24 Hours on Salt Spring Island - An Accelerated Adventure in the Canadian Gulf Islands
What's a girl to do on a few days off when she's tapped into most of the local islands and wants to see something new? Hop a ferry to Canada, of course! Our neighbors to the north have their own pretty remarkable archipelago of Canadian Gulf Islands, and lucky for those of us living on San Juan Island, all it takes is a quick hour-long ferry ride over to the town of Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island to go all international and immerse yourself in an entirely new country!
Salt Spring Island has been on my list for a while. I've heard wonder stories about their Saturday Farmer's Market, and I'm no noob to the market scene - it's pretty much an obsession. As a locavore, environmentalist, and appreciator of good food, farmer's markets have always been my favorite way to get to know a new place or travel destination. It really lets you dive head-first into the community and get a sense of the terroir (taste of place!) that is so ever-present in any goods that are farmed or produced locally.
Of course, I had to get to Salt Spring first. I didn't want to deal with or pay for my car on the ferry, and I figured my quads and calves could use a bit of a workout after a long work week on the boat - so I opted to bike. I'd checked out a few AirBnBs, and had I planned far enough in advance, this could've been a great option, but I'd waited a bit too long for a reasonable place to stay, so I decided to pitch a tent instead. I'd recommend utilizing saddle bags and a bike rack if you have them to get the majority of your gear off of your back, but as a relatively noob-y biker with minimal equipment, I just stuffed a 32L Osprey pack full of the bare minimum for a night of camping, threw it on my back, and went on my way. Taking a bike on both the Washing State Ferry to Sidney and the BC Ferry to Salt Spring is super painless, easy, cheap, and convenient - and environmentally friendly.
Once I'd hopped on the daily 9:45 am ferry to Sidney from Friday Harbor, all that stood between me and my Canadian adventure was a quick stop through customs. Sidney is actually a really cute town, although most seem to pass it right by on their way to the more glamorous Victoria - since I was on a mission to catch my next ferry, I didn't stop and explore too much just yet, but added it to my agenda for my return trip the next day. I biked north from Sidney a few kilometers to the Swartz Bay BC ferry terminal, which was huge. This is the main hub for the city folk of Vancouver to get to Vancouver Island, but also the stepping stone for those looking to get to many of the Gulf Islands, like Salt Spring, Galiano, and Saturna. Having seen and talked about many of these islands on our whale watching tours, I was excited to actually step foot on one of them.
The ferry ride was only 35 minutes to Fulford Harbor on Salt Spring Island. I ran into the nicest dad and son pair on the ferry, who had lived on the island for over 15 years, and the dad didn't stop talking the entire ride, wanting to make sure I knew all of the best things to do. By the time we'd docked, this man had single-handedly planned my entire itinerary for 24 hours on Salt Spring. What a great start to the trip!
But now came the part I was dreading - the bike ride to Ganges, the main town on the island and my destination for the night. I never know how hilly a bike ride is going to be, and although I can run for miles with no issue, biking always seems daunting to me. But I tackled it head on, and I found the incredible scenery so distracting that it took me by surprise that I'd arrived in Ganges so quickly! Seriously, this island is beautiful. The ride itself was less than 15 kilometers, so really, it's not bad at all. It took this wimpy biker about 40 minutes to do it, so I imagine an avid cyclist could complete it in 20.
My campsite at Mowhinnes Creek Campground was minutes from town, which was one of the main reasons I'd chosen it. It was relatively cheap at $24 a night for a walk-in camper, and I was pleased when I'd e-mailed the day before to find they'd had some last-minute weekend availability for me. It was cute, shady, pleasant - everything I'd need for a place to pitch my tent. I planned to spend most of my time in the town of Ganges anyway.
After a quick lie-down in my tent, I pedaled down to Ganges to check out the shops before they flipped their "Closed" signs. Book stores, cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, health food stores, art galleries, jewelry stores...it had everything. Salt Spring has long had a reputation as a hippie haven, and although the dad on the ferry had told me that's started to change since all of the waterfront property has been bought up by wealthy folk, I could still see remnants of that hippie history shining through.
I had a snack at a Falafel food truck, dinner at the Tree House Cafe (which was so cute and so accommodating, the waitress was one of the chillest, coolest gals I'd ever met), where I listened to some live music and drank coffee. Afterwards, I stopped by a used bookstore to wander around and soak up that wonderful musty smell, and I ended up picking up a copy of Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. Before it got dark, I biked back to my campsite and spent an hour or so reading this captivating book - highly recommended.
The sleep was serene...and the next morning found me awake and packing up camp by 8 am - Farmer's Market Day! I left some of my gear with the camp host so I wouldn't need to carry it around, and off I went back to town. I was not disappointed. I'd arrived early so I could look around without the worst of the crowds, because I'd heard it gets crazy. Sure enough, by 9 am, the place was bustling. I was so excited to pick out a bacon quiche and raspberry tart for breakfast from the cutest (busiest!) French bakery stand, and swooned over the accents from the couple who were running the show. The treats were delicious. I continued to wander after stopping for a coffee, and marveled at the sheer variety of produce and products available. Apple Cider Kefir, sprouts and local mushrooms, gorgeous jewelry and pottery, vegan and vegetarian fare to make your mouth water...it was an absolute dream. I picked up a sugar and gluten-free hemp flour brownie and some sprouts wrapped in rice paper to save for for a lunch snack, and then sadly it was time to bike back to ferry.
I made sure to swing by a few wineries on the way home, not to drink (way too hot!) but to check it out for my inevitable return to the island. I had time to kill once I made it Fulford Harbor, so I parked my bike and wandered around some side streets before I stumbled upon a hidden walkway to a tucked away little cove. I hung out hear and ate my hemp brownie and simply marveled at the beauty of it all - and the wonders of solo travel. By the time I needed to catch the ferry, I was so relaxed and happy that I spent the whole ride back to Swartz Bay, and the bike ride to Sidney, basically daydreaming.
24 Hours on Salt Spring Island
Adventures in the Canadian Gulf Islands
With an hour and a half to kill in Sidney, I meandered around a few thrift stores, and somehow found myself at a new waterfront distillery, sipping a gin and ginger beer and staring at Mount Baker looming in the distance over the Salish Sea. It was the perfect end to the trip.
I definitely napped on my final ferry ride home to Friday Harbor, but I was so stoked on this perfect weekend of adventure, biking, good food, and meaningful conversations with new people that it was the most blissful nap I could've asked for.
So, are you headed to Salt Spring soon? It is definitely worth checking out, and if you can swing it, try and plan your trip to be there for the Saturday market. It's a wonderland!