Juan de Fuca Marine Trail: China Beach to Botanical Beach (5 days / 50 km)
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (JDF) is a rugged point-to-point coastal backpacking trail located in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. The 47 kilometre wilderness trail largely follows the coast, travelling up and down hills in the temperate rainforest and along sections of beach. This intermediate trail can be hiked in either direction, typically over 4 or 5 days.
Aside from a few sections of easier beach walking, much of the terrain is highly technical, with lots of slippery tree roots, mud pits, and ageing infrastructure—including broken staircases and boardwalks—to navigate. For the most part, way-finding is easy on the trail. There are directional signs at key intersections and numbered kilometre markers along the way. The JDF Trail is considered similar in difficulty to the more famous West Coast Trail to the north. However, it’s supposedly muddier and definitely hillier, seeing hikers ascend 1800m of total elevation gain (according to my GPS watch).
There are 4 trailheads to the JDF: Botanical Beach at the northern terminus, Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach, and China Beach at the southern terminus. Along the trail, you can camp at 4 beaches—Mystic Beach, Bear Beach, Chin Beach, Sombrio (East and West)—and in 2 forested areas—Little Kuitsche Creek and Payzant Creek. This route covers the full trail from China Beach to Botanical Beach, with camping at Bear Beach, Chin Beach, Sombrio West, and Payzant Creek.
Trip Completed: August 2022
Starting Point: China Beach
Ending Point: Botanical Beach
Total Distance: 50 km (includes 3 km of road walking to the West Coast Trail Express bus pick-up point in Port Renfrew)
Total Elevation Gain: 1813 m
Duration: 5 days / 4 nights
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is located in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. The southern terminus, China Beach, is near the town of Jordan River, while Botanical Beach at the northern terminus is just kilometres from Port Renfrew—a 2 hour drive from Victoria. The trail can be accessed at various points along West Coast Highway 14 between Jordan River and Port Renfrew.
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, and Pacheedaht (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: The main resource we used in planning our trip was the JDF Trail chapter in Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island: An Updated and Comprehensive Trail Guide by Tim Leadem, published in 2015. The section on reading tide tables was just as useful as the in-depth trail guide. I must also credit Vancouver-area blogger Taryn Eyton’s guide, section-by-section report, and coastal hiking tips for helping us feel prepared for all that a coastal backpacking trip entails.
Map: We printed a copy of the official Juan de Fuca Marine Trail map published by BC Parks.
Tide Tables: Along the trail, there are 6 sections of beach impassable at high tide. Carry a copy of the Port Renfrew tide table to plan and time your hiking so that you arrive at these sections at the lowest ebb of tide during daylight—and ideally, so you can walk along the shore as the tide is going out instead of coming in! For the first part of the hike between China Beach and Mystic Beach, refer to the Sooke tide table.
Campsite Reservations: Backcountry campsite reservations are not required, meaning the campsites are first-come, first-served. However, hikers must camp at established campsites along the trail.
Permits: In place of campsite reservations, BC Parks requires Juan de Fuca hikers to register for backcountry permits for $10 per person, per night. You can register for permits online, up to 2 weeks in advance, or pay in cash at the trailhead. We had to show our permits to a park employee at Botanical Beach on our last day, so screenshot your permits or have them printed just in case.
Know Before You Go
Season: August was a great time of year to hike the JDF! The daily temperatures were reasonable—not too warm and not too cold—and there was minimal rain. The trail is busiest in July and August and generally hiked between May and September, though the provincial park is open year-round.
Cell Reception: There is no cell reception along this route, including no reception in the town of Port Renfrew. In some spots, you may be able to pick up roaming service from the US across the Strait of Juan de Fuca—but don’t rely on it.
Water: All campsites are near a freshwater source and there are plenty of streams for filtering water along the trail. We each carried about 2L of water at a time and never felt concerned about running out before reaching another water source.
Wildlife: Black bears and cougars are the largest risk to campers. Each campsite has a communal cache for storing food and scented items overnight. There are ample opportunities to view wildlife, including grey and killer whales, seals, sea lions, and marine birds. We spotted 2 bald eagles while hiking, came across a plethora of banana slugs, and saw starfish, crabs, and anemones in the tide pools.
