Located just outside Victoria, 536-hectare Mount Work Regional Park is one of the more popular recreation areas for hiking, picnicking and lake activities within easy reach of the city. It is right next to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, opening up all sorts of other outdoor options. Now, with a max elevation of just 449 metres, the term “mount” is maybe a bit generous but the hike up will definitely still get your heart pumping and the views are fabulous.
Part of the Saanich Peninsula highlands, Mount Work is included in the Gowlland Tod mountain range. It is one of the largest regional parks in BC, features three excellent lakes and some lush, varied forest (plenty of Douglas fir, red cedar, maple, arbutus and alder). Along with the terrific hiking, there is an impressive network of mountain biking trails, some interesting wildlife (including red-backed salamanders, banded snails and disgusting banana slugs) and lots of lake activities like fishing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.
Mount Work is, strangely enough, named after a former big kahuna with the Hudson’s Bay Company by the name of John Wark. But wait, you say, “Wark” isn’t “Work”. No, it certainly is not. However, after originally going by his actual name, which makes sense, eventually the ever image conscious HBC decided “Work” better symbolized the extremely Anglican values they wished to portray, and suddenly the confusingly ethnic “Mount Wark” was no longer. Nonetheless, it is a nice park. It is open daily from sunrise to sunset although, unfortunately, there is no camping or fires allowed in the park.
Mount Work Map
Mount Work Hikes
There are 11 kilometres of dog-friendly forest hiking trails scattered throughout the park, some of which are also shared with bikers and horses. A few are a bit rugged with roots and mud so you should always wear proper hiking footwear and, since a lot of the moss and undergrowth is sensitive, always stay on the marked trails.
The views from the summit are absolutely worth the climb on either of the two trails leading up to the top. Both trails have occasionally challenging portions as they lead through rocky, glacier-formed terrain up through thick forest.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Mount Work?
The most direct route will take about an hour (one-way), but some people extend the hike by going down the back side and turning it into a bit of a loop (usually around 3 hrs in total).
Via McKenzie Bight
Starting from the main entrance and the main Mount Work parking lot near Durrance Lake and Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, the main summit trail is 5.5 kilometres (total) with 300 metres of elevation gain. The trail is well-marked with pretty good variety, starting out on a wide, flat multi-use trail (watch out for mountain bikers) through heavy forest before getting steeper and steeper as you climb, with the forest thinning out and fascinating twisted arbutus trees becoming more noticeable.
The last stretch is quite steep, leading to a pair of superb viewpoints overlooking the entire park and much of the Saanich highlands. The first viewpoint is on a rocky bluff just off the trail to your right near the top with views west to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. To reach the second, you continue on past the summit (marked with a large, obvious plaque) as the trail descends, soon coming out of the trees to a rocky section with extraordinary views south over the rolling hills of Saanich. From there, you can retrace your steps or turn it into a loop by following some of the mountain biking trails shown on AllTrails, just keep an eye out for bikes racing through.
Via Munn Road
The summit trail from Munn Road is slightly easier, at just 4.5 km with 250m of elevation gain. The trailhead is also located closer to Victoria, making it a popular choice for people visiting mainly to reach the viewpoints. It also leads through nice, mossy forests but features a marshy section with boardwalks passing around Fork Lake (which is just outside the park).
Accessible loop trail at Munn Road entrance
If you still have some energy left after your climb to the summit, there is a short 600-metre loop trail starting from the Munn Road trailhead. Smooth gravel and nearly flat, it passes through a wonderful mix of big trees and small shrubs, as well as a lot of atmospheric moss and a bevy of wildflowers (in spring and summer).
Durrance Lake Loop
This pleasant, relatively flat trail is a 2.3 km circuit around this pretty little lake that is just a couple minutes drive from the McKenzie Bight trailhead. The north side of the lake is accessible on smooth gravel, then you circle around the boggy eastern corner (where plenty of birds and wildlife hang out) and the trail changes to a slightly more challenging forest trail (expect roots and mud).
Mount Work Mountain Biking
The Mount Work-Hartland section covers the eastern slopes of Mount Work and is one of the best mountain biking areas in the Victoria region. There is a wide range of terrain from rolling hills to technical singletrack, as well as some rough, rocky sections. Known affectionately as “The Dump”, Hartland features 85 trails, covering more than 46 km and over 2,000 total metres of elevation change. Winding their way through classic West Coast forest full of Douglas fir, cedar and arbutus trees, this awesome collection of trails is open year-round (although expect to get pretty wet in winter).
