Sooke: 30km (19 miles) W of Victoria

Following Hwy. 14 west from Victoria, the suburbs eventually thin; by the time you reach Sooke, the vistas open up to the south, where Washington's Olympic Mountains prop up the horizon. There are a number of reasons to explore this part of the island.

Hwy. 14 gives access to beaches and parks with good swimming and recreation, finally leading to Port Renfrew, a rough-and-ready deep-sea fishing village that's also the southern trail head for the famous West Coast Trail. Day-trippers from Vancouver also come out to visit Botanical Beach Provincial Park ★, an area with spectacular tide-pool formations, unique geology, and one of the richest intertidal zones on the entire North American West Coast. About 4km (2 1/2 miles) south of Port Renfrew, Botanical Beach is a ledge of sandstone that juts out into the churning waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over the millennia, tidal action has carved out pits and pools, in which you'll find sea urchins, clams, periwinkles, giant anemones, chitons, and sea stars. In spring and fall, watch for gray whales in the strait. Check local tide tables to maximize opportunities for wildlife-viewing and tide-pool exploration: A low tide of 1.2m (4 ft.) or less is best. Picnic facilities and toilets are available.

Ambitious backcountry drivers can make a loop journey from Hwy. 14. From Port Renfrew, a good logging road leads up the San Juan River valley, connecting to the southern shores of Cowichan Lake just west of Duncan. You can make this drive in 1 day, or divide the trip up by planning to spend the night camping at Cowichan Lake or at one of Duncan's moderately priced hotels.

The civilized reason to make the journey west from Victoria is the superlative Sooke Harbour House, one of the most renowned small inns in all of Canada.