Spending a couple of nights on Pender Island was the perfect local getaway from Victoria during COVID times!
We camped at Shingle Bay Campground, on North Pender, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and is technically backcountry camping. I would say it’s somewhere between car camping and “backcountry”; the campground is only a couple minutes walk (0.24 km) down a hill from the parking lot, but it’s downhill – a steep one at that – so remember to think about carting your stuff back up! You’ll probably want to try for two trips from the car, rather than 5! For example, we only brought down the food and supplies we’d need for each day, and then brought a load up the next morning to exchange for whatever we’d need that day. Of course you can run up to grab things here and there; you’ll get your workout in!
There are no bears to worry about, but you’ll want to store food safely in a tub, in case of other hungry critters! There’s no potable water, so you’ll need to BYOW (you can always refill or buy elsewhere on the island), but there’s a pit toilet.
We were still a little sleepy when we rolled off the ferry, so we stopped for coffee and breakfast goodies at the Sturdies Bay Bakery and Cafe – they are just seconds from the ferry terminal, and their massive, famous cinnamon buns are delicious!
The first item on our gay agenda was to check out the Instafamous sand caves, but there was a sign by the road that leads out to them saying that they were closed. I assume this is to reduce crowds during COVID-19; we thought about trying to venture further, but decided not to be those jerks. It said it was closed, so that was that.
We kept driving to check out Lovers Leap Viewpoint in Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, which offers a nice view of nearby islands. It may not be worth the drive out just for the viewpoint (it’s small, and similar to the kind of views you get all over the Gulf Islands), but it’s pretty if you’re already heading out that way to do some hiking. We also made a quick stop at Tapovan Sri Chimnoy Peace Park, a set of forest hiking trails dedicated to an Indian spiritual leader and meditation teacher. We quickly discovered it was a bit of a climb, and since I hadn’t changed out of my Birkenstocks (#classiclesbian), we headed back to the car and decided to continue on our day’s true quest: the search for the perfect hammock spot.
Start at: the beginning of the Lochside Trail, at the Switch Bridge by Uptown Mall. You can also make your way to Borden and McKenzie, and hop on the trail there (follow the bike path north on Borden, towards Lochside Drive). From the start of the Lochside Trail at the Switch Bridge, this bike ride is about 48 km roundtrip, or just under an hour and a half each way, depending on your speed.
What will you see along the way?
The Lochside Trail will quickly have you feeling like you’re far from the city; soon after you cross McKenzie, you’ll start to pass farms! Depending on the time of year, many of them will have stands along the trail, so be sure to bring some cash and leave room in your saddle bags (or belly). You’ll meander along Lochside Drive through the upscale Cordova Bay neighbourhood, where you can check out the plants on landscaped lawns, and where gaps between homes give you glimpses of the ocean and mainland mountains.
Mattick’s Farm, about a half hour in and with plenty of shops, a Red Barn market, and a small restaurant, is a great place for a lunch break.
At times the path is peacefully tree-lined, and at others it’ll open up again as you ride between wide open farm fields. Keep an eye out for a couple of pigs, just past the model airpark (VRCMS Flying Field), and keep in mind that you may share the trail with riders on horseback from nearby stables and riding schools! (Also, keep an eye out for horse “manure” along the trail!)
After passing Michell’s Farm, the trail follows the highway for a bit, and eventually back past gorgeous ocean view homes, and ocean views themselves! As you approach Sidney, you’ll be biking along the sea; obviously it’s a super nice ride!
Destination: Sidney ‘By the Sea’, BC. Sidney is a town with a population of close to 12000, and a median age of 60. Maybe not the place to go for a wild night out, but a great spot for a day trip! There are lots of shops and restaurants. It’s especially known for its bookstores; there are 6 of them, which has given Sidney its ‘booktown’ nickname! Also known as ‘Sidney by the Sea’, it’s the right place to go for a stroll along the Waterfront Walkway, check out the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea (a non profit aquarium), pick up some fresh fish at Satellite Fish Co. market, or eat some that’s already been cooked at one of the waterfront restaurants.
The Sidney Bakery is really well-known and for good reason. It happened to be closed the day I visited, so I got to try some delicious squares at Quince Bakery instead! You can’t go too wrong with baked good, IMO 😉 Thirsty? Grab a drink at Victoria Distillers!
Want to extend your trip? If you still have energy/feeling in your legs, you may want to stop at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse or Island View Beach along the way keep, or keep riding to the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay for trips further afield, like Vancouver or the Gulf Islands.
Details: how long, how far, how much will my bum hurt? If you’re a normal human, your bum will probably hurt a lot! That said, compared to most bike rides in and around Victoria, this trail is pretty much FLAT! From the start of the Lochside Trail at the Switch Bridge, this bike ride is about 48 km roundtrip, or about an hour and a half each way, depending on your speed. Remember to bring a full water bottle, as fountains along the way may be closed.
You can download a CRD Bike Map here, or pick one up at most tourism-related businesses.
