Looking for a place that has it all? Salt Spring Island offers something for families, foodies and adventurers alike – and only about an hour ferry ride away. Here’s VancouverMom.ca’s must-do list for Salt Spring Island.
Must Stay: The Cottages on Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring offers a variety of places to stay from resorts, inns, bed and breakfasts and of course vacation property rentals. We stayed at the recently launched The Cottages on Salt Spring Island, located on Bullock Lake and surrounded by trees. Well appointed and complete with soaker tubs and rain showers, this super family friendly resort is also super close to Ganges, making grocery runs a snap.
Our family spent hours on the dock, soaking up the sun on the deck chairs and watching our kids jump off the dock with the other kids visiting the resort. Having arrived in mid-summer, the kids also picked the nearby blackberries and plums and brought them in for a super-local fruit salad.
The cottages also provide complementary life jackets, SUP boards and canoes for you to take out at your leisure. Our nine- and eleven-year-old had no problem navigating the boards on the calm surface of the lake. Plus the resort is so family friendly, there’s always someone to play with.
Insider tip: Book cottages 40 to 36 to be near the dock and the communal barbeques.
Must Not Miss: Island Escapades Sunset Kayak Tour
Vacation is all about making memories and Island Escapades’ sunset kayak tour is an experience my children will always remember. Lasting three hours (two of them actually on the water), we spotted harbour seals bobbing and diving along the surface and enjoyed our guide’s immense knowledge of local history and ecology.
We stopped off at Chocolate Beach (named for the chocolate lily that grows on the island not because it’s made of chocolate!) for some cookies and juice and a photo op. The beach itself is made of the crushed shells from the First Nations people coming ashore and shucking shellfish over thousands of years. Since this tour is over dinnertime, fill the kids up on some food ahead of time and also plan to bring some snacks.
Our family, which includes a seven-year-old, managed the paddling easily. Our eleven-year-old had her own boat, but our guide towed her whenever she got tired.
Insider tip: While on Chocolate Beach, walk up the short hill to check out the whimsical outhouse as well as drink in the view – AKA the ‘loo with a view.
Must Eat: The Treehouse Café, Farmers Market and Salt Spring Island Cheese
You can’t visit Salt Spring Island without visiting the iconic Treehouse Café. Once a cottage, a twisting plum tree is the centrepiece of the restaurant. We recommend the yam tacos, hearty and delicious even if you’re not vegetarian. The kids’ menu is also extensive and the fruit smoothies were a hit.
Check out the weekly Farmers Market for a late lunch (the Tuesday market opens at 2pm). Our kids noshed on Japanese-inspired rice balls, samosas and apple fritters. The Tuesday market showcases food grown and made locally on the island, whereas the Saturday market also offers local arts and crafts.
Be sure to head to Salt Spring Island Cheese. Adults and kids alike enjoy peering into the backroom windows made especially for spying on how the cheese is made. Visiting the goats, chickens and sheep is also a highlight. You can then pop into the shop and taste all the different kinds of cheeses made on the farm. Our family loved the basil and lemon the best.
Insider Tip: Save room for ice cream on the outdoor patio at Salt Spring Island Cheese.
Must Drink: Salt Spring Island Ale and Salt Spring Wild Cider House
Salt Spring Island is home of several vineyards and now even a distillery.
The kids played in the trees while we scaled the steps to the Salt Spring Island Ales tasting room. Choose five beers for your flight, and then bring them outside and enjoy them on the patio.
After a day enjoying the trail, pop into Salt Spring Wild Cider House for refreshments. The cidery is situated on a beautiful spot with picnic tables dotted with patio umbrellas overlooking the farm. Apples are sourced from Salt Spring as well as the Okanagan. Head into the tasting room for a cider flight and ask for the apricot nectar for the kids.
Insider Tip: Try a tasting of Salt Spring Shine’s vodka and gin at the Tuesday farmers market.
Must Hike: Burgoyne Bay and Mount Erskine
Stretch your legs along an eight-minute trail along Burgoyne Bay that leads to a beach with two Welcome Poles carved by local Cowichan Master Carver Harold Joe. You’ll find the trailhead at the bottom near the parking lot found on the left fork of the road. The kids enjoyed skipping rocks in the water and beach combing before we heading home for dinner.
If your family has hiked up to Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, hiking to the peak of Mount Erskine will be very manageable for you. After about 30 minutes on the trail, you’ll be rewarded with three lookout points, with views of Vancouver Island and Galiano Island in the distance. Towards the top, the kids will love looking for the fairy doors. We found four, but there may have been more that stayed hidden along the way. Allow about two hours for this hike with smaller kids.
Insider Tip: Start your Mount Erskine hike from the trailhead on Juniper to make the walk a bit shorter for your kids and take the loop counter clockwise so that it’s not as steep coming down.
Bring your own beach towels so you can go to the beach before checking into your accommodation.
Head to the visitor centre in Ganges for recommendations and a large complementary visitor map, which is handy with the island’s patchy reception and data. ShawOpen is available in many parts of Ganges. The visitor centre will circle exact locations of the places mentioned in this article.
Salt Spring is also perfect for a girls or couples getaway. Tours are available that will take you to various tastings on the island.
Bring cash. You’ll need it for tipping your guides as well as at many of the vendors at the farmers market.
Spend your cash on the island and support the local economy. Buy your groceries at the market, Thrifty’s or Country Inn, not in Vancouver. Take home quality souvenirs made by local artisans or invest in a case of cider to use as hostess gifts for end of summer parties.
Christine Pilkington has over 15 years of digital and interactive media experience. Breakfast Television has dubbed her a Baby Product Guru and she frequently appears on CBC and CTV. She lives with her husband, three daughters and a Lagotto Romagnolo in East Vancouver, about 10 minutes from where she grew up. Christine is also the CEO of Crisp Media Inc, which develops digital marketing strategies for businesses.