If you’re looking for a long, gloriously scenic, butt-kicking hike then this is the one for you. Get ready to have your mind blown multiple times in a row on this extraordinary adventure.
Castle Peak is an in-and-out trail with a loop on the second large section. The loop will take you to multiple scenic points. This trail is said to be 11.9km but I know that typically the elevation change is not taken into account when recording that distance so I would put it at closer to 15km+. (That’s a guess) I’ve done this trail twice and both times it took 4 ½ to 5 hours. That being said I’m sure you could do it in shorter time if you’re in good shape and not stopping to enjoy every scenic space like we do.
The trailhead is a short walk along the highway from the parking spot on the side of Sooke Rd. This trail crosses over the iconic Sooke pipeline in the very start and traverses through the beautiful wooded area between Goldstream Park and Sooke Hills Park.
From the get-go you’ll be going uphill through some standard PNW forest trail. The most recent time we went there was some construction at the start of the trail and lots of downed trees for this first section. Don’t worry, this is just the first half a kilometer or so, it gets better.
Pretty soon into the trail you’ll have a small river crossing where a few logs are downed across it and a line is put up to help you across. There’s some metal grating put on the logs to avoid any slipping. In the warmer months this is an awesome place to stop on the way out to refresh yourself, dip your toes in and enjoy some sunshine beside the little creek. Immediately after the bridge there are two paths to take, you can take either they end up at the same spot but the right trail is shorter.
For the whole first 2km you’re going to want to stay to the right of any trails that jut off. It seems relatively obviously for most options that you just take the more trodden path. You will come to a few different water features including a 1ft tall falls which is quite cute and then some small rolling falls later on. At your first water feature you’re going to see the path split into two and either way looks good but you’ll want to stay to the left here. Not long after here is the start of your loop. I never notice the end of the loop trail because it’s pretty overgrown.
At the small, rolling falls there is a very obvious looking path to the left but this is where you take the spot that looks like you shouldn’t. You’re going to cross straight over the creek and go straight up into the bushes. This short section has pretty overgrown salal but just trust that it’s the right way. Most sections that there are other paths seem pretty obvious which way to go but this is one that you’re going to want to be aware of. As this area is heavily forested your GPS might be a little funny (mine was) so it kept saying we were between the two trail options on the map which made us backtrack a few times, however, it is this trail just across the rolling falls.
From the rolling falls you’ll be going in an upwards direction for a while. This is just the beginning of the grind upwards and it’s the gentlest uphill section so just letting you know that before-hand. We always make a pit-stop at this super mossy little hill. There’s no trail to it, we always just scamper through the salal and up the little rocky ledge to get to it. I honestly couldn’t tell you what drew us to go to that spot but we absolutely love taking your shoes off and walking through it. It actually feels really gross to walk though as the moss is dry and crisp on the top and squishy and wet as your foot goes deeper into the moss. It’s absolutely beautiful and we adore this stop.
Onwards from here you’re going to arrive at your first viewpoint. Before the viewpoint I highly suggest taking in all the different plant life, the rocky features and all this trail has to offer. We always love the small flowers that litter this trail in spring and there’s a handful of Inuksuk’s used as trail markers that Ann likes to add to. At your first viewpoint you’ll see a big flat rock which we like to climb on. You can see a breathtaking view above the forest valley below. Across this valley is your final peak. It actually isn’t even Castle Peak, that’ll be your next viewpoint and you’ll see why it’s called that, but the peak across from you is Mount Braden. Looking at it can be a bit discouraging but trust me, it’s worth it.
Now is the start of the most discouraging part of this trail; you’re going to descend. That’s right, you go down now. After seeing how far up and around you have to go, when you start heading down you just know you have so much more to go up. So this is a good glute workout. Within this section there’s a part where the trail gets a little elusive and the first time we did this we ended up scaling a super sketchy rock section before realizing that the trail was off to the right. I unfortunately didn’t take any photos of this spot either time that I went but just be aware that the trail is sneaky so keep your eyes peeled for that. After this section you’ll see a tree that has a keyhole in it. It’s just cool and notable.
Once you reach the viewpoint you’ll be on Castle Peak. This peak has really neat rock formations that are the “castle” on top, we always clamber around through them and love to admire them along with the stunning view.
This is another section where the trail is a little sneaky. You’re going to want to go relatively close to the end of the viewpoint (towards the edge) and the trail will be around the front of it. I believe that it starts on the front and snakes to the left. We ended up scampering and bush whacking our first go at it just trying to follow the GPS. This is basically the trend of this trail, you’ll see soon enough that this kind of thing happens again.
From Castle Peak you’re going to, yet again, descend down into the valley. Dang! Get your booty ready for a climb to your final peak. As you come up to Mount Braden you’ll see a beautiful view and you’re going to want to stop. By all means stop and enjoy it but it’s nothing like the view that’s coming. We did stop and enjoy this spot our first time but our second time we blitzed past it knowing what was in store for us just a little bit further.
The summit of Mount Braden is the highlight and the high point of this trail. The view is stunning from here and you can look across the valley and see how far you’ve come which gives you a real sense of accomplishment. This is the perfect spot to stop and have some lunch or just enjoy the view and have a rest.
The first time I did this hike we had a hard time finding where the trail continued, we tried backtracking, we tried going down to the left of the peak but we were just feeling confused. Here’s the thing. You walk straight off the nose of the peak. You literally have to walk right up to the front to realise that it isn’t just a sheer drop off but rather a sloping hill that trails downwards. I’m sure you can understand looking at the photos of the peak why this was a little confusing the first time, but trust me, you just keep walking straight.
The trail is quite easy to follow down from here. You will come to a fork in the road at one point and you’ll stay to the right. This section of the trail is lightly forested and has lots of rocky bluffs including one large, lone boulder. There are no more offshoots of the trail before reaching the end of the loop and hopefully from here you remember the path back.
Castle Peak easily sits in my top 5 favorite hikes in the Victoria area. It has some challenge to it, it’s visually stunning, is continuously rewarding and is full of natural highlights throughout the trail. You walk through typical forest, pass over creeks and water features, trail through rocky areas, stand atop peaks and can visually see how far you’ve come.