Beneath the rich cerulean sky and an orbiting bald eagle, I listened to birds, the breeze and my breath. I relaxed on a thin yoga mat on wooden planks atop the 10-storey-high Malahat SkyWalk at 9:15 a.m. I’d already completed an outdoor yoga class before the attraction opened to the public.
This yoga class is one of the ways the Malahat SkyWalk has added value for visitors. If you have an annual pass, the Tower Top Yoga is included; for one-time visitors, it costs a few dollars more than regular admission.
But you won’t only want to visit once.
Located off the Trans-Canada Highway between Nanaimo and Victoria, the Malahat SkyWalk has been enticing visitors with a treetop walk, spiral fairytale tower, fabulous views, bites and bevvies and programs in nature since 2021.
I woke up at 5:15 a.m. to make the 125-kilometre drive from Parksville to the SkyWalk for an outdoor yoga class (yup, I’m dedicated).
Don’t follow my example and blindly trust Google Maps. The GPS took me on an alternate route along Cobble Hill Road, past Shawnigan Lake. I gripped the steering wheel as the road twisted and turned, certain I was going the wrong way. When I came to a left-hand turn onto Highway 1, clarity dawned—it’s impossible to turn left off the highway into the Malahat SkyWalk driveway. I should have continued past the attraction and followed the designated U-Turn.
Despite my detour, I arrived on time and checked in with guest services. A chipper employee named Holly welcomed me to the inaugural yoga class for 2023.
Fellow yogis gathered outside the apply named Gathering Place. I met people from Montreal, Sidney and Phoenix. Everyone was kind and curious about the yoga class above the trees.
Our instructor, Dava Caldwell, led us through the entrance and across the TreeWalk. We spotted an owl and three wolves: intricate, lifelike driftwood art by local artist Tanya Bub stared at us from the surrounding trees.
The 600-metre TreeWalk is a sturdy wooden platform around 20 metres off the forest floor. As we walked, we passed through different types of forest—Arbutus, Cedar, Douglas Fir—but through the blankets of different kinds of branches, we could see the true spectacle that we’d come for.
The tower rose from the wide platform, stretching towards the impossibly perfect blue sky. Many in our group had seen it before, but witnessing it for the first time made me giddy. Despite having a slight fear of heights, I didn’t experience vertigo as I wound around the gently inclined ramp, which slopes upwards at a five per cent grade, making it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.
In the middle of the tower perched a tightly wound spiral staircase (for staff use only) and a silver slide that everyone can use for a speedy, 10-second descent to the bottom. The enclosed slide has been used by a plethora of ages and abilities, from five-year-olds to 90-year-olds, wheelchair users and one child who raced down an impressive 47 times in one visit.
As we climbed the circular tower, I looked out the open-air windows. The Saanich Inlet sparkled in the morning sun, the lush, green, surrounding mountains stood strong and serene, and an ocean-salt breeze whispered through the warm air.
The climb only took us seven minutes. I noticed a net at the top and hesitantly stepped onto it—it bowed slightly under my weight, and I tried to not look down. Others walked over it confidently; the bungee cords securely held us all.
A panorama of water and trees unfolded before us. Far in the distance, Mount Baker’s hazy silhouette shimmered like a mirage. The sun was already hot, and birds were singing their morning song. We set up our yoga mats and settled in—ten students, one teacher, no one else in the vicinity but little bugs that didn’t bite.
Caldwell opened the class with a land acknowledgement recognizing the traditional territory of the Malahat First Nation. She told a parable about how all we are is story. (As a writer, I agreed.) She led us through breathwork, a sequence of asanas and a long, replenishing Shavasana with a song.
It was different than other flow classes I’ve done—not only because the sun was kissing my face, the wooden planks felt firm beneath my hands and a peek through the slates gave me a glimpse of the forest floor 40 metres below, but because of the poses.
Caldwell guided us into each pose with ease and wisdom. As an Ashtanga teacher, she instructed us to always step to the right first. We folded into poses like Trikonasana (triangle pose) and Parsvakonasana (extended side angle).
She assured me the yoga class is accessible for all levels of yogis. “People can expect to do some Surya Namaskars [sun salutations], some breathwork, maybe some postures that [they’re] not used to and [have] some time to reflect,” Caldwell said. “I hope [people] walk away feeling lighter and can start to move through their day and their life with just a little more calmness and resilience.”
I felt rejuvenated as we finished our practice. I looked up into the clear cobalt sky and saw a bald eagle flying overhead.
I opted not to take the slide down, as I’ve been claustrophobic since a caving trip went wrong in New Zealand (but that’s another story). Instead, I walked down the ramp, chatting with Natasha Eddy, the sales and guest experience manager at Malahat SkyWalk. People with varying mobility aids passed us on their way up, enjoying views that can often only be found after a difficult hike.
“[Our vision] is to offer access to nature, a sense of place on Vancouver Island and for people to see Vancouver Island in a different perspective,” she said, explaining that guests can see hawks, ravens and whales in summer. Ken Bailey, the general manager, added that turkey vultures, falcons, deer and even the odd bear have been spotted around the property.
At the Tower Plaza, we stopped for a piping hot thin-crust cheese pizza and a dairy-free, vanilla-chocolate soft serve twist from Softy’s. I chose the gluten-free cone, and I’m so glad I did—it was the perfect balance of soft and crunchy.
Walking back along the narrow, undulating nature trail, I was surprised at how quickly the infrastructure dissolved into the forest. The hike was only 811 metres, but I worked up a sweat along the beautiful tree-lined path. A separate trail led past an exhibit featuring AI artwork, created from ideas prompted by local students and made in the style of the late Canadian painter Jean Paul Riopelle, allowing his art to live again.
Interpretive panels coax visitors to learn more about nature. Bailey explained that education is a key part of getting people to care about the environment. When the structures were built, care was taken to be minimally invasive to flora, to protect the native plants and to work in partnership with the Malahat Nation.
With programming like the early morning Tower Top Yoga and live music on Saturday nights (which can be heard from the top), the SkyWalk brings a cool, fun, unique experience to Vancouver Island. But most importantly, it brings more people into nature.
If You Go:
- Sign up for the yoga class online. Classes run Wednesday and Sunday mornings from 8:15 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. throughout the summer. Mats are provided. Arrive by 7:45 a.m. to complete the walk to the top. Dress for the weather.
- The Canteen Bar opens at 11 a.m. Guests are allowed to bring their own food or purchase drinks and snacks at the Cafe, which opens at 9 a.m.
- Your ticket allows you to stay for the whole day, but re-entry is not permitted.
- Malahat SkyWalk is open year-round.
Disclaimer: The author was hosted by Malahat SkyWalk.