Hiking on Salt Spring: Flora, fauna, great views

Salt Spring’s size and diverse terrain makes it an appealing place to travel on foot, with hiking and walking trails to meet a wide range of fitness levels and time considerations.

Kees Visser is the past-president of the island’s Trail and Nature Club, whose 250 members can participate in hikes in varying levels of difficulty every Tuesday from September to June.

“You really have here the whole array of landscapes and views,” Visser says of the Salt Spring scenery.

“You have shoreline, parklands, mountains, hills . . . If you spend a week here you can see it all on one of the trails.”

Visser recommends wearing a good pair of shoes regardless of the weather. Bottled water is also a must — and don’t forget a camera!

Favourite island hiking areas include:

• Ruckle Park’s mixture of farmland, forest and ocean bluffs includes many inlets and sheltered areas along the island’s southern shore. Leaving from the main parking area, a flat but interesting trail can extend as long as three hours if travelling to the park’s northern boundary at Yeo Point. Marine wildlife to look out for includes harbour seals and porpoises.

• Peter Arnell Park, located on a high ridge between Fulford and Ganges centres, has a small network of trails that is perfect for anyone with a short amount of time or limited walking ability.

• At the island’s northern tip, the Jack Foster Trail is reached just north of North End Road on Southey Point Road. A 30-minute walk takes you through mixed forest and wetlands to a stunning beach with views across to Galiano Island. Low tide will allow access around the point to small, sandstone sheltered coves at the end of Arbutus and Zabel roads.

• People serious about hiking won’t want to miss the view from Mount Erskine, which can be accessed from a marked trailhead on Collins Road. Visitors will be enchanted by tiny fairy doors set into the trees. The view from the peak is of Vancouver Island, seen directly across Sansum Narrows. Hikers should give themselves at least four hours for the round trip.

• Another area for experienced hikers only is Hope Hill in the island’s south end — the island’s highest point at 750 metres. The network of trails, which can be utilized for hikes of anywhere from two to five hours, will reward visitors with an unparalleled panorama that extends over the Southern Gulf Islands and includes Mount Baker and Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. Protected Garry oak meadows and rare plant species are also found in the area.

In addition to hiking information available at the Ganges Visitors Centre, Salt Spring’s Parks and Recreation department office, at 145 Vesuvius Bay Rd. in Portlock Park (250-537-4448), offers trail maps.