ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
Once you’ve ventured as far as Seattle, it’s easy to get to British Columbia for a peek at West Coast Canadian life. That’s what we’ll do in this itinerary. We’ll start in Seattle and cut a not-so-usual path to Vancouver Island-by way of the gentle bays and inlets of southern Puget Sound, the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, and the majestic Olympic Peninsula. There are many ways to get to Victoria, on Vancouver Island and no one way is better than another. For our purposes here, we’ve chosen a route that mixes things up a bit. Remember you will need your passport to travel to Canada.
Recommended Pacing: Consider eight days to enjoy this itinerary. Your schedule might look like this: Spend your first travel day getting from Seattle to Port Townsend, then after one night in Port Townsend, drive to the Olympic Peninsula to explore the spectacular Olympic National Park (days 2 and 3). Next, ferry over to Victoria (day 4). Spend your first night in the city, followed by two nights in Sooke (days 5 and 6). Return to Victoria for one additional overnight (day 7), then catch a ferry back to the U.S. or go on to Vancouver on the eighth day.
From Seattle, take I-5 South to Tacoma and Exit 132: Gig Harbor/Bremerton (Hwy 16). Try to avoid rush hour, and don’t worry about the initial paucity of scenic wonders; we’ll make it up to you soon. While this area of Puget Sound is not generally considered a holiday spot, there are several excellent bed and breakfast inns in this part of Washington nonetheless. See our recommendations in Seabeck, and Belfair.
Follow Hwy 16 North towards Bremerton (home to the Puget Sound Naval Base and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard), then take Hwy 3 North to Route 308, where you turn right for the 4 mile drive to Keyport for a visit to the Naval Undersea Museum. Here you find 20,000 square feet of exhibits portraying naval history, operations, and undersea technology, with comprehensive collections including torpedoes, mines, and diving equipment; and a simulation of the control room of the nuclear fast attack submarine Greenling. The hands-on, Ocean Environment exhibit provides a fascinating look at the world under the sea. (610 Dowell Street: open from 10 am to 4 pm, daily in summer; closed Tuesdays in winter; 360-396-4148.)
Leaving the museum retrace your steps up Route 308 to the first traffic lights where you turn right on Viking Ave; then, at the second set of lights, turn right on Lindvig Way to enter Poulsbo, Washington’s “Little Norway,” a pretty town sitting at the head of Liberty Bay. Settled in 1882 by Norwegian immigrants, Poulsbo proudly maintains its Scandinavian heritage-in the quaint downtown area you’ll find the Norwegian flag and rosemaled storefronts, and you can even enjoy a traditional lutefisk dinner at the Lutheran church on the third Saturday of October. Browse the attractive shops, grab a bite to eat and see the local marine life in the Marine Science Center. (Open Thu through Sun 11am-4pm, www.poulsbomsc.org.)
Retrace your steps to Viking way which you follow for a short distance to Hwy 3 north which takes you across the Hood Canal Bridge to a right turn on Hwy 19 which takes you through pretty farmland to Port Townsend.
A seaport town of no mean stature back in the 1800s, today’s Port Townsend goes to heroic lengths to preserve as much of its 19th-century heritage as it can. One of only three Victorian seaport towns in the United States to earn the distinction of placement on the National Historic Register, Port Townsend and its citizens have lavished years of hard work and loving attention on its homes and neighborhoods. Visitors often come just to walk through these charming, old-world neighborhoods, soaking in the architecture and the dramatically exposed seaside setting.
The enthusiasm of this friendly and informal community, home to about 8,000 residents, will not escape you. Port Townsenders love to live here. They are proud of so many aspects of their community life, not the least of which is the abundance of resident and visiting artists of all disciplines who regularly present workshops, live events, and festivals. Whether it’s a film festival at the Rose Theatre downtown or a music festival at Centrum in Fort Worden State Park, the creative juices are definitely flowing here. Centrum presents a very active, summer festival season; in fact, featuring blues, fiddling, jazz, and literary arts, along with chamber music, dance, and theatricals throughout the year. Phone 360-385-3102 to get hold of a schedule for the days you’ll be in town.
