Gowlland Tod Provincial Park
After decades of effort by environmentalists and government agencies, the Gowlland Tod wilderness was preserved from encroaching development and later became a provincial park. Its significant size makes it a favourite with locals and visitors who want to experience the unique forests of southern Vancouver Island and feel the nurturing effect of a large natural area – all within very easy reach of the capital city.
High, rocky bluffs dotted with arbutus are contrasted by moist ravines lined with groves of cedar. Small creeks that swell with winter rains tumble through the forests and spill into the protected waters of Saanich Inlet. Fresh water mixes with salt water to form unique ecosystems along the foreshore.
9 trails cover over 25 kilometres of hiking. The 1219 hectares park goes from sea level to a high long ridge that reaches 430 meters. The access points are well mapped, as are the main trails. Starting a hike near the top elevations will be rewarded with immediate views across Georgia Strait to Vancouver or South to the Olympic Mountains in Washington. Further down, other trails wind through deep forests lined with ferns, before ascending to the bluffs or descending to small beaches or rocky outcroppings that drop into deep water. The ocean temperatures, usually very cold around Victoria, can warm up nicely along the Gowlland Tod foreshore, making for decent swimming.
The coastal Douglas fir habitat supports over 150 species of plants and animals. In Spring and early Summer, numerous wildflowers bloom in succession and carpet the mossy knolls. Wildlife includes river otters, black-tailed deer, cougar, bird species including falcons and eagles, as well as smaller species, like the charming newts that can be seen in moist areas along the trails.
Some trails are multi-use, allowing mountain biking and horseback riding. Diving is a perennial favourite activity, especially in Winter when the waters, deprived of sunlight, are crystal clear and the rich marine life that lines the rocks is easily seen. There is an excellent anchorage at Tod Inlet for those approaching by boat.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and be prepared for steep climbs and rocky terrain. Solid shoes or boots are recommended. Some trails are not well signed (carrying a map is a good idea). The main access points are Caleb Pike, Wallace Drive, and McKenzie Byte.