Location: Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island
Land Agency: Swan Lake Christmas Hill Sanctuary
Roundtrip: 3.5 miles/ 5.6 kilometers
Elevation gain: 325 feet/ 100 meters
Contact: Swan Lake Christmas Hill Sanctuary
Notes: dogs prohibited
Access: From Victoria or Sidney, follow BC 17 (Patricia Bay Highway) exiting onto McKenzie Ave. Proceed east turning right onto Rainbow Street. Then drive .2 mile/ .3km and turn left onto Ralph Street. After one block turn right immediately coming to trailhead.
Good to Know: kid-friendly, snow free winter hiking; bird watching, spring wildflowers, nature center
Once a foul polluted body of water, Swan Lake is now a lovely urban nature sanctuary boasting a healthy avian population. Located in Saanich minutes from downtown Victoria, the restored lake and surrounding marsh are graced with a nature center and family friendly trails which include a floating bridge. A side trail leaves the lake passing through a residential neighborhood to the small preserve on Christmas Hill. From this small summit, admire stately Garry oaks and a beautiful view of the lake below.
Start you hike at the Nature Center. Open year round (closed on holidays) it is full of displays, exhibits, live critters and friendly staff. Kids will love it. You will too. Then head to the dock at the Lake Loop Trail. Scan the lake for ducks, geese, and in winter the occasional swan and then set out for your hike around the lake heading clockwise.
Pass the Aspen Loop Trail before coming to a major junction at .2 mile/ .3 km. The trail left leads to Christmas Hill, a non-contiguous part of the sanctuary. The now 148-acre/ 60-hectare sanctuary began in 1975 with help from the Nature Trust of British Columbia, which has protected over 170,000 acres/ 70,000 hectares in the province since its inception in 1971. Head left following the .5 mile/ .8 km Corridor Trail to the .4 mile/.6 km Summit Loop Trail on 358-feet/ 109-m Christmas Hill.
This hill’s name harkens back to the 1840s. A First Nations woman had her baby carried off by an eagle one Christmas Eve. Folks from throughout the region searched for the child finding it alive on Lake Hill. Many locals then began referring to this landmark as Christmas Hill in recognition of this miracle. A great hike any time of year, Christmas Hill contains Garry oak groves, camas fields, nice views—especially of the lake, and is home to endangered sharp-tailed snakes. After your merry meandering on Christmas Hill, return to the lake loop.
Now continue on this near level trail traveling through an emerald jungle before reaching open fields. Cross Blenkinsop Creek, a spur to a dock, and a couple of spurs leading to the Lochside Regional Trail—an 18-mile/ 29-km paved rail trail leading from Swartz Bay to Victoria and intersecting with the 34-mile/ 55-km Galloping Goose Trail.
Undulate between field and thickets and the occasional boardwalk. Rounding the lake’s southern shores enjoy views of Christmas Hill in the background. Pass spurs leading to Saanich’s municipal offices and traverse a nice grove of cottonwoods before crossing Swan Creek. Pass yet another spur before coming to the hike’s highlight—a floating bridge across Swan Lake’s open waters. Take your time crossing, counting blackbirds and swallows en route. Soon afterward close the loop by returning to the Nature House. A great hike indeed on Christmas day, this sanctuary provides much for hikers to celebrate all year round, so plan on returning soon.
For more information (including detailed maps) on this hike and others near Victoria, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands. You’ll find 136 hikes on 28 islands in this new and comprehensive guide to this fascinating region.
For more information on places to stay and other things to do in Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula, check out Northwest TripFinder.