The trails are marked from green (easy) to blue (moderate) and black (difficult), with the majority falling into the intermediate category (although there is one proline trail rated expert-only). For more info and to plan out your route, check out the South Island Mountain Bike Society’s Hartland trail map online for the Mount Work bike trails.
Fishing and Swimming at Durrance Lake
What Durrance Lake lacks in size it more than makes up for as an ideal swimming hole (deep and calm but with sandy, gradual entrance points) and prime fishing location. The tranquility is not disturbed by large gas motors as only electric motors are allowed on Durrance Lake, along with canoes and kayaks. It is a great place to catch both rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as smallmouth bass, perch, pumpkinseeds and prickly sculpins.
Located not far from the main park entrance, Pease Lake is a little-known gem. It is mostly surrounded by homes but it is still possible to fish, swim or enjoy the placid waters on a personal floatie.
Near the Hartland entrance, Killarney Lake is another small, quiet spot with some underrated fishing. It is a nice place to get away from the crowds on busy summer weekends. There are several small trails leading around the lake and into the nearby forests.
How to Get to Each Entrance
Mount Work is located around a half-hour drive from downtown Victoria, making it one of the handier lakes to visit from the city. Take the Patricia Bay Highway (#17) north to the West Saanich Road exit. Follow this to Wallace Drive and take a left on Willis Point Road. After that, you will pass Durrance Lake (on your right) and soon after you take a left on Ross-Durrance Road, leading you to the park entrance on your left. There is a large parking area, toilets and an information kiosk.
Durrance Lake Entrance
Follow the directions above to Willis Point Road but you will take a right on Durrance Close before reaching Ross Durrance Road. Durrance Lake has a very small parking lot, although it also possible to park along Willis Point Road. There is a boat launch, accessible fishing pier, accessible toilet, beach, picnic area and even an emergency phone (for emergencies).
Munn Road Entrance
Follow the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) from downtown Victoria and take the #14 exit to Millstream Lake Road. Follow this for around 6 km, then stay right at the fork and after 2 more kilometres you will see the parking lot on the left. Munn Road has a fair bit of parking space, three of which are accessible, plus an accessible toilet and an info kiosk.
Follow the main entrance directions to West Saanich Road but turn left onto Hartland Avenue (well before reaching Wallace Drive), which leads to the park entrance on the right. The Hartland entrance has a decent amount of parking, another information kiosk, accessible toilets and emergency phone.
Hartland Entrance is the only one served by public transportation. Take BC Transit bus #83 from the Royal Oak Exchange to West Saanich Road at Hartland Road. Check the BC Transit online schedule for up-to-date information.
In Goldstream Provincial Park you can visit the unbelievable Niagara Falls, just a 10-minute walk from the recreation area parking lot. A little farther up a second trail is the Goldstream Trestle, another impressive structure, although keep in mind there are no safety railings on this one.
Near Victoria you’ll find Esquimalt Lagoon, a scenic bird sanctuary, popular walking beach, Hatley Castle, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse ($8 per person for both), and a second important estuary in Witty’s Lagoon, only about a 10-minute drive west from Esquimalt. Along with yet more birds, it also features picturesque Sitting Lady Falls, spectacular Tower Point, lots of harbour seals and is popular with skimboarders. There are also several other excellent beaches in Victoria you can check out.
The Sooke Potholes are a series of interesting rapids, pools and small waterfalls on the Sooke River. They are actually 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. Nearby Mary Vine Creek waterfall, on the other hand, is at its roaring, frothing best after a big rain.
There are a lot of scenic hiking trails in East Sooke Park, with the East Sooke Coast Trail, in particular, considered by many (including us) to be one of the best day hikes in British Columbia.
Beaches Along the Coast
If you have enough time to explore the amazing southern coast of the Vancouver Island, there is a long string of terrific beaches west of Sooke. Family-friendly French Beach has a great picnic and play area, while quiet Sandcut Beach is known for its adorable little beach waterfall. Jordan River is a hardcore surfing spot but there is also a decent beach at low tide. Farther along you can check out beautiful China Beach or tackle the rugged 4 km hike to visit a much larger beach waterfall at Mystic Beach. Surfer favourite Sombrio Beach features a spectacular hidden waterfall and next to Port Renfrew you will find the superb tide pools of Botanical Beach.
For natural attractions and proximity to Victoria, Mount Work Park is hard to beat. Whether you want to hike up to some spectacular viewpoints, stick to some easy strolls, tackle some of the island’s best mountain biking or hit the water for some swimming or fishing, this tremendously varied park has a little something for everyone.
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