Mike and I recently purchased hybrid bikes. We’ve taken them for spins in the Vancouver area but this was their first test on a multi-day trip. We drove to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal (south of Vancouver), parked our car and boarded the ferry with just our bikes and brand new panniers. It was nice…this unencumbered feeling. An hour and a half later, in Swartz Bay, Vancouver Island, we rode off the ferry and directly onto the Lochside Trail. For four days and 200+ km, we rode the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails, passing along ocean and through forests, farmlands, wetlands, towns, and B.C.’s lovely capital city, Victoria.
The Lochside and Galloping Goose Trails are pretty much flat thanks to their former use as railway lines. For the most part, they are restricted to non-motorized use. Surfaces are a mix of pavement and hard packed gravel—hybrid and mountain bikes work best. The Lochside Trail, running from Victoria to Swartz Bay is 33 km, and the Galloping Goose Trail, connecting Victoria to Sooke and beyond, is 55 km. We did the entire length of both trails, but there are many interesting day trips options. These options make the trails ideal for all abilities and time restrictions.
The map (southern part of Vancouver Island) provides a broad overview of our route.
Day 1: Swartz Bay ferry terminal to the town of Sooke (about 80 km) via the Lochside and Galloping Goose Trails. Sooke is directly on the coast, just beyond the Sooke Basin. The Galloping Goose Trail curves north just before Sooke, so the last few kilometres must be traveled on the coastal highway. There is a sign on the Galloping Goose at about km 42 indicating the turnoff to Sooke.
Day 2: Full day exploring Sooke and the Galloping Goose Trail north of Sooke, which leads to Sooke Potholes Park, and Leechtown, the site of a gold-rush town at km 55, the end of the trail. This day included roughly 30 km of pedalling.
Day 3: Sooke to Victoria via the Galloping Goose (about 45 km), with lots of stops and side-trips along Sooke Basin, Matheson Lake Regional Park in Metchosin, and the botanical gardens at Royal Roads University.
Day 4: Victoria back to Swartz Bay via the scenic coastal road route that meets up with the Lochside Trail near Cordoba Bay (about 50 km). Although the coastal route is all road riding, there is not a lot of traffic and we aways felt safe. It takes a bit longer than riding Lochside the entire way, but it’s well worth it.
Except for the first day, the amount of time on our bikes felt quite manageable. Our 80 km ride to Sooke would have been much more pleasant had we not missed the 9:00am ferry in Vancouver. It was 1:00pm by the time we arrived in Swartz Bay, and in our haste, made a stupid mistake at the start of the ride, adding an extra 45 minutes to an already long trip. It took us about 5.5 hours with just a few breaks for my sore butt. Our dinner reservation at the Sooke Harbour House, a splurge that had been on our list for many years, was good motivation to keep pedalling. We made it, and dinner was divine!
The area around the small town of Sooke is gorgeous and has a quintessential Pacific Northwest feel. For a small town, Sooke has a surprising number of places to stay and great dining options. Besides our fab dinner at Sooke Harbour House, we also had an awesome dinner at Wild Mountain and a great lunch at Little Vienna Bakery—our caloric intake way exceeded our output. We spent two nights at the wonderful Whiffin Spit B&B, which is in easy walking distance to both places our dining spot. Biking, good food, nature, and a comfy bed make for a very nice combo.
The final segment of the Galloping Goose heads north from Sooke and leads to beautiful Sooke Potholes Park (around km 50) and Leechtown, an abandoned gold-rush town at km 55. There’s nothing to see at Leechtown except for an interpretive sign but it doesn’t feel right to come all this way and not make it to the official end of the trail.
Sooke Potholes, which stretch for about 5 km, are a great place for a swim or a sun bath on the warm rocks. The park and its large, attractive campground were quiet during our visit mid-week in September, but I imagine they are very popular on hot summer weekends. I couldn’t resist including the photo below (not mine) because it’s such a pretty place, and by the time we got there the sun was too low to get a good shot.
After our “no time for stops” cycle to Sooke on day one, I was glad that we broke our return ride into two stages and spent the night in Victoria. It’s only about 45 km from Sooke to Victoria so we rode at a leisurely pace and enjoyed several stops. The stretch along Sooke Basin is particularly nice and the short side-trail to Matheson Lake is a must-do (another good swimming spot). Feeling peckish, we stumbled upon Bucky’s Taphouse in Langford, a really friendly neighbourhood pub just a few minutes detour from the trail. Another short stop at Royal Roads University to visit its magnificent botanical gardens, and then we were soon in BC’s capital city, Victoria.
We were lucky to spot this beautiful barred owl. Mike was ahead of me and saw it fly across the trail with a snake hanging from its mouth. It landed on a low branch so we got a good view of it devouring the unfortunate creature. It was so busy that it didn’t mind our presence. There’s lots of wildlife on the trail, particularly deer but also bears. We missed seeing a couple of bears by just a few minutes. The street sign below is amusing but certainly not a joke.
Victoria, as always, was a pleasure to visit. It’s large enough that it has a huge choice of accommodations, dining, shops, and attractions, and small enough that it’s easy to “get to know”. It’s incredibly picturesque, but sadly, based on the very few photos I took, it appears I’m starting to take Victoria for granted. The photo of me (below) is from last year but I included it to show off Victoria’s stunning inner harbour.
The photo below is not mine. It is a good example of the fabulous scenery along Victoria’s coastal road and it’s a much better photo than the ones I took in the fog. I highly recommend this beautiful route that hugs the coastline through James Bay, Oak Bay, Cadboro Bay, Mt. Douglas Park and eventually meeting up with the Lochside Trail at Cordoba Bay.
We made it back to Swartz Bay, bikes and bodies intact, just as the rain started. The Lochside and Galloping Goose trails proved to be the perfect testing grounds for our inaugural multi-day cycling trip. Success! We can’t wait to try other routes.