This was a 5 day backpacking trip on the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park Marine Trail. On this trip we started on the north end in Port Renfrew and finished at the south end, at China Beach. This trail was absolutely beautiful and, considering the easy accessibility for day users of many parts of the trail, still felt remote and pristine.
Trip Completed: August 2021
Starting Point: Botanical Beach, Port Renfrew
Ending Point: China Beach, Sooke
Total Distance: 47 km
Elevation Gain: 1400 meters
Duration: 5 days
This trip is located in Port Renfrew / Sooke on Vancouver Island in BC, Canada.
Traditional Territory: This trail exists on the traditional territory of Pacheedaht.
Maps & Resources
Campsite Reservations: Campsites are first-come-first-serve (the campground at China Beach does take campsite reservations though).
Permits: Permits are required and can be purchased online at the BC Parks website or at self serve stations at several trailheads.
Outfitters & Shuttles
We used the West Coast Trail Express Shuttle to get to and from the trailheads. It picked us up in Victoria and dropped us off in Port Renfrew at the information center. This adds a 2 kilometer road walk to your hike. It also picked us up at China Beach on the highway, which is just a few hundred meters from the end of the trail.
It should be noted that the road from Sooke to Port Renfrew is fairly windy and might cause some car sickness. The shuttle also picks you up around dinner, if you take it on the way home, and there is nowhere to get food around China Beach so I would recommend packing dinner for your last day as well.
We booked just a few days before but we ended up adding an extra day to our trip because the shuttle was booked for our preferred dates.
Day 1: Botanical beach to Payzant Creek (8 km + 3 with the shuttle and day use trails)
We started the day early to catch our shuttle. After the long and windy drive we were dropped off at the Port Renfrew Information Center, which has some tourist clothes to buy and some snacks and water. They also have a port-a-potty. We then had to walk around 2 km to the trailhead along a road.
Navigating to the trailhead was easy, which is good because there is little to no cell service. Once we arrived at Botanical Beach we found the parking lot (that was pretty busy) and the start of the trail at Botanical Beach. There are some day use trails on this section, which adds around 1 km to the route, that take you to see the ocean and some cool tidal pools. You can avoid the extra loop and go directly to the trail if you are in a rush.
This first part of the trail is the easiest – it has the least elevation change. It has some interpretive signs at the beginning for day users. It takes you through a beautiful mature conifer forest with some of the largest trees on the trail. One of my favorite parts about the Juan de Fuca is the log stairs and bridges – made of one or two large downed logs that often blend right into the landscape. The beginning of the trail has many of these. They can be slippery sometimes but a lot of fun to cross or climb. We camped at Payzant Creek.
Campsite: Payzant Creek. It is one of the two sites on the marine trail that do not have ocean access (the other is Little Kuitshe). It is also the most private site on the trail. All of the sites on the trail are “group camping” with smaller campsite areas separated within the larger area. Most of the beach sites are very open but this one has shrubbery and trees separating sites. Although not on the ocean there is a creek that runs past the campsite (also your water source) and a waterfall can be seen. We were luckily the first there and had the pick of which site we wanted and we chose that with the best view.
All of the campsites have well stocked privies, bear lockers, trail information and a map.
Day 2: Payzant Creek to Sombrio Beach (13 km)
Day two was the only day we got rain on the trail (though it was a very dry summer). Much of the trail was muddy along this section. There is a short section that is an old road on either side of the Parkinson Creek trailhead. We also saw our first and only bear along this section. It was a black bear that was snacking on kelp along the shoreline. We were a bit more inland and it paid us no attention.
The difficulty of the trail along this section was similar to day one. There was one section that was new (with fresh dirt) and was still under construction. There were no closures when we went but they do occur, especially in winter (the trail is open year round).
At the end of day two we reached the first tide cut off on the trail. There are six sections of the trail that can get cut off at high tide. This one (number 6) was the only one that caused us any problems on our trip. There is tidal information posted along some of these points. We reached the first cut off at exactly high tide and we decided to wait it out as we got there fairly early in the afternoon and had time to kill. There is an alternative route around this section if you choose to take it or if you reach it at high tide.
We did not know just how close we were to Sombrio Beach until we noticed some people surfing in front of us! Sombrio is a very popular surfing spot as well as for walk-in camping. The car access is relatively close, so many people come and stay just at Sombrio. It was full of families, surfers and hikers. There were a few wooden tent pads but most people were camped along the beach.