You want to check out one of the Southern Gulf Islands but you only have one day to spare… is that enough time? Obviously, the more time on a peaceful island the better, but you can absolutely do a lot on Saturna in a short time. I recently took a solo day trip there, and had about about 6 hours to spend between ferry trips.
There are lots of options for Saturna. I’ll give you a sample itinerary, based on how I spent my day, with suggestions for alternatives (i.e. for packing more into your day than I did)!
Start at: the beginning of the Lochside Trail, at the Switch Bridge by Uptown Mall. You can also make your way to Borden and McKenzie, and hop on the trail there (follow the bike path north on Borden, towards Lochside Drive). From the start of the Lochside Trail at the Switch Bridge, this bike ride is about 34 km roundtrip, or about an hour each way, depending on your speed.
Not every bike ride has to have a boozy reward at the end… but you have to admit, it’s nice when it does! Cycling the Lochside Trail to Sea Cider is probably my favourite bike ride close to Victoria. It’s flat, the changing scenery is interesting, and… you already know it… cider! Delicious, local, organically-grown, refreshing cider.
Start at: the beginning of the Lochside Trail, at the Switch Bridge by Uptown Mall. You can also make your way to Borden and McKenzie, and hop on the trail there (follow the bike path north on Borden, towards Lochside Drive). From the start of the Lochside Trail at the Switch Bridge, this bike ride is about 38 km roundtrip, or just over an hour each way, depending on your speed.
What will you see along the way? The Lochside Trail will quickly have you feeling like you’re far from the city; soon after you cross McKenzie, you’ll start to pass farms! Depending on the time of year, many of them will have stands along the trail, so be sure to bring some cash and leave room in your saddle bags (or belly). You’ll meander along Lochside Drive through the upscale Cordova Bay neighbourhood, where you can check out the plants on landscaped lawns, and where gaps between homes give you glimpses of the ocean and mainland mountains.
Visiting one (or more) of the beaches along the Juan de Fuca coast on Vancouver Island is the perfect way to spend a day trip from Victoria. While they each have unique draws (e.g. Mystic Beach starts with a great hike through the forest, Botanical is known for its tide pools and rock formations), they’re also similar enough that you could spend the day at any one of them without fear of missing out. Heads up: if you have a rental car, Sombrio may not be the best choice for you! Read on. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to head to Sombrio Beach for the day:
We spent a relaxing anniversary weekend in Tofino a couple years ago, and top of our list was visiting Hot Springs Cove. It’s the place to go for a relaxing few hours’ dip in some natural, spring-fed hot pools right by the ocean! Considering how special they are, they’re a little tricky to get to. Here’s how to do it, and what to expect:
The hot springs are only reachable by boat and float plane, so booking a day tour was the best option for us (uncomplicated = relaxing). Plus, since we visited in the off-season, rates were reduced! We went with Ocean Outfitters, and had a great experience.
The boat ride to the hot springs technically only takes about an hour, but the trip doubles as a wildlife viewing tour. In the fall/winter, there isn’t much in the way of whale-viewing, although we did see a grey whale! There are always plenty of seals and sea lions en route, but the big one for me was SEA OTTERS! We kept passing groups of blobs floating nearby. I thought it was bull kelp, but it was SO MUCH BETTER! (Btw the captain made it clear that they are *not* holding hands because they’re in love! </3) Depending on the season, you can also see whales, bears, and puffins.
The ride is rocky!! Bring meds if you’re prone to sea sickness, because you’ll probably go via the open ocean in at least one direction for better wildlife spotting.
The boats dock about 2 kms from the hot springs, which leaves you with about a half hour walk to bliss. This is all part of the trip! The mostly flat boardwalk leads you through one of those reliably magnificent Pacific Northwest rainforests. Kyla and I were inspired by NOT having to wear massive backpacks like we had on the Juan de Fuca Trail, so we raced along, eager to warm up!
You’ll know you’ve reached the cove once you smell the sulphur! There’s a covered area at the top of the hot springs where you can store your stuff, as well as two changing stalls. You’ll need to bring your own food and water for the day.
The rocks are slippery, so get low and go slow! Water shoes would work well, too. There are hotter pools near the top, and as you get closer to the ocean, they start to feel more like a warm bath. We climbed past everyone else to the pièce de résistance: the closest pool to the ocean, where we had front row seats to waves crashing against the rocks just a few feet away! Kyla even climbed to a shallow spot that *she claimed* was warm, where she’d get a blast of cold every time the waves came in.
If you have a waterproof camera, I’d recommend bringing that down instead of a phone. (Like, we obviously shouldn’t have brought ours down, but pictures! They were fine but they had to dry out after 2 hours of rain and steam!)
Since we were there on a long weekend, it was busy. Despite all of the people there, it still felt romantic! We visited at the right time of year: hot pools and cool, rainy air were such a cozy combo. After a couple of hours soaking, we felt sooo relaxed (and sooo tired). We hurried back through the forest to meet our boat, and dozed on the way back.
Anyway, scroll those lists and pages for drag, workshops and panels, youth events, nights out, alt pride, outdoor events, and more. Here are the events I’m most looking forward to this year (warning: a few more than 5 may find their way in)!