As a beautiful slice of nature very close to Victoria, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park is tough to beat. Packing a lot of highlights into a convenient, manageable package, this wonderful day use area is perfect for families, nature lovers or scenery seekers. A protected seashore park, Witty’s Lagoon offers surprising diversity, with beaches, forest hiking, rocky headlands, marine life, a vast array of birds, fascinating flora and even the Sitting Lady Falls. I feel like I should make some witty comment about the name but it seems almost too obvious, I”m coming up blank. I’ll keep working on it.
Located in the Bilston Creek Watershed, the lagoon is formed where the fresh water from several creeks and rivers meet up with the salt water of Strait of Juan de Fuca. Of course, that’s how it looks today. Millions of years ago the park was actually home to an active seabed volcano. Much, much later, but still around 10,000 years ago, Witty’s Lagoon was settled by a Coast Salish group known as the Ka-Kyaaken. These ancient people left behind 5 fascinating historical sites – 2 fortifications and 3 shell middens – which are all protected by the Heritage Conservation Act.
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Witty’s Lagoon Highlights
The Nature Centre is open from 12 to 4 on weekends and holidays, where CRD Regional Parks staff and volunteer naturalists provide advice, give directions and answer questions. There are interpretive displays that shed light on the lagoon’s history and several brochures to add a little context to your visit.
Sitting Lady Falls
Not far from the parking lot, Witty’s Lagoon waterfall, the Sitting Lady Falls, crashes down off chunks of volcanic rock into the lagoon. There is a short trail that leads over to a perfectly placed viewing platform across from them. They are at there wild best in the winter or after a strong rain, while the water can drop to an underwhelming trickle in the summer months (and they just barely missed the cut in our 9 best waterfalls on Vancouver Island list).
A nice, easy walk through beautiful forest of huge Douglas firs, wild Garry oaks, clusters of big-leaf maples and the spectacular orange-limbed arbutus trees, it is about a 1-kilometre walk down to the beach (and 1 km back, of course). Along the way you’ll pass a scenic salt marsh. This nutrient-filled pond is calm, warm and shallow, created where the fresh water meets the salty ocean water, and is a firm favourite of the large resident bird population. There is a small bridge and a couple of boardwalks, although the trail can still get muddy in spots.
Witty’s Lagoon Beach
This nice, sandy beach offers tremendous views of Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington state across its picturesque waters, as well as the rocky outcroppings of Tower Point and several intriguing islets. On a clear day you should be able to see the Race Rocks Lighthouse, which just happens to mark the southern-most point in all of British Columbia. You can also do some whale watching while enjoying your time on the beach.
The beach itself is littered with fascinating driftwood and the water is typically calm and warm, perfect for swimming. The sand dunes provide a touch of atmosphere and the lagoon is a fun option to the ocean waves. Also, Witty’s Beach can look very different depending on the tide – check the Witty’s Lagoon tide charts ahead – with the beach shrinking to sliver at high tide and sand bars stretching well out at low tide. This is one of the best of Victoria’s swimming beaches. It even features a wheelchair accessible trail in addition to washrooms and picnic areas, although camping on the beach is not permitted.
On the west side of the beach there is a fairly new set of stairs that lead up to Witty’s Beach Road or, if you keep walking past that, you will eventually find yourself on one of Vancouver Island’s few nudist beaches, so consider yourself warned (or informed).
Splitting off from the main trail just before the falls, the Lagoon Trail leads past the Sitting Lady Falls viewing platform down to the lagoon and continues all the way to Tower Point. Passing the lagoon on the opposite side from the beach trail, you will often get a closer look at the local bird life, especially herons which tend to hang out here and feed in the shallows at low tide.
This occasionally muddy trail runs along the lagoon to Parry Bay Beach, from where you will be able to see Tower Point and the Haystock Islets in the mouth of the bay. As you get closer you will often see harbour seals sunbathing on and around these rocky outcroppings.
Reachable along the Lagoon Trail from the Witty’s Lagoon Nature Centre or the shorter Tower Point trail (1.2 km) starting at a small parking lot nearby, Tower Point boasts great views, amazing granite outcroppings, a nice grassy meadow, fascinating tide pools and even a tiny little beach area. There are usually large groups of seals lingering just offshore and during the spring migration they are often joined by sea lions as well. The tide pools are at their best at low tide, when you may spot Hermit crabs and purple starfish. With the water down it is possible to walk almost all the way out to the pillow rock formations of the Haystock Islets. These geologically unique pillow lava basalt formations are around 50 million years old and are created by underwater molten lava.
