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North of Victoria, the Island Highway climbs up over the high mountain ridge called the Malahat, shedding the suburbs as it climbs. Goldstream Provincial Park is a tranquil arboreal setting that overflowed with prospectors during the 1860s gold-rush days, hence its name. Today, its natural beauty attracts hikers, campers, and birders who stop to spend a few hours or days in the beautiful temperate rainforest.

Hiking trails take you past abandoned mine shafts and tunnels as well as stands of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, red cedar, indigenous yew, and arbutus trees. The Gold Mine Trail leads to Niagara Creek and the abandoned mine. The Goldstream Trail goes to the salmon-spawning areas (you might also catch sight of mink and river otters racing along this path).

Three species of salmon make annual salmon runs up the Goldstream River during the months of October, November, December, and February. Visitors can easily observe this natural wonder along the riverbanks. Goldstream is also a major attraction for bird-watchers, as numerous bald eagles winter here each year. January is the best month for spotting these majestic creatures.

For information on all provincial parks on the South Island, contact BC Parks (tel. 250/391-2300; www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks). Goldstream Park's Freeman King Visitor Centre (tel. 250/478-9414) offers guided walks and talks, plus programs geared toward kids throughout the year. It's open daily from 9:30am to 6pm; there is a C$3 per day vehicle fee. Take Hwy. 1 about 20 minutes north of Victoria.