It was actually the potholes that first attracted Henk and I to the small town of Sooke, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island – just not the kind of bone-rattling potholes you find everywhere on Canadian roads in the spring. Sooke’s Potholes actually refer to a feature along the Sooke River where carved depressions in the river bed were hollowed out during the last ice age. Known for years to the locals who use them as popular swimming holes, the potholes have become an off-the-beaten path attraction for visiting hikers as well. But as Henk and I learned on our visit, hiking to the Potholes is only one of many things to do in Sooke.
Hike Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
Henk and I chose to make Sooke our base for a week’s visit to Vancouver Island in May, not just for its potholes, but because we were looking for a small town that would give us closer access to the wild west coast of the Island. We were also looking for a place that offered a different experience than the urban vibe in Victoria. We didn’t really have much of an itinerary when it came to things to do in Sooke specifically, but we had heard about the potholes and trails in Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, and knew we wanted to check them out.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is only about a 15 minute drive from the town centre of Sooke and there are no entrance fees for day users, other than parking (metered parking cost about $2.25 for the day). After parking our car, Henk and I decided to do the Riverside Trail since we wanted to view the Potholes.
Like the name suggested, the trail followed the course of the river pretty closely, but it was an easy one with very little change in elevation except for when we walked down to the observation platform above the potholes. This platform gave us a good view of these cascading pools, and we could see why these smooth-sided rock ponds would be a popular choice for visitors later in the heat of the summer. Check out this video where you see one ‘pothole’ emptying into another:
Pan for Gold!
Even though the water was too active in the river for any swimming when we visited (not to mention cold), we did hike down to river level where we met a couple of locals who were actually panning for gold! It turns out that recreational gold panning is permitted here, and one of the men we spoke with had actually found gold here himself and has taught students in the area how to pan.
It’s all part of the history of this region, where gold was first discovered in 1864 in nearby Leechtown, and there are still active gold claims being panned. I would not have imagined that gold panning was one of the things to do in Sooke, (in the Yukon, yes) but apparently it’s a thing. So if you’re feeling lucky, bring your pan and shovel.
Look for Waterfalls and Wildflowers
Spring is always a good time to go ‘waterfalling’ on Vancouver Island and the same runoff that made the Sooke Potholes too wild for swimming meant there were waterfalls near the Sooke trails. In fact, just beside a bridge on the road leading to the parking lots we spotted a small cascade with pretty moss-covered rocks at the base.
There were also all kinds of tiny, colourful spring wildflowers and wild succulents that we found right along the trails.
Stroll Whiffin Spit
Search for ‘things to do in Sooke’ and it’s guaranteed you will see Whiffin Spit as one of the top places to visit. That’s because Whiffin Spit is one of Sooke’s best-known landmarks and an idea place for a coastal stroll (I say stroll, because this natural spit is flat and an easy 30-minute walk versus a hike. )
It’s a wonderful place to enjoy views of the Juan de Fuca strait on one side, and Sooke Harbour on the other. Sunset is a popular time when locals are out walking their dogs or admiring the views from the few benches along the Spit. And if you are a birdwatcher, come in the morning and you might just spot some of the eagles, herons, swans and even owls who migrate through here in the spring and fall.
Enjoy a Cocktail with a View
You’ll definitely want to take advantage of the Harbour views when you visit Sooke, and one of the best things to do in Sooke is pair those views with a grownup beverage or two. And the best place to do that would be at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort.
The hotel has wonderful views of the marina and harbour and a great outdoor patio off their dining room where you can enjoy a drink and take in the water views. The West Coast Grill here is also very good if you decide you want to stay for dinner as well.
Sooke Fine Arts Show
If you happen to be visiting Vancouver Island in late July, one of the best things to do in Sooke is take in the annual Sooke Fine Arts Show, one of the premier juried art shows on the Island. All the works featured are from local artists (several hundred of them!), and there are demonstration and talks by the artists as well as live music and of course a gift shop.
Henk and I were visiting too early in the year to take in the show, but we were lucky enough to meet one of the exhibiting artists, Sheena McCorguodale at her studio, Cathouse Gallery near Qualicum Beach, while we were exploring more of the island. We were actually driving by the studio and when I saw some of her life-sized wire sculptures displayed outside, we literally slammed on the brakes and did a u-turn.
Go ‘UpIsland’ to Hike to The Wild West Coast
Sooke is an ideal base for exploring some of the west coast of Vancouver Island, and there is excellent hiking just a little north of the town (colloquially referred to as ‘upisland’ by the locals). One of our absolute favourite hikes was the one to Mystic Beach (read more about that in detail here), where we discovered a spectacular waterfall right on the beach that looked like something straight out of Lord of the Rings.
There are also other hikes to more lesser known beaches (like Fishboat Bay) where if the tide is low you can find completely pristine beaches, and even an old growth tree or two.
The Best Thing to Do in Sooke? Slow Down.
If you’re looking for nightlife and high-energy activities and attractions, Sooke is not the place for you. It’s a small town that revels in the fact that it offers a lifestyle that is low-key and close to nature with an idyllic location “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea”. (the town motto).
If, however, you are looking for a place to recharge, Sooke is the ideal destination. Here you can relax, take in the stunning beauty of Vancouver Island at whatever pace you set, and enjoy local restaurants where your server actually has time for a conversation. (They might even recommend a hidden gem or two in the area, like Fishboat Bay Beach).
And of course, if you come to Sooke when its warm enough, you might even be able to swim in a pothole.
Where to Stay in Sooke
Henk and I highly recommend the luxurious 1-bedroom apartment we found via AirBnB known as Seagull Studio (and no, we are not getting paid to say this). Hostess Linda and her husband designed this self-contained unit themselves, and they have thought of absolutely everything when it comes to its functionality and its aesthetics, from the beautiful furnishings and decor to the personalized treats they provide to welcome their guests. And the location is perfect, literally steps to Whiffin Spit and the water.
Where to Eat in Sooke
West Coast Grill
Located in the Prestige Oceanfront Resort, this restaurant offers just what the name suggests: west coast cuisine that offers a good balance of surf and turf, as well as a selection of popular asian-inspired appetizers and sushi.
Named after the highway where it is located (that runs through the centre of Sooke), this casual restaurant and bar offers eclectic entrees that take their inspiration from comfort food staples (think mac & cheese and butter chicken), but with creative additions. Affordable and yummy, with something for everyone.
The Lazy Gecko
A casual Mexican eatery with tasty favourites in a tucked-away location just off the highway. Burritos are huge so come hungry.
Every local we spoke to in Sooke raved about this wood-fired takeout pizza, but sadly, Stoked hours didn’t work out with our own plans (they are only open from Thursday – Sunday, seasonally from April to November.) But I would take the word of the people that this is THE place if you are craving Italian-style pizza.
Little Vienna Bakery
This is a great little European style bakery, especially if you want to pick up a tasty sandwich or baked goodies to take with you on a hike (I think a cheesecake brownie beats a power bar any day). Of course it’s also a great place for a coffee and fresh cafe selections for lunch.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.
Thoroughly enjoyed learning of Sooke Jane …an unknown part of the world I was unaware of! Interesting to say the least!
Glad you enjoyed the read as much as we enjoyed visiting Sooke ourselves. Small town, but always so pretty on Vancouver Island, no matter where you go.
Another amazing adventure I enjoyed taking with you two
Glad to have you along for the ride, Wanda! 🙂