Campground has a variety of sites, some sheltered in the huge cedar and Douglas fir trees while others sit perched on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. Those ones are pretty spectacular but also very exposed, so you may want to base your decision on the weather forecast.
Most of the sites are tent-only but there are a handful of RV sites set back in the trees.
Every site has a picnic table and water tap, there are pit toilets, recycling bins and there is firewood for sale (although fire bans are common in summer). Only a few of the sites are reservable through BC Parks and the rest are first come, first served.
Mowhinna Creek Campground
Definitely the most well-equipped of the Salt Spring Island camping options, Mowhinna Creek Campground has 50 fairly private sites, 28 of which are geared toward tenters but there are also 8 full service RV sites, another dozen RV sites with water and power only and 2 unfurnished cabins. This is the only place on the island suitable for large RVs.
There is a playground, flush toilets, coin-operated showers, recycling bins, a dishwashing station and even wifi.
21 Reasons to Visit Salt Spring Island
Of course, while its popularity can be a downside in some respects, it also means that there is a long list of reasons to visit Salt Spring Island including terrific things to do and see. Whether you are looking for outdoor activities, in the market for some fresh produce or interested in browsing the amazing artisan galleries, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.
1. Explore Ganges
That’s Ganges BC, of course, not the rather famous and spiritual Ganges River in India, and there really aren’t too many similarities beyond the name. In Ganges, Salt Spring Island, for example, it is very unlikely you will see any dead bodies being cremated and dumped in the river. Of course, we haven’t been there on a Canada Day weekend, so who knows for sure?
The main town on Salt Spring Island, Ganges is located on east side of the island overlooking the Salish Sea and was named after the British naval ship, the HMS Ganges. It should be the first stop for anyone looking to pick up supplies, hit a restaurant, browse the Ganges Museum, book a tour, rent a bike or kayak or browse a wide selection of art galleries.
Ganges Harbour is a beautiful bay filled with a wide variety of traffic from basic fishing boats, tugboats and gorgeous pleasure yachts to seaplanes and frolicking families of seals. There is a nice boardwalk along the marina, although you do have to make the occasional detour where water access has been denied by private property owners – a common theme on Salt Spring Island.
2. Get Out on the Water
All of the Gulf Islands offer fantastic opportunities to get out and enjoy the sheltered bays and open ocean. This is a very popular destination for kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, boating and fishing. You can rent kayaks from Beachside Salt Spring Island and at Salt Spring Adventure Company you can also rent or join one of their custom kayaking tours.
While you usually need the help of a professional guide to find whales, even independent kayakers often spot seals, otters and a vast array of marine birds. Guided tours offer every level of experience from short tours of the Ganges Harbour to all-day excursions to Prevost Island.
3. See the View from Mount Erskine
There are several amazing lookout points along a dramatic ridge on this wonderful forest path directly west of Ganges. There are several different trails you can combine to make the trek longer or shorter, but whichever you choose, getting to the best viewpoints will involve a bit of a climb.
You can follow this AllTrails map to get the general idea for the loop, although we would recommend following trail #3 directly to the ridge, then take the ridge up and return on trail #1. This route will maximize your views over Sansum Narrows and the mountains of Vancouver Island.
The entire loop is around 4 km with over 200 metres of elevation gain and will take 1-1.5 hours. All the paths are clearly marked and well-maintained, although they would get slippery in the rain.
And, of course, you need to keep an eye out for the “fairy doors”, tiny decorative doors carved by locals and semi-hidden among the stumps and boulders near the trail. They are probably not portals to another dimension used by mythical forest creatures under cover of darkness. Probably not.
If you like odd, scavenger hunt hikes, you should also check out the unique Teapot Hill Hike just outside Vancouver…
4. Go on a Whale Watching Tour
Whale watching excursions are one of the top tours offered by Salt Spring Adventure Company, as well as several other operators on Salt Spring Island.
The Gulf Islands are famous for their marine life and the high season runs from March to October, although it is best between June and September, when these tours routinely track down Humpbacks, Orcas, porpoises and seals.
