S Van Island Nolan Riding 7
VIDEO & Trip Report

Getting the Goods: Southern Vancouver Island

Photos Hailey Elise
Video Ollie Jones
Reading time

The premise was simple. Patrick Nolan, owner operator of Nolan Riding, reached out to me via mutual friend to ask if we'd be interested in coming over to get a taste for the riding experience in and around Victoria and Sooke and make a video and story about it. Nolan Riding already has a long track record of coaching youth, adults, and racers on Vancouver Island, and had recently expanded their operation and added guiding to the mix. Patrick and co. are respected members of the BC riding community, and they wanted to draw a little more attention to the gems that are the trails over on their home turf.

I've been lucky enough to ride in lots of different parts of BC, but the South Island had eluded me. After polling friends and acquaintances from around the Shore, I'm not alone. We all know the riding on the South Island is good, but hadn't proved it to ourselves. Here was the chance.

The idea was to experience a weekend getaway that a riding couple would take, complete with a stay at the very nice and very MTB-friendly Hotel Grand Pacific in downtown Victoria. For various scheduling reasons, my riding partner for the weekend was Emma Le Rossignol, who has been reviewing some products for us this past year.

We loaded the bikes and caught a ferry from Tsawassen to Nanaimo and made the 90-minute drive South to Victoria. I had been assured the Grand was bike-friendly but it still felt unusual to be wheeling a couple of bikes through the lobby of a five-star hotel in downtown Victoria. No one batted an eye as we rolled up to check in. We were told that there were mats waiting in the rooms that we could use to keep our tires off the carpets. The rooms were very well-appointed and spacious, with plenty of room for bikes, gear, bags, etc. And the beds? As you'd expect, comfortable. Good thing, too, because we had a couple of big days ahead of us!

Wake up, check the weather (tip: the weather in Vic is notoriously good, with more sun than Vancouver and 2 1/2 times less rain - let's not even get into rainfall numbers vs North Van). Grab your gear and a breakfast burrito and coffee from downstairs, and there's a couple of trucks waiting for us in the lot. We meet Patrick and Merin, discuss the day, and we're off.

Our destination today: the Dump aka Hartland. These are some of the oldest and most famous trails on the Island, famous for views of the Pacific with Arbutus trees standing sentinel, complete with granite slabs and twisting singletrack winding its way down through forested sections of loam and rooty fun.

There's a brief period at the beginning of every road trip for me when pre-trip nerves turn into something else - call it curiosity. If it's a group trip with strangers, my brain wonders if we're all going to get along, how bad are the climbs going to be, is the riding going to be as good as I expected it to be, will we get lost...you get the picture.

When it's a guided trip, it's a different kind of curiosity: will I like the guides, will they like me, will they truly show us the goods, etc. It's not that I've experienced many bad group trips or guided trips - quite the opposite. I'm lucky to get to do both of those things as part of this job more often than I normally could manage, and that involves good riding with great people in interesting places. That doesn't factor into this curiosity calculus, though. At the start of every trip, it's normal to get those pre-trip tingles. And our trip to southern Vancouver Island earlier this year was no different.

If it sounds like I was working on a major case of nerves, that was not the case. But the first minutes of the first ride is that 'sorting out' period and it was going great. We stopped at a clearing during the climb to check out a section of skinnies over a pond - bog might be a better word. Most of us passed on the skinny - it was truly stick-like and the dank-smelling black mess that awaited your mistake was enough to stick us to our guns. Ollie flew the drone for some b-roll while we chilled out. Hailey had other plans. She ditched her pack and announced she was going to take the skinny (for anyone that knows Hailey, this is something she does and we love her for it). We lined up in anticipation. Halfway along and in the middle of the crux, she made it through the beginning of the turn, stalled, lost the front, dropped the end of her axle onto the log, and... tumbled into the black abyss. Hailey shrieked, stood up and proclaimed: "oh my god, it smells like shiiiiit!"

