Mystic Vale: A great hike for kids near Victoria BC
Get Outdoors! Camping & Hiking Trips,  Victoria

Kid-Friendly Hikes Near Victoria, BC

To find out more about family-friendly hiking and camping near Victoria, BC I interviewed Kari Jones, a mom to one son and the author of the book “Hiking Adventures with Children: Southern Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula” which you can order from Kari’s blog or from

Q: Is there a kid-friendly hike within Victoria’s city limits that you recommend? What do you like about it?

There are so many walks within Victoria; it’s hard to choose just one. But if I have to, I’d say Mystic Vale is my favourite. The walk starts at the University of Victoria, which is easily accessible by car or bus, but once you are in the Vale, it’s hard to remember you’re in the middle of the city. It’s a little bit of wilderness.

Mystic Vale (This photo and one at right — also Mystic Vale — courtesy of Sarah Pugh)

There are tall trees, wildflowers, and a little stream that runs its length. With small children, going to Mystic Vale can be a whole morning’s outing. The best place to park is along Cedar Hill Cross Road, and if you go by bus, you have to walk across the campus to Cedar Hill Cross Road (not far, about 5 minutes of walking). The Vale itself is probably only one kilometer or so, but I will see if I can get a specific length. If you look at the map at this link, the vale is the red line. As you can see, you can make a loop out of it by walking on the red line, which is up above the vale (in the valley).There is no cost, and it is always open, though I wouldn’t recommend visiting it in the dark. It would be easy to trip.

Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for families with toddlers? Is there a spot accessible via public transportation?

Francis/King Regional Park is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria, and is a fantastic place for toddlers. There are several hikes, the easiest of which is the Elsie King Trail. This park is inland, so it’s drier than some of the coast walks.

Francis/King park, photo courtesy Marci Zoretich

The area is home to so many species of plants and animals I can’t name them all.  In the spring there are wildflowers all along the trails, and we have seen newts, moles, owls, and other hard-to-see creatures there.

If you are on a bus, Beaver Lake is a nice place to walk. It’s flat, and the trail is well defined. It’s less “wild” than Francis King, but there is still a lot of wildlife to entertain a toddler with.

Q: Can you recommend a hike (within 45 minutes of downtown Victoria) that’s good for elementary-age kids — children who can go a little further without complaint?

Witty’s Lagoon is a fantastic place for families with kids of any age. It’s a bit of a hike from the road to the beach, so be prepared to carry toddlers. Any kid will enjoy watching the water cascade down the waterfall and running along the lagoon. Once you reach the end of the trail, the beach opens up and you can spend a whole day amusing yourself in the sand and water. On a sunny day the water warms up on the sandy flats, and many people enjoy swimming when the tide is high.

Q: Where is your favorite kid-friendly hiking spot mid-island? What do you like about it? Who is it good for (age-wise)?

In the winter, people visit the ski resort at Strathcona Provincial Park, but many aren’t familiar with the great summer hiking. This park is really best in mid-summer, once all the snow has melted. There are lakes to swim in, mountains to climb, and alpine meadows to walk through and camping platforms to erect your tent on. It is a wilderness destination, so you have to carry in everything you need and carry it all back out again. It’s great for families with children small enough to carry or old enough to carry a small pack.

Q: Do you have a favorite Victoria post-hike spot to take your kid for treats?

After a hike we often stop in at Demmitasse (1320 Blanshard Street, Victoria) in Oak Bay for a baked treat and a hot chocolate or coffee (depending on your age!). It’s a family-run bakery on McNeil Avenue, which has seats outside where you can sit, even if you are stinky from hiking, and sip at lattes, cappuccinos or hot chocolates. My son always chooses a popsicle, even when the rest of us are having hot drinks. They cater to all our needs.

Q: How about camping? Can you recommend a great car-camping location not too far from Victoria, with trails or a lake (or similar) nearby?

My favourite car camping location is Ruckle Park. It’s on Saltspring Island, and what I love about it is that you drive to a parking lot, park the car, and walk to your campsite a few meters away. So when you’re camping, you have easy access to your car, but your view consists of ocean and trees. There’s a lovely hike from the campground to a small beach where kids can safely wade or play in the sand or search for purple shore crabs. The campsite is very near to a working sheep farm, which you can also walk around if you want a longer hike.

Thanks, Kari! Readers, can you suggest any hikes?

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • Sarah

    Mount Doug Park is also wonderful – you can spend a whole day there, hiking up to the top and/or around the base. Terrain varies from steep and rocky, to gentle garry oak meadows, to deep dark forest, to salmonberry thickets and beaches. There are lots of short walks for younger kids and the steep climbs are a great challenge for kids over 8 or so.

    Thetis Lake Park is also a gorgeous place to go hiking. There are several well-marked trails and the lake is lovely for swimming when it’s hot. Trails are long though and best suited for babies in carriers or kids over 5. And East Sooke Park is great too, and has one of the best beaches on the Island down from the Aylard Farm entrance. Great picnic areas too!

    My favourite “workout” hike is the McKenzie Bight trail in Mt. Work Park. Head down to the bight – 1 km, all downhill – then go up the trail on the other side of the creek, a steep, steep .75 km with a gorgeous waterfall as an excuse to stop and catch your breath! (Waterfall may not be so thrilling during the summer dry months, but it’s still pretty.) I also like the Tod Inlet trail (off Wallace Drive) as it is usually so peaceful and quiet, and it’s an easy walk. If you pay attention you can find a patch of watercress lurking in one spot – it’s a refreshing, peppery little snack. Tod Inlet was once an industrial area – it’s heartening to see how the forest has reclaimed it, although the inlet itself is still suffering and has very little evident life. Except jellyfish.

    And Mystic Vale IS my favourite quick, no fuss choice for a forest walk, but with one caveat when I tell people about it – it’s a dogs-off-leash area, so you WILL run into dogs running loose. None are unaccompanied and most are well-behaved, but most are also pretty large, and may be running fast along the trails! But Mystic Vale also has the proximity of UVic’s botanical gardens going for it – you can make an extremely pleasant afternoon of it with a picnic lunch (bring extra carrots for the bunnies), the botanical gardens and a ramble through the Vale.

  • Marci Zoretich

    The Elsie King Trail at Francis King Regional Park is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk. It is perfect for beginning walkers and excellent for people of limited mobility. It offers benches at various points along the path as rest stops and I think it’s a great nature walk for the whole family.

    We really enjoy the quirky and informative nature stations along the walk which teach everything from “trees knees” to “thatching ants”. A big draw for my 4 year old is the huge thatching ant nest that is viewable from the boardwalk. Perfect for bug enthusiasts!

    We have also enjoyed some CRD programs there, such as “Art in the Park” and a really cool up and coming drop in event on “Mason Bees”.

  • Sharlene

    I have bookmarked this post for when we head up to BC next summer. We are avid hikers and I looking forward to exploring Vancouver Island with my kids!