It’s August already?! If you feel a bit blindsided by summer’s rapid evaporation, now’s the time to plan those last few excursions to explore the outdoors and soak up some sun! Rest assured that end of summer adventure is just a quick Clipper cruise away from Seattle in the backyard of neighboring Victoria, BC.

With the city as your home base, there’s an impressive lineup of trails to tackle and lakes to lounge by, all within biking or busing distance. So grab a towel, lace up those hiking boots and use our guide to explore these 10 gems in Vancouver Island’s wilderness.

Andrea Darlington
Credit: Andrea Darlington

1. Durrance Lake

A short jaunt up the peninsula from downtown Victoria, you’ll find the sandy-banked oasis of Durrance Lake.

Wander along fern-lined hiking trails that offer stunning views of Mount Work. Or take a dip in the lake to beat the summer heat. There’s no wrong way to while away the day at this local favorite!

2. Matheson Lake

Situated along the region’s beloved Galloping Goose Trail (known by locals as “The Goose”), a visit to Metchosin’s Matheson Lake is the perfect day trip from Victoria.

Rent a bike for the afternoon at The Pedaler (right across from our Victoria terminal!) or BYOB – bikes are allowed aboard the Clipper. Work up a sweat on your way over, then cool down in the lake’s refreshing waters!

Vancouver Island photographer and perpetual explorer Graeme Owsinanski suggests, “Bring some cash because you’re bound to pass some roadside fruit stands where you can grab some fresh picnic supplies for your day in the sun.”

Paul Gorman
Credit: Paul Gorman
Credit: Flickr user YSAG

3. Kingzett Lake aka “The Quarry”

In a true lemons-to-lemonade situation, this long-abandoned limestone quarry slowly filled with water and transformed into a picturesque swimming hole known as “The Quarry.”

Due to its somewhat shallower depths, Kingzett Lake tends to be a warmer choice for a dip. The terraced rocks also provide plenty of flat spaces to lay out and soak up the sun, or, if you’re feeling brave, jump off into the crystal blue water below.

4. Sooke Potholes

Looking for a unique outdoor experience? Head east of Victoria and pay a visit to the Sooke Potholes. Formed millions of years ago, the series of smooth, polished rock pools connected by waterfalls are a far cry from your standard swimming pool.

Hike around the surrounding park for up-close views of the Sooke River or stake out a spot along the potholes’ edge for a little R&R.

Longtime Victoria resident and Clipper travel expert Barbie Zipp adds, “This is a really special spot. The tall trees provide a beautiful canopy – and heat relief! In August, the blackberry bushes in Sooke make for a great little snack break.”

Sooke Potholes_Su-An Ng
Credit: Su-An Ng
Cordova Bay_Mick Hall
Credit: Mick Hall

5. Cordova Bay

Hop on your bike and follow the Lochside Regional Trail up north to Cordova Bay for an afternoon of beach strolls, paddle boarding, picnics and sun bathing. (Swimming is also on the menu here, though it’s not for the faint of heart as the bay feeds directly into the chilly waters of the Haro Strait!)

Work up an appetite on the ride over? Pop over to The Beach House Restaurant for a lunch of halibut fish tacos or a crisp seafood salad. Yum!

6. Thetis Lake

With deep, cool waters and a sprawling sandy shoreline, Thetis Lake Regional Park is a spot the whole family will love. Bring some local treats to take advantage of the park’s picnic area, stroll along the lakeside perimeter trail and then wade into the lake’s mild waters.

Victoria native and Clipper’s knowledgeable assistant terminal manager, Brendan Fletcher, adds, “Thetis is the closest lake to the city and is the swimming spot of choice for locals as the water is much warmer than the ocean. If you want to get away from the crowds, it’s easy to hike around and find a nice private spot to hang out.”

Thetis Lake_Robin Sutherland
Credit: Robin Sutherland
Credit: Evan Leeson

7. Witty’s Lagoon

If you’re up for a longer adventure, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park is a must-visit. Head east from Victoria and make stops at Fisgard Lighthouse and Hatley Castle on your way over for a well-rounded day of exploration.

The lagoon is fed by the ocean and can be on the chilly side, but after the 23-minute hike down to its banks, you’ll be ready to at least give your toes a dip. Bonus points for swinging by the park’s nature center to study up on the area’s abundant flora and fauna!

8. Goldstream Provincial Park

Boasting lush evergreen forests, hikes for all skill levels and ample opportunities for wildlife-spotting, Goldstream Provincial Park is a heavy-hitter when it comes to outdoorsy offerings. Make the less than one-mile trek to the park’s own Niagara Falls, so named as they are nearly the same height as their East Coast cousin.

For more jaw-dropping views, brave the vertical path to summit Mount Finlayson for unparalleled vistas of the surrounding peaks. (Inside Tip: Goldstream is a particularly convenient destination for guests of Westin Bear Mountain!)

Fletcher elaborates, “When I play tour guide, this is on the top of my list. If it’s the right time of year you’ll be able to catch the salmon run, and with the salmon come the eagles. It’s a breathtaking scene!”

Niagara Falls Goldstream_Jordan Tieszen
Credit: Jordan Tieszen
Swan Lake_Kathleen Margaret
Credit: Kathleen Margaret

9. Swan Lake and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary

Calling all animal lovers! Located north of downtown, the lake-turned-urban-refuge of Swan Lake and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary offers ample opportunity for wildlife sightings, along with an array of native plant species.

Hop on a city bus and take your time exploring their extensive network of lakeside trails and floating wooden boardwalks. Then, duck into The Nature House for hands-on displays, a live bee “house,” natural history reading room and more.

10. Elk Lake

North of Victoria on the scenic Saanich Peninsula, Elk Lake is an ideal spot to beat the heat. Spend a sunny day swimming in its cool blue waters, hiking around its perimeter or kick off your shoes and enjoy one of four sandy beaches.

Feeling adventurous? Grab a paddle and hit the lake for kayaking or canoeing. Canada’s Olympic Rowing team uses these waters for training, which is a pretty solid endorsement.

Zipp suggests taking the Lochside Trail to the lake, “I have a seven-speed bike and am not particularly athletic so takes me just over an hour…a little longer if I stop at Mattick’s Farms along the way for a treat!”

Elk Lake_Bill 2 Million
Credit: Flickr user Bill 2 Million

With so many natural wonders to explore, Vancouver Island is the perfect summer escape to unleash the adventurer in you. Whether you’re looking to scale a mountain, walk to a waterfall or lay out lakeside, it’s all within reach from BC’s capital city.


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Featured image: Matt Ferguson