Victoria is, quite simply, an outdoor-lover’s paradise. Its climate is mild and dry. It’s riddled with parks and trails, dotted with golf courses, and surrounded by waters perfect for paddling. It’s relatively flat, too, which means it’s easy to run, walk, or cycle just about anywhere. Plus there are even more parks, beaches, and trails outside the city, so you can keep going as long as your energy lasts.
Sports Rent (1950 Government St.; tel. 250/385-7368; www.sportsrentbc.com) is a great general outdoors equipment and watersports rental outlet. The inventory is impressive, containing everything from roller blades to gear for mountaineering and camping.
Although this coastline tends to be rocky and rugged, it also has many secluded coves and sandy beaches. The most popular beach is Oak Bay's Willows Beach, at Beach and Dalhousie roads along the esplanade. The park, playground, and snack bar make it a great place to spend the day building a sand castle. Gyro Beach Park, at Beach Road on Cadboro Bay, is another good spot for winding down. At the Ross Bay Beaches, below Beacon Hill Park, you can stroll or bike along the promenade at the water's edge. Beachcombing, sunbathing, and investigating tidal pools is a great way to spend a day, whether it's out at the Sidney Spit, Mount Douglas Park, or Cordova Bay. For those who want to venture further afield, there's also the spectacular Botanical Beach Provincial Park, 2 hours' drive west of the city in Port Renfrew; it's famous for its tidal pools, and for providing habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals.
For a taste of the wild and rocky west coast, hike the ocean-side trails in beautiful East Sooke Regional Park. Take Highway 14A west, turn south on Gillespie Road, and then take East Sooke Road.
Two inland lakes give you the option of swimming in fresh water. Elk and Beaver Lake Regional Park, on Patricia Bay Road, is 11km (6 3/4 miles) north of downtown Victoria; to the west is Thetis Lake, about 10km (6 1/4 miles; Hwy. 1 to exit 10 or 1A onto Old Island Hwy. 14, turn right at Six Mile Pub and follow the signs), where locals shed all their clothes but none of their civility.
Biking is one of the best ways to get around Victoria. The 13km (8-mile) Scenic Marine Drive bike path begins at Dallas Road and Douglas Street, at the base of Beacon Hill Park. The paved path follows the walkway along the beaches before winding up through the residential district on Beach Drive. It eventually turns left and heads south toward downtown Victoria on Oak Bay Avenue. The Inner Harbour pedestrian path has a bike lane for cyclists who want to take a leisurely ride around the entire city seawall. The popular Galloping Goose Trail (www.gallopinggoosetrail.com) is part of the Trans-Canada Trail, and runs from Victoria west through Colwood and Sooke all the way up to Leechtown. If you don't want to bike the whole thing, you can park at numerous places along the way, as well as at several places where the trail intersects with public transit. Contact BC Transit (tel. 250/382-6161; www.bctransit.com) to find out which bus routes take bikes. Bikes and child trailers are available at Cycle BC Rentals (685 Humboldt St.; tel. 250/380-2453; www.cyclebc.ca), open year round
The Victoria Natural History Society (www.vicnhs.bc.ca) runs regular weekend birding excursions but, as a volunteer-run group, organizers change frequently. Check the website for contact numbers; usually any one of those listed will point you in the right direction of an upcoming event. Goldstream Provincial Park and the village of Malahat -- both off Highway 1 about 40 minutes north of Victoria -- are filled with dozens of varieties of migratory and local birds, including eagles. Elk and Beaver Lake Regional Park, off Highway 17, has some rare species such as the rose-breasted grosbeak and Hutton's vireo. Ospreys also nest there. Cowichan Bay, off Highway 1, is the perfect place to observe ospreys, bald eagles, great egrets, and purple martins.
Boating, Canoeing & Kayaking
Ocean River Sports (1824 Store St.; tel. 800/909-4233 or 250/381-4233; www.oceanriver.com) can equip you with everything from a single or double kayak or a canoe to life jackets, tents, and dry-storage camping gear. Multiday and weekly rates are also available. The company also offers numerous guided tours of the Gulf Islands and the coast. For beginners, try the guided 5 1/2-hour Explorer Tour of the coast around Victoria or Sooke. They also offer a guided 3-day/2-night trip to the nearby Gulf Islands.
Rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and power boats are available for hourly or daily rental from Great Pacific Adventures (811 Wharf St.; tel. 877/733-6722 or 250/386-2277; www.greatpacificadventures.com).
Blackfish Wilderness Expeditions (tel. 250/216-2389; www.blackfishwilderness.com) offers a number of interesting kayak-based tours such as the kayak/boat/hike combo, where you boat to the protected waters of the Discovery Islands, hike one of the islands, and kayak to see the pods of resident killer whales that roam the waters around Victoria. Bird-watching is a specialty.
The coastline of Pacific Rim National Park is known as "the graveyard of the Pacific." Submerged in the water are dozens of 19th- and 20th-century shipwrecks and the marine life that has taken up residence in them. Underwater interpretive trails help identify what you see in the artificial reefs. If you want to take a look for yourself, contact the Ogden Point Dive Centre (199 Dallas Rd.; tel. 888/701-1177 or 250/380-9119; www.divevictoria.com), which offers a 2-day Race Rocks and Shipwreck Tour package that starts at C$209 per person, including all equipment and transportation. The Saanich Inlet, about a 20-minute drive north of Victoria, is a pristine fjord considered one of the top cold-water diving areas in the world (glass sponges are a rarity found only here). Classes and underwater scuba adventures can be arranged through Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa, Canada's only luxury PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) dive resort.
