Terrain: Very Hilly
Season: Year Round
Distance: 73 km
Access: See Getting to The Gulf Islands.
With more than 10,000 permanent residents spread over 180 square kilometres, Saltspring Island is the largest, most-populated of the Gulf Islands. As a consequence the island is well-serviced by BC Ferries. Direct service from the lower mainland is still abominable though, with only two sailings a day connecting Tsawwassen with Long Harbour on Saltspring. Both disembark late enough to reach by Translink, too late in fact for the early birds among us to catch any worms. The first sailing of the day usually leaves during late morning, sometimes even in the early afternoon. This would be a travesty if a workaround didn't exist. Fortunately sailings bound for Swartz Bay near Victoria depart much more frequently: hourly during summer high season and every odd hour before June or after September.
Upon arrival in Swartz Bay turn around and immediately board another ferry, this time headed for Fulford Harbour on the southern end of Saltspring Island. These ferries operate at approximately 90 minute intervals taking just 35 minutes to shuttle across Satellite Channel. When purchasing your ticket in Tsawwassen ask for a "Throughfare Ticket" which gives you both ferries for the price of the ill-conceived direct route. Arriving in Fulford Harbour has the additional advantage of being handy to Ruckle Park, without a doubt the finest campsite in all of the Gulf Islands. For that reason the route as described in this book will start at the southernmost ferry terminal and work northwards. One further advantage of arriving in Fulford Harbour is the ready availability of both bicycle [Fulford Spokespeople: 250-930-2453] and kayak rentals. Upon arrival most traffic will follow the main road to the left around the head of the inlet. If planning on camping then head right on Beaver Point Road instead to reach Ruckle Provincial Park 10 clicks away. Peddling, paddling or even just hoofing it are all possibilities.
Note: if visiting Saltspring without wheels a rudimentary public transit system exists, connecting all three ferry terminals with most corners of the island. Click for details on the Salt Spring Island Transit System. Ruckle Park is NOT one of those corners however so either walking, hitching or taxi [cash only] will be required to close the 10 km gap from Fulford Harbour. There are two taxi companies operating on the island:
* Amber Cab: 250-537-3277
* Silver Shadow Taxi: 250-537-3030
Acquired from the pioneering Ruckle family in 1974, the 480 hectare provincial park features interpretive displays of the original homestead, a working farm still owned by Ruckle descendants, 7 km of shoreline to explore and more than 70 walk-in campsites situated on grassy bluffs with stunning views overlooking Swanson Channel. As a bonus not a single site is available for the gas-guzzling RV set. On the downside, popularity means people and the campground can be packed on a summer long weekend; a good time to stay away. Consider visiting on the shoulder season or better yet in the dead of winter to experience the site in all its desolation. Ruckle Park is an ideal spot for storm watching if properly equipped. Reservations are not possible or necessary.
The Cow with the crumpled horn calls Ruckle Farm home. Highland cattle beef, wild turkeys, sheep's wool, produce from an organic vegetable patch and heritage apples are just some of the agricultural products available for purchase from Ruckle Farm.
To begin exploring the island in earnest backtrack to Fulford Harbour or consider taking a shortcut along Steward Road. The latter leads through Peter Arnell Park to the Saltspring Island Hostel. Hosteling is a great alternative to camping especially for those traveling solo, enabling cyclists to lighten their load considerably while having the opportunity to meet other like-minded people. Cusheon Lake Road reconnects with the main thoroughfare, Fulford-Ganges Road, just beyond the lake for which it was named. A short, 1.8 km section of Steward Road is unpaved.
Saint Paul's Church: The optimistic epitaph on the grave maker reads "We Will Meet Again."
The long cut has its appeal too so back-peddle to Fulford Harbour. Just a kilometre from the ferry terminal charming Saint Paul's Church, built in 1880, sits on a rise overlooking the harbour. Pause for pictures, picnic, or petinence but not for long. Why is it whenever we find a charming church in the Gulf Islands there is usually a pub lurking nearby? Contemplate that question over a frosty, frothy mug or two at Fulford Inn just down the road. The south island watering hole is actually equidistance from St. Paul's and another church, Saint Mary's, that was erected 6 years later. If planning to peddle in from Ruckle Park for a pint o' bitter in the evening keep in mind that the park gate closes at sunset. Slamming into it in a suds-induced fog is no way to leave your mark on the island.
BC Transit Never Had It So Good: The bus stop at the junction of Isabella Point Road and Fulford-Ganges Road provides all the comforts of home.
Just across the street from the pub, Isabella Point Road leads to a number of secluded beaches and a little-used hiking route to the top of Mount Taum. Closer at hand take Musgrave Road to Drummond Park for a look at Saltspring's most famous petroglyph. Thought by many to be the image of a seal, the rock carving was moved to its present location from the foreshore of Fulford Harbour. Musgrave Road, an unsurfaced service road, provides mountain-bike equipped riders with bone-crunching access to a number of hiking trails including Mount Taum, Hope Hill, and Bruce Peak. All boast panoramas overlooking the Gulf and San Juan Islands while only Hope Hill is without a collection of transmission towers on top. Hiking stats for each destination are listed below. Cars and trucks also ply the dusty access roads.
