7 Trails to Run Before You Die (on Vancouver Island): 1. Gowlland Todd

debrunLast week, I stumbled upon this post on Shape.com. After browsing through a few, I decided that the trails I run regularly in Victoria could definitely give those suggestions a run for their money. I mean, how many places in the world have this many well-maintained, amazing and beautiful trails, all within an hours drive of the capital city? Probably not too many. And I’m sure there are many other spectacular trails that can rival these (Inca Trail, anyone?), but for accessibility’s sake, I’d take my moss-covered, root-entangled, winding west coast trails over almost-urban gravel trails any day.

My criteria for the best trails to run: Everyone has their own preference when it comes to trails — some like them to be hilly, others don’t. Some prefer roots and rocks, others feel they are too clumsy to navigate that kind of terrain and might prefer flat chip trails. I think we can all collectively agree, though, that the more scenic the trails are, the better.

Terrain: I like single-track trails that have a variety of terrain — moss, rocks, mud, dirt forest floor and roots. But not so mangled that you need to walk to navigate it. It must be about 85% runable.
Elevation: I like hills when running trails. Too many long, flat stretches bore the hell out of me. I like trails that undulate, twist and turn through the forest, then climb up steeply before dropping back down again. Nothing beats running downhill after an epic climb up in my opinion.
Accessibility: As much as I’d love to go on a day trip to run a trail, I don’t usually have time for that on the weekends. If I can get to a trail from my place in Saanich in under an hour, bonus. If there’s free parking, two points. If there are water fountains and a bathroom at the trail head, wicked.
Distance: I usually go by time when running trails, not distance. I like an hour to two hours for a trail run (so anywhere between 6 – 12 km, depending on terrain). Short enough that you don’t need to pack a lot of water or food, but long enough to get a good workout in.
Vistas: I love running to a destination with a lookout or point of interest. The more epic view points along the way, the better.
Scenery: I love running near the ocean, or in a forest with lost of ferns and moss. Anywhere away from civilization, really.

I often post photos on my blog and on Twitter of my runs, and I’ve had a few tweeps ask me where exactly it is I’m running. So, without further I ado, I present to you my top 7 trail runs on southern Vancouver Island, with route maps!

1) Gowlland Todd Provincial Park: McKenzie Bight Trail -> Cascade Trail -> Squally Reach -> Timberline Trail
gowlland map
One of my favourite runs, not only for the scenery (waterfalls, beaches, lookouts, oh my!), but also for the convenience: it’s only 20 minutes from my place, and it only takes me about an hour and 10 minutes to run.
Trail name(s): McKenzie Bight Trail -> Cascade Trail -> Squally Reach -> Timberline Trail
Terrain: Rugged trail. Roots, rocks, moss, gravel, with some Grouse Grind-like stairs. Can be muddy and wet in the winter. Trail shoes are recommended.
Parking: Free, just off Rossdurance Rd. in the Mt. Work parking lot. It’s a small parking lot and can be busy on the weekend, so it’s best to get there before 11am on a nice day.
Trail access: Across the road from the parking lot, you will see a large sign that says McKenize Bight Trail.
Facilities: Outhouses at the McKenzie Bight trailhead.
Distance: About 6-8km. I haven’t actually Garmin-ed this one, I’ve been relying on my friend’s iPhone app, which she always forget to reset when we stop. Ha!
Time: It takes me about an hour and 10 minutes, with stops for Instagram photo ops, haha!
Description: The run down from the road is really nice. You run down deep into a gully alongside a stream, and come out at a beach in the inlet. Cross the wood bridge over the stream and keep left up Cascade Trail. I usually just hike this, as it’s pretty steep. There’s a waterfall about half way up. Once you get to Timberline Trail, go right and follow it along until Squally Reach (about 30-40 minutes in). This trail is steep, some spots are runable and some you might want to hike. You will see a sign on your right directing you to the viewpoint at Squally Reach. Be sure to stop here to check out the view!

From this point, you can either keep going to Jocelyn Hill (the trail is quite nice, and the view is amazing from the Hill as long as you’re not fogged in!) or turn back. It’s about another 30-40 minutes to Jocelyn Hill. If you are turning back, it’s alllll downhill (yippee!) from here on out; once you get to the bridge, go across it and stay on the Timberline Trail instead of going back down the Cascade Trail. This is a nice, wide, undulating trail that will take you back to the road, about 200 metres from the parking lot.

Trail Rating (out of four stars)
Terrain: ★★★★
Elevation: ★★★★
Accessibility: ★★★★
Distance: ★★★★
Vistas: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★

Overall: One of my most favourite trails! Five stars.

Next week: Goldstream Campground to the Trestle!