Port Townsend is small and easy to explore; in fact, best explored on foot. Staircases guide you from the downtown area to the charming bluff side neighborhoods above. Start at the Visitor Information Center (open weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm; Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm; and Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm; 888-ENJOYPT.) at 2437 Sims Way, near the waterfront and the ferry landing. From Hwy 20, you’ll come after about 8 miles to a three-way stop light-turn left there onto Hwy 19 (also called Rhody Drive). Rhody becomes Sims Way. (If you are arriving by ferry from Keystone on Whidbey Island, turn left on Water Street as you exit the boat. Water Street becomes Sims Way.) Get a town map and directions to the nearby Haines Place Park-n-Ride. Parking is at a premium downtown and the meter maids are, shall we say, conscientious; so consider leaving your car at Haines and taking public transportation the brief distance to town and/or to Fort Worden State Park.
A must-see is the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum, dedicated back in 1892, which occupies the original Police Department, Court Room, City Jail, and Fire Hall. The Court Room with its original woodwork, the dramatic City Jail, and the high-ceilinged Fire Hall all contribute to a marvelous feeling of history. The museum honors the people of Jefferson County through a wonderful collection of artifacts, archives, family history, and photographs. Exhibits include The First People: the Hoh, S’Klallam & Chimacum Tribes, The Explorers and Mariners, The Settlers and Builders, and The Victorians. (540 Water Street; call for hours, which vary seasonally; 360-385-1003.)
Since this is a walking town, try an Historical Sidewalk Tour, led by a local historian. It makes for a great way to pass an informative hour in the waterfront district. Stories of bawdy seaport life are as entertaining as learning about the architectural landmarks. Call 360-385-1967 to make an appointment. Tours meet at the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum on Water Street. If you are interested in a guided tour of the famous bluff side neighborhoods, too, just ask.
The Wooden Boat Foundation at Point Hudson (380 Jefferson Street, 360-385-3628) has long made its home in Port Townsend. It’s dedicated to the preservation of traditional maritime skills and culture, and offers the public a most unique outlet, the “Chandlery,” that provides a ready supply of traditional boat-building materials and tools. Even if you’re not personally in the market for a winch, you might take a look in the Chandlery and marvel at the “toys.” Inquire here about visiting the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building on the Quimper Peninsula about 4 miles south of town, if you are interested.
The Rothschild House State Park is a popular stop. Its historic home (Franklin & Taylor Streets, 360-379-8076) is open for self-guided tours daily from 10 am to 5 pm, May through September. Travel back in time to the 1800s as you step through the kitchen door into a home virtually unchanged since its first days. D.C.H. Rothschild, or “the Baron” as he became known locally, was born in Bavaria in 1824. After traveling extensively around the world and engaging in several business enterprises, he settled in Port Townsend in 1858 and ran a hugely successful venture devoted exclusively to the maritime trade. In 1868, he had the Rothschild House built. When he died in 1885, his widow, Dorette, decided to remain in the house and did so until her death in 1918, allowing only minimal architectural changes. Occupied only by Rothschild family members after Dorette’s death, the house was donated by the last surviving relation to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The house was opened to the public in 1962 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A flower garden behind the house features many old varieties of peonies, roses, and lilacs.
Downtown and Uptown thrive as separate but distinct shopping areas (the former is a business district along the water and the latter a trendy residential section with a neighborhood feel), and the newer Gateway (Sims Way) now adds a third dimension.