Waste: Each trailhead and all campsites have outhouses with pit toilets. I don’t remember whether the trailheads had garbage cans as we disposed of ours when we returned to Victoria.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: We flew from Ontario with our backpacking gear, so we didn’t require an outfitter. The only items we couldn’t travel with were fuel and bear spray, which we purchased in Victoria and gave away to a local hiker on the shuttle bus on our way back to the city. Camping gear can be rented from West Coast Gear.
Shuttle: We used the West Coast Trail Express bus to travel between Victoria and the trailheads. The bus service runs once a day, every day from May 1 to September 30 and reservations are strongly recommended. This same bus also services the West Coast Trail. It’s important to note that all of the shuttle stops are on the highway. At China Beach, it’s a couple hundred metres from the trailhead, whereas Botanical Beach is about 3 km from the pick-up point in Port Renfrew.
Day 1: China Beach to Bear Beach (10.4 km / 329 m / 4 hours)
After a few days exploring Victoria, we walked from our hostel to the Capital City Bus Station to catch the West Coast Trail Express bus at 6:45 am. By 8:00 am, we had arrived at the China Beach trailhead and hopped off the bus with a number of other hikers.
The first 2 km to Mystic Beach are mostly downhill on easy terrain. We walked across the first of many suspension bridges and descended a series of steps to the stunning Mystic Beach. Even on a cloudy morning, the beach is magical! We dropped our packs to explore for a bit, heading to the east end of the beach to check out the picturesque waterfall over the sandstone cliff. We then continued west along Mystic Beach to rejoin the trail.
The next stretch to Bear Beach is mostly forested with plenty of streams for refilling water. The section covers a series of small ascents and descents on moderately difficult terrain. Along the way, we encountered the first of many fallen trees to crawl under, saw plenty of beautiful rainforest moss, and were treated to several stunning vistas. By lunchtime, the sun was shining and the clear blue skies highlighted the Olympic Mountains across the strait.
The trail gradually declines to Bear Beach after crossing Ivanhoe Creek. Soon after this point—about 8.5 km in—we reached a series of ladders descending to Bear Beach. These metal ladders were brand new for the 2022 season and I believe they were added as part of the park’s efforts to update ageing trail infrastructure and maintain the trails due to erosion. At the time of hiking, we noticed the infrastructure on the first half of the trail had been recently replaced, while the second half—from Sombrio to Botanical—was yet to be updated.
Bear Beach was waiting for us at the bottom of the ladders! From Tim Leadem’s guidebook—Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island—we knew that Bear Beach offers 3 distinct camping options. Leadem calls these areas by the name of the nearest creek on the map—Rosemond, Clinch, and Ledingham. According to Leadem, Rosemond and Clinch are the better areas. We aimed for Clinch, seeing as it would tick off an extra kilometre, compared to just stopping at the first campsite we saw in the Rosemond area.
West of Rosemond Creek is also the location of the first tide problem—passable below a high tide of 3 m. Luckily, our timing worked out and we were able to walk without issue along the beach toward Clinch Creek. We came across one or two empty sites but decided to continue on and see if there was something better available. Right near the outhouses and food cache, we found a beautiful sandy area nestled in the trees.
This section of the trail is rated as moderate and our average pace was 2.8 km per hour. Including breaks, it took us 5 and a half hours to reach our campsite on Bear Beach. We arrived early in the afternoon with plenty of time to relax in the sun on the sandy beach after setting up camp.
Campsite: There are 3 camping areas on Bear Beach—Rosemond Creek, Clinch Creek, and Ledingham Creek. Our campsite in the Clinch Creek area was on the sandy beach, nestled between the beach and the forest, near the outhouses and food cache. You can filter water from the creek, which runs onto the beach. This campsite was my favourite of the whole trip!