5. Relax on a Salt Spring Island Beach
Although many of the best beaches on Salt Spring are on private land and off-limits to tourists, there are still several good ones to choose from.
One of the most popular spots on Salt Spring Island, Beddis Beach is found rather predictably at the end of Beddis Road. With lovely white sand, neat tide pools and plenty of early morning sun, Beddis Beach is a great spot to bring the kids.
Parking is rather limited, although you can park along the road, and by late afternoon much of the beach will be in shade, which can be a positive or negative depending on your sun worshiping goals.
Fernwood Point Beach
The most fascinating beach on Salt Spring Island for nature, Fernwood Point Beach is the place to see small marine life. Featuring the photogenic Government Wharf, it is also the only place on Salt Spring where you can find live sand dollar beds.
The black ones are live and can be found under the dock – be careful not to step on them! Fernwood Point is best at low tide when you can wander around spotting sand dollars, crabs, clams, snails and sea stars.
Drummond Park Beach
Just southwest of Fulford Harbour, Drummond Park Beach is a community park that is an excellent family destination with its playground, good picnic areas, lots of driftwood and even an ancient petroglyph.
This west-facing beach in a calm, shallow bay near the Nanaimo ferry is known for being the hottest place (for temperature, not nightlife) on Salt Spring Island and, not surprisingly, having the warmest water.
The beach itself is nice and wide and is easily accessed via a wooden staircase just off Langley Street. We were told this is a local favourite.
Walker Hook Beach
Only accessible by boat, this lovely little stretch of beautiful white sand is the nicest beach on Salt Spring Island. There is only one house there and no public access by land but if you have a boat (or decide to rent one) the beach itself is still open to everyone.
6. Explore by Bike, Ebike or Scooter
Salt Spring Island is becoming more and more popular for cycling, ebikes and scooters and you can now rent any of them right on the island. While the scenery is exceptional and the roads small and pleasant, they are also a bit on the narrow side, making for a bit of congestion on busy summer weekends.
The island is very hilly, so you will need to decide if you are up to tackling it on a standard bike or require the help of an ebike, both of which can be rented at Salt Spring Adventure Company. Ebikes cost a bit more but make it easier to keep up with traffic and cover more ground. One of the most common circuits is a 30 km loop starting and ending in Ganges.
They also offer guided tours but if you want to go it alone, consider buying a Pathways Heritage Map from the visitor centre or online. Designed by a local non-profit, it shows a variety of detailed routes, things to do, beach access points and historical sites.
If you aren’t interested in working up a sweat, you can also rent both one and two person scooters. For these, you need to have a valid driver’s license and be at least 19 years old.
7. Experience Ruckle Provincial Park
Our personal favourite spot on Salt Spring Island, Ruckle Provincial Park features a superb mix of old farms, big ocean views, marine life and excellent hiking. An outstanding trail runs along the rugged, rocky coastline with lots of tide pools and constant views of the Swanson Channel between Salt Spring and Pender Island.
This park is actually a preserved homestead dating back to the Irish immigrant, Henry Ruckle, back in 1872. The land is still farmed by his ancestors today.
Ruckle Provincial Park Shoreline Trail
There are actually around 15 kilometres of trails in the park, although this coastal loop hits all the best spots, including glorious King’s Cove.
It is generally well-marked with orange markers and if you don’t want to do the whole loop it is still worth hiking as far as you like along the coast and heading back the same way.
7 km / 2 hrs / 130m elevation gain
If you can’t get enough of the terrific scenery, you can also extend the walk another kilometre or so to Yeo Point Beach.
8. Head Out on a Hike
In addition to the Mount Erskine Summit Hike and Ruckle Provincial Park Shoreline Trail we have already raved about, there are many more great Salt Spring Island trail options.
Here are two of the most popular:
There are several different options to reach this spectacular viewpoint in Mount Maxwell Provincial Park – you can tackle the very rough road with a 4×4, take a short hike of around an hour or try a longer circuit that will take around 2-3 hours. The short hike option is about 2.5 kilometres return and involves over 150 metres of elevation gain.
Baker Beach Loop
This nice, varied loop starts from the end of either Baker Road or Quarry Drive. There should be signs leading you down to the beach, where you can walk the easy loop that leads over rocks, through forest and along the beach.
