Looking for a place to go and see some nature? Here are some of my favourite spots on Vancouver Island.
Head west out of Victoria past Sooke and drive all the way round the coast to the little town of Port Renfrew, it is about a two hour drive from Victoria. A pretty town on its own, Port Renfrew has mountains, forests and coastline, what more could you want? If you continue through Port Renfrew you will begin to see signs directing you to Botanical Beach. The beach is part of the Juan de Fuca provincial park which stretches down to the coast between Port Renfrew and Jordan River. There are lots of beaches and hikes to explore along the coast, however Botanical Beach is the most unique. My first tip for a trip to Botanical Beach is to have a look at tide times. The beach is famous for its intertidal pools, so to see them you will need the tide to be out. You can spend the day finding hundreds of species within the rock pools. As well as this the area is a great spot for birds such as sanderlings, pigeon guillemots, bald eagles, ospreys and many more. Marine mammals are frequently seen and the area is a great spot for migrating grey whales in March and April. The beach is a little off the beaten track, however it has well maintained trails and ample parking. Just remember the tides and waves are unpredictable, so use caution when on the beach.
Cathedral Grove located within MacMillan Provincial Park is an area of old growth rainforest located between Coombs and Port Alberni. There are other areas of old growth on Vancouver Island (Avatar Grove is an excellent example), but I chose this spot to focus on because of its accessibility. Highway 4 winds right through the park. It is difficult to truly explain the enormity of the old growth forest. Whilst walking through the trails you will encounter 800 year old trees which have grown up to 75 metres into the sky. The different shades of green is unlike anything I have seen, and the sound of the Stellar’s jay and the varied thrush echo throughout the forest. The best time to see the rainforest is on a rainy day, if you happen to time it right, you will see the forest come alive; a sturdy pair of shoes is all that is needed. The trail can be done within an hour, although I would always recommend staying for as long as you can to truly take in this increasingly rare habitat. The site is on the way to the Pacific Rim National Park (Tofino and Ucluelet) so is a great stop off point if you are heading out west.
Victoria’s most underrated wildlife spot has to be Dallas Road. A popular spot for walking close to the centre of town Dallas Road offers some great wildlife viewing without having to do much hiking. Keep looking out to sea and expect to watch large flocks of wintering sea birds (including the famous Canadian loon) as well as mammals such as sea lions, river otter and even the occasional orca. Look overhead for resident bald eagles and other birds of prey such as the fastest animal on the planet, the peregrine falcon (who loves to hang around Clover Point hunting pigeons). Listen out for the shrill of the hummingbirds and the gentle song of the white crowned sparrow. In the spring and summer the area is filled with wild regional flowers attracting large numbers of swallowtail butterflies. Dallas Road has a huge variety of species within a small area.
East Sooke Park
One the best parks within the capital region is East Sooke Regional Park. A glorious oceanside walk is a perfect place for nature. My preferred start is from the Aylard Farm parking lot, which can be reached from East Sooke Road from Metchosin or Sooke. There are a number of different hikes including the forest trail and up Babbington Hill. However the best hike in my opinion is the coastal trail starting at Aylard Farm and ending at Beechey Head. As you start to hike you will see white sandy beaches and a turquoise sea, you could be tricked into thinking you were in the Tropics (dip your toes in the water to remind yourself you are in Canada!). The park is large, so when looking at maps for hikes take into account timing. I find the coastal hike can take a good 2 hours if done briskly. The terrain is moderate becoming slightly more challenging towards Beechey Head. It is a great place for a variety of species. The mix of habitats in the area increases species diversity. Look out for rare garry oak forest and the arbutus trees that line the route, as well as a number of coastal flowers. The park is great for birds and mammals including bald eagles, belted kingfisher and oystercatcher. Marine mammals are often seen including southern resident orca, sea lion and river otter.
Pacific Rim National Park
The Pacific Rim National Park is simply a Vancouver Island must. Located on the west coast of the island between the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet, the park offers some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife in Canada. Black bears, cougars, wolves, orcas, humpback whales, grey whales, fin whales, sea lion, sea otter, river otter, bald eagle, owls, puffins, albatross and osprey are just some of the species that live in the area. All of which you have a real possibility of seeing whilst exploring the park. With mile long expansive beaches, windswept and battered coastal plantlife, some of the best intertidal pools on the island and lush green temperate rainforest, the national park is a nature lovers paradise. Bring your binoculars and camera as well as some sturdy shoes and a good rain jacket (remember the park is located right on the Pacific Ocean, there is very little between it and Japan so the area is exposed to the elements). Some great spots within the park are Long Beach, Wickaninnish and the Rainforest trail. Also a small wildlife viewing platform at the end of Sharp Road overlooking the Tofino tidal mudflats is well worth an early morning look. There are many wildlife watching companies located in Tofino and Ucluelet all offering great whale, bird and bear watching.
Mount Tolmie is a small park right in the middle of Victoria. It seems on paper as a strange choice as a great nature spot. However this park is a little gem. Firstly at the top there are some incredible views of Victoria, the mountains of Vancouver Island and Washington State and on a clear day you can see across to Mount Baker, a large volcano in central Washington. The site has some great garry oak meadows which are fairly unique to Vancouver Island and is one of the best spots to see raptors in Victoria . In one afternoon it is not uncommon to see turkey vulture, merlin, Cooper’s hawk, red tailed hawk, bald eagle, osprey and the occasional sharp shinned hawk and peregrine falcon. As well as raptors the area is home to a large number of songbirds and is a good spot in the autumn to see migratory species overhead.