Parks & Gardens in Victoria
Beacon Hill ParkBeacon Hill Park has long been a place to relax and unwind. The park offers an oasis of flowering plants, wide canopied Garry oak trees and the world's tallest totem pole (when it was erected in 1956). The heart of Beacon Hill Park is beautifully landscaped and manicured. Shaded trails lead past a wide variety of native and non-native plants, trees and shrubs, and alongside ponds, lakes, streams and fountains.
The park is home for numerous species of ducks, birds and wildlife. Some of the landscaping dates back to 1889, when Scottish architect, John Blair, who had come to Vancouver Island a few years earlier, won a design competition. Some 2,000 trees and shrubs – many now rare and endangered – were then planted according to Blair's instruction. Early bylaws at Beacon Hill Park banned cattle grazing, games of chance, discharging firearms, and carpet cleaning on the grass. Modern-day activities include cricket, lawn bowling, tennis, soccer and baseball.
Thunderbird ParkThunderbird Park is home to numerous First Nations totem poles and an authentic Big House. It was established in 1941 to display some of the Northwest Coast’s finest Aboriginal art. By 1952, some of the original poles were in an advanced state of decay, so the museum hired Chief Mungo Martin to set up a carving program to replace the deteriorating poles. Martin oversaw the museum’s Totem Restoration Program from 1951 to 1990. With the exception of the front pole of Mungo Martin House/Wawadit’la and a new Kwakwaka’wakw pole carved and raised in the park in 2000, all poles were re-carved to reflect the originals, which have since been moved to inside storage. Photographs and detailed information about Thunderbird Park, including its poles, their carvers and Mungo Martin House, is available at the Royal BC Museum
Butchart GardensThe Butchart Gardens continues to be a premier attraction impressing everyone with its beauty. Jennie Butchart started this 22-hectare (55-acre) piece of paradise, which now includes the Italian, Rose, Japanese, Sunken and Mediterranean gardens, as well as the Star Pond and the Ross Fountain. The Butchart Gardens was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004 on its 100th anniversary.
Hatley Park National Historic SiteVictoria’s spectacular gardens include the ones at Hatley Park National Historic Site and Abkhazi Garden, both named to the “Five Must-See Gardens in Canada” in 2009 by Canadian Gardening magazine. The magnificent Galloping Goose Trail, built on an abandoned railway line, is a 70-kilometre (44-mile), mostly flat multi-use path that is great for families. Bicycles can be rented so visitors can also "ride the Goose." Bring along your binoculars for some of the best birdwatching anywhere. More than 380 species have been recorded in the region, and a visiting birder can reasonably expect to sight up to 150 species during a three-week stay. The best birding happens during the spring and fall migrations, but hundreds of species live in the region year-round. Local hotspots include Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood, Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary and Blenkinsop Lake in Saanich, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park in Metchosin, Whiffen Spit in Sooke, and Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford.
Island View Beach Regional ParkWith a gentle cobble and driftwood-strewn beach, and views across Cordova Channel to James and Sidney islands and the snow-mantled cone of Mount Baker, Island View Beach Regional Park is a restful and uncrowded place to spend a few hours combing the beach and having a picnic. The drive into the park goes through Martindale Flats, an outstanding observation area for ducks, Peregrine Falcons and Trumpeter Swans. In the 41-hectare park, a fragile sand dune area is home to several species of plants and birds. A circle walk goes north on the beach and then into the foredunes with a return on the inland trail through the old saltmarsh and backdunes. The park is ten kilometres from downtown Victoria, off Highway 17 on Island View Road. Facilities within the park include picnic tables, pit toilets and a boat ramp.
East Sooke Regional ParkWith nearly 50 kilometres of trails along rocky headlands and pocket beaches, through shady woodland to hilltops, coves and open fields, East Sooke Regional Park is an enticing place to explore. Families will enjoy the sheltered beaches and gentler seaside trails while the more hardy may tackle the 10-kilometre Coast Trail, with sweeping southern views of the Olympic Peninsula along its wilderness route. It's just 40 kilometres southwest of the city via Highway 14 and Gillespie Road, but this wilderness is rich with wildlife. Sea lions, otters and mink, black-tailed deer, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and pelagic cormorants are among the species to be found here. A diversity of intertidal life can be seen at low tide while reclaimed mine works, an old trapper's shack and a petroglyph site speak of the human history of this place. Aylard Farm is popular with picnickers and those seeking easy excursions. It's just a five-minute walk through open fields to the beach. Anderson Cove, on the Sooke Basin, is the starting point for hikers bound for Babbington Hill and Mount Maguire. Pike Road, an old logging road, is the most westerly access to the park and to the Coast Trail.
