Swan Lake and the surrounding lowland area provide a rich habitat for a variety of wildlife. Swan Lake was formed 12,000 years ago when the last glacier receded. The underlying bedrock, exaggerated by the scouring action of the glacier, provided the basin which defined the lake boundary. Today, the lake is shallow and warm, flourishing with life, and is fed by a large watershed to the north and east, which includes Blenkinsop Lake. The water drains westward into the Colquitz River, and meeting the ocean at Portage inlet.
The 47-hectare urban nature sanctuary consists of two ecologically distinct areas – the marshy lowlands surrounding Swan Lake, and the high, rocky Garry Oak forested crest of Christmas Hill (11 hectares). A connecting trail corridor from Swan Lake provides access to Christmas Hill, a 2.5-kilometer round trip. Spring is the best time of year to enjoy the spectacular show of Garry Oak meadow wildflowers. White Fawn Lily, Common and Great Camas, Shootingstar and Satin Flower are abundant. Look for the elusive Chocolate Lily along the trail. The view of Victoria and surrounding hills from the glacially-grooved summit of the hill is always exciting.
As the seasons change, so do the plants and animals that are here, providing year-round viewing. During the winter months, the lake and flooded fields provide resting and feeling areas for a variety of grebes, ducks, and other waterfowl. In spring and summer, the forests, fields and blooming hedgerows are filled with nesting birds such as warblers, sparrows, wrens and finches. A 2.5-km loop trail, featuring two wharves and a floating walkway, provides good access to the lake.
Watch for muskrat and basking turtles in the summer months, and river otter during the winter. Bird watching opportunities are excellent year-round, especially during the spring and fall migration. Great Blue Herons can almost always be sighted; Cooper”s and Sharp-shinned hawks are common. During the winter months, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Shoveller, Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon can be seen. During spring and summer, the lake edge teems with Swallows, and the fields of cat-tails and marsh grass are alive with calling Marsh Wrens and Red-winged Blackbirds.
A wide variety of programs and actives is offered to appeal to everybody. These include bird watches, junior naturalist programs, everything from archaeology to reptiles that appeal to one’s sense of fun and adventure. The Nature House is the centre for information on the nature sanctuary and its activities, featuring interactive displays to stimulate your senses, a classroom, and a library. Visits by individuals, families or groups are always welcome.
A small gift shop and information desk provides local and regional bird checklists, wildlife and trail guides, and information on wildlife viewing opportunities throughout the region.
The nature house is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Friday (year-round), and from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm on weekends and most holidays (11:00 am to 4:00 pm during July and August). Admission to the Nature House is by donation. The parking lot and trails are open from dawn to dusk. To protect the wildlife, dogs are not permitted in the nature Sanctuary at any time. Please remember that the trails are for walking – bicycle riding is not permitted in the Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary is managed by a registered non-profit society, and staff and volunteers offer natural history programs and services to schools, community groups and the general public. Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary is located in Saanich, just a few minutes from downtown Victoria – directions from Downtown Victoria:
Access by car: Go North on Blanshard Road/Pat Bay Highway (#17); take McKenzie Street exit (east); right on Rainbow Street; left on Ralph Street; right on Swan Lake Road; parking lot entrance on left.
Access by bus: Take Pat Bay Highway #70 or Central Saanich #75 to the McKenzie interchange; walk east one block on McKenzie Road; right on Rainbow Street; left on Ralph Street; right on Swan Lake Road; follow road into Nature House. Total walking time: 10 minutes.
Nearby Regions & Towns
This park is a Regional Park, Municipal Park, or proposed park, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada (National Parks) or the BC Ministry of Environment (BC Parks).