We all howled. Hailey wretched and tried to clean herself off, in futility. The ice was broken. Our guides - and we - were able to relax. The die was cast. It was going to be a good one.

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Durance Lake is a popular place for locals to hang out and swim. There are plenty of access points, so even on a busy day, you can find a quiet spot for a dip.

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From the beginning of the ride I'm reminded - yet again - that a proper climb trail is a keystone to a successful network. Facilitate that uphill flow and riders will come down happy. We paused at the top to admire the view with a snack and then sessioned a granite outcrop, giggling our way through optional lines and sliding tires. You've seen the views and Arbutus trees and granite from the top of the Hartland trails. It's as good as you imagined. Slabs gave way to semi-tech with jumps and berms and optionals, and we yelped our way down the trails. Why have I never made it a point to ride here before?

We finished the ride, got the shots, and headed for lunch at the Redbarn aka Hullabaloo, a grocery store/deli with incredible made to order sandwiches and a terrific ice cream truck parked outside. I want this for all of my post-ride lunches, forever. That would have been enough, but we had another plan: a swim at Durance Lake. Easy parking and multiple access points make it a perfect spot to cool off, even on a busy summer weekend. The water was perfect. This day couldn't get any better, but we had yet another stop: cold beers lay in wait at Vancouver Island Brewing. With a west coast vibe, the tap room is a great place to meet old friends or make new ones, and the varied selection of beers was worthy of the day we'd just had. Our cups would have runneth over if we weren't so busy draining them.

You could easily recreate our itinerary and feel sated without being overwhelmed. The filming aspect takes time and we still fit it in easily - nothing is too far away, the driving is easy. We made it back to the hotel and could have called it a day but dinner awaited us. The Hotel Grand Pacific has a special restaurant on site called Fathom, and we were expected. We showered and gathered for a meal I can still savour, with views of the harbour and downtown Victoria. Signature dishes and overstuffed booths gave way to well-made cocktails in the lounge. We had to behave. Day 2 lay in wait.

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Fathom (the Hotel Grand Pacific's restaurant) has a cocktail lounge and a dining room. If you're into whisky, there's a tasting bar. We (mostly) resisted temptation but we needed something for a photo, right?

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Good food, and check out the view.

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For our second day, we had two riding destinations: the Jordie Lunn Bike Park and Harbourview. We woke up refreshed and headed out. We'd seen images and video of the park built in Jordie's honour, but this was everyone's first time there. Construction greeted us - it is soon to be the site of a cycling coaching and development facility that will be able to house races and events. However, that was just a building at the entrance - the park is fully open and operational, and free to the public. Velosolutions built a massive pump track (biggest by far any of us had ever seen) and the trails are extensive - and growing. There are skills zones and plenty of trails to explore, and it's getting bigger all the time. Langford has a gem on their hands and I hope North Van (and Sechelt!) take note and model future municipal bike park development after what they've got going at JLBP.

We made our way over to Harbourview, where we were able to get a taste for what the Sooke Bike Club is up to with their trail building and development initiatives. Coles Notes: wicked fun trails and lots of (hard-earned) progress. Like in so many other communities, the SBC is run by passionate volunteers whose efforts are paying off after many years of hard work, advocacy, and persistence. After sampling some great trails, we headed to Sooke Oceanside Brewing - where else? They're located in a sweet little tucked away location with a food truck nearby (with amazing grilled cheese sandwiches) and once again, amazing beer and snacks greeted us- this time with waterfront views! What a way to wrap up a big day of riding.

Resisting the temptation to overdo it, we headed down the road to meet most of the Board of the Sooke Bike Club over drinks and dinner at a funky roadhouse called Route 14. Mountain bikers of Sooke: you're lucky to have such great people working on your behalf. As visitors, we felt welcomed and appreciated. Great vibes all around!

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The Sooke Bike Club is a well-organized group of folks who flat out love riding and building great trails. Like most trail orgs, they started 'underground' and fought for - and won - legitimacy, and are now building something special in Harbourview.

