Named after the Malahat First Nation, this rugged region of heavy forest and steep cliffs north of Victoria is traversed by one of the most beautiful roadways in the world, with viewpoints providing scenic vistas of Saanich Inlet, the Saanich Peninsula, Saltspring Island, and the BC Gulf Islands in the distance.
First cut as a cattle trail in 1861, it was upgraded to wagon-road standards in 1884, and became a paved road in 1911. The Malahat Drive climbs to a summit of 356 metres (1,156 ft). Today, the Malahat highway begins in Goldstream Provincial Park, just north of Langford, and takes a famously winding and steep route over the 356-metre (1,156-feet) Malahat Summit to end just south of Mill Bay.
Travelling north from Victoria, Malahat Drive climbs over rugged mountainside and through imposing mature forests of Douglas fir, arbutus, hemlock, and western red cedar before dropping down into the Cowichan Valley.
In spite of the highway, the Malahat is of great ceremonial significance to the Malahat First Nation, whose ancestors used the caves for spiritual enchancement. An earlier aboriginal name for the mountain was Yaas, the home of a legendary rainmaker. The First Nations people believed that it would rain if one pointed at the mountain. Malahat Mountain remains one of the most sacred sites on southern Vancouver Island.
The name Malahat describes the 16-mile (25-km) portion of the Trans-Canada Highway 1 as well as the locality, which is an unincorporated area in the Cowichan Valley, with services delivered by the Cowichan Valley Regional District. While there is no Malahat town, there are accommodation, dining and commercial establishments either side of Highway 1 that cater to visitors.
Location: The Malahat is located on the west side of the Saanich Inlet, south of Duncan and 30 minutes north of Victoria on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Viewpoints: Convenient stopping points and rest areas on the east side of the Malahat present spectacular views of Saanich Inlet, the Saanich Peninsula, Victoria International Airport, Saltspring Island, the Southern Gulf Islands, and the distant Mount Baker in Washington State.
Goldstream Provincial Park on the southern edge of the Malahat is a camper’s delight, especially busy during November’s salmon spawning run. This is a showcase for provincial parks, and many visitors fortunate to stay a day or two here end up wishing they could take up permanent residence. Picnic grounds besides the Goldstream River provide a welcome break from travelling. A lot of lunches get consumed here during the fall salmon migration, when hundreds of nature-loving onlookers come to Goldstream Park. You’ll find interconnecting nature walks and trails between the day-use parking lot, the picnic grounds, the Freeman King Visitor Centre, and the south shore of Finlayson Arm. The natural beauty of the environment makes this a special place to explore at a leisurely pace. The more energetic can take a hike up Mount Finlayson (1,375 feet/413 metres) for superb views of Finlayson Arm and the surrounding Victoria area.
Spectacle Lake Provincial Park is a great spot for swimming, canoeing, fishing or spending the day picnicking. The lake is cherished by many, as it offers the only eastern brook trout fishing on Vancouver Island. The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, which means that you must get there early in the season for best results. As you look down through the lake’s incredibly clear water, you’ll see crayfish scuttling along the lake bottom. An easy 2-km, well-maintained hiking trail circles the lake, with wooden bridges crossing the numerous creeks and marshy area feeding into Spectacle Lake.
Bamberton Provincial Park is located on the west side of Saanich Inlet at the northern end of the Malahat Drive. Dozens of picnic tables sit on the terraced slopes above the beach, shaded by a fir and arbutus forest. This quiet retreat with a sandy swimming beach is one of the more scenic locations on Saanich Inlet. The warm waters around the Saanich Inlet are ideal for swimming, and the fine beaches stretch on for miles and miles. Stroll along trails that lead from the beach to the campground, or follow the 2 creeks as they meander through the 28-hectare park. Back from the beach is an upland of second-growth coniferous and deciduous trees that are typical of the region. Of particular interest is the Arbutus, a tree identified by its thick, leathery green leaves, reddish trunk and peeling bark.
North of the Malahat is the town of Mill Bay in the Cowichan Valley. Mill Bay is the departure point for the Brentwood Bay/Mill Bay BC Ferry service across Saanich Inlet to Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.