Vancouver Island is a laced with tremendous hiking trails but one of the most impressive areas is East Sooke Park, which is conveniently located just about half an hour west of Victoria. East from the town of Sooke, I guess. The East Sooke Park Coast Trail is one of the best day hikes in all of British Columbia (and arguably Canada), but there are several more great routes as well – 60 km of trails in total – all catering to different fitness levels and time constraints. And even if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still access plenty of great scenery and other attractions.
East Sooke Regional Park
This is 1,435 hectares of true west coast wilderness, all the more surprising for its close proximity to a major city. One of East Sooke Regional Park’s biggest selling points is its incredible variety. While the wild, rugged coastal scenery is pretty unbeatable, you don’t have to walk far to find yourself deep in temperate rainforest among mossy stands of cedars, firs, pines and shiny red arbutus trees. There are tiny beaches, fascinating tide pools and insane views across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic Mountains of Washington. Visitors often spot offshore marine life such as orcas, Grey whales, sea lions and harbour seals, not to mention a vast array of birds and small sea life. The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset (no camping allowed) and is free to enter. Most people should have a decent cell signal throughout the park, although you should make sure you turn your data roaming off or you may accidentally end up connected to an American network and stuck with U.S. roaming charges (speaking for a friend).
There are three main access points to the different hikes in the area – Aylard Farm, Anderson Cove and Pike Road. Even though we just mention which one is used for each trail, don’t worry, we’ll give details on how to get to all of them in a separate section near the end.
East Sooke Park Hikes
Even though there are a couple of beaches and easily accessible viewpoints, the main reason to visit East Sooke Regional Park is for the hiking. There is plenty of variety, but keep in mind that even the easy hikes can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared or paying enough attention. Especially when hiking along the coastline you need to be aware of the changing tides and take care on the steep, rocky cliffs and slippery, muddy forest sections. And never get so caught up posing for that “majestically gazing out to sea while standing on a cool rock” photo that you fail to notice the vicious rogue wave heading your way.
The Star Attraction – East Sooke Park Coast Trail
East Sooke Coast Trail (out and back)
21 km (10.5 km each way) / 8-9 hrs / 650m
This is the full version and most famous East Sooke Park hike, which will ensure you don’t miss an inch of this spectacular coastal trail. It is well-marked with yellow squares and sometimes arrows in the more confusing spots.
Another incredible west coast hike to check out:
This amazing coastal East Sooke trail runs along the edge of the vast, blue expanse of the Juan de Fuca Strait. On clear days you can see across to the impressive Olympic mountains of Washington state and, regardless of what the sky looks like, the rocky, fascinating coastline is a memorable experience. Constantly leading you up and down as you follow the jagged coastline, you’ll pass tiny, secluded beaches, stunning rocky bays and hundreds of intriguing tide pools for the marine lover in you, all combined with fresh sea breezes and the mesmerizing crash of ocean waves. Keep an eye on the water to spot sea lions, harbour seals and a variety of whales, depending on the season (Grey whales are most common in March and April as they pass by on their way up to Alaska). Outside of high tide you should be able to check out some of the beaches, although you should always take care when scrambling over the rocks (slippery when wet, just like the floor at Safeway). The trail also passes over quite a few steep narrow sections where, although they wouldn’t necessarily qualify as “treacherous”, you definitely don’t want to find out what will happen if you fall.
About 2.5 kilometres into the trail you’ll reach Alldridge Point (yes, there is apparently supposed to be two l’s), where you can see some fascinating First Nations petroglyphs. They are protected architectural artifacts and Alldridge Point has been designated as a Provincial Heritage Site since 1927.
Roughly the same distance farther on is Beechy Head, one of the most scenic sections of the entire trail. Despite a steady barrage of waves, its sharp, dramatic rock formations persevere (and continue to star in daily Instagram posts). Beechy Head is also known as one of the best places to observe hawks during their annual fall migration.
Cabin Point (6 km in) is as far as you’ll get on the coast during this version of the hike, but it is certainly a worthy finale. The rocks, the bay, the marine life, the views of the strait are all terrific. However, it also features a traditional trapping cabin. Oh-hoh, that name is actually literal? You bet it is, although the building itself is actually a modern recreation of what “trap shacks” looked like when they were last in use in the 1930’s, but chances are that won’t really affect your ability to enjoy it.
Next up is the Park Heights Viewpoint (roughly 8 km in), another in a series of extraordinary photo spots, where it is worth climbing down to the shoreline for a closer look. Then you’ll finish up at (or start from) wonderful Iron Mine Bay (which is described in eloquent detail under the Easy Hikes below).
