Paddling Victoria Harbour and the Gorge Waterway

Quick Facts

  • Parking and Launching: Banfield Park Dock 
  • Launching type: dock
  • Difficulty – very busy working harbour
  • Boat traffic – heavy in the inner harbour
  • View – great forest-lined rocky shores north of Selkirk Trestle, industrial activities in the upper harbour, and glances at the Parliament Building in the inner harbour
  • Facilities: no toilets near the Banfield Dock
  • Overall score – 7/10

During our camping trip just outside Victoria, one of my goals was to paddle in Victoria Harbour. Flanked by the BC Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel, the inner harbour is arguably even more BC-iconic than False Creek in Vancouver. I wanted to try putting myself in the postcard scene once.

I found this guide on Where To Paddle In Victoria Harbour by Bruce Holland to be exactly what I was looking for. I highly recommend reading this in full if you want to try this paddle. It included an important warning that I will highlight here as well: Victoria Harbour is a very busy working harbour and a water airport, so extreme care must be taken to paddle here.

The Victoria Harbour is broken into several distinct sections:

  1. North of Selkirk Trestle: the Gorge Waterway – beautiful forest lined rocky shores
  2. Selkirk Trestle to Bay St Bridge: the Selkirk Waterway – cool looking trestle to paddle under
  3. Bay St Bridge to Johnson St Bridge: Upper Harbour – industrial harbour
  4. Johnson St Bridge to Laurel Point: Inner Harbour – BC Parliament lives here
  5. Laurel Point to Shoal Point: Middle Harbour – Fisherman’s Wharf
  6. Shoal Point to Ogden Point Breakwater: Outer Harbour – don’t get blown out to open seas
My chicken scratch of a schematic of the sections of Victoria Harbour

Bruce listed a few places where one can launch a kayak, and I chose to launch from Banfield Park which would put me right in the middle of where I want to visit. We were lucky to grab one of the 4 parking spots, and we were able to get onto the dock after a short, easy descent.

The Banfield Dock
Prepping to launch onto the Gorge Waterway
Sorry Junior, paddling in the harbour is not suitable for toddlers.

I paddled north first to explore the small section of the Gorge until the Tillicum Bridge, under which the the famous reversing falls flow.

The Gorge.

I was amazed by how wild The Gorge felt, while still being part of the City of Victoria. It’s an impressive facade from the water front, behind which whole city blocks are hidden from view.

The Tillicum Bridge.

No reversing falls when I visited. The tide was going in, so there was a substantial northward inflow of water under the bridge, but it’s quite calm and definitely doable. I did not budget enough time to explore further, so I turned around and went south.

I radio-ed my gang about my approach to Selkirk Trestle, so they met me on the bridge.

Approaching Selkirk Trestle from the Gorge Waterway.
Selkirk Trestle

After passing the trestle, I entered the Selkirk Waterway. There is a mixed use development here, but otherwise there wasn’t much to see.

Selkirk Waterway

I came across the “hot tub boat”, which was basically a floating hot tub with a small motor.

The Victoria Hot Tub Boat

I continued under the Bay St Bridge and entered the industrial Upper Harbour. There was a junk yard, a shipyard with naval ship, and other heavy machinery.

I glided under the Johnson St Bridge and entered the Inner Harbour. There were lots of boats docked here.

Docked boats and Johnson St Bridge

A sailboat docking here released some brown water into the harbour, which grossed me out. Thankfully I was far enough away from the boat that I didn’t paddle directly across the discharge.

Brushing that unpleasant encounter aside, I ventured forward to the parliament building. I was happy to see these heritage icons, but I was busy minding my surroundings to avoid getting in the way of moving boats that I didn’t get much time nor pay enough attention to appreciate the views.

A sea plane came through the inner harbour in front of the Delta Hotel towards its dock.

I crossed the inner harbour at the narrows between Laurel Point and Songhees Point, and headed back to where I started the paddle.

Rowers in Selkirk Waterway

I stopped at the Glo restaurant in Selkirk and met up with my family for lunch. The docks looked private but I found a small patch of gravel beach to pull out.

Unlike Vancouver, the water ferry docks are private in Victoria.

After lunch, it’s just another skip under the Selkirk Trestle to get back to Banfield Park and conclude my paddle in Victoria Harbour. The views in the Gorge Waterway was definitely the best out of all the sections I sampled.

This was definitely a unique paddle. The diverse range of views within 10km were unmatched anywhere else I’ve visited. It’s like visiting False Creek (Inner Harbour), Steveston (Middle Harbour Fisherman’s wharf), then teleporting to Indian Arm (the Gorge waterway).

It was basically mandatory for me to paddle to Inner Harbour on my paddling visit to Victoria Harbour, but honestly, I would probably stick to the Gorge and explore further north next time. The Inner Harbour was too busy for me to enjoy and there was not a lot to see in the Upper Harbour and Selkirk Waterway.

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