VICTORIA, B.C. — There are several routes to British Columbia’s stately capital, but only one takes you past pristine farm fields and over lily pad-dotted ponds, with chances along the way to watch model planes swoop like raptors, take a ride on a tiny train, and meet hogs the size of riding mowers.
Those are among the diversions my wife and I encountered on the Lochside Regional Trail, the bike path connecting Victoria with the tip of Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula.
Friends in Friday Harbor who had ridden it three times before talked us into joining them for their fourth trip. We took our bikes aboard the Washington State Ferries to Sidney, B.C., where we merged onto the trail for an 18-mile ride to Victoria and two nights away.
The former rail route has few hills, but my wife isn’t an avid cyclist, so for fun we rented her an electric-assist bicycle to take the work out of the ride.
We’d been to Victoria many times, but biking in was definitely among our more memorable arrivals.
The road to Victoria
The Lochside trail is delightful, offering a diversity of landscape and sights, our friends told us. It alternates between paved and gravel sections, with a few stretches along quiet roads and farm lanes that share space with cars.
We found a bit of everything, including a mile paralleling a four-lane highway. Happily outbalancing that were saltwater views, strawberry fields, shady tunnels of trees and wooden trestles over ponds and inlets.
We started from the Sidney ferry dock at 11:30 a.m. on a recent Thursday and checked into our Victoria hotel by 3:30 p.m., with a stop for an indulgent lunch and no hurrying along the way.
On the trail’s first stretch we skirted the Sidney waterfront, looking out at nearshore islands and passing side streets with names like “Captain’s Walk.” Views of posh, gated waterfront estates followed before we took our first pause at one of the trail’s several biker rest stops. (Some have water-bottle filling stations.)
“This trail is not only beautiful, it’s efficient!” exclaimed a young Vancouver cyclist we met on the trail. “Who wants to wait in that traffic?” She nodded toward the clogged Patricia Bay Highway nearby.
A mile south, we came upon our first opportunity to stop and play. Taking a sharp left into Heritage Acres (7321 Lochside Drive, Saanichton, B.C.), we found a park crowded with vintage farm equipment, a miniature historical village and a museum run by Saanich Historical Artifacts Society. The star attraction, which we might try next time, was more than 1.8 miles of narrow-gauge railroad track, where the Vancouver Island Model Engineers club periodically offers rides on itty-bitty trains through forest, over bridges and into a tunnel. (The next public rides are scheduled for Aug. 11 and 18; by donation; for a full schedule, see vime.ca.)
In another half-mile, we came to the first cyclist-friendly lunch stop: Harvest Rd. Farm to Table Grill (2451 Island View Road, Saanichton, B.C.), next to Michell’s Farm Market (2451 Island View Road, Saanichton, B.C.). The kitchen appeared to be an old shipping container, but outdoor tables offered peaceful views of cabbage fields and a kiosk of free-to-use bicycle tools was available by the bike rack out front.
The menu included a whopping burger with island-sourced, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. The Harvest Burger with cheese (and add-ons like dreamy-looking double-smoked bacon and free-range fried egg, $17.50 CAD) would likely pack pedal power to spare.
But our friends had another dining option in mind. About four miles ahead, beyond more vegetable fields and a trailside wallow that was home to those big pigs, a short off-trail detour brought us to The Beach House Restaurant (5109 Cordova Bay Road, Victoria, B.C.), and a view our companions rarely see: the western shore of their own home, San Juan Island, across Haro Strait.
We nabbed a table at the glassed-in outdoor patio above a driftwood-strewn beach and wished we’d packed mini binoculars — Haro Strait is orca country. Lunch choices included vegan crispy cauliflower tacos with mango citrus salsa ($15 CAD).
Returning to the trail involved a steep climb that left most of us walking our pannier-laden bikes. But here’s where my wife’s rental showed its worth: As the rest of us pushed, she clicked her Bosch electric motor to “turbo” and zipped effortlessly up, brazenly calling out “poop, poop!” the way wild-driving Mr. Toad of “The Wind in the Willows” imitated the speeding automobiles he loved.
She tapped her toe nonchalantly at the hilltop as we arrived puffing.
Approaching downtown Victoria’s outskirts, we click-clacked across a wooden trestle above the lily pads of Blenkinsop Lake and past a distant view of Swan Lake, which an interpretive placard explained was historically distinguished as the first auspicious feng shui site identified by the Chinese in Canada.
Merging with Victoria’s Galloping Goose Regional Trail, we crossed a trestle over Victoria’s Upper Harbour, where little passenger ferries dodged quick-skimming rowing shells.
Crossing Victoria’s new Johnson Street Bridge, whose bascule arches resemble gleaming abstract sculpture, we arrived at trail’s end and the comfortable little Swans Hotel (506 Pandora Ave., Victoria, B.C., swanshotel.com), chosen by our friends and within walking distance of downtown Victoria. The ground floor housed a brew pub, and the rooms were large enough for our bikes. Perfect.
On the town
We enjoyed a day of sightseeing and good food, hitting Victoria highlights ranging from Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government St., Victoria, B.C.) and Munro’s Books (1108 Government St.) to the Royal B.C. Museum (675 Belleville St.). A new discovery, on another friend’s tip: the splendid gardens surrounding Government House (1401 Rockland Ave.), home of the lieutenant governor, the queen of England’s official representative in B.C. (No charge for the gardens, so we spent a few bucks on proper tea and scones at the cozy tea house next to a small museum telling the story of how the queen still exerts influence in Canada.)
On the next day’s return ride we goggled at pirouetting model planes over the Victoria Radio Control Modelers Society’s home field, Michell Airpark, off the Lochside trail north of Martindale Road. Time your ride for Aug. 10-11, as the air park hosts Victoria’s Largest Little Airshow (vrcms.asyuler.com).
With time to spare at the ferry dock, we explored fast-growing downtown Sidney, which among other things is distinguished by its overflowing summer flower baskets and an abundance of independent bookstores.
On top of all that, we got a gorgeous homeward ferry ride through the San Juan Islands — with good books to read.
If you go
Don’t forget your passport or other acceptable government ID. Even bicyclists must clear customs and immigration.
We rented an electric-assist bike from Discovery Sea Kayaks, offering Friday Harbor’s best multiday rate for e-bikes ($130 for three days, 260 Spring St. #1, Friday Harbor, discoveryseakayak.com).
For more information on the Lochside Regional Trail, visit crd.bc.ca/parks-recreation-culture/parks-trails/find-park-trail/lochside.
Editor’s note: The headline on this story was corrected on August 8 to better reflect the content of the story.