Ruckle Provincial Park
Fav ride for all
This is a straight forward ride, but Ruckle Provincial Park is one of my very favourite places (see also Fav camping page). The ride starts at Departure Bay Terminal in Nanaimo. It heads south on the big Island highway to Ladysmith where it branches off onto a more scenic secondary road to Crofton ferry terminal, to catch a ferry over to Vesuvius, NW Saltspring Island.
Then a surprisingly hilly ride to SE Saltsping and incredible Ruckle Park, with walk-in campsites along the wild sea-side, nary an RV in sight. In season, you're almost sure to meet other cycle tourists here. Coming back, you can retrace your ride, or try one of several other ferry options.
Beautiful seaside walk-in camping at Ruckle Park where you can watch the marine life & BC ferries pass by. Ruckle is the best campsite around to meet other cycle tourists.
Some excellent hiking trails along the seaside, and through moss-draped forests
A worthwhile ride, with some tough steep hills on Saltspring
Island ambience, with a lively weekend market at Ganges (largest town) during the season, and lots of corners to explore
Seaside camping at Ruckle Park. Accessioble by a good walk-in trail, so no cars or RVs about. You can camp right along the shore, or up in the trees, where there's more shelter. You can watch the BC ferries glide by (at night they look like festivals), and see marine life like sea lions and sea otters
Days for Ride: This can be done as an overnighter, but I'd suggest at least 2 nights to enjoy the place. You can explore Saltspring, or do one of the treks around the park. The ride from Nanaimo is ~77kms, all paved. But, with some sharp hills to climb on Saltspring, it's a good day's ride. Ruckle will fill up on holiday weekends in the summer, and there are limited wild camping options on the Island, so try to get there early. Note also they turn off the water in winter, so you need to bring your own if you visit in the off season.
Difficulty: Moderate. There's a couple of steep, tough hills on Saltspring, just south of Ganges, and over Stewart Hill. There are stretches on the local road from Ladysmith to Crofton ferry, as well as through Saltspring, where you will not have a full shoulder to ride. That said, local drivers give cyclists their space, so these are not unnerving roads to ride loaded with gear. Traffic can be heavy going through Ganges on the weekend in season, when the local market is on (worth a visit!).
The ride south from Nanaimo to Ladysmith is on the big, busy Island highway. There are some offroad options that will reduce your time on the highway (though also add kms in the process). Or, just zone out on the big wide shoulders.
There are some worthwhile side trip options.
Crofton & the ferry terminal is fairly quite close to Duncan and Hwy18 up to Cowichan Lake, which opens up a whole world of options from the Cowichan Lake hub.
Explore Saltsping Island by bike - a good day trip. Check out Ganges market on weekends. Climb Musgrave Road up around Mt Team, then down to Musgrave Landing. Make the climb into Mt Maxwell Park (a must), & do some trekking. Ride out to the tip of Nosepoint Road on the SE, and watch ferries pass by. Check out Southey Point at the extreme north.
Take the Fulford Harbour Ferry on your way back, to Otter Bay (Pender Island) or Village Bay (Mayne Island) and then on to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island. Take the Fulford Harbour ferry to Swartz Bay, then head up Island, or loop west to the fabulous SW coast.
Spend some days Island hopping in the South Gulf Islands (see Galiano & Mayne Islands fav ride). Catch your ferry connections from Fulford Harbour on Saltspring.
Here's the elevation / distance view:
The left axis elevation scale is pretty modest here, only up to 250m, so this is not a heavy climbing ride. That said, a few Saltspring hills, particularly up just south of Ganges (km 61) and up Stewart Hill (km66) are sharp, tough climbs. The bracketed section is the 5+kms on the ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius.
Here's the distance & direction guide. Unless you're planning a ride, you'll likely want to skip this section, or risk getting put to sleep.
From Departure Bay, follow the Island Highway south for 28km to the south end of Ladysmith where you turn left to follow Chemainus Road, a more scenic local road, for 19+kms, past Chemainus, to reach the Crofton ferry terminal.
From Vesuvius on north Saltspring, it's ~7 kms to Ganges harbour, then 4+ kms further SW (including a mean hill) to the turnoff left onto Cusheon Lake Road. After 2kms, a little past the lake, turn right up (tough hill) Stewart Road, up and down for another 3+kms to turn left/SE onto Beaverpoint Road, for a final ~5km rolling ride to the Park boundary. 2 final kms of road to the parking lot, then a short rideable trail in to the fabulous shoreline. Campsites extend for a km along the seaside, with a good riding path.
We zoom in a little for this 2nd map. See a couple of other blue tracks - one, around the park, shows a 16km trek. To the west of the main purple route option, see an alternate route that loops through the tiny ferry terminal village of Fulford Harbour. Note also the other Saltspring ferry terminal at Long Harbour.
Check this out for more info on getting to South Island ferry terminals