3 km / 1 hr / 80m
Be careful not to go up any of the private stairs along the beach. If you come down from Quarry Drive, you can spot the way up to Baker Drive at the large wooden staircase near a concrete block covered in street art.
9. Go Wine Tasting
There are a few good wineries on Salt Spring Island but the one that comes most highly recommended by locals is Salt Spring Vineyards.
They have a tasting room and nice picnic areas where you can enjoy one of their white, rose, sparkling or dessert wines. You can enjoy a picnic outside with your own lunch or buy some meat, cheese and bread inside.
Another good choice is Kutatas (Koo-ta-tash), a fairly new entry on the Salt Spring wine scene. They have a beautiful patio with a view of the vineyard where you can try 5 different wines for $10.
10. Indulge at the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
Salt Spring Island Cheese Company specializes in handmade, natural, artisanal goat cheeses in a variety of flavours and styles, from basil, garlic and chili to flower, lemon pepper and truffle.
The farm is open daily from the May long weekend through September, where you can enjoy the scenery, check out the animals and even see how the cheese is made thanks to some large viewing windows.
There are samples available, plus they sell a wide variety of other things from jams and honeys to olives and smoked salmon and their quiet garden is a relaxing place to enjoy your discoveries.
11. Hit the Salt Spring Saturday Market
From April to October, this farmer and artisan’s market features nearly 150 stalls selling an incredible variety of products from produce to art to specialty foods. Located in Ganges in Centennial Park near the water, it is one of the most popular markets along the BC coast.
There are rules that all products must be grown, made, produced or baked by the vendors themselves, no middlemen. It is quite an experience and a good reason to visit on a weekend.
12. Stock Up on Local Produce
Of course, the Saturday Market isn’t the only place to pick up local, organic produce. There is also a Tuesday Salt Spring Farmer’s Market. Even more fun, however, are the farm stands scattered all over the island, each with its own unique theme and options.
They typically run on the honour system so you take what you want and leave your cash behind (much like any store but with a level of trust instead of a security camera). In the interest of progress, some even accept e-transfer. They are a great way to support local business. Just try not to get caught up in the contentious chicken wars that take place annually over rooster noise…
The stands can be found all over the island but some of the ones that are recommended include:
Pipe Rabbit Farm (produce, berries, flowers)
Stowel Lake Organic Farm Stand (produce)
Ambledale Farms (produce, flowers)
South End Sausage (sausages, obviously)
Salt Spring Vineyards (kombucha, ice cream, essential oils)
Piper’s Buns (baked goods)
Brigitte’s pastries (baked goods)
Ruckle Heritage Farm (produce, preserves)
Alchemy Farm Stand (produce, baked goods)
13. Check out the Salt Spring Island Art
Art is a very important part of Salt Spring Island culture and there are various ways to explore the amazing creations on the island.
Many of the artists convene at the Saturday market each week, making it the perfect place to see a lot of different samples in one area.
Meanwhile, the Waterfront Gallery and Coast Gallery in downtown Ganges are also excellent spots to browse local products. The diversity is amazing, including paintings, ceramics, jewellery and woodworking, along with tea, candles and lotions.
For a more adventurous combination of art and island tour, though, we recommend the self-guided Salt Spring Artist Studio Tour. Maps are available at the Visitor Information Centre that show the location of over 20 galleries around the island, tell you what to expect at each one and the opening hours.
14. Wander the Ganges Shops
Ganges is filled with interesting little stores selling art, crafts, vintage items and other unusual pieces and food.
It is usually best to simply wander and let whim lead you, but just for an idea, here are a few of the options:
Collide (vintage, artisanal)
Salt Spring Island Soapworks (boutique personal hygiene)
Rhubarb Designs (home décor)
Twang & Pearl (houseware, clothing)
Bohemia Consignment (clothing)
Mondo Trading Company (global fair trade handicrafts)
15. Do Some Salt Spring Island Fishing
There is plenty of great fishing to be had on and around the islands, with many varieties in the sea just off the coast, including several species of salmon. Active Pass is one of the best places to catch these and many more.
