Saanich Inlet is a unique fjord inlet on the southern shores of Vancouver Island providing year-round urban access to an isolated natural setting. With spectacular natural landscapes and unique geography, Saanich Inlet is a natural treasure and wonderful paddling destination neighbouring Sidney’s urban conveniences.

The Saanich Inlet is a British Columbia kayaking gem

At 12 miles long and 4 miles at its widest crossing the steep mountainous terrain isolates and protects an already moderate local climate. The region enjoys a moderate Mediterranean-type climate with mild temperatures, low rainfall and very little snow. Over 100 species of birds and more than 20 percent of British Columbia’s rare plants grow in this diverse and specialized habitat. Surface water temperatures can rise from a cold nine degrees Celsius in winter to 16 degrees in small coves and shallow beaches; they’re never warm, but always refreshing. With so much natural diversity, beauty and variety of paddling opportunities it’s no wonder local initiatives have recommended that Saanich Inlet be designated a National Marine Conservation Area.

Wildlife and culture abound in the Saanich Inlet

As happens in many west coast inlets, salmon are the foundation to a diverse ecosystem. From late October through December salmon run up the Goldstream River where they spawn and then die. Bald eagles flock to these feeding grounds to feast on the salmon carcasses. Closing the Goldstream River estuary to all hiking and paddling has resulted in up to 250 bald eagles returning to this valuable food resource. Orca whales also visit the inlet to feed on the salmon. Sea lions come in to follow the herring and harbour seals wander the inlet year-round. I have even encountered a grey whale roaming the inlet.

The traditional territory of the Saanich First Nations includes the shores of the Saanich Peninsula. Here the Saanich moved with the seasons. The rhythms of the wind and tide determined the best time to net salmon or collect shellfish. The area is important to Indigenous peoples, who continue to utilize the region for medicinal, ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Drop your kayak in and spend some time in Saanich Inlet and I think you’ll agree with the local name, Eetsun-Hunnumut, which in the Indigenous Saanich language can be loosely translated to mean “the land where it is good to be.”

Urban access to the Saanich Inlet

The town of Sidney (Pop: 11,116), located on the northeast corner of the Saanich Peninsula, is the gateway to the BC Gulf Islands and the US San Juan Islands. Sidney has accommodations, antique shops, and coffee bars. Sidney is a hub for incoming travellers. It’s a short 40-minute drive from Victoria, and is situated within 10 minutes of the Victoria International Airport, BC Ferries, and Washington State Ferries.

Brentwood Bay Village, on the east shore of Saanich Inlet, offers accommodation, quaint waterfront restaurants, and access to the waters of Saanich Inlet. Nearby, Butchart Gardens was once a limestone quarry, but for almost 100 years has delighted visitors with floral displays and spectacular views. The gardens are kayak accessible via Brentwood Bay and the shelter of Tod Inlet. The Brentwood Bay-Mill Bay Ferry is a 25-minute route across Saanich Inlet; it offers a short cut between Saanich Peninsula and points farther north up-island. The three best sites to launch your kayak are Goldstream Marina, on the southwest shore; the canoe launch adjacent to the Brentwood Bay ferry dock on the east shore; and in Patricia Bay 100 metres south of Mills Road there is a picnic area with a few stone stairs leading down to the water. Once in the water the parks of Saanich Inlet offer spectacular natural environments for a variety of recreation very close to the cozy urban centres.

A view of the Saanich Inlet in British Columbia
Saanich Inlet offers plenty of paddling opportunities. | Feature Photo: Anne M. Fearon-Wood

4 parks to visit around the Saanich Inlet

1. Coles Bay Regional Park

On the western shore, Coles Bay Regional Park covers 3.6 hectares of forest with picnic and washroom facilities bordering on Coles Bay. Very warm in the late afternoon; you may even want to go in for a swim.

2. Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

The Gowlland Tod Provincial Park park encompasses nearly the entire east side of Finlayson Arm, providing excellent day-use recreation opportunities. From the sea you can land at the sandy beach in McKenzie Bight. There is more than 25 kilometres of trails with spectacular views from high on the Gowlland Range that rises 430 metres above the water.

3. Goldstream Provincial Park

The Goldstream estuary dominates the southern end of the Saanich Inlet and provides a focal point for Goldstream Provincial Park. Just 16 kilometres from downtown Victoria, the park has numerous trails winding through 600-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees. Adjacent to the estuary, Squally Reach is the southern most extent of the inlet. Beware the name; when foul weather turns fair, strong winds occasionally rush through the narrow passage.

4. Bamberton Provincial Park

On the west side of Saanich Inlet, Bamberton Provincial Park is just a 30-minute drive from Victoria or 25 minutes across Saanich Inlet by ferry from Brentwood Bay. Bamberton has a vehicle accessible campground and picnic area fronted by a sandy beach with views of Mt. Baker to the east.

This article was first published in the Fall 2008 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.



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