Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: April 2022
Victoria is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and boasts of having the most moderate weather in Canada. The scenery is also stunning with views of the ocean, snow-capped mountains and tall towering trees. With so much nature surrounding Victoria, there’s so much to see and do outdoors.
Day 1: Butchart Gardens
We spent most of the day driving from Tofino to Victoria and stopped at a few points of interest along the way. Since we arrived in Victoria earlier than expected, we decided to hit up the Butchart Gardens in the hopes that it wouldn’t be very busy towards the end of the day. And to our surprise, it wasn’t.
The Butchart Gardens contain an impressive display of colourful flowers, trees and other interesting plant species. It was named after the Butchart family who transformed the area into a garden just over a hundred years ago. One of the main highlights is the Sunken Garden, which was built in an abandoned limestone quarry.
Butchart Gardens also features a Japanese garden, Italian garden, Mediterranean garden and rose garden. All the spring flowers were in bloom and the landscape looked so colourful.
After wandering around the gardens until closing, we drove to our accommodations to check in and eat dinner. We still had some energy left, so we went to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria since they were open later than usual on Thursdays. This turned out to be another great call as we had the place all to ourselves. The art gallery featured a few different exhibits, including Emily Carr: Seeing + Being Seen (highlights Emily Carr’s legacy and how it’s connected with the landscape), the Places We Live (focuses on the world around us), and the Blue & White (contains blue and white porcelain from China, Japan, the UK and Europe).
Day 2: The Drive to Port Renfrew
One of the wonderful things about Victoria is its close proximity to nature. While we had plans to explore the city, we decided to first check out the trails along the west coast. We planned to drive all the way to Port Renfrew (and back), and first stopped at Sooke Potholes Regional Park to stretch our legs and go for a hike.
The park features a series of naturally formed deep pools, or potholes, that have been carved into the rocks along the Sooke River. We parked at the middle parking lot in P2 and found the access point for the Riverside Trail. We hiked north towards the campground.
The first stretch of the trail follows a wide gravel path, which progressively becomes more rugged. Along the way there’s a series of viewpoints to see the river in action. We turned around just after Ripple Rock Beach near the gravel pit and walked along the Galloping Goose Trail for a change of scenery. Once we looped back to the parking lot, we walked in the opposite direction along the Riverside Trail to see the Potholes Overlook.
We hopped in the car and continued our day-trip along the west coast. We stopped at French Beach Provincial Park, which is a small day-use park that features a beautiful pebble beach on the Juan de Fuca Strait. From the parking lot, it’s a short, but steep path down to the shoreline.
We then drove to Sandcut Beach, which features a picturesque waterfall that cascades from a small ledge down to the ocean. There’s a small parking lot right off the highway and a short trail through the mossy forest (about 400 metres one-way) that leads down (key word being down) to the beach. The path is well maintained and there’s even a boardwalk for part of the way. Once we made it to the beach, we turned left and walked a few hundred metres along the pebbly shore to get to the waterfall.
We hopped back in the car and continued our drive to Port Renfrew, which is a teeny tiny town situated on an inlet known as Port San Juan. It serves as an access point to the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Since we were visiting early in the season, most of the town was closed, including the gas station and most of the shops and restaurants.
We drove to Port Renfrew to see the Avatar Grove, an old growth forest that contains Canada’s gnarliest tree. However, a sign had indicated that the grove was temporarily closed. We figured we might as well just drive by it since we came all this way, except the road was in real rough shape with huge potholes everywhere, which probably explains why Avatar Grove was closed. We didn’t make it very far before turning around. We didn’t want to risk getting stranded since there was no cell reception and most of the town was still closed.
And so we drove all the way back to Victoria, stopping at a few more points of interest on the way. This included a visit to Sheringham Point Lighthouse. It was built in 1912 after a fatal shipwreck and is still used today for navigation. From the parking lot, it’s a short trail down to the rocky shore to get to the lighthouse.
We then stopped at East Sooke Regional Park to go for a hike. There are a few different trail options depending on length and difficulty. We hiked along part of the Coastal Trail to Beechey Head (5.5km loop). The trail follows the rugged coastline and provides sweeping views of the water. It was challenging though with all the ups and downs and maneuvering around and over all the rocks along the cliff.