It will definitely take all day to hike from one end to the other and back, but at least there are 3 separate rest areas along the way and one designated picnic area just west of Beechy Head. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water as the rough, up-and-down trail always takes people longer than they expect (especially if you have one of those special phones allow you to stop repeatedly to take pictures). It is a good training hike for the West Coast Trail or the Juan de Fuca Marine trail in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
If you have you 2 vehicles you could leave one at the far end, which would reduce the total hiking distance to around 12 km (the extra 1.5 km is from the coast to the Pike Road parking area). Some people trade keys (no, not like that) and hike in opposite directions, driving the other vehicle back to a meeting point afterwards. Or, like us, you can do some of the following hikes to see the whole coast on multiple hikes.
East Sooke Coast Interior Loop
8 km / 3 hrs / 230m
If you want to experience the sensational Coast Trail but aren’t up to an 8-9 hour adventure and don’t have a second vehicle handy to pick you up at the end, then a good choice is the East Sooke Coast Interior Loop. It takes you along some of the best stretches of coastline (between Alylard Farm and Cabin Point), combined with a nice forest walk back (or from) the parking lot.
You will enjoy all the coast highlights as far as Cabin Point, then the trail leads inland away from the ocean and into the wild forest full of huge hemlock firs and atmospheric ferns, with a thick layer of moss further adding to the jungle feel. The trail remains fairly rocky, rooty and uneven but the scenery is now moody and shaded. Here and there you’ll have to scramble up and down some rocky outcroppings, eventually emerging back at the Aylard Farm parking lot. Of course, some choose to do this route in reverse, saving the dramatic coastline for the end. We would recommend making your decision based on the weather forecast and local tide chart. This is the option we picked for our first hike in the park. We hiked it in the summer and were very happy that we brought lots of water and food as it really does take longer than you would think – the coastal part is relatively slow going.
Access: Aylard Farm
6 km / 2 hrs / 230m
The Anderson Cove to Mount Maguire trail is a steep and occasionally rough trail that climbs through the forest up to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula. It is well known for its extensive bird life, including eagles, hawks and turkey vultures. You can do the hike as an out-and-back to the viewpoint or turn it into a loop by adding in some of the other small trails shown on AllTrails or the park map.
Access: Anderson Cove
8 km / 3.5 hrs / 370m
Babbington Hill is one of the best viewpoints in the park, not quite as high but slightly more panoramic than Mount Maguire. It can be reached in a number of ways, although the loop shown here combines the Cabin Point section of the Coast Trail from in the Interior Loop, with the added climb to the top of Babbington Hill, where you will, once again, enjoy awesome views of the strait and the distant Olympic Mountains. You can easily make the hike longer by heading down to the coast earlier, adding a couple of kilometres but spending more time on the scenic coast.
The Easy Ones
Creyke Point Loop
1.5 km / 30 min / flat
A terrific warm-up, the easy Creyke Point Loop takes you directly to outstanding views of Becher Bay. It is a smooth, gravel trail that is mostly flat, passing through farmland and forest but does provide some good ocean views from a rest shelter on the coast. There is an accessible toilet at both ends of the trail, as well as picnic areas. This is a great choice of a East Sooke Park hiking trail for families as kids will enjoy the beach area.
Access: Aylard Farm
Pike Road to Iron Mine Bay
The starting point near a major condo construction project is perhaps a little underwhelming but you soon drop into the forest and leave the graders and power drills behind. Another smooth gravel trail with gradual slopes, it passes through some gorgeous rain forest until you reach picturesque Iron Mine Bay. From there, you can follow the short but steep trail down to the beach. This is the shortest way to access some coast hiking. We chose this option the second time we hiked in the park as it was a beautiful day and we wanted to spend as much time on the coast as possible.
Access: Pike Road
If you want to extend your hike, you can take the trail that continues from the west side of Iron Mine Bay beach and follow it along the side of the bay. When you reach the end there is a variety of excellent viewpoints, as well as a pretty good collection of rocks to clamber around to find just the perfect rest point (fairly flat but high enough that your knees aren’t up around your chest).
Access: Pike Road
Finally, as you can tell from the map, it is also possible to hike directly to the coast in a few different spots for a short out-and-back or creating your own loop. Be creative!
How do you get to East Sooke Park?
There are three main access points to the park, so you will need to decide which one makes the most sense depending on what you have planned for the day. Here are the East Sooke Park directions to each of the entrances.
The most popular and family-friendly starting point, Aylard Farm has an information kiosk, accessible toilet, over 70 parking spots (including 4 accessible spots), a picnic shelter that seats 8 and an outside picnic table. It also has large fields and sandy beaches, perfect for the kiddos.
To get there, follow the Trans-Canada Highway from Victoria and take the Colwood exit onto the Old Island Highway, which becomes Highway 14 (aka Sooke Road). Take a left on Gillespie Road, another left on East Sooke Road and go right on Becher Bay Road which will lead you to the parking lot. There is no public transportation to this entrance.