Campsite: Sombrio West Side. As mentioned before this is one of the busiest campsites along the trail. The wood tent pads were on the west side of the Sombrio River but there were many more spaces along the beach on the east.
Day 3: Sombrio Beach to China Beach (11 km)
It was not until the next morning when the fog had lifted that we realized how busy and big Sombrio Beach was. We continued walking down the beach and a fellow hiker told us about a slot canyon type of waterfall that is just north of where the trail leaves the beach and goes inland again. Look for a creek coming out just north of the trail on the east side and walk beside the creek for ~20m. After taking this short and beautiful detour we returned to the trail.
The next section continued beautiful views of big waves hitting big exposed rocks. This section was very muddy due to the previous day’s rain. The biggest singular climb of the trail was right after this section.
The climb is long but beautiful as you walk along a big ridge. After a day of relatively younger and smaller trees, these were back to being very tall and open. It was much drier once we gained some elevation. Once at the top of a ridge, the trail again follows an old logging road for a while which is a nice break after the climb. You then descend closer to sea level and cross my favorite suspension bridge of the four on the trail. A few more switchbacks and we reached Chin Beach! At the end of the day the clouds had cleared enough that we could finally see the mountains of Washington across the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Campsite: Chin Beach. Chin Beach was my favorite campsite of the trail. Maybe it was because the fog and rain from the day before was gone and it was now warm (as warm as it gets along the Pacific Ocean – maybe 15 degrees Celsius) and sunny. But we had a very pleasant time hanging out on the beach and cleaning ourselves up from the mud. We reached camp around 2-3 pm every day as we had short distances to hike. Getting to camp early also meant that we usually had first pick at our camp area. By the end of the evening most campsites were pretty full though it was never disruptive.
Day 4: Chin Beach to Bear Beach (13 km)
The morning on day four was my favorite. You walk along the beach for around a kilometer and then reenter the forest. The mature forest provided shade and beautiful sun rays were peaking through the trees as we walked.
As we approached this section of the trail, a few people had told us it was the hardest, and I would agree. This is because the entire section consists of switchbacks and rolling hills. This section also had some confusing parts. There are many unofficial alternative routes that appear as you move through the switchbacks and with the mud and erosion it can be hard to tell which one is best. We made it through and they usually connect back to the main trail but sometimes we had awkward climbing and pushing through denser shrubbery. This section is also the longest section between campsites on the trail.
Campsite: Bear Beach. The Bear Beach campsite is also a little busier than some others as it’s only an easy 10 km hike in from China bBach and many people do this as a one night trip. Luckily, as with the other beach campsites, there are near endless areas to put a tent if you don’t mind sleeping on the beach.
Day 5: Bear Beach to China Beach Trailhead (10 km)
The beginning of this section of the trail has an area that was washed out in 2021 and a ladder and ropes were put in as a temporary method of getting up the trail. Due to the extreme weather events that have happened in BC recently I expect more washed out areas of the trail to appear. The park does have maintenance crews working on sections of the trail and it is best to check the BC Parks website prior to leaving for your trip to check for any closures.
The section from Bear to China was pretty easy but stunning. An open conifer forest meant you could see for dozens of meters ahead on the trail. At only 10 km it was short and easy and we had an extended lunch on Mystic Beach. Mystic is just around a point from where the China beach campground is. After lunch we finished our last section of trail. As a day hiking area the section from Mystic to China was very wide and busy.
I would highly recommend this hike. With the West Coast Trail hard to book, the Juan de Fuca is a beautiful alternative, although a little busier. It has a comparable difficulty and takes you through many different forest types, hills and ocean views. With many trailheads you can do many shorter trips or do the whole trail at once. You can also do it Northbound or Southbound.
Many people also take less time on the trail and some even run it. We had a relaxing trip with only around 3-4 hours of hiking a day. With more planning on campsites you could easily do it in less time.
As it is on the west side of Vancouver Island, the trail can be colder and inland BC and you are vastly unprotected from the wind and weather. I would recommend preparing for colder temps than your average summer trip.
Avid adventurer, nature lover and lover of all outdoor sports. Lots of canoe tripping, some backpacking, cycling, running, tree hugging or any sport I can try.