The capital region is an outdoor lover's paradise, especially in summer when the days are long and even the rain takes a vacation. Today, the Times Colonist brings the sixth installment in our summer series: Eight Hidden Gems, where our reporters and photographers introduce you to some of the region's lesser-known outdoor getaways. Today we visit Horth Hill Regional Park in North Saanich.Archive of previous stories: timescolonist.com/gems
It's around noon on a sunny weekday and Brienne Poulton of Sidney is making her way up the wooded trail at Horth Hill Regional Park in North Saanich.
Boo, her five-year-old border-collie cross, ambles about a dozen metres ahead, investigating the plants and debris that populate the forest floor.
"It's technically an off-leash forest environment," says Poulton. "This is freedom for him. He loves it."
The park, located about 3.5 kilometres west of the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, is not only a playground for curious canines, but for pleasure-seeking bipeds as well.
Hikers can climb a host of winding, weaving paths up the hill. The tree canopy that covers most of the expanse provides respite from the blazing afternoon sun and evokes a feeling of serenity that one might not experience in a less sheltered setting.
The shade also creates anticipation for what is arguably the park's crowning jewel: the bright, wideopen views at and near the summit, which sits 136 metres above sea level and is the highest point in North Saanich.
"You can get a 270-degree panorama that has wonderful views of the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands," says Nancie Dohan, co-ordinator of environmental interpretation with CRD Parks.
"You can see turkey vultures from the top," she says. "It almost looks like they're soaring beneath you."
Bird-watchers, Dohan adds, will also appreciate the woodpeckers, hummingbirds and migrating songbirds that pass through the area.
(Periodically, birds of a different sort - planes awaiting their turn to land at Victoria International Airport - cross the skyline as well.)
Additionally, the park's varied terrain boasts goodies for nature lovers more interested in flora than fauna.
"One of the things that's quite lovely about it is you can go from the wetloving plants with the cedar trees to drought-adapted plants of the Garry oak meadows at the top," Dohan says.
Arbutus trees with bulging, contorted branches are visible as well - a funny sight in contrast to the majesticlooking oak trees hovering nearby.
It's quite the topographical buffet for such a short hike.
It wouldn't be unreasonable for an able-bodied person to make a comfortable trip to the summit and back within 40 minutes.
And though not without its narrow passes and rocky bits, the climb isn't especially steep or treacherous.
For those who would prefer not to walk, riding a noble steed - if you have access to one - is a viable option. The park has wide bridle paths that intersect with the narrower hiking trails.
Horth Hill on horseback
- it has kind of a nice ring to it.
HORTH HILL FAST FACTS
- Established in 1966
- 36.36 hectares
- Moderate difficulty
- CRD Parks recorded 54,365 visits to the park in 2011
- Gets its name from the Horth brothers, pioneer farmers who came from England in the midto-late-1800s and later got involved in local politics
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