Fort Worden State Park is easy to get to via public transportation. Otherwise, follow Cherry Street to the northern limits of Port Townsend where it meets the park. Fort Worden was once part of the defense system built to protect Puget Sound, as far back as 1896, and was in use through World War II. This is a great spot for access to the shoreline of Juan de Fuca Strait. Watch the boats go by, take a walk along the beach, or visit the Coast Artillery Museum (open daily, mid-May to mid-September, from 11 am to 4 pm; 360-385-4730), Commanding Officer’s House (open daily, June to August, from 10 am to 5 pm; and from noon to 4 pm on weekends; April, May, September, and October; 360-385-4730), and Marine Science Center (open mid-June to mid-September from noon to 6 pm, Tuesday through Sunday; and from noon to 4 pm on weekends, April to mid-June and mid-September through October; 360-385-5582).
When you’re ready, retrace your steps on Hwy 20 then head west on 101 to Sequim (say Skwim), long known for its dry and sunny climate-a benefit of being in the rain shadow of the Olympics. In recent years, the town has taken advantage of this Provence-style weather and is now the center of a thriving lavender industry. Visit some of the lavender fields and, if you are there in July, enjoy the vibrant Lavender Festival. There are some interesting murals in the town, but the other great attraction here is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge to the north of the town proper (reach it by going north on Kitchen Dick Road from the 101). This is the world’s longest (5½ miles) natural sand spit, protecting a quiet bay that is a refuge and breeding ground for many species of native birds. You can hike out to the lighthouse at the end, and might even spot some harbor seals as well as birds.
From Sequim, we head west on the 101 to continue our Olympic Peninsula tour.
THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
In 1897, President Grover Cleveland created the Olympic Forest Reserve in Washington State. Twelve years later, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized a portion of this reserve as a national monument. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Olympic National Park , and in 1988, nearly 95 percent of the park was designated as wilderness.
It wasn’t so long ago that a trip to the Olympic Peninsula meant access to one of the most beautiful places in Washington. It meant the privilege of touching one of North America’s finest, old-growth temperate rain forests. However, today as you drive along Hwy 101 you will see areas where groves of beautiful old trees have been cut indiscriminately, leaving large barren strips of land. Thankfully, the wisdom of conservationists is now prevailing and you will notice thousands of new trees being planted. Most of the clear-cutting of the forest is along the periphery of the park, and once you delve off the main road, you are in a paradise of nature that has been untouched by man.
When planning your visit to the Olympic National Park, you might want to consider staying in Sequim or Port Angeles, since in a couple of days this is where you will be boarding the ferry to Victoria Island. However, because the scenery is so outstanding, we prefer to stay right in the heart of the park surrounded by awesome natural splendor.
Another consideration in planning this part of your itinerary is the time of year you are traveling. Each season has its singular appeal, but for sightseeing, it is preferable to plan for the summer months when you have a better chance of sunshine. The Olympic National Park is a rain forest with an awesome amount of precipitation-the wettest months are in the winter. If you are looking for drier days, traveling in May, June, July or August offers the best chance for good weather.
It is impossible to make a loop of the Olympic National Park since there is only one main road, Hwy 101, which cuts through the park with a few smaller roads leading off to the coast or penetrating deep into pristine forests. Since there is no circular route, once you have traveled from the north end of the park to the south end, you will need to come back the same way. One suggestion would be to drive directly to the south end of the park to the Lake Quinault area and spend one night there to explore the trails. Then, the next day, return back north and spend one night near Lake Crescent to explore the trails there. If you prefer not to change hotels, just choose one as your base and take side trips each day. (Bring rain gear, by the way!)
For perspective, the drive from Lake Crescent, located on the northern end of the peninsula, to Lake Quinault, located on the southern end of the peninsula, takes about three hours, one way. You won’t be able to see all the suggested sightseeing in one day, so it is best to stop at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. (3002 Mount Angeles Road; open from 8:30 am to 6 pm daily, June to September; and from 9 am to 4 pm daily, the rest of the year). Here you can get a map and talk to the rangers who will help you decide the best places to stop based on what most appeals to you and how much you want to hike. Follow the signage from 101 west. Get a map of the park and talk to rangers about what interests you. At the very least, you’ll want to take the drive up to __A2739__, if weather and road conditions allow. It’s well marked and only 17 miles south of the visitor center along the Heart o’ the Hills/Hurricane Ridge Road. The journey up the mountain is spectacular. Watch for signs to Lookout Rock, a viewpoint you won’t want to miss. Carrying on, you’ll pass through thick forests past sub-Alpine meadows, all the way to the top of a 5,000-foot ridge. From here, if the weather is permitting, you’ll see the splendid Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Look for easy Meadow Loop Trails that guide you through meadows covered in summer with wildflowers, but bring a jacket no matter what time of year. It gets cold up here!
