Length: 23.2 km, 3.5 hrs
Difficulty: 3/5 (2/5 if Crabapple omitted). Long steady climb up Harbourview Road. Clamber over large boulders at turnoff to Crabapple Lake (optional), one crazy steep section north of Grassy Lake, technical rocky descent along the side of North Charters River. Crazy deep puddles in the spring.
Ascent: 663 m
Highlights: 3 (or 2 pretty lakes), minimal views except at the lakes, pretty single track along North Charters River.
Summary: A loop around Shields and Grassy Lakes (with optional detour to Crabapple Lake). some steep unrideable sections just north or Grassy Lake. Meandering single track along the west side of Grassy Lake before a steep descent alongside North Charters River back to Harbourview Rd.
Directions: Drive towards Sooke along Highway 14. Soon after spotting Sooke Harbour, cross the Ayum Creek bridge and turn right on Harbourview Rd to the parking lot at the end.
Cycle past the gate at the east end of the parking lot and travel north along the main access road. This is a mostly gentle grade, moderately easy climb past the Sooke Flowline, and spur to Mt Manuel Quimper at 1.9 km. Continue along the base of Manuel Quimper and turn northeast at 2.5. There is a spur going straight (not gravel) which is the track returning from Grassy Lake.
Another turn towards the east at 3.9 as the road continues along the north side of Manuel Quimper and to the south of the Rampart peaks. Cross the trickle that is Charters River at 6.0 and then Clapper Ck at 6.2 before heading gradually uphill once more and northwards. At 8.1, the road makes a sharp left turn. The options are to turn left straight towards Shields Lake or continue up the seeming rocky creekbed towards Crabapple Lake. The shortcut will save about 4.2 km. This description assumes seeing Crabapple first. But there are significant boulders to clamber up before the path is rideable again:
Once past the rocks, the track is rideable though some areas of overgrown bush and lots of spiderwebs. The large Doug Fir greets the entrance to Crabapple Lake at 10.1 and then Eric Barnard’s cabin foundations at 10.2 and a rickety old dock. There were plenty of salamanders there in the spring (and a rainbow trout behind the salamander at the end of the clip):
and lilypads in the summer:
Marvel at the carnivorous plants of Crabapple:
The road circles around the north end of Crabapple and allows one other glimpse of the lake at a lookout at 11.0. A fork at 11.3 takes you either to Empress (right), or back down towards Shields Lake. Go left here, and expect a few short steep uphill sections. At 11.6, go left rather than straight as the track is much easier, and then the right fork at 12.7 (the left goes back down Harbourview). At 13.4, there is a spur that goes to Shields Lake. I’ve seen people fishing in a canoe there, and guess that maybe the canoe is stashed somewhere.
The road continues west along the north shore of Shields and then Grassy Lake with a few monumental puddles / ponds
to cross before a dwindling track forks northwest (right) at 15.4.
Almost immediately, there is a horribly steep and rocky section which might make you turn back. Not to worry, it’s only about 200 m long, and leads into some very nice rolling and winding single track that meanders around the west side of Grassy Lake. Some very prettywestern coralroot orchids are present in this region in late May / early June.
The odd reptile is present along the path.
The entire track once past the horrid little steep section is very pleasant until back onto Harbourview. The path starts to descend once leaving Grassy Lake, with some significantly steep rocky but rideable sections.
It’s hard to believe that once there was a paved road here.
The track continues to descend alongside the gully of North Charters River until the crossing is made at 19.5
Then a gradual climb on a grassy and dirt road from 19.4 to 21.1 where Harbourview Rd is again met.