Looking for an awesome hike within an hour’s drive of Victoria? Skip Thetis Lake, drive right by clogged Witty’s Lagoon and head toward Sooke for Matheson Lake Park.
Set in a thick rainforest at the base of steep Mount Matheson, Matheson Lake has a lot to offer for the perennial hiker and nature-lover: a stunning little gem of a fresh-water lake complete with a sandy beach, undulating trails, old-growth forest, marsh, bluffs, an island and plenty of picnic spots and swimming holes along the way. (It’s even got a rope swing for the daring!)
There are two access points for an hour-long hike around the lake. Note: the north side trail is sunnier than the south. However, both directions treat you to magnificent views of the lake, with a steep rocky climb at the halfway point. There you can stop and have lunch on the bluff and enjoy the view of tiny Gillespie Island.
Matheson is a frequent haunt for my husband and me — my latest estimate is that we visited the park about 10 times this summer. As we navigate roots, rocks and mud puddles we talk about our travel plans, stopping at a particular bluff on the north side for lunch. Away from the beach and swimming spots, it’s quiet up there. Very quiet. I love gazing at the houses perched atop Mount Matheson wondering what it’s like to live in relatively peaceful isolation (and with permanent vertigo).
Although Victoria has transitioned into fall, Matheson is still a go-to all year long. In fact, it’s better this time of year with the beautiful autumn colours. If the trails are too muddy, go cycling on the Galloping Goose at the top of the trail. If it’s off-season or a weekday, you will likely be among only a half-dozen hikers and maybe a couple of hounds. One time we went in November and stopped at the beach just in time to see a pair of white swans gracefully glide along the water. Of course, I took that as a sign… of something. Let’s just say it’s unlikely you’d experience that kind of exquisite fauna along the busier trails.
What makes Matheson Lake my go to? For starters, it’s just far out enough to label it underused (even Victorians who’ve lived here for years have no clue it exists), but not so far that it’s a drag to get to. Plus it’s (relatively) free of wasps and offers a slightly challenging, but not insane, hiking experience. Really though, it’s that pure, clean, fresh smell of nature that gets me the most… one of those ‘you have to be there’ things to understand. So… just go.
Visit the CRD’s web page on Matheson Lake Regional Park for more info and how to get there.