Roche Cove Regional ParkRoche Cove Regional Park is home to beaches, serene vistas, forested trails and a secluded cove off the Sooke Basin are features of this 163-hectare park in East Sooke, off Highway 14 and Gillespie Road. The seven kilometres of walking and hiking trails branch off from the 55-kilometre Galloping Goose Trail, which connects Victoria with Sooke and Roche Cove with adjacent Matheson Lake Regional Park. Picnic at Kellet Point, overlooking the Sooke Basin. At low tide, watch for little-neck clams and barnacles, while at high tide sea stars may be seen on the move, looking for food. Red-breasted mergansers, Barrow's golden-eye or buffleheads are sometimes seen on the water here. Park facilities include parking and pit toilets.
Witty's LagoonWith its large lagoon and wide beach, Witty's Lagoon is ideally suited for birdwatching, picnics and wandering out on the smooth sand. More than five kilometres of trails wind their way along the lagoon, marshes and woodland to the sandy beach, which overlooks rocky headlands and the offshore Haystock islets. The 56-hectare park, a 40-minute drive southwest of Victoria, is also home to Sitting Lady Falls, which tumbles into the lagoon. A colony of harbour seals calls the islets home; you'll see them if you look straight offshore with a pair of binoculars, and they also come in occasionally to feed. Watch for blue herons, osprey, belted kingfishers, cormorants and dozens of other bird species. There's a nature information centre right at the parking area, just off Metchosin Road. If tides are low (check the tide tables), you can hike three kilometres along the beach to Devonian Regional Park, which is accessible off William Head Road, to the west.
China BeachThis 707-hectare park extends from China Beach, just west of the community of Jordan River some 75 kilometres west of Victoria, to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. It's a spectacular and remote part of the coast, with challenging hiking, roaring surf and exceptional wildlife-viewing opportunities. The park protects black bear and cougar habitat and significant marine tidal pool life at Botanical Beach. Though the trail to China Beach was heavily damaged by windstorms in the winter of 2006-2007, access has been restored, and the blowdown remains an impressive reminder of the power of the wind. The beach is ideal for long walks on the sand, as far as Jordan River when the tide is low. The park contains a 75-site campground.
Juan de Fuca Marine TrailThe 47-kilometre Juan de Fuca Marine Trail crosses wilderness and skirts the shoreline. It is a demanding hike that can be completed in chunks, with access via four trailheads. Most of the trail is designed for strenuous day or multi-day hiking and camping, but some easy to moderate day-hiking opportunities to the beach or along the trail are available starting from the trailheads. About 20 kilometres west of China Beach, the cobbled Sombrio Beach is popular with surfers and is reached by a ten-minute hike down to the shore. At the west end of the park is Botanical Beach, one of the richest tidal areas along the West Coast. Wildlife viewing is best at low tide, when visitors can walk out across the flat sandstone and granite outcroppings to peer into tide pools filled with brightly coloured marine life. A day-use parking fee of $3 per vehicle per day ($1 an hour) is in effect year-round.
Goldstream Provincial ParkMassive 600-year-old trees, cascading waterfalls, a crystal clear river that meets the sea, spawning salmon, flowers, birds and a nature centre are just a few of the features that draw people to Goldstream Provincial Park, just off Highway 1 and a mere 16 kilometres from downtown Victoria. The park is home to massive Douglas fir and western red cedar, mixed with western yew and hemlock, red alder, big leaf maple and black cottonwood. On the drier ridges grow flowering dogwood, lodgepole pine and arbutus. The arbutus, with its thick leathery evergreen leaves, reddish trunk and peeling bark, is Canada's only broad-leafed evergreen and is found exclusively on Vancouver Island and on the southwest coast of British Columbia.
Numerous trails criss-cross the terrain, and one route goes right to the base of Niagara Falls, which tumbles 47 metres down a rock cliff into a crystal clear canyon pool, making it almost as high – although not nearly as voluminous – as its famous namesake. The trails range from easy, wheelchair accessible walks to strenuous hikes. Some follow creeks, and others climb through forested uplands and past abandoned gold diggings from the days of the Gold Rush. More adventurous hikers can clamber to the top of Mount Finlayson, one of the highest points in Greater Victoria, for a panoramic 360-degree view.
The annual chum salmon spawning run begins in September and continues through November, drawing thousands of fish – and visitors – every year. Riverside trails and observation platforms provide an up-close and personal view of this natural cycle of life. Bald eagles arrive to dine on the carcasses of the spawned salmon, and can be found by the hundreds perched in trees. Park naturalists are available at the Freeman King Visitor Centre, which offers interpretive programs and informative lectures about the area's natural history for individuals and groups. The centre is at the mouth of the river, overlooking the Goldstream estuary, nestled between giant black cottonwoods and red alder trees. The park also features a large picnic area with shelters, as well as vehicle accessible camping and group sites.