Destination Trailhead via Hiking Distance Elevation Ability
Hope Hill Musgrave 3.5 km 5 km r/t 648 m Moderate
Bruce Peak Musgrave 10 km 6 km 709 m Challenging
Mount Taum Taum Rd 13 km Negligible 602 m Easy
From Isabella Point Road Fulford-Ganges Road cuts 3 km across island, marching through open pasture land, verdant in spring, turning golden later on. Burgoyne Bay Road continues straight connecting up with the opposite shore 1.5 km away while the main drag climbs northwards up a long hill. On the straightaway up top look for Dukes Road to begin scrambling to the top of Baynes Peak. The other, more popular route to Mount Maxwell Provincial Park can be found a further click and a half towards Ganges. Turn left on Blackburn Road which leads past Blackburn Meadows, one of the island's two 9-hole golf courses. Upon reaching Cranberry Road turn left and follow the signs ever upwards. All too soon pavement gives way to rough, secondary road. Since the route to the top is well-marked it is well-traveled as well. A handkerchief over the mouth may help ameliorate dust kicked up by approaching vehicles. Rather than biting dust, park your bikes at Saltspring Guided Rides instead and hoof it uphill on the back of beast. The riding stable will accommodate groups as small as two people. Baynes Peak is only a short distance from the end of the access road. Steep cliffs along the southern edges of the park present considerable danger while affording magnificent views of Fulford Valley, Burgoyne Bay and Vancouver Island beyond it. Step gingerly if fog grips the summit.
What goes up must come down but by all means maintain a controlled descent to avoid becoming a hood ornament. Stay with Cranberry Road to coast most of the way into Ganges. On the outskirts of town note Mouat Provincial Park on the left. Other than being central to all parts of the island and convenient to all manner of services, the campground has little to recommend itself. But then again, what was that they said about location, location, location?
Ganges is indeed the commercial heart of, not only Saltspring but, the whole chain of southern Gulf Islands. Visitors with the urge to consume will find more than enough quaint little gift shops and galleries and funky fashion boutiques to satiate even the most jaded consumer appetites. Cap off that buying spree by taking in the Saturday morning market at the oceanfront on Ganges Harbour. Candles, raku pottery, stained-glass, hand-woven goods, health and beauty concoctions and a cornucopia of organic produce from the island larder will be on display throughout the summer. During fall, in the run-up to xmas, a series of craft shows are mounted at different community halls around the island. Many of the goods are sold nowhere else in the world at no other time ensuring that your purchases are indeed unique. Visiting the island at that time of year is a great way to escape the city and wrap up that xmas shopping in one fell swoop. Many artists and artisans open their studios to the public every autumn as well. A complete listing of participating studios is published each year. Contact tourist information for details of both venues.
Salt Spring Market: Island artists and artisans congregate every Saturday April through October at Centennial Park at seaside in Ganges.
A quick walk-through Ganges village will encourage other appetites is well. Choosing from the breadth of cuisine offered by island eateries can be difficult. Notably, Moby's Pub showcases island musical talent every weekend.
From Ruckle Park, Ganges is 23.5 km. From Fulford Harbour it is 14.5 km. Ganges and Long Harbour are six clicks apart while the loop around the north end of the island is 29.5 km. To embark on this latter circle tour leave the urban center behind via Lower Ganges Road. En route up island you'll pass by the second golf course before reaching an intersection with Upper Ganges Road. Turn left here to reach Vesuvius Bay where Saltspring's third ferry terminal will be found. The frequent shuttle scoots across Stuart Channel to Crofton on Vancouver Island. Those with time on their hands may want to consider looping back to Vancouver via Crofton, Chemainus and Ladysmith to Nanaimo where the ferries to Tsawwassen, Gabriola Island [p 148,] Newcastle Island [p 209] and Horseshoe Bay will be found. The Vesuvius Inn, famed for its sunsets, serves up drinks, dinner and darts daily. As the name suggests Sunset Drive reveals the orange orb as well while passing through a sparsely populated rural landscape. Just before reaching West Eagle Road you'll pass the trailhead in to Channel Ridge, an easy 9 km return toddle into the local watershed. The foreshore at northern Southey Point is minuscule but Jack Foster Trail leads 2 km in to a secluded beach opposite Wallace Island. Look for the trailhead on the right after turning onto Southey Point Road. Loop around to North End Road to avoid retracing your steps. North End Road offers two possible routes for returning back down the island. The most direct route cuts down the middle of the island passing close to St. Mary Lake. Access to the lakefront is extremely limited however belonging to private residences or countless lodges and B & Bs. Turn off onto North Beach Road instead for an oceanfront route that provides plenty of beach access.
Salty Springs Resort, at the roadside here, is the only place on the island where the public has access to the artesian wells for which the island was named. Guests at the resort can enjoy a mineral bath supplied by one of the springs. Altogether 14 minerals springs have been identified at the northern end of the island, all on private land. The largest feeds a 25 m pond ringed with salt crystals. Incidentally, though the earliest settlers soon dubbed the island "Salt Spring," it was officially known as Chuan Island in 1854, being renamed Admiral Island after Admiral Baynes in 1859. The name meisters in Ottawa finally got with the program in 1905, creating the compound "Saltspring" out of the original. Baynes may have lost his title but was able to retain the mid-island peak as his own.
The lagoon created by a protruberance called Walker Hook can be accessed at the bottom of Fort Street. A good spot for launching kayaks, Walker Hook is the last point of access before the road veers inland again, making a beeline back to Ganges. Those planning to take the direct ferry back to Tsawwassen should turn off at Long Harbour Road.
On The Road Again: This little poult marches to the sound of a different drumschtick, eschewing the flock to explore well beyond the barnyard at Ruckle Farm.