This is the starting point for the Mount Maguire and Babbington Hill hikes, as well as a variety of other interior options. The parking lot is considerably smaller than Aylard Farm with room for just 20 or so vehicles. There are accessible toilets but not much else here in the way of facilities.
To reach Anderson Cove, follow the same directions as above except turn right onto East Sooke Road and continue until you reach the parking area on your left. Conveniently, this trailhead is on the BC Transit loop, serviced by the #64 East Sooke bus from 17 Mile House to East Sooke Road. Less conveniently, this route only runs on weekdays (although always check the latest schedule to be sure).
The parking lot here is similar in size to Anderson Cove (20 vehicles) but has an information kiosk (if there is anything you still need to learn after reading this post). Very few people choose this trailhead so it is the place to go for added seclusion.
To get there you follow the directions to Anderson Cove, then continue past that parking lot, eventually taking a left onto Pike Road. You’ll easily find the parking area because the road simply ends there. There is no public transportation to this trailhead.
Places to See Near East Sooke Park
One of Canada’s most beautiful cities, Victoria has a great wharf area, many historic buildings, nice parks and a surprising selection of outstanding beaches.
The charming city of Sooke is about a 30-minute drive (20 km) west from Aylard Farm. While the town itself is worth a wander with a few interesting things to do, you should also venture up to see the Sooke Potholes. This set of rapids, pools and small waterfalls on the Sooke River are at their most scenic in the summer when the river is lower because in the rainy season the water gets up so high that the “potholes” actually disappear, although they are still worth seeing any time of year. Nearby Mary Vine Creek waterfall, on the other hand, is at its wild best after a big rain (when it qualifies as one of the best waterfalls on Vancouver Island, in our not so humble opinion).
About halfway to East Sooke Park if driving from downtown Victoria you’ll find a beautiful short hike to the top of Mill Hill. Flying under the radar compared to some of the more popular hills (which Islanders like to name “mountains”) in the area, Mill Hill Regional Park is a nice off the beaten path choice with amazing views of the area and the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Mount Work Regional Park
With some of the best mountain biking on the southern part of the island, a terrific summit hike and three great little lakes with excellent fishing, Mount Work Regional Park is an ideal getaway just a short drive from Victoria.
One of the more fascinating spots in the greater Victoria area, Esquimalt Lagoon is a hugely popular bird sanctuary. Popular with bird lovers, bird watchers and the hundreds of species of birds that frequent it themselves. Full of contrasts, though, Esquimalt also has a long beach, a couple good forest hikes, an 800-year old Douglas fir tree, over 50 intricate driftwood sculptures (mainly of birds, but occasionally of a strange ogre/demon combination) and, obviously, a famous castle. That’s right, Hatley Castle, of X-Men and Deadpool fame, overlooks the lagoon. I assume you’re intrigued now.
Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse
Picture-perfect Fisgard Lighthouse, just to the east of Esquimalt Lagoon, is close enough that it can be seen from Esquimalt Lagoon beach. It is part of the Fort Rodd Hill complex and is recognized as a Canadian National Historic Site. The entrance is just up back up Ocean Road a few hundred metres and the entrance fee is $8/person (although it is covered by the Parks Canada Discover Pass if you have one of those). The fort is pretty interesting in its own right but we thought the lighthouse was great, situated out on the end of a tiny, rocky peninsula. Inside the lighthouse is a small museum and some slightly different views (although when we were there you couldn’t go all the way to the top). Oh, by the way, it is still in use, although it has been automated since 1929 so don’t expect to run into any crusty old lighthouse keepers (other than the ones you already know, of course).
The second important estuary in the area, Witty’s Lagoon is only about a 10-minute drive west from Esquimalt and, in addition to the expected quota of bird species, also features picturesque Sitting Lady Falls, spectacular Tower Point, lots of harbour seals and, sometimes, even skimboarders. If you know what that is, then you’re probably pretty surprised. If you don’t, you probably should be.
West of Sooke
There is also long string of terrific beaches between Sooke and Port Renfrew, including surfer favourite Sombrio Beach with its spectacular hidden waterfall, isolated Mystic Beach and its impressive beach waterfall, Sandcut Beach and its similar (but smaller) beach waterfall, the tide pools at Botanical Beach, plus popular China Beach, family-friendly French Beach and the big surfing area around the Jordan River.
East Sooke Park is one of the best hiking areas in the Victoria area, and that is truly saying something. The Coast Trail offers a combination of challenging trail and phenomenal scenery that every avid hiker should find a way to experience. But the park is also a great place for picnics, wildlife spotting or even just lounging on the beach, which is why it should feature on every Vancouver Island road trip or travel itinerary.
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