Meanwhile, highly regarded St. Mary Lake is the best place on the island for freshwater fish, boasting lots of trout and small mouth bass. Shallow, surrounded by hills and usually fairly calm, St. Mary Lake is a top fly-fishing spot, with many people having success right from shore.
For something a little more adventurous, you might want to join a guided trip with the experts at Salt Spring Island Reel Action Fishing Charters.
16. See a Lavender Farm
Sacred Mountain Lavender is a 2-acre lavender farm that has been around since 2001. There is no entrance fee and it is open to visitors from May to September (although it is best from June on).
You can wander on your own and browse their shop for a variety of lavender products, including organic essential oils made on-site.
17. Sample Some Cider
Salt Spring Island is full of old apple trees and was once actually the largest producer of apples in British Columbia. Salt Spring Wild has their own organic orchard and they produce a variety of different craft ciders including dry, semi-dry, ginger root and wild berry.
You can try a cider tasting in their renovated horse barn or even stick around for a full meal and cider flight with a view from the outdoor patio. Our favourite was the plum flavour.
18. Cool Down in Cusheon Lake
The warm water of Cusheon Lake is one of the most popular places to swim on Salt Spring Island. The beach is small but sandy and there is a dock and some grassy patches to hang out on. Summer afternoons can get busy and parking is limited so it pays to get there a bit early.
Other places with public access where you can cool off include Weston Lake, St. Mary Lake and Blackburn Lake.
19. Try Some Craft Beer
Salt Spring Brewing Company is a local favourite, using pure mountain water to brew their popular craft beers.
They have a nice patio and a tasting room where you can sample the wares. They are open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 pm, and dogs are welcome.
20. Get in a Round of Golf
Designed way back in 1928, Salt Spring Island Golf Club features a classic 9-hole forest layout appropriate for all skills levels. Close to Ganges, it is located on the former Barnsbury Family Farm.
The course is relatively walkable and alternate tees have been added if you want to mix things up on your second 9.
21. Enjoy a Yoga Class or Retreat
Dorothy at Santosha Yoga Retreats has been providing inspiring private and drop-in yoga classes on Salt Spring Island for 20 years. Whether you are looking for a single visit during your stay or a longer retreat, they strive to create a space of peace, contentment and relaxation.
Salt Spring Island Festivals
Salt Spring Island loves its festivals. From large annual fiestas to weekend concerts and small specialized events, it seems like there is always something happening. Here are a few of the main celebrations:
Maple Syrup Day (February)
Ruckle Farm Day (May)
Lavender Festival (July)
Fall Fair (September)
Apple Festival (September)
Harvest Grape Stomp (October)
When to Visit: Salt Spring Island Weather
As with most of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, summer offers the best weather (25/13C high/low and very little rain) and the most things to do on Salt Spring Island. Most of the concerts and markets take place in summer and the beaches are hopping. For an island, there is shockingly little rain in summer. In fact, Salt Spring Island gets the least amount of rain anywhere in coastal British Columbia.
However, the weather is fairly mild all year-round (7/2C in January) so a winter visit can also be great for people looking for a quieter getaway with empty beaches and hiking trails. The downsides are more rain (and every so often a hint of snow) and the fact that many tourist services shut down for the winter and even the restaurants, shops and studios are often only open on weekends.
Coming in one of the shoulder seasons (May/June or September/October) can be the perfect mix of good weather and fewer people. Late spring is a good time for wildflowers and fall is particularly festive on Salt Spring Island because of all the farm harvests.
Where to Eat: Salt Spring Island Restaurants
There is a better selection of restaurants on Salt Spring Island than anywhere else in the Gulf Islands. With all the natural, organic farming on the island, the restaurants have a huge resource of fresh products and that is reflected in the quality of their food. A few of the best choices are:
Auntie Pestos is a great choice for dinner with a view of the Gange’s harbour and the sunset. And as you might guess from the name, you won’t go wrong with ordering pasta here. Though the steak is a good choice too.
If you are looking for a date night dinner or special night out House Piccolo is the place to head to. It is one of the more expensive options on Salt Spring Island but well worth it. Try the scallops.
