Exploring Island View Beach
Island View Beach Regional Park is appropriately named for the gorgeous views across Cordova Channel and Haro Strait at James Island, Sidney Island, D’Arcy Island and the American Jan Juan Islands. This beautiful 52 hectare (128 acres) park is located on the east shore of the Saanich Peninsula just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC.
There is a long sand and gravel beach with huge exposed sand flats at low tides, perfect for exploring and wading. There are hiking trails meandering through the surrounding fields and scrub brush. You can stop for a picnic at one of the park benches or picnic tables and even go for a swim if you don’t mind cold water!
These are some of reasons why Island View Beach Regional Park is one of our favourite places to walk. It may also be because it is just down the road from us, or that we can access the beach which leads to the park, by walking straight from Oceanside RV Resort where we live. None the less, Island View is one of the best beaches around and here’s a few more reasons why.
The geography of the land around Island View Beach is a result of a kilometer thick ice sheet that covered the area about 15,000 years ago. As the ice advanced, rock, gravel and sand deposited from the water melting along its front were over-ridden by the ice and carved into elongated, teardrop-shaped hills, called drumlins. James and Sidney islands and the ridge behind Island View Beach, are such drumlins. The sand and gravel eroding from these drumlins are transported by the currents, forming the sandbars seen off shore at low tides and are also what created Cordova Spit (Tixen) at the north end of Island View Beach.
This area has long been inhabited by the native Coast Salish peoples. Today, the Tsawout First Nation has a reservation fronting much of the northern end of the beach including Cordova Spit or Tlixen. The Tsawout have been living and gathering seafood as well as local medicinal plants in this area, as part of their culture, for thousands of years. The first known European visitors were James Douglas and first mate Scott M. Jenkin in the latter half of the 18th century.
The park was established in 1916 and was only 1 acre in size, a small area where the road meets the parking area, until 1966 when the Capital Region District (CRD) was formed and purchased the area to the north.
The flat lands to the west at Island View are a mix of private lands, the park and Tsawout lands. They are often mistakenly referred to as a salt marsh, but is more of a wetland. During World War I drainage canals were dug on the Tsawout section of the wetlands to help drain them so they could be used for training by the military. A flapper gate was installed at the end of the ditch near the ocean to allow water to drain out but stop the majority of tidal waters from being able to flood back up the canal.
In 1936, in order to control a severe mosquito infestation problem, more drainage ditches were dug to the south. They are still in operation today and you will see these ditches as you explore the park. For more information on the history of the drainage ditches check out the Friends of Island View website.
What to Do
There is lots of beach to explore, particularly when the tides are low and the sand flats are exposed. Much of the higher beach area is gravel and cobble with the usual driftwood berm but the walking is not difficult. The park boundaries end a split rail fence at the boundary with the Tsawout First Nation’s land. It is also clearly signed. You can walk the beach all the way up to the tip of Cordova Spit, but be sure to remain below the high tide mark or you will be trespassing on Tsawout land.
There is a picnic pavillion with tables for larger groups or if the weather is bad and there other picnic tables available. This is a large grassy area in front of the parking area, great for throwing balls and frisbees for your dog or flying kites!
Island View Beach Regional Park Campground is open from the Victoria Day long weekend in May to the Labour Day long weekend in September. The campground has 18 beachfront RV sites, 5 treed tent trailer sites, and 24 treed tent sites. All the camping sites are self-contained and operate on a reservation only basis. Click here for reservation info. Campground services include garbage bins, toilets, drinking water & picnic tables.
Through the picnic area and along the berm the path is wide flat compacted gravel. It is easy to walk and wheelchair accessible. As you move further along the beach the trail drops off the dike and in into a sandy section which will eventually lead you to the north end of the park. Here the park is separated from the Tsawout First Nations land by a split cedar fence. You should proceed no further, unless you do so on the beach beneath the high tide level. This is their land and you should not trespass. and you likely be asked to leave if you are caught. This is also very sensitive dune area with a number of rare plants.
If you follow the fencing away from the beach it will lead you back to a gravel roadway which will lead back to the parking area taking you along the edge of the wetlands. If you look carefully you will also notice some smaller less used trails which will lead you out into the wetland. There are some interesting trails to explore out here, but it is certainly better in the summer when it is dry. Many of the paths are flooded and muddy during the winter months.
There is a small, crumbling boat ramp near the park entrance. This is good for launching paddle craft, but it is not really suitable any longer for launching larger boats off of trailers. There is excellent, safe paddling along the shoreline out to Cordova Spit to the north. Keep in mind you may find yourself paddling against currents and/or wind on the way out or back, so take that into consideration when deciding how far to go.
This is also a great launching point for trips out and around James Island, Sidney Island and D’Arcy Island. D’Arcy Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve and has a campground. These trips should be taken with care. There are strong currents running in Cordova Channel and Haro Strait and conditions on the water can change quickly with a change of direction in the current. For information on paddling to these destinations, check out these posts: Kayaking to D’Arcy Island and Kayaking Around James Island
Wind Surfing and Kite Boarders
Particularly in the winter when we get a lot of strong south easterly winds, Island View Beach attracts the more adventurous water sports folks. On the right day you can find lots of wind surfers and kite boarders working the winds off the beach.
There is good bird watching at Island View Beach as seabirds and shorebirds land here during migration in the spring and fall, grazing on the eel grass beds or probing for worms, clams and other creatures at low tide. Many other species can be see here as well, many are year round residents. For birders, the appeal of this area lies in the mix of smaller habitats which are found within it. Passerines (refers to sparrows and similar small birds) breed in the dunes, thickets and fields behind the beach, and others return here each fall to spend the winter. Both diurnal and nocturnal raptors hunt in the fields and shrubs.
Island View Beach is not really a place to come to to see other wildlife besides birds. You will likely see some rabbits and if you’re lucky, you may see some river otters or a mink. You may see harbour seals swimming by or the odd sea lion and if you’re really lucky you might spot a glimpse of some porpoise or even orca!
Island View Beach is a dog walkers paradise and you will see lots of dogs here. Dogs are required to be on a leash at the park campground and from June 1 to September 15. Dogs must be on leash when passing through all beach areas above the natural boundary of the sea. Don’t forget to pick up after Fido, there are poo bag dispensers and trash cans in the park!
Whatever your interests, Island View Beach Regional Park is worth a visit. Even the drive across the farmlands and over the ridge to the beach is beautiful. You can stop for some fresh produce at Michells Farm Market or Firbank Farms right on Island View Road. You could even stop for a snack or some lunch at the Harvest Road right beside Michells Farm Market, but check their website before you go as they are not open all of the time.