Words and photos by Sam Eagan.
The Gulf Islands of British Columbia had been on our hit list for some time. Trip after trip the logistics of multiple ferries overruled the wanderlust for unspoiled shoreline and remote trails in favour of destinations easier to reach. Finally, in early June 2016 with trail bikes, camping gear and an exuberant trail dog we hit the road with a rough itinerary bound for the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.
The Southern Gulf Islands route takes you through Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands en route to Salt Spring so on top of sweeping views possible Orca sightings, you get a brief preview of each island as you drop passengers.
If you’re travelling with bikes on the roof, make sure you reserve a spot in advance or show up super early as overhead space is limited on this route.
Crossing to Vancouver Island promised a sliver of a bargain at the Vesuvius Bay-Crofton terminal, a short ride that’s paid return in advance when leaving from Vancouver Island, so if you’ve followed our route this one’s already covered! From there you’ll drive north an hour and a half to Fanny Bay where you’ll need to hop first to Denman Island and Hornby Island, “Home to,” as Trail Forks puts it, “one of the most beautiful and secluded selections of trail in BC.” These ferries are timed so you can unload one, traverse Denman Island, and make the next departure right on time.
We’d seen tents set up along the coast of Salt Spring Island on previous trips to Vancouver Island, being what initially sparked our interest in this trip we opted for the walk-in, ocean front camping at Ruckle Provincial Park, on eastern the eastern tip of the Island.
There are more easily accessible RV sites as well as many other camping options of all varieties around the island. Sitting right in the heart of Georgia Straight with adjacent views of North Pender and Prevost Islands, you’re practically guaranteed an epic view right from your tent and a couple wheelbarrows are on-site to lug your gear to and from the car.
There are a few camping options on Hornby Island depending on your needs, we opted for Ford’s Cove Marina for proximity to the Mt. Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park trail network and pet-friendly access at both the campground and attached beach. There are slips for RVs, a few cabins, and a pleasant campground with sinks for dishes, pay-showers, plus a windmill, free range chickens and a beautiful garden to give it the Hornby flare.
Salt Spring Island is indeed a very popular cycling destination, however the bulk of riders on this trendy island are touring its scenic, rolling hills on much thinner tires. Our hunt, however, was for singletrack and a more manageable distance for our furry trail guide.
Though we didn’t find much on Trail Forks for Salt Spring Island it did give us a place to start. It turns out the Channel Ridge trail network had more than expected, some of the trails are off limits to bikes but you can link up some great sections of trail for a good loop.
Salt Spring Island is home to much more trail than you’ll be able to access by bike. Bring your hiking boots along and head out from the backside of Mount Maxwell Provincial Park for journey through one of the rarest, and least-protected types of forest in the world.
Be sure to stop by the Hornby Island Bike Shop to purchase a trail map. The money goes back to the Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association and once you’ve sampled the trails, you’ll agree it’s a tremendous bargain. We climbed the Summit Trail to start our ride from the top
To put it simply, everything you’ve heard about riding on Hornby Island is true. Each section of trail is utter perfection and as different and unique to the last as the builder that sculpted it from this incredibly varied terrain.
The trails run right down to the ocean, with the Ford Cove to Shingle Spit traversing Mt. Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park and more or less the only couple kilometers of the island’s perimeter that you can’t drive.
On Salt Spring we couldn’t get enough of El Loco Taco, centrally located on Lower Ganges road you can have arguably the best fish taco on the west coast in your hands within 15 minutes of packing up the bikes. Once you’ve had your fill of fully loaded Mexican delicacies turn back up the road towards Wild Cider. These craft ciders are ridiculously good, a flight will only run you $10 so you can sample a flight of them all in their peaceful picnic area and grab bottles of your favourites on the way out.
Hornby Island’s significantly less cosmopolitan with less than 1,000 residents, plus we unknowingly timed our visit with a 12-hour island-wide blackout so we were largely left to our own devices for post-ride libations and entertainment. Just a short jaunt from our campsite at Ford’s Cove Marina is a geologically interesting and picturesque shoreline to traverse or just kick back.
The last leg of the journey was a big one spanning three ferries and roughly 12-hours door-to-door. Hornby Island is home to quality singletrack in a very relaxed and scenic setting. Salt Spring is on the opposite end of the spectrum and although relatively quiet and friendly, it’s the most populated island and has a lot more going on because of this. Both are incredible islands to visit, with very different personalities.