Return to 101 and drive west, passing along the southern shores of the glorious Lake Crescent. If you’re up for a gorgeous 2-mile hike, follow the signs to the Lake Crescent Lodge (360-928-3211) and find the trailhead for the Marymere Falls Trail. This path guides you through old-growth forest to a beautiful cascade of water.
If you are keen to see something of the rain forest, continue west on 101. Pass through Sappho, Beaver, and Forks to a well marked road leading you 18 miles inland to the Hoh Rain Forest. The temperate rain forest in this valley (and this is true of Quinault and Queets Valleys, too) contains some of the most spectacular examples of undisturbed Sitka spruce/western hemlock forests in the U.S., where trees easily reach heights of some 300 feet. Precipitation here ranges from 12 to 14 feet every year! Nearly every bit of space is taken up with a living plant, as you will see. The mountains to the east prevent severe weather extremes, and very often the canopy of trees, mosses, lichen, and fern is so thick that falling snow is caught in the cover and never reaches the ground at all. Several short and easy trails will guide you through the forest.
Head out of Hoh and in the direction of 101 again. Take it south and follow signs out to the stunning Ruby Beach (a photographer’s dream) and have a stroll along a rocky, log-strewn shore to enjoy gazing at dramatic rock formations. This is justifiably one of the most scenically distinctive beaches in this 10-mile stretch of Kalaloch Beaches(say CLAY a lock), all considered excellent examples of primitive Pacific coastline. Beach 2 is the least rocky. Explore as you like. Watch for gray whales on their migrations from Alaska to Mexico, or for bald eagles that soar overhead or rest in the treetops on the cliffs.
Leaving the beach area that stretches south from Ruby to Beach 1, continue on 101 to North Shore Road through the Quinault Rain Forest onto South Shore Road for a stunning 30-mile loop around Lake Quinault. This loop-admittedly not well marked-crosses the Quinault River and meanders through beautifully unspoiled sections of rain forest. The road gets pretty rugged-unpaved and out-and-out rocky in sections-but if you’re up for the adventure, you won’t regret the trip. If you prefer to explore on foot, there are many marvelous possibilities. Begin by stopping at the ranger station situated on the side of the road on the south shore of Lake Quinault. Here you can pick up information, maps, and suggestions from the rangers about the well marked paths that weave deep into the forest. One of our favorites is the Quinault Loop Trail, which begins across the road from the Lake Quinault Lodge. Another of our favorites is the Kestner Homestead Trail that begins on the north side of the lake. Again, there is a ranger station located nearby. Stop here first to pick up a map and ask the ranger for his trail suggestions. This path winds beneath towering maple trees, traverses a sparkling creek, and passes by an abandoned homestead, once owned by early pioneers, the Kestner family (you can see their photos in the ranger station which is located where the trail begins).
VICTORIA, THE CITY OF GARDENS
Now dust off your passport. It’s time to take a ferry ride across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the beautiful city of Victoria at the south end of Vancouver Island, the capital of Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia.
