Notch Hill

Jocie and I had a rare day without the kids and took full advantage of being able to explore an area that we haven’t visited before. After dropping the kids off at day care we packed a couple of water bottles, some lunch and headed south towards Nanoose Bay. The weather was definitely iffy and we thought that perhaps we had made the wrong decision. As we drove through squalls on the Island Highway we hoped that our reluctantly packed rain gear wasn’t going to be needed once we arrived at our destination.

Notch Hill Meadows
Open meadows at the top of Notch Hill are great for both Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii).

Nanoose has been fairly heavily developed and much is covered by a massive golf course and residential development called Fairwinds. To be fair, Fairwinds has made an effort to protect green space on its outskirts and allows public access into many interesting natural areas. Notch Hill is one such place.

When we arrived at the parking area the sporadic rain had eased off and we were looking forward to a hike up into the Garry Oak and Arbutus meadows of Notch Hill. Botanically it promised to be an interesting area to explore and the dry Gulf Island-like ecosystem  has the potential to produce many unusual plants.

Garry Oak Meadows on Notch Hill
The trail winds through small grassy meadows with distinctive Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii).

After a few wrong turns (the trail description in The Essential Vancouver Island Outdoor Recreation Guide is fairly brief) we got on the right track and were up to the view point quite quickly. For those who want to try this hike themselves, make sure to take the well traveled road, which, in this case, is actually a gravel road.

Follow the road up past a small water control shed to a set of large water reservoirs. From here keep to the main trail that heads up to the right (the left trail will also take you to the top) staying on the larger trail that looks more well used. Allow about 30 minutes to get to the main viewpoint and open meadows at the top of Notch Hill.

Note that there is a deceptively enticing trail on the right hand side of the road that leads off into the woods near the parking lot – this is the tail end of a longer loop and provides a bit of a viewpoint onto Enos Lake. Probably better to circle back on this trail rather than using it to ascend to the summit of the Notch.

Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii)
Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) was in bloom along the shady stretches of the trail – make sure to take the time to smell this aromatic plant!

At this point of the summer things were pretty dry and there wasn’t much in the way of wildflowers in bloom. We did find some Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) along the shady parts of the trail and a few Harvest Brodiaea (Brodieaea coronaria) and Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) in flower. I would imagine that the Garry Oak meadows at the top would be much better in the early part of the spring. Thatching ants were very active and we found several large mounds.

Notch Hill Viewpoint
Notch Hill provides excellent views over Nanoose Bay.

Needless to say, we enjoyed a quiet lunch underneath Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) admiring the view and the expanse of grassy meadow at the top of the hill. By this time the sun had emerged and the dragonflies were actively hunting along the tree line. A perfect way to spend the morning!

Getting There:

From the Petro Canada gas station turn off the Island Highway (Highway 19) onto Northwest Bay Road. Turn right onto Powder Point Road and continue until you reach a four way stop. Continue straight as Powder Point Road then becomes Fairwinds Road. Look for the trail head on the right hand side of the road.