Day 2: Bear Beach to Chin Beach (10.2 km / 592 m / 4 hours)
With the most difficult day on paper ahead of us, we woke up early, aiming to be off hiking before 8:30 am. As the morning fog lifted, we walked along the rocky parts of Bear Beach for about 600 m until we spotted an orange marker pointing us back onto a forested trail. The condensation and high tide made many of the rocks wet and slippery, so we hiked this stretch cautiously. The elevation changes began almost right as we stepped foot into the forest. Luckily, the first couple of hills are the longest in duration.
The day was truly full of ups and downs—both literally and metaphorically. We were just hiking up and down and up and down all day, with nothing rewarding at the top of the climbs, other than the truth to the saying, “what goes up must come down!” At times, though, descending was slower than climbing, especially in sketchy sections with dry and slippery dirt.
The trail is well-marked with directional arrows and regular kilometre markers that felt way too far apart. One of the bridges we crossed had been destroyed by a fallen tree, but there was a signed trail reroute that took us down and around the bridge. Descending and climbing up this rock slab was tough.
At 10:30 am, we stopped for a snack break and to filter water at a stream running under a bridge. The next couple of hours before we stopped for lunch were much of the same—hiking up and down in the forest, usually away from the coast. There were a couple of ocean vistas along the way, but mostly metal bridges and forest. At the kilometre 19 marker—or at about 9 km in this leg—the trail gradually descends down to Chin Beach.
The eastern entrance to Chin Beach is cut off by a tide problem and is only passable below a high tide of 2.75 m. The map notes there is an emergency shelter here, around kilometre 20, but the map is outdated. The shelter was destroyed in a storm a while ago. Our timing with the tide worked out perfectly and we were able to continue walking along the beach to find a campsite.
It began to rain as soon as we stepped foot onto the beach. After a long day, it was actually quite refreshing. I was so sweaty that I didn’t even bother to put on my raincoat, partially because I knew the campsites were just ahead of us. Our average pace of 2.5 km per hour reflects the difficulty of this section—rated as the most difficult on trail due to the nearly 600 m of elevation gain. Throughout the day, we took lots of breaks, so our elapsed time was nearly 7 hours.
It took us a while to find a decent campsite that wasn’t too muddy or wet—or too close to the outhouses. We settled for a busy spot with 3 connected campsites to the west of the outhouses and food cache. There are better spots at Chin Beach, but we arrived too late in the day to snag them!
The afternoon rain was light and eventually died down, but I was super glad to have purchased a pair of rain pants ahead of this trip to keep me—and my clothes—dry and protected from the rain dripping from the bushes and trees at camp. After our tent was set up, we wandered along the beach looking for interesting rocks, sea glass, and sea urchin shells. Chin Beach also has two camper-made rope swings, which were fun to enjoy before dinner.
Campsite: There is only one camping area at Chin Beach. All the camping spots are nestled in the trees above the driftwood marking the high tide line. Here, we camped in a busy forested spot with several sites in close proximity. We were a short walk from the outhouses and food cache. You can filter water from a nearby creek that flows into a little pond on the beach.
Day 3: Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach West (8.1 km / 288 m / 3 hours)
Once again, the timing of the tides were on our side. The morning high tide was predicted at 6:00 am so we woke around then to eat breakfast and pack up. But we were already feeling fatigued ahead of the “hump day” of our trip and we spent a long time coaxing ourselves out of our cozy sleeping bags.
Just before 9:00 am, we finally set off hiking west along Chin Beach. This timing meant we were closer to the morning’s low tide and we could easily navigate the third tide problem, which effectively blocks in the Chin Beach campground when the high tide is above 2.75 m. At the bright orange buoy marking the exit from beach to trail, we literally had to scramble up the conglomerate shelf. The trail was overgrown and wet from rain, but the terrain wasn’t too muddy.
The first couple of kilometres followed the coast and progressively got muddier. It was slow-going and took us nearly an hour to walk the 2.3 km to the suspension bridge over Loss Creek. From here, the trail steadily climbs and turns away from the coast to join an old logging trail for a kilometre. This was probably the quickest kilometre of the trail and it felt unbelievably good to tick off another kilometre so quickly and easily. I only wished it had lasted longer!