Ferry Travel: It is important to arrive at the Port Angeles ferry terminal well ahead of your scheduled sailing time. In summer months the wait can be several hours; in which case, you’ll want to leave your car in line and go off for a good meal somewhere. Local residents are the perfect sources for tips on cutting through the mystery that is ferry travel. Your innkeeper can call down to the terminal the day prior to your departure and advise you how early to arrive at the terminal. Whatever you do, plan this part ahead of time. There’s nothing to spoil your trip faster than arriving at the terminal, only to find that the queue is miles long, and the next ferry is not scheduled for several more hours, or worse: the next day! Fare and seasonal schedule information are available from Washington State Ferries. If you’re in Seattle, you can get timetables at their Information Desk, Colman Dock/Pier 52, between 8:15 am and 6 pm weekdays. Otherwise call 206-464-6400 (from anywhere), 511 (automated information, from Washington only), or 888-808-7977 (from Washington only), www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. Reservations should be made in advance for summer months.
Victoria has a decidedly unique personality. It’s rather small (325,000 residents) and very European (certainly British, named in 1843 for the then-recently crowned Queen of England); but also a reflection of its debt to native Coast Salish Indian, French, and-today-even Asian contributions. The mix of proud and colorful totem poles with venerable British architecture will keep you guessing, to be sure. As you approach the Inner Harbor on your ferry ride over from Port Angeles, you’ll know in a delightful instant that you are about to experience a unique and wonderful place.
Very near the ferry dock at 812 Wharf Street, the Visitor Information Centre is a good place for gathering brochures about all the activities available to you: museums, whale-watching charters, harbor cruises, and the like. (Open from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm daily; 250-953-2033.)
When we think of Victoria, we think first of the Royal British Columbia Museum, surely one of the most impressive regional museums anywhere. Plan to spend several hours; it’s an extraordinary place and you shouldn’t miss it. Through four exceptional “galleries”-much too subtle a term-the museum showcases the human and natural history of British Columbia from prehistoric times to the present. Highly realistic and thoroughly compelling displays-not entirely unlike living museum formats-provide visitors with a very real sense of traveling back in time. Galleries are themed: First Peoples, Modern History, Natural History, and Open Oceans, all in the permanent collection. Located at the corner of Belleville and Douglas Streets, the museum is close to both the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel. (Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm; 250-356-7226 or 888-447-7977, royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.) A National Geographic IMAX theater inside is also open daily, from 9 am to 8 pm.
Just east of the museum sits Helmcken House. Originally a three-room log house, this home was built in 1852 by Dr. John Helmcken, a surgeon with the Hudson’s Bay Company, who went on to become a statesman responsible for helping to negotiate the entry of British Columbia into Canada as a province. A tour of the house reveals many original furnishings and professional belongings. Now the oldest house in British Columbia still on its original site, the house offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of Victoria long ago. (Douglas and Belleville Streets; open May to October, daily, from 10 am to 5 pm, and on Thursdays through Sundays the rest of the year.)
Take a self-guided tour (but mind you, there are nearly 100 stairs involved!) of Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Mansion. This impressive mansion was built between 1887 and 1890 for Scottish immigrants Robert and Joan Dunsmuir, who made their fortune from local coal. Now a national historic site, this 39-room castle features an extensive collection of stained- and leaded-glass windows, as well as magnificent woodwork. From the very top of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the city and the Olympics. (1050 Joan Crescent; open daily between June 15th and Labor Day from 9 am to 7 pm, and from 10 am to 4:30 pm the rest of the year; 250-592-5323.)
The Parliament Buildings at 501 Belleville Street will surely remind you of London. Victoria is the seat of the provincial government of British Columbia; and visitors are welcome to amble about these structures from June until Labor Day between 9 am and 5 pm, and between 9 am and 4 pm the rest of the year. There are also free, guided tours every hour. During assembly sessions, you may observe the proceedings from public galleries on the third floor. Lined in thousands of tiny, white lights, these buildings are particularly fetching at night. An imposing bronze likeness of Queen Victoria guards the plaza in front, and a gilt statue of Captain George Vancouver tops the central dome.