Moby’s Pub is right on the water and is all about the live music. Enjoy their patio and for something a little different try the duck wings.
Tree House Café
Also known for their live music, the Tree House Café is built around a live tree and the branches weave through the restaurant making for a very unique experience. They have some good vegan options.
Can you do a day trip to Salt Spring Island?
Definitely, although it is a pretty big place so it won’t be possible to see in a single day. However, there are regular ferry connections between Salt Spring Island and Vancouver, Victoria or Nanaimo, as well as each of the smaller Gulf Islands, and plenty of great things to do on Salt Spring Island so a day trip is great idea, especially in summer.
Salt Spring Island Map
This Salt Spring Island map covers all the best things to do, hotels and restaurants. So if you are wondering what to do on Salt Spring Island the map shows all the locations.
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
How to Get to Salt Spring Island Canada
Salt Spring Island Ferry
There are three different ferry terminals on Salt Spring Island so you need to be sure you’re headed for the right one.
Long Harbour (for Vancouver and the other Gulf Islands)
Fulford Harbour (for Victoria)
Vesuvius (for Nanaimo)
Ferry schedules (and prices) change seasonally so it is important to check all the latest info on the BC Ferries website. Long-distance routes can be reserved in advance but inter-island ferries are first come, first served.
Ferry to Salt Spring Island from Vancouver
Regular ferries run back and forth between Tsawwassen terminal and Long Harbour. Certain days of the week there may be a direct ferry (1.5 hrs) but most stop off at the other Gulf Islands along the way (2-3 hrs). The other alternative for Vancouver is to take the ferry from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay-Victoria (30 min) and transfer to a Tsawwassen ferry from there (1.5 hrs).
Ferry to Salt Spring Island from Victoria
Ferries between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay (near Sidney, for Victoria) go every hour or two throughout the day and take about half an hour.
Ferry to Salt Spring Island from Nanaimo
Vesuvius ferry terminal is up in the northwest corner of Salt Spring Canada. Here around a dozen ferries run back and forth each day to the town of Crofton, just outside Duncan. This ferry is convenient if you are heading for Nanaimo or the northern part of Vancouver Island.
It is a short trip (25 min) but be aware that coming from Vancouver Island they charge you for a return trip even if you are planning to leave from one of the other terminals.
Other Gulf Islands
There are a variety of ferries running to the other Southern Gulf Islands from Long Harbour – some direct, others that stop off at each one along the way.
Salt Spring Island Seaplane
The fastest way to get to the island is by air. Harbour Air runs 4 flights per day from either Richmond (25 min) or Vancouver Harbour (35 min) for $149-157 with a variety of discounts available. Their Salt Spring Island office is on Grace Point Square and flights come and go from the Ganges Seaplane Dock.
Seair also runs flights from Richmond to Salt Spring, with 3 flights per day in summer with similar prices and flying times.
Getting around Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring Island is too big to get around on foot and although there are a few buses, they don’t run very often and don’t stop at many of the interesting sites. Therefore, bringing your car (or a rental) across on the ferry is your best bet.
If you are looking to rent a car in Vancouver, we highly recommend Discover Cars. We got a terrific deal booking just a week ahead and were very happy with everything. It is also possible to rent a car on the island at Salt Spring Car & Scooter Rentals, although the selection is limited and they tend to book up quickly. Definitely the place if you’re looking to tour the island on a scooter, though.
Biking has become increasingly popular on the island, although the roads don’t have shoulders and can feel pretty narrow with a bike and two cars all passing each other at the same time.
Gulf Island Hopping
The lovely forested Gulf Islands are scattered in the Georgia Strait between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. They are roughly divided into two sections, the Northern Gulf Islands of Denman and Hornby, and the more numerous Southern Gulf Islands. The south islands that are inhabited, have accommodation options and BC ferry connections are Gabriola, Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna.
However, there are several more small ones that can also be visited if you have access to your own boat, a few of which have accommodation options or basic camping. Valdes Island and Thetis Island have places to stay and people occasionally also visit Mudge Island, De Courcy Island, Ruxton Island, Portland Island and Prevost Island.