After the old logging road narrowed into a forested trail once again, we found a spot to stop for lunch. From here, the trail descends its way back to the coast. With the ocean—and eventually Sombrio Beach—in your sights, this is where I found the trail to be most difficult. We faced the worst of the mud in this section and I seriously struggled to pull myself up and over tree root after tree root and boulder after boulder. Luckily, the sun was shining and we were treated to the most stunning views of Sombrio Beach as I trudged along.
Finally, about 6.5 kilometres in, we walked out onto the beautiful Sombrio Beach. People had set up camp right by the trailhead, so you can start looking for a campsite once you reach the beach. Stretching all along the beach on either side of our entry point to the beach, there is no shortage of gorgeous beach camping spots in this area! Sombrio East is the largest campsite along the trail, with 3 sets of outhouses and food caches.
We, however, had planned to make our way to Sombrio West—past the suspension bridge and closer to the day-use trailhead—to tick off a few more kilometres. The beach is pebbly in some areas; in others, coarse sand that sinks as you walk. Regardless, the beachwalking was a nice change of pace from the gruelling forest trail. It’s about 1 km to Sombrio River, which separates Sombrio East from Sombrio West. Along the way, we passed the entrance to the famous hidden waterfall, noticeable by the crowd of people in the area, but we didn’t stop to check it out.
Once we reached the mouth of Sombrio River, we had difficulty finding the trail to the suspension bridge that crosses the river. It was low tide, so we ended up taking off our shoes and socks and wading through to the other side. If you look more carefully for the exit from the beach to the trail, you can cross via a suspension bridge. This way, you pass the kilometre 29 marker coming into the campground.
While the shortest leg, this section is considered difficult—and it felt the hardest to me. We hiked at an average pace of 2.8 km per hour, sustained only by taking frequent breaks. Our elapsed time was 5.5 hours. It was worth it, though, because Sombrio West ended up being my second favourite campsite along the trail!
Here, behind the beach, there are about half a dozen raised tent platforms for camping. We chose one of the more secluded ones to set up camp. We took advantage of the hot afternoon sun by hanging our damp gear out to dry. I also went for a quick swim in the river as the tide was coming in, which left me feeling totally refreshed. While eating dinner, we watched a few evening surfers and kept our eyes peeled for marine wildlife—spoiler: we didn’t see any.
To note: At the time of our stay here, there were notices on the campground’s information bulletin informing us of a provincial fire ban. Fires are typically allowed on the beach campgrounds, below the high tide line, but this ban restricted all fires in the provincial park. We learned it’s worth checking the information bulletins at each campground for these sorts of updates.
Campsite: We camped at Sombrio West—on the west side of Sombrio River—on a raised tent platform behind the pebble beach. It was a quiet spot, with an outhouse and a food cache. For filtering water, we walked along the riverbank toward the suspension bridge to ensure we were collecting freshwater, since this river flows directly into the ocean.
Day 4: Sombrio Beach West to Payzant Creek (10.1 km / 329 m / 4 hours)
We ate breakfast on the beach while the local surfers donned wetsuits and slipped into the frigid water to catch waves. The route to Payzant Creek starts with the final 2 tide problems—the first passable below 2.6 m and the second below 3 m. There is an alternate trail through the forest around the tide problems that is only to be used at high tide. The beach is full of slippery boulders, so the 1 km stretch is slow-going. We moved cautiously to avoid injury and rejoined the trail after the final tide problem.
Back on trail, we quickly noticed a stark difference from the first 30 kilometres—the infrastructure is seriously ageing, with many broken bridges, stairs and boardwalks, sometimes even wrapped in partially disintegrating caution tape. About 3 km in, we crossed the final suspension bridge over Minute Creek, which overlooked the ocean. The steep ascents and descents continued for the next kilometre to the Little Kuitsche Creek campground. We weren’t quite ready to stop for lunch and continued another few kilometres, taking our break a little bit closer to the Parkinson Creek Trailhead.