The Empress Hotel is a landmark in Victoria (721 Government Street; 250-384-8111). It’s one of the most remarkable buildings, resembling a grand French château. Opening in 1908, the Empress earned an international reputation for its opulent guestrooms, beautiful gardens, afternoon tea service, and lavish evening entertainment. Today, many visitors throng to the Tea Lobby for a taste of history in an atmosphere of old-world sophistication and elegance. Keep in mind, however, that there are many wonderful tea rooms in Victoria, especially if you’re looking for something more intimate. We particularly enjoy the White Heather Tea Room, a firm favorite among the locals. (1885 Oak Bay Avenue; open from 9:30 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Saturday; and from 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday; 250-595-8020.) It’s located east of downtown in a neighborhood called Oak Bay, known for its distinctly British personality, stunning Tudor-style homes, meticulous landscaping, fine shops, and . . .a proper tea service.
Consider a visit to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in the Inner Harbor. The colorful story of British Columbia’s marine history is told in a series of excellent theme galleries, from Early Exploration to Captain Cook, Canadian Pacific Steamships, and the Royal Navy. The stories told here are intriguing, right down to that of one John Antle, a missionary mariner who brought religion by boat to Victoria’s logging camps. (28 Bastion Square; open daily from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.)
A pleasant way to see the lovely southern and eastern shores of Victoria’s waterfront communities is to take the Scenic Marina Drive, which starts on Dallas Road at Fisherman’s Wharf Park. Drive through the James Bay residential neighborhood; through Beacon Hill Park with its acres of gardens, lakes, and walking paths; past Ross Bay, Foul Bay, and MacNeill Bay; through the very British Oak Bay neighborhood and its Willows Beach; past Uplands Park estates; around Cadboro Bay, where the largest native village in the area once stood; past the University of Victoria; and on to Ten Mile Point.
For spectacular 360-degree views of the city, the Gulf and San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Mountains, take a drive to the top of Mount Douglas Park (5 miles northeast of downtown off Royal Oak and Cordova Bay Roads).
Even if you know don’t know a daffodil from a dahlia you will be impressed by Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, less than a half hour north of Victoria. What started out, more than a hundred years ago, as Jennie Butchart’s ambitious project to beautify a limestone quarry near her home has grown to more than fifty acres of manicured gardens with 50 gardeners tending over a million plants. Allow two to three hours to wander through the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Italian Garden and Japanese Garden. The historic Butchart family residence is now The Dining Room Restaurant. Traditional afternoon tea is served here as well as in the Italian Garden (reservations recommended). Seed from the gardens as well as a great variety of gifts are found at the gift shop. On summer nights the gardens are illuminated with twinkling lights. From June to September evening concerts are held. On Saturdays in July and August there are stunning fireworks displays. Around Christmas enjoy ice-skating on the outdoor rink. During the busiest times of the year consider going to see the gardens in the late afternoon or early evening and avoid the tour buses that bring crowds of people in the morning and early afternoon. If you do not have a car, you can take the No. 75 bus from downtown Victoria. (Open all year; times vary; 250-652-4422, 866-652-4422, www.butchartgardens.com.)
SOJOURN IN SOOKE
Some of the most delightful bed and breakfast inns anywhere are located in the harbor side village of Sooke, a 45-minute drive west on Hwy 14 from downtown Victoria. Truly, some of these inns are destination spots in themselves; Sooke is all about rest and nature, the town is “practical” stores strung along the highway.
Stop at the Visitor Information Center at 2070 Phillips Road right off Hwy 14. Pick up maps and activity ideas (whale watching, kayaking, fresh- and salt-water fishing, hiking). (Open from 9 am to 6 pm, daily in summer; and from 9 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Sunday at all other times of year; 250-642-6351.)
For as long as anyone knows, the Coast Salish people (in particular the T’Sou-ke Nation) lived in this area, reef-netting salmon around Becher Bay and collecting shellfish, berries, and roots for winter months spent at Pedder Bay. In 1790, the rhythm of Indian life was interrupted with the arrival of Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper; then within five years, all lands north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca became British. By the 1880s, with the Hudson’s Bay Company in full swing in British Columbia, East Sooke became a busy place: sailing ships and dugout canoes ran supplies to and from “Fort Victoria” and a water-powered sawmill provided lumber for the community. Loggers and fishermen sought their livelihoods here. Miners of copper and iron were plentiful.