Saltwater fishing's the thing out here, but unless you know the area, it's best to take a guide. Adam's Fishing Charters (tel. 250/370-2326; www.adamsfishingcharters.com) is located on the Inner Harbour down below the Visitor Info Centre. Chartering a boat and guide starts at C$95 per hour per boat, with a minimum of 5 hours.
To fish, you need a saltwater fishing license. Tackle shops sell licenses, have details on current restrictions, and often carry copies of the BC Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Guide and BC Sport Fishing Regulations Synopsis for Non-Tidal Waters. Independent anglers should also pick up the BC Fishing Directory and Atlas. Robinson's Sporting Goods Ltd. (1307 Broad St.; tel. 250/385-3429) is a reliable source for information, recommendations, lures, licenses, and gear. For the latest fishing hot spots and recommendations on tackle and lures, check out www.sportfishingbc.com. You'll find official fishing information at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.
Victoria's Scottish heritage doesn't stop at the tartan shops. The greens here are as beautiful as those at St. Andrews. The Cedar Hill Municipal Golf Course (1400 Derby Rd.; tel. 250/475-7151; www.golfcedarhill.com), the busiest course in Canada, is an 18-hole, par-67 public course 3km (1 3/4 miles) from downtown Victoria. It's open on a first-come, first-served basis. Golf clubs can be rented, too. The Cordova Bay Golf Course (5333 Cordova Bay Rd.; tel. 250/658-4444; www.cordovabaygolf.com) is northeast of the downtown area. Designed by Bill Robinson, the par-71, 18-hole course features 66 sand traps and some tight fairways as well as short practice and driving range facilities.
The star of Vancouver Island golf courses, and the most expensive to play, is Canada's only 36-hole Nicklaus-designed golf course, located in the foothills of Mount Finlayson: Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa (1999 Country Club Way; tel. 888/533-2327, or 250/744-2327 for tee time bookings). GPS-equipped carts (included with fee) and collared shirts (blue jeans not permitted) are mandatory on this upscale course, which features breathtaking views and a spectacular 19th hole for recreational betting.
Victoria is also the gateway to the Vancouver Island Golf Trail, which boasts 11 exceptional courses as far north as Campbell River. For information and golf packages, call tel. 888/465-3239 or visit www.golfvancouverisland.ca.
Vancouver Island Paragliding (tel. 250/514-8595; www.viparagliding.com) offers tandem paraglide flights. The pilot steers; you hang on and enjoy the adrenaline rush. Flights last around 25 minutes. They also offer 1-day training courses that allow you to take off on your own.
One of the most exciting ways to explore the Strait of Juan de Fuca is aboard the Thane, on a 3-hour sail tour. The multi-mast vessel is a replica of a late 1800s sailing ship, and is moored in front of the Fairmont Empress. Guests are welcome to bring a picnic. Contact the SV Thane (tel. 877/788-4263 or 250/885-2311).
Mount Washington Alpine Resort (Courtenay, BC; tel. 888/231-1499, 250/338-1386, or 250/338-1515 for snow report; www.mountwashington.ca), in the Comox Valley, is British Columbia's third-largest ski area, a 5-hour drive from Victoria, and open year-round (for hiking or skiing, depending on the season). A 480m (1,575-ft.) vertical drop and 50 groomed runs are serviced by four chairlifts and a beginners' tow. The terrain is popular among snowboarders and well suited to intermediate skiers. For cross-country skiers, 31km (19 miles) of track-set Nordic trails connect to Strathcona Provincial Park.
The Crystal Pool & Fitness Centre (2275 Quadra St.; tel. 250/361-0732) is Victoria's main aquatic facility with a 50m (164-ft.) lap pool, children's pool, diving pool, sauna, whirlpool, and steam, weight, and aerobics rooms. Beaver Lake in Elk and Beaver Lake Regional Park has lifeguards on duty, as well as picnicking facilities along the shore.
Surfing has recently taken off on the island. The best surf is along the west coast at China, French, and Mystic beaches. To get there, take Blanshard Street north from downtown, turn left onto Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Hwy.), then after about 10km (6 1/4 miles), take the turnoff onto Highway 14A (Sooke Rd.). Follow Highway 14A north along the coast. The beaches are well signposted.
Windsurfers skim along outside the Inner Harbour and on Elk Lake when the breezes are right. Though French Beach, off Sooke Road on the way to Sooke Harbour, has no specific facilities, it is a popular local windsurfing spot.
Adrenaline Zip Adventures (5128 Sooke Rd., tel. 866/947-9145 or 250/642-1933; www.adrenalinezip.com) leads exhilarating zips through the rainforest from one treetop to another. Riding the wires is a great family excursion, albeit at 46m (151 ft.) off the ground. The company provides shuttle service to and from downtown Victoria and has teamed up with Sooke Coastal Explorations (tel. 250/642-2343; www.sookewhalewatching.com) for whale watching, and Rush Adventures (tel. 250/642-2159; www.ruch-adventures.com) for ocean-kayaking. WildPlay Elements Park also offers ziplining as part of its tree to tree obstacle course.
Information for all of these activities and much more is available through Tourism Victoria (tel. 800/663-3883 or 250/953-2033; www.tourismvictoria.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.