Camping Along the Rocky Shores of the San Juan Islands

While Rae and I were on a whale watching tour a few weeks ago I noticed people paddling around in little islands off the coast of Vancouver Island. I even saw a few tents pitched along the cliffs and started daydreaming about canoeing out to one of these islands myself and watching Orcas swim by below my tent. My good friend Lars suggested I try Ruckle Beach, a provincial campground on the coast of Salt Spring Island.

I’m glad I asked him because it truly is a gem. We picked our spot between the forest and the rocky beach, and watched the massive BC Ferry boats cruise by, sometimes so close you can almost wave to the people on board. And yes… a pod of Orcas even did make a morning pass right in front of our site.

It really was a daydream come true.

Orcas Pass By Our Campsite

Site 77 at Ruckle Beach

Site 77 at Ruckle Beach

You can choose from 77 spots marked by a numbered picnic table. Some are up in the woods, and some down along the cliffs. Some have wooden platforms, but most are just on the grass. The best spot is site #77 right at the end. It’s out on a little point on the edge of a cliff and surrounded by a big tree giving you a your own private perch overlooking the ocean.

Ruckle Beach Reservations & Info

The campground is walk-in and doesn’t require a reservation for individual spots. It was a very busy day on Salt Spring with some kind of music festival going on, but there were still plenty of empty spots. You can reserve group spots on the Discover Camping Website, and get all the fine details about the campground on the BC Parks site.

Canoe or Kayak Right In, or Wimp Out and Take a Wheel Barrow

The original plan was to Canoe in from Vancouver Island, which would be about a 10km paddle. The threat of a little rain, however, was enough of an excuse to take the ferry over.

The GPS signal wasn’t always reliable as we drove to Ruckle Beach, although it was good enough that we were able to make our way there without stopping for directions.

Our Little Paddle

We did bring the canoes and launched them outside our campsite. I’m glad we didn’t canoe over actually because we discovered Nicole wasn’t exactly thrilled with the ferry waves. At one point I almost though she was going to jump out and swim to shore! A 3 hour paddle across the strait would have been interesting.

Wheel Barrows are Easier 🙂

The campground is about a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. There are wheel barrows to help you get the gear down.

Getting to Ruckle Beach
The Island is actually bigger than I thought, and takes about a half hour to drive from one end to the other going through the middle of the Island on Fulford/Ganges Road. I imagine most traffic come from Victoria via Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour at the south of the island, although you can also get there via Croften and land at the North end of the island which is closer to the center of town. We came from the North end of the Island and spent some time in the town getting groceries and visiting the market.

Coming from Fulford Harbour, you’d come off the ferry and turn right onto Beaver Point Rd, then follow it about 15-20 minutes all the way to the end.

Coming from the town center will take about 25-30 minutes by car. Drive down the main Road (Fulford/Ganges) until you get to Cushion Lake Rd where you turn off to the left. Just a bit after the lake, turn right on Stewart Rd, which turns into Beaver Point Rd which takes you the rest of the way.

Ruckle Beach Wheel Barrows

Canoeing at Ruckle Beach

My “Trip” Though the Gange’s Market

The folks who inhabit Salt Spring island are known to enjoy the hippie lifestyle. There’s a famous market in the center of town where I had a fun encounter with a guy I saw on Dragon’s Den. He sent me on a metaphysical journey into the future by shining a flashlight in my eye and spinning a little gizmo.

Gange's Village

Stock up at Gange’s Village… if you can find parking

The village of Ganges is where most businesses on Salt Spring Island are located. Ganges is also a popular destination for boaters from all over the Pacific North West. There are several marinas in Ganges Harbor. There is a big nice playground at the harbor as well.

There are a couple of big grocery stores on the island: Thrifty Foods and Country Grocer. There is also the Village Market in Ganges that sells a variety of local fresh food.

I don’t know if it was just because this was a busy weekend, but it took us a half hour to find a parking spot near the village. I don’t know where would have been better to look, we just hovered until we finally saw somebody leaving.

If You Can’t Make a Camp Fire, Fake One

Due to the dry weather this summer, there is a very strict no-fire rule. However, Grandpa had a little propane fire pit with him. We checked with the ranger and he gave it the OK. I’d never seen such a contraption before, but I must say it was just as good as a real fire in many ways, and better in others! Clean, easy to set up, no wood, no smoke, and I think I roasted my marshmallow to such a perfect golden brown that I almost wanted to save it and put it up on display. We had a the fire going for about 4 hours or so, and the tank still felt quite full when we left.

Watching the Last Ferry Go By

The night just before bed was a particularly beautiful memory, with just the stars and the warmth of our little propane campfire, challenging each other to stay up for just a few more minutes to see the twinkling lights of the last ferry go by. As it did, we crawled into your tents with the smell of the ocean and sound of the waves rolling in only feet from our pillows.

Photos at Ruckle Beach

St. Mary Lake
We drove up to St. Mary Lake, which is a pretty big lake more towards the north end of Salt Spring Island past the market at Ganges.

It is a beautiful lake, so clean you can see your toes clearly when your up to your shoulders. In fact there is a big sign outside the beach telling you “This is our drinking water, please keep it clean.”

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