Today, the site where many of these loggers, fishermen, and miners lived and worked is now the beautiful East Sooke Regional Park, offering great hiking trails along windswept rocky coastline, over rugged hilltops with panoramic views of the Olympic Peninsula, through old-growth rain forests, and into sheltered coves. The East Sooke Coast Trail (trailhead at Pike Road) is considered one of the best day hikes in all of Canada, a rough and strenuous, but extremely rewarding, six-hour adventure for experienced hikers. If you’re looking for a hike that’s not quite so ambitious, there are plenty to choose from-at Aylard Farm off Becher Road at the southeast corner of the park, at Anderson Cove off East Sooke Road on the north end of the park, or from Pike Road just off East Sooke Road at the southwest corner. Information posted at trailheads will help you choose a hike suited to your goal for the day.
Sooke Village, where most of the region’s roughly 11,600 residents live, is not a destination in itself but a string of very practical stores along the highway. However it is the gateway to miles of unspoiled beaches, meandering rainforest trails, and gorgeous views of Sooke Harbour, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Olympics.
Whiffen Spit Park, at the end of Whiffen Spit Road in the Sooke Village area, is a natural breakwater between the Juan de Fuca Strait and Sooke Harbour. A relaxing 20-minute walk to the end of the spit is a favorite among residents and visitors alike. Bird watching from the spit is especially rewarding.
You’ll hear a lot in Victoria and in Sooke about the Galloping Goose Trail, an easy, well-paved, 35-mile (one-way) trail from the west end of the Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria to Leechtown on the Sooke River. Hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders will discover farmland, forests, seascapes, lakes, rivers, and canyons as they follow the course of the trail. But don’t feel as if you have to take on the entire route to appreciate it. In the Sooke area, access points with parking lots can be found at Roche Cove on Gillespie Road, and about 1 mile up on Sooke River Road. (The trail runs right in back of Cooper’s Cove Guesthouse.)
If you are fortunate that your trip happens in the late fall (late October to early December), I would encourage you to follow the path of the Sooke River to witness the Salmon Run. The river runs thick with the struggling fish, determined to complete their journey. Incredibly, the Chinook (or King), Coho (or Silver), Chum (or Silver Brite), Sockeye (or Red) and Pink salmon all return, to the exact place where they spawned, to die; and, although all in the same general area, the locations are very specific. Each species is distinctive in its coloring, so visually it is easy to determine the different birthing areas. There is no dramatic staging in terms of where to go . . . just follow the river and you will notice a few key places where you can pull off, park, and there will be State Park billboards explaining the migration. The wonder of nature continues when you witness soaring bald eagles and splashing, killer whales in the bay waters-both taking advantage of easy prey. If you are brave enough to stay into the early evening, you might find yourself in the company of bears who wander down to the river’s edge for a bite to eat. A memorable experience.
When it’s time to leave the island, depending on your next destination, take a ferry to either Anacortes (for Seattle) or Vancouver.
Vancouver sparkles. The gateway to western Canada is the pride of the country, and top-rated as a world-class city by numerous travel magazines and newspapers. The city’s eye appeal may be its snow-capped mountains and ocean shores. When you add the city’s diversified ethnicity, numerous cultural events and outdoor attractions, it’s easy to understand why Vancouver attracts so many visitors. The compact downtown area is surrounded by Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour on the north and English Bay and False Creek on the south. The city is anchored on the West End by thousand-acre Stanley Park (larger than New York City’s Central Park), a place where visitors and locals alike walk, bicycle, or skate along its scenic two-lane six-mile seawall. Overlooking the harbor to the north, the distinctively craggy 5,000-foot. (1525 m.) twin peaks known as the Lions are frequently dusted with snow. Beneath them lie the Coast mountain-range foothill cities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, accessible by Lions Gate Bridge (built by the designer of San Francisco’s Golden Gate.) On a clear day, you can see the mountain ranges of the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and even Washington’s Mount Baker.
