Over Easter Weekend, Victoria had incredible weather, like the rest of BC, when temperature records fell around our province and sunburns were omnipresent.
Victoria sells itself as a cyclist’s city, and I strongly disagree with its impression of just how bike-friendly it is. On Dallas Road, in downtown, and in other areas, I feel like I’m one distracted driver away from disaster. It’s not friendly, sorry, Victoria. More cycling infrastructure is needed, and definitely in downtown.
But when I hit the Goose or the Lochside trails, I’m in heaven.
The Galloping Goose and Lochside trails both meet at the Vic/Saanich side of the Selkirk Trestle. The Goose begins at the Blue Bridge, becomes one with the Lochside on the trestle, then later forks to the west and the Lochside heads north-east. The Goose ambles for 55 kilometres, taking you to Sooke. The Lochside trail runs about 30km, from the ferry in Sidney all the way to Victoria.
I’m talking about neither of the complete routes today, and instead telling you about a 25-km afternoon jaunt from Downtown to Cordova Bay and back, great for newbies looking for an active afternoon. It’s essentially the first part of Lochside trail from where it starts in Victoria and extends half-way to Sidney.
Because I did my trip on a statutory holiday, I didn’t bother trying to find businesses that were open in Cordova Bay and just biked, happy to pack a box of Pocky and a beer, but I’m sure you could find a great eatery or cafe for spending time in Cordova Bay. Or, like me, you can take treats and find a spot along the trails.
If you ride an upright or commuter bike like I do, not some fancy fast road bike, you can expect a couple hours of nice, leisurely riding.
What’s great about the Lochside and the Goose is the lack of hills compared to the rest of the island. I surmise the history of both of these trails being a part of the CP Rail land tracts over time means they were surveyed for flatter routes and are subject to far fewer rolling hills so typical of island topography, a really welcome thing when you’re on two wheels.
In the entire 25-ish-kilometre route (click for the Google directions) I took on the Lochside, the only real “hill” is the overpath over the highway at Uptown Mall, just before the Goose forks left and the Lochside heads straight. Suck it up for 20 seconds and you’re past the only hard part.
It’s a good thing to point out that this overpass goes right by Recyclistas, a guerilla bike co-op shop. If you’re having any troubles with your ride, pop in and get it looked at before you continue on your way.
While you can certainly get to the Lochside trailhead from Downtown Victoria, I almost always zip over the Blue Bridge and start the ride proper from Esquimalt, just so I can avoid the craziness in the downtown core.
Before you get going, you could grab a sandwich from the Fol Epi bakery, just before the Selkirk Trestle. Amazing artisan baguette, just a little meat and cheese, perfect for sitting on a bench in the sun midway through a ride.
It’s also worth noting, the only place along the Lochside Trail where you’re able to quickly detour to shops is the little bit between the Selkirk Trestle and Uptown Mall, then a 2-3 block stretch by Quadra Street, and then not again until Cordova Bay, so planning ahead is really part of having a great ride. This goes doubly for bathrooms, since I saw none on my travels.
Just before reaching Quadra, you’ll hit Swan Lake, a fascinating place to read the historical markers you’ll find. It was declared Canada’s first “auspicious feng shui” site. Here’s what the sign goes on to explain:
The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Victoria purchased a plot in the Swan Lake area in 1891 and could not use it as a cemetery because of opposition from nearby farmers. The precise location was unknown until Dr. David Chuenyan Lai, Professor of Geography at the University of Victoria, developed an auspicious Feng Shui model to locate the site on the southern slope of Christmas Hill (formerly Lake Hill). The site is ﬂanked on the east by Lake Hill (the Green Dragon) and on the west by a lower ridge (the White Tiger). It is a vitalizing spot backed by Christmas Hill (the Pillow Mountain) and faces a hillock (the Desk Mountain) and an expansive plain (the Grand Hall). Swan Creek and Blenkinsop Creek form a symbolic belt of wealth linked by Swan Lake (the Luminous Pearl). Tolmie Peak (the Worshipping Mountain) in the distance completes the circle of hills around the site. This location is a signiﬁcant historical site in Saanich because it is the ﬁrst auspicious Feng Shui site identiﬁed by the Chinese in Canada.
Of course, farmers being unwowed that Chinese wanted to bury their dead here, the Chinese Cemetery inevitably found a new home on the waterfront in Harling Bay, between Gonzales and Oak Bay.
I find Swan Lake an incredibly relaxing place to take a breather. Maybe it’s all that Feng Shui rightness. It’s only 20 minutes into the ride, but it’s a nice spot to reconnect with nature before carrying on.
The Busy Stretch
From when you get on the right path after the Blue Bridge, the only place it gets a little confusing on the ride at all is when you reach Quadra near McKenzie and you have to cross that busy street, then zigzag for 2 blocks, where you get back on the path again. Just pay attention for the mostly-hidden signs indicating the paths. Or, when all else fails, wait around for a couple minutes and follow the next cyclist.
Quadra Street’s crossing goes past a mall on the left, so you could get beers at Liquor Plus, groceries at Thrifty’s, pizza at Ali Baba’s, coffee at Starbucks, or first aid supplies at London Drugs.
But a little over a block to the right, down the hill a bit, is a little Mediterranean shop called Lakehill Groceries, where they have Victoria’s best falafel pita sammich for $5, so a great place to visit if it’s open. They also have great spreads, an assortment of olives and feta cheeses, and more, as one of my favourite places for Greek/Turkish ingredients in the city. Worth checking out!
Go Green on Tree-lined Trails
Once you rejoin the “natural” part of the Lochside after the Quadra stretch is when it starts getting really beautiful.
You’ll be under tree canopied paths for a while, until you’re over Blenkinsop Lake’s trestle and boardwalks, and almost on the verge of Cordova Bay, when it changes to farmland and frequently Lochside Road-shared paths from here to Sidney. Say hi to the chickens for me! Turn back before you get too tired, and do the whole thing now in reverse.
On a warm day, this is a wonderful ride. Whether you stop to take it in by the lakes, or just go flat-out start-to-finish, it’s a beautiful, relaxing place, and a terrific “interurban” way to get through the city. When I was routinely up at Quadra & McKenzie for appointments, the cycling route from the Blue Bridge over the Goose & Lochside to Quadra was only 0.02 kilometres longer than suffering by cycling on city roads in the thick of traffic.
Before I returned to the city, to catch my breath and stretch at the end of my ride, I hung a right after crossing the Selkirk Trestle and wandered into the Gorge Waterway Parks for a quiet spot to enjoy that beer I’d been coveting, stretch my muscles, and enjoy the rest before carrying on home.
At the End of a Day
Whether you use the trails for commuting or just for reconnecting with outlying areas on your weekend, cycling and walking doesn’t get much better than what’s offered by both the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails. I highly recommend exploring both, for both locals and visitors.
When I’ve almost made my way home, I usually grab myself some takeout somewhere in the Downtown Core, go home, and relax the ride away with a great box of Noodlebox, some pizza, or whatever else I’ve conjured.
I have much more of these trails explore, despite one trip all the way back from Sidney last year. I’ll share as I discover more along these great trails. Explore! Bike! It’s fun, and good for you.