Hiking in the Sooke Hills

by Rain Scott

I’ve never owned a standalone GPS. Now in the era of crowd-sourced maps and awesome phone apps — it’s been even easier to avoid dropping $350 on a decent GPS.

Before the tips, first the warning: these hikes are very dangerous if you are not experienced and well-prepared.

With that out of the way here are my tips, from least technology reliant to most.

Summit Post: The Urban Mountains of the CRD

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

This page on Summit Post is how my hiking buddy and I figured out the Sooke Hills, without trail maps, a smartphone or GPS. We followed printed directions like this:

At 40-45 minutes note the wreck of an old red car on the left above the river and shortly thereafter cross the creek…

It took us years to figure out most of the hikes we wanted to do. We had to sometimes try mountains three or four times before we could summit. And sometimes we spent all day just walking trails to see where they went, which was often nowhere.

This is in no way to criticize the tremendous effort that goes into this incredible resource. Following subjective descriptions is just a very slow (but fun) way for many of us to find our way in the woods.

The verdict: Don’t rely on ONLY this site unless it becomes 2010 again & you are too cheap to buy a GPS.

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

We often took photos of important junctions so we could repeat what we did next time.

Open Cycle Map

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

Just like Wikipedia, anyone can edit Open Street Maps.

The version that includes hiking trails is called Open Cycle Map.

You can use this website in your browser to plan routes, but you can also use Walking Papers to print your own custom maps in various sizes.

A good caveat to remember is that anyone can edit these maps. Not all lines on this map correspond to well flagged, dirt paths in the woods.

The verdict: Always bring along a printed Open Cycle Map! Unless you LIKE that sinking feeling in your gut when you don’t know where you are…

Smartphone apps

The Backcountry Navigator app for Android is awesome.

No cell signal, no problem. The GPS in your phone can use satellites to locate you, just like a standalone GPS would. This has nothing to do with cell reception, so it works in the middle of nowhere.

Just make sure you download the relevant maps at home over WiFi . Or else the app will show you as a little blue dot in a greyed out background OR eat up your entire data plan. Not so helpful.

The only downside is that this completely zaps your battery in 2-3 hours of heavy use. Here is what I do to avoid that problem:

  • Put phone in airplane mode. This helps your phone battery when you are out of cell range, as your phone won’t be constantly searching for towers. (The GPS will still work. I know you don’t believe me, but it will.)
  • Every time I stop for a snack break & before I leave the car/camp, I turn on the GPS inside the app and mark a waypoint. I then turn the GPS off again.
  • If I am going out for a longer trip or feel nervous about navigating, I carry a backup phone battery.

When I had an iPhone, I used EveryTrail, though it crashed all the time. (If you have a favourite iPhone app, let me know in the comments!)

The verdict: For the price of two lattes, you have a GPS on your phone!

Join an outdoor club

Navigating the Sooke Hills (without a GPS)

The Alpine Club of Canada heads out for hikes out in the Sooke Hills for hikes all of the time.  Many of the hikes are long, adventurous and full of bushwacking.

verdict: The way to go if you want to meet new folks, learn from more experienced folks, and/or don’t have a car.

Some photos from years of hiking in the Sooke Hills

Oh those views. Sugarloaf Mt.
Taken on my first solo backpacking trip. Sugarloaf Mt.
Sometimes it snows!
Big trees on the way to Sugarloaf.
Hidden waterfall between Sugarloaf and Braden. Someone once dumped a lot of debris in here and I spent hours hauling it out. Don't be that person...
Bridge on the way to Sugarloaf and Braden.
From a hike with Alpine Club of Canada. Mt. Braden.
Yellow hills and blue skies for days.
Winter hiking.
The Quimper that used to live in the Mt. Quimper fire tower.
Rocks! Lichen! Moss!
Sometimes there is fog.
Old reservior near Mt. Wells and Mt. McDonald. Don't worry, we don't get our water from here anymore.
How did this get here...? The world may never know.
Fall hiking.
Cabin at Peden Lake
A good friend will put on their rain pants...
Friends mean potlucks in the woods!
Canoe at Peden Lake. Stop sinking it guys, seriously...
Peden Lake
Sooke River.
Love those big ferns.
Fog is my fav.
Fawn lillies.

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Anonymous October 11, 2015 - 2:41 pm

Interesting and funny … :). I didn’t know about “Alpine” excursions on the island.

Robert Christie November 15, 2015 - 5:43 pm

Hi, I’m so happy for your information, you may have saved my life.
I love Sooke hiking and outdoor life as well.
I live on a live aboard war boat at Sooke basin. I have a lot to share but lack the Internet skills you have. Maybe we can share a hike and I could pick your brain so to speak. I will provide lunch and water for this opportunity?

Vancouver Islander April 4, 2016 - 7:23 pm

A propos your “2010” comment, the Urban Mountains of the SummitPost website is now current in all respects.

Vancouver Islander

jes April 4, 2016 - 7:38 pm

Love your site!! And I hope you know that I never meant that your site wasn’t up to date. We just didn’t always know where to go at first & didn’t have a smart phone with a GPS to check!

annandmartinsmith April 23, 2016 - 7:13 pm

No prob Jes. Got me off my ass and to my keyboard to make some badly overdue corrections and updates

Happy hiking,

Anonymous September 26, 2016 - 11:45 pm

Gaia app for iOS is awesome. Not cheap, but runs in airplane mode. Use it in the Sooke Hills all the time.

jes September 27, 2016 - 12:35 pm

Thanks for the tip!

Nic January 3, 2017 - 3:46 pm

You can get the GAIA app as a SAR volunteer for free. Go to their website at the bottom there is a link “for volunteers” and apply.


jes January 5, 2017 - 2:24 am

Thanks for the tip!

Victoria Long January 7, 2019 - 5:32 pm

I plan to do some backpacking through the woods around North Vancouver Island once the weather improves and found this post to be very inspiring. I’m really excited now. Thank you!


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