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After a couple of awesome days of riding, eating, and meeting new friends, we had one more great sleep at the Grand before hitting the road to head home.

It's easy to rely on our local trails - especially when they're so good right here in the Sea 2 Sky region - but the experience of discovering new areas can't be beat. Patrick and Merin from Nolan Riding delivered not only all the great riding we could handle, but all of the other things that turn a riding weekend into a memorable experience: the laughter, food, and good times won't soon be forgotten, and we'll be back next year to find all the tucked away treasures we missed the first time through.

Any good riding weekend starts with a plan, and we had the benefit of Nolan Riding to show us around. We recommend you give them a shout to help you find your way around, and even get a little coaching while you're at it, however, here are a few places to give you a head start should you wish to tour southern Vancouver Island on your own:

Riding in Hartland (aka the Dump)

Lunch at Redbarn/Ice cream & coffee at Hullabaloo

Swim in Durance Lake

Apres beers at Vancouver Island Brewing

Dinner at Fathom (at the Gran Pacific Hotel Victoria)

Stay in beautiful downtown Victoria at the Grand Pacific Hotel (they love mountain bikers!)

Ride at the Jordie Lunn Bike Park in Langford

Then go riding at the Harbourview trails in Sooke. We're fans of supporting trail associations when you visit - in the case of Hartland, that's the Sooke Bike Club.

Apres at Sooke Oceanside Brewing

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+6 Pete Roggeman Niels van Kampenhout Mammal Andrew Major Adrian White [email protected]

Some additional background info from a local...

1: Pat and the whole Nolan crew is amazing... my kids have been in their programs for years and love it. I did a Jump Skills program at our local dirt jump park with them and it transformed my riding.

2. Hartland (aka: The Dump). Because of the tremendous work of the SIMBS (South Island Mountain Bike Society) over the past few years, this riding area has been transformed and has become one of my favorite zones in BC. It's tough and the climbing is generally technical, steep and challenging. It's also usually pretty short, and the new climb trails are awesome, so many laps and trails can be done in a 2 hour session. It can also be difficult to navigate, especially if you're seeking some of the "unpublished" steep and gnarly goods... so get some quality guiding from Pat and his crew.

3. Harbourview in Sooke is the unsung hero of riding areas in BC and again, the local association, the Sooke Bike Club, has done some fantastic work the past few years. Warning... while it was lightly referenced in the video, go in expecting horrible climbs/hike a bikes to get to the proper black and double black trails. But trust me, just do it, stop whining, the view is worth it alone never mind the amazing trails off the top. There are also some great trails accessed by a chill fire road climb as well. So again, employing Pat's help would be a good idea.

4. The Jordie Lunn Bike Park! So... want to ride a free mini bike park with trails built by trail building companies (including Darren Berrecloth's company JD Parks) and accessed by mostly machine built climb trails? Laps on laps on laps bruh... keep ripping until you can't hold onto your bike anymore. This place is serious fun. Throw in a double Velosolutions pump track, dirt jump lines from blue to pro and a skills area, it's got everything you could ask for in a tight compact area.

The south island sucks... don't bother.


+1 IslandLife

Great additional details! I could have gone on forever, but thousands of words, photos, a video...so much to cover!


+3 Pete Roggeman Niels van Kampenhout [email protected]

This was nice to read. Having spent most of my life living in Victoria, I cut my mtb teeth riding at The Dump, around '99 (19yo), after a best friend took me out a few times. The Dump, Tzouhalem (Duncan), and years later Harbourview, were always my go-to riding zones. I moved to North Van 8 years ago, before climbing trails at the Dump were a thing, so I can't even imagine how much that must have improved the experience there. It was always known for very grueling fire-road climbs, with descents that were entertaining, but seemed to last mere seconds before it was time to die climbing again. Tough to do many laps in that configuration.

I've ridden on the Island since I moved to the mainland, but never in Victoria. I really look forward to the Jordie Lunn park, that's an amazing addition to Langford, and the trails look awesome. 

