Reflecting on our favourite hikes, we often think horizontal – maybe a lap around Swan Lake or Rithet’s Bog, or an easy stroll along the Gorge Waterway or Colquitz Creek.
But when you’re in the mood for something a little more challenging, it’s time to think vertical!
“These trails are a great alternative to the treadmill at the gym, tracks or sidewalks, with the added benefit of getting some fresh air and enjoying our beautiful natural environment,” says Scott Parfitt, Park Use Coordinator, sharing some of his favourite Saanich climbs. “Do these at a pace that’s comfortable for you and within your ability, and enjoy!”
1. Cedar Hill Golf Course Trail:
Approximately 80 metres at its highest point and offering lots of ascents and descents, this accessible 3.5km loop in the Doncaster / Blenkinsop / Finlayson area is popular with walkers and runners. A good choice for all fitness levels, with the trail surface a mix of chip and gravel, those looking for a shorter walk can also halve the distance by taking the mid-course trail.
This trail is easily accessed by bus or bike, and with the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre on site, you’ll find washrooms, a café and other amenities. Don’t miss the trail-side Earth Drums art piece by artist Carey Newman, near Finlayson Road.
• Natural Intelligence notes: Stop by Kings Pond – how many duck species can you spot? Along the trail, look for areas where park stewards have been removing invasive plant species and planting native plants.
One of the tallest peaks in the city, with an elevation of about 120 metres, Mount Tolmie offers moderate to challenging climbs via both trail and roadway. However you choose to go, the reward of your climb will be a full 360-degree city view at the top!
Enter the park off Gordon Head Road at Cedar Hill Cross Road for a nicely groomed trail, or for the more adventurous, enter at the Kingsberry Road trail (and check out the Kingsberry pond to the left). Easily accessible via bus and bike, you can also connect to the UVic alumni trail at Gordon Head / Cedar Hill Cross roads.
• Natural Intelligence notes: Mount Tolmie offers one of Saanich’s largest Garry oak habitats, and be sure to check out the spring wildflower display. Parks stewards have worked hard over many years removing broom to protect the Garry oak meadows.
3. Grant Park:
With an elevation of about 130 metres, this is a challenging climb along a steep trail, but is a great alternative to the area’s better-known road hills that runners and walkers do.
Near McMinn Park in Cordova Bay, enter the trail at Lochside Road / Seapearl Place and follow a fairly steep and steady climb to the top. As a bonus, it’s mostly shaded, so a nice mid-day option on a hot day, and the trail also intersects four roads – perfect for a break and to catch some views the higher you go.
Natural Intelligence note: Enjoy the cool shade of the many Douglas firs along the way.
Ascend along the paved Churchill Drive roadway (closed to traffic daily until noon) or along Mount Douglas’s many established trails to reach an elevation of approximately 225 metres.
Another popular spot for hill climbs, and easily accessed by bus or bike, choose from various entry points and a variety of trails marked as beginner, moderate and advanced.
• Natural Intelligence note: Start your hike at the beach and climb to the top through a variety of habitats, before enjoying 360-degree views of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula. You may run into one of the Park Ambassadors, who have a wealth of knowledge about points of interest, including trails, habitat and history.
5. Layritz Park – Observatory:
With an elevation of about 70 metres, enjoy established and accessible walking trails suitable for all experience levels. To step it up a notch, check out the hill climb close to the observatory – enter this portion close to the main PISE building entrance (by the dome building) at Camosun College Interurban Campus.
Accessible by bus or bike, trails at Layritz also connect to the Colquitz River trail, Quick’s Bottom Park and the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific. Layritz Park also has the only disc golf course in the region for public use!
• Natural Intelligence notes: Flora highlights include Garry oaks and Douglas firs.
Many of Saanich’s favourite trails also explore some of the District’s at-risk spaces, so it’s important to follow “leave no trace” principles.
“Parks staff maintain the trails for everyone’s enjoyment,” Scott notes. “Stay on the trails, protect the areas by not removing plants and species – a picture will last much longer than a picked flower – and follow instructions on signage.”
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