It may not be wilderness, but it sure is pretty. Victoria has lots of pretty, but surprisingly it also has lots of wilderness.
Victoria is widely accepted as one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, famous for its stately Victorian architecture and laid-back West Coast atmosphere. About a million visitors a year flock to the downtown to shop the boutiques, sip lattés at sidewalk cafés and stroll the waterfront promenade. There are a thousand ways to be parted from your money here, whether riding on a horse-drawn carriage, high tea at the Empress Hotel or a walk through the ornate flowerbeds of Butchart Gardens. In the larger picture, however, Victoria is suffering the same pains of most other major cities: growing residential urban sprawl, rush-hour traffic gridlock and endless cookie-cutter strip malls. It hardly represents the ideal wilderness getaway, but if you find yourself here with time to explore, or start here as a base for a wider exploration of Vancouver Island, Victoria and Saanich Peninsula have a great deal to offer. Key among that is a distinct ecology and a benevolent climate, by Canadian standards, that makes this a wonderful place to visit year-round.
As far as the ecology goes, Victoria was once a dense forest of huge Douglas-fir trees and meadows filled with twisted Garry oak. Those were cornerstones of a fragile but vibrant coastal ecology unique to this part of Canada. Vestiges of this glorious wilderness still exist, with large tracts of the best remaining examples now protected as provincial or regional parks, such as Gowlland Tod or John Dean. Locals looking for a quick outing or tourists with only a short time to spend in the city will find beautiful places to stretch the legs. Look for opportunities such as an extensive corridor of green spaces across Saanich Peninsula. Cyclists in particular will enjoy the suburban nature, with road routes like the Lochside Trail crossing through lightly developed rural areas. What follows is a selection of the best ways to while away some wilderness time in close proximity to British Columbia’s capital city.
A word about the municipalities
Victoria, referring to the city, is just a small part of the jumble of regions and municipalities on Saanich Peninsula, a neck of land bounded by Saanich Inlet to the west, Satellite Channel to the north, Haro Strait to the east and Juan de Fuca Strait to the south. So if you see a sign "You are now entering Saanich" when you thought you were visiting Victoria, this is why. You won't have to go far to pass through several municipalities. All are part of the Capital Regional District (CRD), a huge entity that also envelopes Port Renfrew and the surrounding Juan de Fuca lands to the southeast. Many of the larger parks and trails fall under the jurisdiction of the CRD, so if you are looking to find more information online, the CRD has a great deal of information and many of the key parks.
Here, then, is Wild Coast's list of best outdoor places to visit in Victoria, BC. Read on...