7 Trails to Run Before You Die: 3. Thetis Lake to Stewart Mountain

madeitIt took us two tries, but we finally made it to the top of Stewart Mountain, the next trail run I wanted to feature in this series.

This trail route was tough to find, especially for a couple of directionally challenged trail runners like Debbie and me. I had run this route once a few years ago going in the opposite direction for a race, and thought I might be able to recall where the trail to the summit was. Nope. Not only did we miss the turn off for the summit twice yesterday, but also on our first attempt we took another trail all together — “Look, those white arrows are pointing that way. Let’s go the other way!” Thank goodness for iPhones and Google Maps.

Since we missed the turn off, we ended up running about 18 km all together and spent about two hours and 40 minutes on the trail. I think you could probably do this run in two hours, if you didn’t stop for Instagram moments and to figure out where the hell you are on Google Maps like we did. It’s worth it, though — the scenery is stunning, the trail is super fun (roots, rocks, wooden bridges that cry, stepping stones and tree stumps, plus mud galore and a small river to ford) and the vista at the top is worth the trip.

3) Thetis Lake to Stewart Mountain
Trail name(s): Lower Thetis Lake Trail -> Seaborn Trail- > McKenzie Creek Trail -> Stewart Mountain Trail -> Upper Thetis Lake Trail

Thetis Lake/Stewart Mountian route (minus our little 2 km detour)

Thetis Lake/Stewart Mountian route (minus our little 2 km detour)

Terrain: Lower and Upper Thetis Lake trails are mainly gravel and are nice and wide and well maintained, with some mucky spots around Upper Thetis. Once you hit Seaborn and McKenzie, the real fun starts! Single-track trails lead you deep into the forest, which can be extremely muddy and wet in the winter months. Some mud pits have a few stumps you can hop around on, but after awhile you have no choice but to give up and run through the muck. It’s fun though! Just make sure you bring a towel, and an extra clean pair of socks and shoes. The terrain up to Stewart Mountain is a wide gravel fire road, which can also be kind of mucky in the winter.
Parking: There is a nice big lot available just at the entrace to Thetis Lake, plus a few spots in closer to Main Beach and a few by the boat launch area just past Main Beach. It can be extremely busy here in the summer, so I suggest getting here early to get a spot. Keep in mind pay parking is in effect from May to September, so bring $2.25 with you if you plan on running in the summer. For more information about parking, click here.
Trail access: Right off Main Beach. You can go either way, but I like to start off on the right hand side to get some of the bigger hills on the Lower Thetis Lake Trail out of the way at the start. If you’re standing on the beach facing the lake, you’ll see the trail access near the hand rail on your right hand side.
Facilities: Outhouses in the winter and full bathrooms in the summer at Main Beach.
Distance: About 16 km.
Time: Anywhere from 1h 45mins  to 2h 20mins. You’ll want to bring water and possibly a gel for this run.

This way to Seaborn Trail!

This way to Seaborn Trail!

Description/Directions: The trail from Main Beach is pretty straight forward, with a few climbs and descents on a wide gravel trail. The first junction you’ll come to (just after the big hills) ends up in the same place, but I like to go over the bridge on the left and run along the lake edge as opposed to taking the trail on the left and running through the forest. After about 10 minutes, you’ll reach the start of Seaborn trail, which is just after a natural gravel bridge in a clearing with the lake on one side and a swamp on the other. Turn right down this trail.

After a few minutes, you’ll start to run uphill a bit and will reach another junction: turn right here, in the direction that the white arrows painted on the trees are pointing, NOT the other way, haha! Turning left will take you out into the bushes in the middle of nowhere… trust me! After about five minutes on this trail, you’ll cross a bridge over McKenzie Creek; make a hard left after the bridge on to the McKenzie Creek Trail. Follow this route until you come to a signpost at another junction. Keep following McKenzie Creek Trail (same direction as the sign pointing to Westoby Road). You will continue on this trail for awhile, which eventually turns into a fire road. Keep following the signs that say Stewart Mountain Road, and if they are still there, the white and green spray painted arrows left over from this year’s Stewart Mountain 10 Miler race.

Follow the white arrows!

Follow the white arrows!

Eventually you will come to a small stream you’ll need to cross. I recommend running through it wildly, it’s super fun! About two minutes after crossing the stream, you will come to a junction where you will make a left and then 20 metres later another left.  You should see the remains of an old car on your left. Shortly after this you will come to another junction. Turn left towards Stewart Mountain Road and continue until you see a large unmarked 8X8 post on your right.  This is the start of the loop trail up towards Stewart Mountain. You can take either way, but I suggested going left (straight). When you do the loop, you’ll come out on the right side near this same sign post. Turn up this trail.

After another 15 minutes or so, you will come to a clearing and will see a set of power lines.  Keep following the signs that say Stewart Mountain Road. After another two minutes, you will see a gate and will come out onto Stewart Mountain Road.

This way to McKenzie Creek Trail!

This way to McKenzie Creek Trail!

Turn right once you exit around the gate head up towards another gate a few hundred metres down a gravel trail. Continue on this trail for a few minutes until you see another clearing and another set of power lines. Keep an eye out on your right for the trail to the summit, which is unmarked and just before this clearing. Follow this trail, which will take you to the top of the mountain. There’s an amazing view from the summit!

When you’re ready to head back down, you can either follow the same trail back or continue on the trail you came up, which loops back down the other side of the mountain.  Following this trail will quickly drop you down to a fire road. When you come out on the fire road, keep left (there’s kind of a trail coming up sharply on the right, don’t go this way) until you come to a junction. Turn right and follow this trail back down, which will spit you out right at the sign post. Go left when you reach the sign post and follow the trail back the way you came. After you pass through that same creek again, you will come to a sign post with a directional marker that says Thetis Lake. Follow that trail and continue to follow the Thetis Lake or Upper Thetis Lake Trails at each sign post.

Go this way towards Westoby Road!

Go this way towards Westoby Road!

After about 15 minutes you will finally reach Upper Thetis Lake.  Once at the lake, go right. This is the quickest way back to Main Beach, even though the sign says Main Beach is in the other direction. Follow this trail all the way back to the beach. Once there, I recommend standing in the lake to cool you’re calves off after such an epic run!

 

 

 

 

Loop route at the sign post. Go left! You'll come out on the right on the descent.

Loop route at the sign post. Go left! You’ll come out on the right on the descent.

Follow the Stewart Mountain Road signs!

Follow the Stewart Mountain Road signs!

This way to the summit!

This way to the summit!

Yay you made it!

Yay you made it!

Elevation info for Thetis/Stewart Mountain run. For my Garmin info, click here.

Elevation info for Thetis/Stewart Mountain run. For my Garmin info, click here.

Trail Rating (out of four stars)
Terrain: ★★★★
Elevation: ★★★★
Accessibility: ★★★★
Distance: ★★★
Vistas: ★★★
Scenery: ★★★★

Overall: A tough run, but epic and worth the distance!

McKenzie Creek

McKenzie Creek.

Upper Thetis Trails.

Upper Thetis Trails.

Navigating the muddy trails.

Navigating the muddy trails.

Ford the river!

Ford the river!

McKenzie Creek bridge.

McKenzie Creek bridge.

The crying bridge, apparently.

The crying bridge, apparently.

Wet feets!

Wet feets!

Lost in the woods during attempt number one. Thank goodness for iPhones1

Lost in the woods during attempt number one. Thank goodness for iPhones!

Where are we?

Where are we?

Next week: Mt. Quimper in the Sooke Hills
Previous week: Trestle Run