The terrain flattens out for a bit after Parkinson Creek, following another old logging road for a short stretch. The trail then winds back to the coast by kilometre 38. Here, we walked out onto the conglomerate shelf to explore the tide pools since it was low tide. We saw so many crabs! For the final kilometre or so to Payzant Creek, the trail follows the coast, then climbs inland. This muddy stretch is dotted with informational placards on the trail’s ecology—from lichens to kelp beds to “life in a log.” We knew we had finally reached the campground when we crossed the bridge over the creek.
This section of the trail is rated as moderate, and it certainly felt easier in comparison to the sections with higher difficulty ratings, but our average pace remained consistent with other days at 2.8 km per hour. Including breaks, we were on the trail for 7 hours. In our experience, this stretch was also, by far, the muddiest!
We had arrived mid-afternoon and it was nearly empty, so we “shopped around” for the best available campsite, settling for a mostly dry tent pad in view of the Payzant Creek waterfall. It felt strange to be away from the beach on our fourth and final night of camping, but it truly felt like we were in the middle of the rainforest.
Campsite: We camped at a site with a nice view of the waterfall. There were plenty of options, though many were muddy and we spotted mice scurrying through others. There are outhouses and a food cache, and water can be filtered near the bridge over Payzant Creek. This campground is entirely forested and fires are banned here.
Day 5: Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach to Port Renfrew (11.4 km / 275 m / 3.5 hours)
We left camp a bit earlier on our final day, wanting to arrive at Botanical Beach at the lowest tide of the day for the best tide pool viewing experience. These tide pools are best viewed under 1.2 m and the predicted low tide gave us a short window of 1.5 m in the early afternoon. So, we packed up and headed off by 8:30 am, continuing inland as the trail crosses Yuah Creek.
After the bridge—only 600 m into the day—we reached a side trail pointing us to Providence Creek. It was incredibly overgrown and the 200 m felt less of a side trail and more like bushwalking (if only I had worn my hiking pants instead of shorts!). But we were glad to have made the journey to this quaint cove! It was picturesque and felt (literally) off-the-beaten-track.
The next 6 km from Providence Cove gets progressively easier. The trail quickly descends back to the coast, then climbs inland to cross Soule Creek before returning parallel to the coast for the final 3 or 4 km to Botanical Beach. We stopped for a snack and to reapply sunscreen at an unnamed cove just before Tom Baird Creek. This creek was tricky to figure out how to cross, as the trail brings you straight to what looks like a logjam of driftwood. These logs are how you cross the creek, so be careful, especially in wet weather!
When we began to see more informational placards—this time about the trees around us and tide pools—we knew we were close to Botanical Beach. The other hint was the more people we saw, we figured the closer we were. It was a sunny Saturday after all! We spotted quite a bit of bear scat along this stretch, and just before we reached Botanical Beach a few day hikers on the beach actually called out to us, warning they had just seen a black bear dart from the trail onto the beach and back into the forest. This group kindly walked along the beach next to us making some noise as we continued along the trail. Sure enough, at the information bulletin by the beach entrance, there was a bright yellow notice warning a bear is known to frequent the area.
Once out on the beach, we beelined for the tide pools. The tide was luckily low enough for us to still see plenty of barnacles, mussels, algae, several species of crab, anemones, sea urchins, and a six-armed starfish! We continued exploring along the shoreline trail to Botany Bay, where we stopped for lunch. From the beach, we rejoined the trail and headed west, walking the Botanical Beach Loop Trail in a clockwise direction. This section is mainly on easy terrain, but steadily ascends to the Botanical Beach parking lot, where we found the final JDF kilometre marker—kilometre 47.
From the parking lot, we walked on the shoulder of Cerantes Road for 3 km into the town of Port Renfrew. At the intersection of Cerantes and Parkinson Road, there is a pub and a few other shops, and the shuttle bus picks up at the main gift shop. The two best parts of ending the hike at Botanical Beach are the 3 km along the road into Port Renfrew feeling like a reward, and the post-hike pub meal tasting like the best meal I’ve ever had after 5 days of protein bars and dehydrated meals!