Part of the sparkle is attributable to modern architecturally interesting glass buildings, each boasting a unique water feature, sculpture, or both. Hefty littering fines (for people and their pets) help to make the city clean. In spite of its increasing traffic, there is no smog in Vancouver. Gentle winds, coming off surrounding waters, clear the air.
Bustling Robson Street, and its adjacent streets, is the city’s shopping Mecca. Strolling crammed sidewalks you can wander into Tiffany, Gucci, Hermes, and other upscale stores, not unlike those you might find on New York’s Fifth Avenue. During evening hours, young adults mingle outside the street’s restaurants and bars. There’s body-to-body checking, street artists performing mime or drawing illustrations of posed tourists; everyone is taking in the scene.
Vancouver is a cultural gem. As you walk along the street, it’s fun to guess the various languages you’ll hear. The Asian, Indian, Eastern European, Arabic and other worldwide influences add character to the city, as well as endless choices of ethnic cuisine. The Canadian dollar, which fluctuates just above and below the U.S. dollar, has attracted many Europeans taking advantage of the value of the euro.
A relaxing time can be spent just sitting on one of many memorial seawall benches, spellbound by the view of one of North America’s largest west coast ports. Each day cargo and cruise ships ply in and out of the harbor. Float planes lift off and land continually. Yachts arrive and depart one of three marinas. It’s a visual delight.
A day can easily be spent in Stanley Park. In addition to the seawall, one of the city’s top attractions is the Vancouver Aquarium. Like Sea World, there are shows performed by belugas, otters, sea lions, plus tours behind the scenes to view the feeding and care of fish, insects, and marine animals. The Park offers trams, horse-drawn carriages, hiking trails, lawn bowling, tennis courts, and an executive golf course. The swimming pool, overlooking English Bay, is Olympic-sized.
Fitness fanatics might want to challenge themselves climbing the stair-step-like 1.8 mile Grouse Grind, the tough way of getting to Grouse ski mountain, the venue for some of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Taking the tram is the easy way down and up.
Not far from Grouse is Capilano Suspension Bridge. Built in 1889, the wooden bridge is 450 feet (137 m) across, towering 230 feet (70 m) above the Capilano River. In addition to the bridge, the rain-forest park includes a First Nations Cultural Centre and Treetops Adventure.
If you only have time for one attraction, don’t miss Granville Island and its fabulous acre-size Public Market. It is an amazing blend of a farmers’ market and Vancouver’s hub, yes, even for fine culinary chefs, an epicurean delight. Pyramids of luscious berries are displayed along with crisp, garden-fresh produce, local and exotic cheeses, fresh flower stands, and exotic delicacies. Just-from-the-oven bagels whiffed with aromatic freshly roasted coffee sets the mood as you suddenly realize that you can’t resist making a few purchases to nibble on. Wild fiddleheads, pine mushrooms, seaweed, stinging nettles require a kitchen so save your “loonies” ($1 coins) and “toonies” ($2 coins) for the fruit and cheese.
The rest of the island offers tin-sided factories, a children’s playground, art school, restaurants, theatres, galleries and shops where you can buy tailor-made eyeglasses, custom-made shoes, blown glass, ceramic and woodwork treasures, to mention a few.
Don’t take a cab to Granville; rather, ride the small False Creek ferry boat, it takes only minutes and avoids some massive traffic bottlenecks.
We’ve given you only a few “appies,” a Canadian’s way of saying a small taste of a few things to do. It’s impossible to cover Vancouver in a few days, especially when you consider the cultural neighborhoods of Chinatown, Richmond’s Hong-Kong-style malls, India’s Punjabi Market, not to mention the outlying areas that include Whistler, the Sunshine Coast, and the Gulf Islands.