Inns and trails on Vancouver Island

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 11-18, 1996
Trekking in Idaho's Sawtooths
Paddling coastal New England
A short course in mountain sickness
Inns and trails on Vancouver Island
The big sticky: Louisiana in the summer

Inns and trails on Vancouver Island
Question: I am looking for a lodge in British Columbia that will pamper me and my new wife a little at night, but give us an opportunity to explore the backcountry by day. Is there such a place within a few hours of Seattle?

Oxford, OH
[email protected]

Visitors kayak the waters
near Vancouver Island

Adventure Adviser: Brad, I hope you and your wife like to mix your backcountry trails with salty beach walks and fresh seafood, because I've got the perfect place for you: the southern end of Vancouver Island, where hiking's only the tip of the iceberg.

The trip from Seattle is a pretty painless 77-mile drive north to Anacortes, followed by a three-hour ferry passage through the Gulf Islands. From the Washington State Ferries landing in Sidney, 18 miles north of Victoria via Provincial Route 17, you have lots of options. If you've got splurge on your brain, plan on bedding down at the Sooke Harbour House, a seaside inn that's an easy 23 miles west of Victoria on Highway 14, the West Coast Road. Doubles start at $155 per night, including breakfast and lunch. Dinners are extra, but they rate high in the pamper department: Sooke gourmet means halibut with salmonberry and rose-petal yogurt sauce or roasted suckling kid over grand fir shoots.

Load up on food, since you're only a stone's throw from the 38-mile Galloping Goose Regional Trail, a former rail line that runs from downtown Victoria, through rolling farmland to Sooke, and then climbs into the Sooke Hills to Leechtown, an abandoned mining village. Capital Regional District Parks in Victoria (604-478-3344) is a good source for trail maps.

The nearby East Sooke Regional Park has some 31 miles of day-use-only trails, including the six-mile Coast Trail with its pocket-sized beaches and amazing views of the Olympic Range across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or make tracks to Goldstream Provincial Park, about ten miles east of Sooke off Highway 1, for a four-miler along the Prospectors' Trail.

Once you've had your fill of hoofing it, consider shedding the hiking boots for a spray skirt: Sidney-based Sea-Trek Sports runs sea kayaking day trips in the Gulf Islands and beyond; call 604-656-9888 for more details. If you two are experienced paddlers, rent singles or doubles from Ocean River Sports on the Inner Harbor for $30 to $42 per day, $42 to $60 overnight, and try a solo paddle eastward out of Oak Bay to Discovery Island, a 150-acre provincial marine park that's two miles offshore.

There's plenty of fat-tire-friendly biking in the area, too. The Galloping Goose makes for a good, relatively flat, non-technical warm-up spin or, for intermediate to expert singletrack, head for the Highlands district off Highway 17, six miles north of downtown Victoria, and take Millstream Road two miles to the power-lines area, where you'll find plenty of trailheads. Sports Rent (604-385-7368) in Victoria will rent you mountain bikes for the day or weekend, if you're nice.

For inn reservations, call the Sooke Harbour House at 604-642-3421. Other good info sources: Tourism Victoria (604-382-2160) and British Columbia Parks (604-387-5002). And, if you've got old issues lying around or a library nearby, check out "4.5 Hours to Freedom" in our June 1993 issue.

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