Probably the best thing to do at Tower Point is simply wander around exploring all the little coves, interesting rocks and weird nooks and crannies. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes if you’re hoping to do any scrambling on the rocks, and if you decide to go swimming, or even just wading, there is a foot washing station back along the trail. If you came via the Lagoon Trail and happen to be there at low tide you will probably be able to save the return hike by crossing directly over to Witty’s Beach.
A favourite with local “twitchers”, over 160 species of birds have been spotted in Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park. It is a popular rest stop for migratory birds gearing up to cross the strait (or taking a break after making it across from the south). Just a few of the most interesting species commonly seen here are osprey, sandpipers, turnstones, belted kingfishers, orange-crowned warblers, Canada geese, great blue herons, surfbirds and dark-eyed juncos.
The lagoon’s calm, shallow water is the perfect place for skimboarding and the soft sand is ideal for those rough landings. In fact, it has played host to a number of major skimboarding competitions and is a favourite of many world-class skimboarders. Conditions are best at low tide.
Witty’s Lagoon Facilities
When you turn off the highway you’ll find two parking lots, followed by the Nature Centre. There is a nearby picnic area and viewpoint overlooking the lagoon and pit toilets near the falls, down near the beach and at Tower Point.
Is Witty’s Lagoon Dog Friendly?
Dogs are not allowed on the beach from June 1st to September 15th. They are allowed to pass by on the trail, however, as long as they are on a leash. Then, from mid-September until the end of May it is a canine free-for-all, as dogs are allowed anywhere, with or without a leash. Interesting choice, but there you have it.
When to Visit Witty’s Lagoon
Anytime is a good time to enjoy this wonderful natural area. Summer is great for enjoying the beach, water sports and swimming. However, it is still beautiful in winter as daytime temperatures usual hover in the high single digits, more than warm enough for hiking and beachcombing. Skimboarding is not reliant on big waves (it’s really the opposite, in fact) and most of the birds and marine life can be seen year-round. If you want to avoid the crowds, visiting early in the morning or late on a weekday is your best bet.
Witty’s Lagoon Directions
Witty’s Lagoon is located in Metchosin 18 km west of Victoria, just off the Old Island Highway (1A) and Sooke Road (search for Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park Nature House on Google Maps). It is a pleasant half-hour drive from downtown Victoria. You take a left off the Metchosin road following signs for Witty’s Lagoon (directly across from Metchosin Golf Course) and the parking area has room for around 50 vehicles.
While you can hike to Tower Point from the Nature Centre, if you want to drive there the turnoff is just east of the main parking area. Search for 3938 Olympic View Drive. There are about 15 parking spots here and in summer they sometimes open up the grass to overflow.
Public Transportation to Witty’s Lagoon
If you don’t have access to a vehicle it is possible to get there by bus from downtown Victoria. You will need to take #50 to Langford, then switch to the #54 Metchosin bus, which can drop you at a stop just outside the park. Going this route will take around an hour and 20 minutes.
Things to Do Near Witty’s Lagoon
Visiting Witty’s is one of the best things to do in Victoria and between the lagoon and Victoria you’ll find Esquimalt Lagoon, a scenic bird sanctuary and popular walking beach next to amazing Hatley Castle. Near there is Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse ($8 per person for both), which are well worth a look for the views and the history.
Continuing farther along the west coast from Witty’s Lagoon there is an impressive series of highlights to add to your Vancouver Island bucket list or road trip.
Witty’s Lagoon Map
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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 and is one of the best things to do in Sooke.
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. Or visit Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park Reserve.
Mount Work Regional Park has great mountain biking, a relatively easy summit hike and three good fishing lakes.
Beach lovers can make a whole day of it, stopping at family-friendly French Beach, Sandcut Beach with its cute waterfall, scenic China Beach, and maybe even check out an even bigger beach waterfall at Mystic Beach (if you are up for the rugged, hilly and muddy 4 km hike to the beach and back).
If you have time to continue on to Port Renfrew there are several more highlights to add to the list, including hikes to Sombrio Beach and Botanical Beach, or visits to Fairy Lake and Avatar Grove.
On your way back to Victoria, the Jordan River is worth a stop to watch the surfers do their thing, and a little farther along, Shirley Delicious is a wonderful little café with snacks and desserts to hold you over until you make it back. Then, of course, Victoria has many great beaches as well, in addition to all its other charms.
Witty’s Lagoon is a terrific combination of natural park and scenic highlight. With its placid lagoon, wind-swept beach, expansive views, picturesque waterfalls and fascinating Nature Centre, it is the kind of place that can keep you (and the whole family) busy all day.
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