The first part of the trail wasn’t too challenging as the path was wide and relatively flat. After hiking for 1.5km, the trail passes by a series of petroglyphs which are located amongst the rocks by the shoreline. These petroglyphs were carved into the rocks by the Coast Salish First Nations hundreds of years ago. Eventually these images will fade away entirely from natural erosion.
From here the trail gets much rougher and tougher as it continues to weave along the rocky cliff. But the seaside vistas were spectacular. It took us longer than expected to reach Beechey Head, but we still had a few hours of daylight left, so we weren’t too concerned. We were just getting really hungry and tired.
At Beechey Head, there’s a shortcut back to the parking lot, which follows a wide path through the shaded forest. There were some ups and downs, but it was relatively flat and much easier compared to the Coastal Trail. Once we wrapped up our hike, we drove back to our accommodations, stopping at Tacofino in Victoria to see how it compared to the original Tacofino in Tofino. While we had to wait 30 minutes for our food, our tacos were delicious.
Day 3: Seeing the Sights in the City
Today was our last day in Victoria and the last day of our vacation. Naturally we got up early to try to make the most of it. We started off at Beacon Hill Park, which is located downtown near the shore of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The park spreads across 200 acres and contains multiple walking paths, landscaped gardens, a petting zoo, tennis courts and other amenities. Some of the notable points of interest include a super tall totem pole that when installed, was the world’s tallest totem pole and the mile zero marker for the Trans-Canada Highway, which travels across the east to west coast of Canada.
We then walked along the waterfront where there’s a paved path, along with a few viewpoints and access points to the shoreline. Notable highlights include a sundial and the Ogden Point Breakwater which leads to the Breakwater Lighthouse. The breakwater and wharf were built to take advantage of the increase in pacific maritime trade due to the opening of the Panama Canal. A second breakwater was initially supposed to be built, but was later deemed unnecessary. We walked along the entire breakwater to the lighthouse located at the end.
We continued along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf, a marina which contains a few restaurants, small shops and colourful houseboats. Not much was shaking since many of the shops were still closed for the season, but we still admired the lovely views of the shoreline and ships.
We strolled through the inner harbour and stopped to check out the parliament buildings and the fancy Fairmont Empress, one of Victoria’s oldest and grandest hotels. From there it was a short walk back to Beacon Hill Park.
After eating some lunch, we drove to Craigdarroch Castle. It was built in the late 19th century as a family residence for Robert Dunsmuir, who was once the wealthiest man in western Canada. Following the deaths of Mr and Mrs Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch Castle switched hands over the years. It was used as a military hospital, college and music conservatory. The castle has since been restored and converted into a museum to showcase the history of the Dunsmuir family and offer self-guided tours.
Afterwards we went to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites, which are two historic sites in one. There’s a suggested path that loops by many of the historic buildings, points of interest and the lighthouse. We started at the upper battery and made our way around the grounds.
Fort Rodd Hill once served as a fortification to protect the harbours at Victoria and Esquimalt from 1878 to 1956. It contains upper and lower batteries, which were designed and equipped to counter enemy warships, and a few historic buildings, including sleeping quarters, a command post, and a blacksmith shop. Some of the buildings and rooms were open, but many of the rooms weren’t set up yet for the season.
Fisgard Lighthouse was built in 1860 and was the first permanent lighthouse on the west coast of Canada. There is actually no meaningful connection with Ford Rodd, except that they share the same location. The lighthouse contains a few small exhibits on the shipwrecks in the area, the expansion of lighthouses along the west coast, and more information about the first keeper of the lighthouse. After exploring the inside of the lighthouse, we walked along the rocky shore and found a pair of Parks Canada Red Chairs overlooking the water.
We wrapped up shortly after 3p.m and headed to Nanaimo to catch the ferry back to Vancouver. Except we went to the wrong ferry terminal at Duke’s Point instead of Departure Bay. And then we went to Departure Bay the street instead of Departure Bay the terminal. But eventually we made it to where we needed to be. It was a scenic and smooth ferry ride back to the mainland. We planned to fly out of Vancouver the next morning.
Until next time.