I'm sure there were other factors at play, but you missed some of the best breweries in Victoria. No direct shade thrown at Van Isle Brewery, but there are some world class places a stone's-throw away from where you were staying. I'd suggest Driftwood for great pints and food, with killer atmosphere.


+4 Niels van Kampenhout Mammal IslandLife [email protected]

The climbing is still a bit steep, but the trail makes it way better, I'm sure, than fire roads.

Will have to check out more breweries next time! Just another thing to look forward to.

Jordie Lunn Bike Park was a revelation. I didn't expect it to be as built up and polished as it is, and I get the feeling they're only getting started (there was also trail construction going on when we were there). Can't say enough about the size of the pump track - we didn't have as much time as we would have liked there, but if I lived anywhere nearby, it would be a regular stop.


+3 Pete Roggeman Niels van Kampenhout [email protected]

Such a fun trip exploring the trails and everything the area has to offer. The island just hits different... 

Great job on the write up/photos/video and thanks again to Nolan Riding for the EXTRAORDINARY tour!



Great to have you along, Emma!


+3 Pete Roggeman IslandLife [email protected]

Such a fan of Jordie Lunn Bike Park...  my favorite trail there is Wildcat, best bang for the buck and your cornering skills will come out shining.  Also has the best climbing trail(s). 

For Harland, the less travel bike you have the better.


+1 Jerry Willows

I used to ride Hartland on my '01 VPS with Super T's. Ahhh the olden days.


+1 Jerry Willows

The more I ride Wildcat, the deeper I'm falling in love with it.  It's labelled as a blue trail, but to ride it truly fast, it becomes a technical puzzle trying to figure out how and where to enter and exit certain corners, where to pump, air or scrub/suck, to not only maximize speed and flow, but to not hit some of those entries and exits wrong and fly off into the forest!


+1 IslandLife

it's amazing....  I find the other trails over super quick but Wildcat lasts forever.


+2 Matt Cusanelli Pete Roggeman

Nice! Stoked to explore more of the Island.

I'd love to hear about cheaper alternatives for the Grand Pacific Hotel. Perhaps closer to the trails too so riding directly from the accommodation is more attractive.


+1 Niels van Kampenhout

Lots of other great hotels around Victoria.  Not much available within riding distance (maybe some AirB&B's), but Victoria and the surrounding area is small, so to get from downtown Victoria to Hartland is a 25 min drive.  To Harbourview in Sooke, it's 35 mins.  To the JLBP in Langford, it's 25 mins.

Of course there are also hotel options in Sooke and Langford, but being in/near downtown Victoria is generally preferred because you can just walk around to all the restaurants/pubs and get all touristy with the inner harbour etc...


+1 Niels van Kampenhout

Its a nice ride out to Hartland, too! Take the Goose partway, some nice rambling Island backroads....


+2 IslandLife Niels van Kampenhout

For sure. In this case, the Grand was a trip sponsor and put us up. They see lots of road bike visitors as well. The location is central (just down the road from the Legislative Assembly, downtown, Beacon Hill Park, etc. We didn't have a lot of time to poke around but I sure would have liked to - Victoria and the surrounding area is incredibly nice.


+2 Mammal [email protected]

A caption for one of the above photos reads:

The Sooke Bike Club is a well-organized group of folks who flat out love riding and building great trails. Like most trail orgs, they started 'underground' and fought for - and won - legitimacy, and are now building something special in Hartland.

As mentioned by Island Life in his comment, the trails at Hartland are maintained by SIMBS.  I think you meant to say Harbourview.

There are some other cool spots to ride in Sooke as well (or at least there used to be), but I am not sure if they are sanctioned yet or have been lost to development - but Harbourview is getting better every time I go back to visit.



Thanks, I made that correction.

Definitely plan to spend more time exploring Sooke. And Harbourview. When trying to fit this kind of itinerary into two days - and shoot footage - there isn't time to explore extra trails, let alone whole other areas in a zone.


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