Each of the beautiful Gulf Islands features its own unique sights and personality. Spending a week or so island hopping through this superb area is sure to be one of the most memorable trips you can take in Western Canada.
Hugely popular in summer, scenic and diverse Hornby Island is known for its amazing beaches among a variety of other highlights, including local wine, art and crafts. There are also a few excellent hiking and biking trails.
14 Amazing Things to Do on Hornby Island
Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbour, Hornby Island, Denman Island has plenty to offer visitors in its own right. Not the least of which is a much quieter, more natural experience.
With impressive hiking, serene beaches and more deer than you can honk your horn at, it is worth setting aside some time to explore before jumping on that next ferry to Hornby.
11 Outstanding Things to Do on Denman Island
Just a hop, skip and jump from the main Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo, Gabriola Island is a wonderful place to enjoy a rural feel, intact forests and some very unique sites.
Malaspina Caves are particularly memorable.
17 Best Things to Do on Gabriola Island
Pender Island is actually made up of North Pender and South Pender, the two divided by a man-made channel back in the early days of European habitation.
Both sides are fantastically peaceful and feature some of the best viewpoints in the South Gulf Islands, including Gowlland Point, Mortimer Spit and Magic Lake.
Ultimate Guide to Pender Island
Wild and mountainous Saturna Island is tucked into a small pocket of Canadian territory with the USA surrounding on three sides. It is one of the least known and least visited of the Gulf Islands and is a great choice for those looking to get off the beaten path.
Home to Miner’s Bay, once the most important harbour on the Canadian Pacific Coast, Mayne Island is full of small, hidden beaches, nice hikes and the exceptional Japanese Gardens, our pick for the most surprising attraction in the Gulf Islands.
The 16 Best Things to Do on Mayne Island
Of all the Gulf Islands, Galiano Island is the closest to Vancouver which, combined with a wealth of natural highlights, has made it one of the top adventure destinations for people looking to escape the city.
Guide to Galiano Island: BC’s Outdoor Adventure Playground
Hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing are just a few of the possibilities on long, narrow Galiano.
Trip Planning Resources
Here is a list of the most important resources we use when planning our travels, all in one convenient spot. Full disclosure, when you use any of these links to reserve or sign up for something, we receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated. However, your price does not change and we have only included products and websites that we can honestly recommend.
- For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site.
- We book the majority of our hotels on Booking.com. With frequent stay discounts, thousands of reviews and free cancellation, it is very rare for us to have a bad hotel experience these days.
- Wise is by far the best international multicurrency bank account we’ve found. We can now send and receive money in half a dozen different currencies, convert to dozens more with no exchange premium and pay or withdraw local currencies. Highly recommended.
- When travelling we always get SIM cards with data for our phones. Local SIM cards are sometimes a bit cheaper but if you have a relatively new smartphone (iPhone XR or newer, Samsung S20 or newer) you can just buy an eSIM online, get a QR code by email and you’re good to go. After extensive research I have decided that KeepGo eSIMs have the best coverage and prices for most of our trips.
- If you’re interested in local guided tours, including everything from city tours to cooking lessons to adventure activities, check out the huge range of options at Get Your Guide.
- World Nomads offers some of the best global travel insurance coverage. It is especially good for frequent travellers and digital nomads but also has competitive plans for short trips.
Is Salt Spring Island Worth Visiting?
Absolutely. The largest of the Southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring BC has the most of, well, pretty much everything. Shops, attractions, galleries, restaurants, farm stands, music, even hikes if you know where to look make Salt Spring Island well worth visiting.
Salt Spring Island Summary
A truly unique place a world apart from the major nearby cities of Victoria and Vancouver, Salt Spring Island strives to retain a more natural, sustainable existence. With plenty to see and do, fantastic scenery and a festive atmosphere all summer long, it’s no wonder Salt Spring is one of the most popular destinations in the Salish Sea.
Other useful articles you may want to check out:
The Ultimate Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary
Spectacular Waterfalls on Vancouver Island
Snug Cove on Bowen Island: Top Reasons to Visit