A Cyclist’s Guide to Touring Vancouver Island

A how-to for all you bikers who want to explore Vancouver Island.

Fall is coming! And while it’s a superbly beautiful time of year, it can be tricky to find ways to be outdoors as the mountains start filling up with snow, and short days preclude long treks. So why not fall back on a tried and true Vancouver pastime – biking? And if you’re bored of the same old rides after a spring full of cycling (hello covid!), how about trying something more adventurous? With hundreds of kilometers of separated bike trails, biking on Vancouver Island is safe, scenic, and refreshing, and will save you fistfuls of cash on the ferry.

Never taken your bike on the ferry? No worries! Read on for all the info you need to roll up and act like a pro.

A break for snacks and photos on the boardwalk on the way to Victoria.
Your carriage awaits!

So where are you gonna ride?

Direct from the BC Ferries terminal near Victoria – Schwartz Bay – is the Lochside Regional Trail, 29 kilometers of former railway line that will take you up the Saanich Peninsula and into the heart of Victoria. An adjoining trail, the Galloping Goose, the start of the Trans Canada trail, will continue to take you around the south island to Sooke. Both are incredibly well-marked (you’ll see numerous directional signs as you’re riding), and feature a stunning variety of scenery, including oceans, beaches, quiet forests, farmer’s fields, lakes, boardwalks, and urban parks. Suitable for anything from road bikes to mountain bikes, there’s something for everyone on these trails.

A late afternoon pastoral scene.

Getting to the ferries:

The easiest way to approach the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails is to take BC Ferries from Tsawwassen (Delta) to Schwartz Bay (Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria).

Should you be driving, there is both short term and long term parking at the terminal at Tsawwassen. But be advised that the long term fills up quickly, especially on long weekends.

Made a new pig friend on the ride!

Should you be cycling, there are some excellent bike paths through the farmlands of Delta, which continue on past Tsawwassen Mills Mall, and along the last stretch of highway 17 and up the causeway to the ferry terminal. While highway riding can be a bit intimidating, I’ve done this route a number of times feeling pretty comfortable; the bike lanes are wide and well-marked, and drivers are mostly quite considerate and give lots of space.

How to get a ferry ticket with your bike:

There are two ways to approach the terminal and get a bike-on ticket: 1) riding to the terminal, and lining up with vehicle traffic; and 2) parking a car, unloading your bike, and getting a ticket from the walk-on area.

  1. Follow the bicycle signs as you ride down the ferry causeway. You’ll stay in the bike lane on the right, then, when indicated, you’ll cross to the far left-hand side of the lanes, and ride up to the far left ticket window. From here, talk to the agent, purchase a ticket, and follow directions to the loading berth.
  2. Walk your bike to the drop-off terminal, and speak to an agent to purchase a ticket (tickets need a stamp for bikes, so don’t just buy one at the self-serve kiosks). Follow the agent’s directions to the bicycle waiting berth outside.

You’ll wait outside at the berth with other bikers and those bringing animals aboard (cute dogs galore!). When indicated, walk your bike up the vehicle ramp before the cars begin to load. At the very front of the vehicle decks are a number of bike racks. Lock up your bike here for the duration of the crossing.

After the ferry crossing:

When the boat has landed and ramps are down, you’ll get to leave with the other cyclists before the vehicles begin to offload. Follow the bike signs/lanes off the ferry and onto the start of Pat Bay highway, generally keeping right. From here, again, keep your eyes peeled for bicycle signs. A few minutes off the ferry, you’ll follow Lochside Trail signs that will take you on an overpass across the highway, and deposit you on the left side to follow the coastline up through Sidney. Your lovely ride can now commence!

Some places you should check out:

  • Harvest Rd. Farm to Table Grill – this little food truck on the edge of a farm serves outstanding fresh eats! You’ll literally bike right by it, and you NEED to stop. Enjoy the farm scenery at a picnic table and grab some tasty breakfast, lunch, cold drinks, or sweet treats.
  • Downtown Victoria – AMAZING restaurants, the Parliament buildings, fun little shops, classic seaside saltwater taffy, the Royal BC Museum, seals, sailboats…
  • Blenkinsop Lake Park has a lovely bridge over the lake. Lots of cool birds here!
  • Some cool cafes in tiny downtown Sidney.
  • The plethora of beaches on the Saanich peninsula. Stop and soak those feet!
UNBELIEVABLE veggie sandwich with a pile of fries and fresh cider at Harvest Rd.

Wanna stay the night?

If you’re interested in trying some bike touring, there are a couple options within a day’s ride of the ferry. Should you have a long day simply getting to the ferry and crossing, Sidney campground is about a ten minute ride from Schwartz Bay. If you’re up for a longer ride, I highly recommend the popular Goldstream campground in Langford. With tons of trails and swimming holes, this is a lovely forest site about 40 km from the ferries. The ride is mostly flat, following first the Lochside, then Galloping Goose, trails.

The ol’ swimming hole at Goldstream campground.
A cozy fire at a campsite.

South Island Multi-day Loop:

Looking for something longer? If you’re up for a multi-day adventure, check out the sample itinerary below. Or, for more options, a site like Back Roads Bike Touring has lots of routes to inspire you.

Day 1: Schwartz Bay to Goldstream campground (42 km)

Day 2: Goldstream to Sombrio (a backcountry campsite on the Juan De Fuca trail) (79 km)

Day 3: Sombrio to Lakview campground (79 km)

Day 4: Lakeview to Mill Bay, ferry to Brentwood Bay, then ride to Schwartz Bay (81 km)

A four-day island bike loop. Mostly flat, with one major hill between Sombrio and Lakeview.
Calm waters on the way to Victoria.

Essential gear for bike touring:

  • backpack or panniers
  • bike lights, front and back (in case it gets dark or foggy)
  • spare tube, patch kit, mini-pump, hex-wrench tool
  • water (there are outdoor fountains for water bottles fills along the Lochside Trail!)
  • bell, to alert walkers or slower cyclists before you pass
  • quality bike lock (I like a combo of the more secure U-locks and a flexible chain lock)
  • padded shorts, or a cushioned seat cover (worth the money, trust me.)
Clear green farmlands on the Lochside Trail.

Seize your chance to explore Vancouver Island from an entirely new angle! Let me know how your adventure goes, or leave me with your must-see itinerary, in the comments below!

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