This was our longest day in kilometres, but our quickest. Much of this section is rated as moderate and the terrain progressively gets easier throughout the day. The Botanical Beach section is rated as easy. Our average pace was 3.4 km per hour—mostly because of the speedy road walking—and our elapsed time was 5.5 hours.
While this is the most difficult—and longest—backpacking trip my partner and I have completed, it’s easily our favourite! We truly adored our time exploring this corner of Vancouver Island and can’t wait to return for another adventure. In particular, I’d love to come back for an overnight stay on Sombrio Beach, and/or to re-do the Sombrio to China Beach stretch.
We usually walk away from a hiking trip with a few lessons learned, but there really wasn’t anything that went wrong during our time on the JDF Trail! Here are a few reasons why I think our trip went so well:
I’m convinced that China Beach to Botanical Beach is the easier direction. Starting at China Beach means you cover the most difficult sections earlier with fresh legs. The third day was the most difficult for me as the fatigue set in. The trade-off is your pack is a bit heavier with food, but that difference always feels minimal to me. If you’re taking the shuttle bus from Victoria, it drops off about 3 km from the Botanical Beach trailhead. Mentally, I think it would be really difficult to jump off the bus and spend your first hour just getting to the trail. Let alone the fact that the trail is rated as progressively increasing in difficulty from Botanical to China. Ending at Botanical Beach means the terrain gets easier and the road walking feels like a reward. Plus, you have a delightful pub meal waiting for you in town!
I’m so glad we hiked the trail over 5 days. While it’s certainly possible in 3 or 4 days, don’t underestimate the gruelling terrain. I’d go as far to say I wouldn’t recommend attempting the trail in less than 5 days. The constant ups and downs from elevation changes and the literal obstacle course of a trail requiring scrambling across boulders, over and under tree roots and fallen trees, and through mud pits takes a serious toll. Even as fit and fairly quick hikers, we were only covering an average of 2 km per hour. On the most difficult stretches it would take nearly a full hour to cover a single kilometre. This means that just 10 km can take almost all day! So, hiking the trail in fewer than 5 days means you’ll face a super long day of over 20 km. Personally, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trail as much if we had to cover longer distances each day. It was hard enough as is!
It’s worth noting that the first-come, first-served campsite model makes it easy to change your plans if you find the trail tougher than anticipated. For instance, you can easily add an extra night or rest day, or end your trip early by departing from a different trailhead, such as Sombrio or Parkinson Creek. The shuttle bus also stops near these trailheads and will still honour your reservation even if your plans have changed. We met a few groups in similar situations for various reasons!
I did a ton of research and planning. As out-of-towners, much of this was the result of the logistics of flying to a new place for a camping trip and was necessary to feel confident in a new environment. We were also taking on our biggest backpacking trip to date and we wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. I spent months taking notes as I read blog posts and guides on the trail, researching gear I wanted to purchase for the trip, and learning about tides and tide tables. In short, this research and planning made me feel confident in the environment and prepared to tackle the trail.
A note on gear: Specifically for this trip, I purchased rain pants, gaiters, the Gore-Tex version of my usual Salomon hiking shoes, and a purpose-built pack liner to use instead of a garbage bag lining my backpack. I also packed my synthetic puffy coat to wear at camp—something I don’t usually bring on summer trips in Ontario. The combination of Gore-Tex shoes and my mid-calf length gaiters worked perfectly for the mud and a similar system is definitely a must-have for any aspiring JDF hiker. I’d also recommend rain pants. Even though we lucked out with little rain, I loved having them as an extra layer to keep my camp clothes dry at camp. Finally, my trekking poles were a life-saver—I wouldn’t want to do this kind of rugged and technical trail without them. Before my boyfriend found a trusty piece of driftwood to use as a hiking stick, I found myself often passing him one of my poles to help him navigate across obstacles. They say the right gear can make a trip, and these little things went a long way in ensuring my comfort on the trail!
Sarah loves spending time outdoors—be it on foot, in the water, or on her bike. She’s been camping all her life and avidly backpacking for the past 3 years. When Sarah isn’t sleeping in a tent, she can be found training for triathlons and dreaming of travel. She currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario.