Trails for everyone, forever
Explore world-renowned museums and gardens, savor a variety of international cuisine and take a hike in a lush provincial park. With so much to do, you'll need more than a weekend for this Canadian island adventure | by Eli Boschetto
Whether you want to hike a rugged coastline, discover historic cultural sites or just pull up a barstool for a mound of poutine, Vancouver Island is a great place to spend a long summer weekend. In fact, Vancouver Island boasts more protected parkland than developed areas, as well as an abundance of old-growth forest, sparkling lakes, mountain meadows and an epic coastline; it's an ideal destination for outdoors enthusiasts. and no matter whether you tread by boot or bike, there is adventure and discovery to be had around every corner.
Taking center stage are Victoria’s Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Completed in 1898, the majestic Parliament Building combines ornate Baroque and Romanesque Revival architectural styles. Across from the Parliament Building, the Fairmont Empress Hotel has been a Canadian landmark since 1908 and is known for hosting celebrities, royalty and dignitaries from around the world.Once you arrive in Victoria, you'll want to get your bearings, get settled and pick up any necessities for your visit. From Victoria’s Inner Harbor, where the ferries disembark, you’ll find yourself at the gateway of British Columbia’s capitol, a city that melds local and cultural history—of both its founders and the native people—with modern cosmopolitan flavor.
If you're in need of a hiking guidebook, Munro's Books between Fort Street and View Street is the place to be. Look for The Essential Vancouver Island Outdoor Recreation Guide by John Kimantas, which details everything from hiking and mountain biking to camping, kayaking and even spelunking.
For any outdoor gear needs head over to Mountain Equipment Co-op on the corner of Johnson Street. This is Canada's equivalent to REI, and will have everything you need to hit the trails, the rocks, or the water.
After walking the downtown streets and browsing shops, swing into Red Fish Blue Fish and place an order. This food counter is a Victoria institution, offering the freshest fish and seafood right on the waterfront. Go for the classic fish and chips, or try one of the tasty tacones, a selection of of grilled, wrap-like tacos stuffed with seasoned seafood, slaw, and pickled onions. Take your food, sit by the water and watch the seaplanes come and go.
To end the night, you have a number of nearby hotels to choose from including Hotel Zed, Hotel Grand Pacific, or the Fairmont Empress if you're in the mood for something fancier. With central locations, these make great launching pads for the next day of adventure.
After a restful night's sleep in the hotel of your choosing, hit the streets again for a quick jaunt to Jam Cafe. Go for the chicken and waffles or one of their special Bennies. If you've got a raging breakfast appetite, take on the full Charlie Bowl: a giant mound of hash browns, crumbled biscuits, ham, eggs and cheddar, all topped with gravy--yum!
After a filling breakfast, pack your boots or bike and drive just 20 minutes west of downtown on the Trans-Canada Highway to Thetis Lake Regional Park. An extensive Network of easy and moderate mixed-use trails explores 500-year-old Douglas-fir forest and circuits Upper and Lower Thetis Lake and Prior Lake. More challenging trails climb to Scafe Hill and Stewart Mountain. Cross the highway into Mill Hill Regional Park and take the short hike to Mill Hill's summit for panoramic views over Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Mill Hill was once the native area of the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples, and several artifacts have been discovered here.
After hiking all day you could probably use a refreshing beverage or two and some tasty food. Head back downtown and visit Irish Times on the corner of Government and View streets. They serve up perfect pints of Guinness and a tasty dish of corned beef and cabbage. On the opposite corner, Garrick's Head Pub, established in 1867, offers a variety of microbrew and imported taps, along with English pub food selections.
The next day is a busy one, so start your morning with a kick at Serious Coffee on Menzies Street, across from Irving Park. Sip a hot cup of joe or another coffee (or tea) concoction while munching on a fresh muffin, scone, or the hearty lumberjack wrap. With caffeine and grub in your system, you're ready for another day of exploration!
Once you're refueled, take a 30-minute drive north on Highway 17 to the world-famous Butchart Gardens. Home to more than a million native and exotic plants, it's touristy but definitely worth a visit. If you have more than an hour to spare in the area, also check out the Victoria Butterfly Gardens, which showcases up to 75 different types of butterflies and moths in forest-like, walk-through exhibits.
For your afternoon outing (you thought you were done?), head west of Victoria on Highway 14 to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. This 47-km trail alternates between rugged coast and inland forest and rivals the more publicized West Coast Trail in scenic amazingness--without the permit quotas. Four access points let you tailor a hike to your length and liking; moderate hiking sections start at the China Beach and Sombrio Beach trailheads. Try to spy sea lions or pods of whales in the strait, and look skyward for bald eagles. If you're up for a big adventure, you can backpack the entire trail from China Beach to Port Renfrew (average hiking time is around 4 days). The camping fee is just $10 (Canadian) per person per night.
After being on your feet all day, a bite to eat at Yeung's Halibut House might be just what you need. Located in Saanich on your way back to Victoria, in a tiny space on the corner of Cloverdale Avenue and Quadra Street, Yeung's serves up large portions of delicious Chinese dishes with delightfully friendly service. Try something from their specials board. If you haven't already, head to the Empress Hotel for live music and an after-dinner cocktail in the Bengal Lounge.
On your last day in Victoria, before catching the ferry, spend your morning exploring the Royal B.C. Museum, conveniently located near the ferry terminal, between the Capitol Building and the Empress Hotel. This world-class museum presents a variety of exhibits on Vancouver Islands's natural and human histories, as well as special touring exhibits. Don't miss the totem pole park outside.
At this point you're probably feeling like you've barely scratched the surface of everything that Vancouver Island has to offer. You're right--and that's just in the Victoria area. There are countless more parks to be explored, trails to be hikes and seafood to be savored. n your next visit, up the ante and spend some time in Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island's oldest and largest park, which resembles Washington's own North Cascades--from wet, forest valleys to glacier-capped alpine peaks. How could you not want more of that?