This weekly series aims to inspire you to go out there and experience amazing backpacking locations in person. Simply looking at them on your phone or monitor is not enough. Feel the wind, breathe the air and bask in the sun.
Our hike this week is the popular and gorgeous Juan de Fuca Trail on Canada’s Vancouver Island.
Why this Hike?
This multi-day hike takes us along the beaches and lush rainforest of the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. It’s the little sister to the highly popular West Coast Trail (covered in this article).
- Total distance is 46.5 miles
- 4 days are recommended to complete this hike
- The trail is popular, make sure to start your day early so that you could get to the campgrounds first.
- You may have the chance to see sea lions, bald eagles, herons and other uncommon wildlife.
Take note of these factors before starting your adventure:
- The trail is rugged and uneven which at times could make hiking very challenging.
- Parts of the trail may be steep and you will need to cross creeks.
- Weather conditions could cause damage to the trails, making navigation more difficult.
- Expect sudden rains with cold weather.
- Campfires are not allowed.
- Bears inhabit the area so be careful.
How do I get there?
We recommending starting the hike at China Beach Campground. The area is accessed via a bus service from Victoria, B.C. or private car. If you want to travel by bus, you’ll need to book it through West Coast Trail Express. They have an option of booking the return fare as well and they will store your excess luggage until you are done with your hike. If driving to the trail, it is accessible via Highway 14. There are several trailheads along the hike which gives you the option of hiking the trail in segments rather than the entire trail (or bailing early due to bad weather or injury). All trailheads have parking areas. Just make sure not to leave any valuables in your vehicles.
If you have the luxury of multiple cars, we suggest heading first to Botanical Beach. Leave one vehicle there and then head off to China Beach. This way you could use the car from Botanical beach to go back to China Beach.
Here’s a map of our recommended route:
- Day 1: China Beach to Bear Beach ( 9 km )
- Day 2: Bear Beach to Chin Beach ( 21 km )
- Day 3: Chin Beach to Payzant Creek ( 40 km )
- Day 4: Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach ( 47 km )
The beach campsites are found at Sombrio Beach East, Chin Beach, Bear Beach, Mystic Beach and Sombrio Beach.
We start off our hike from the China Beach trailhead. You will find some necessary amenities here like drinking water so make sure to fill up your containers for the hike. Pit toilets are also available at this site so make the most of it. The trail is open all year and there are no fees for day hikes so expect that there will be a lot of people here.
From China Beach, we head off to Mystic Beach which is 2 kilometers down the trail. This is still part of the day hike trail so expect more people here. It is a relatively easy hike to the beach which is best done during low tide.
Next, we hike on to Bear Beach at the 9 kilometer mark of the trail. This part of the trail can be a bit muddy with some ups and downs. From here you will be heading for Chin Beach (21 km). This section is the most difficult part of the hike with lots of elevation change. Bear Beach will also serve as our campsite for the first day.
It is best to start your day off early for this next leg of the trail. An hour into the hike we will reach Loss Creek Bridge. Take your time and enjoy the view because from the bridge we will head to East Sombrio Beach. This part will be muddy and will have many elevation changes.
Now we head off to Sombrio which is one of the 4 trailheads on the trail and is the campsite for our second night. As one of the trailheads accessible from Highway 14, this campground is also available for day hikes and is usually crowded.
We then head to Little Kuitshe Creek ( 33 km ). Take note of the high tide beach cutoff to safely get to this campground. This part of the trail is moderate to difficult and is usually muddy. From here we go to Parkinson Creek trailhead. The trail gets even muddier at this point so make sure to tread carefully and wear waterproof hiking boots.
We end the 3rd day at Payzant Creek / Campsite on the 40 km trail mark. Along the way, you will pass by a river and waterfall so take your time and enjoy the hike.
The final leg of the trail takes us to Botanical Beach, the last trailhead which is also a pickup point for the bus shuttle that services the area. You have the option of doing the trail in reverse and start it from here and end it on China Beach.
What will I need?
Cold water taps are available at the China Beach campgrounds, so it’s a great place to load up on water before starting the trail. There are streams along the trail but you will need to filter and boil the water before it would be safe for consumption. As a result, bring plenty of water containers, as well as your filter and filtration tablets.
The park follows a “Leave No Trace” policy so make sure to bring bags for your waste and properly dispose of them outside the park. Pets are allowed on the campgrounds if they are on a leash but not on the trail. The same policy regarding waste applies to them.
Since campfires are not allowed on the trail or campgrounds, it is best to bring ready to eat food or a portable stove. It is also advisable to hang your food at night to keep wildlife from getting to them. Some campgrounds provide bear-proof containers.
Depending on when you plan to make the hike, waterproof equipment is highly advised because of unexpected rains and you will need to navigate through creeks and beaches. A good pair of waterproof hiking boots would do you well as you trek through soil, water, and mud. Bring an extra pair of footwear just in case. You would also need to study a tide chart so that you could plan your hike safely. Finally, a lightweight tarp could be a life-saver.
Due to the number of water crossings and mud expected on the trail, a set of lightweight and portable hiking poles could be a big help.
For more gear recommendations on what to bring to a multi-day hike like this, refer to our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List.
Do I need a permit?
You will not need permits but there is a $10 overnight fee per person, above 16 years old; and $5 for those 16 years old and younger. You will need to self-register at the trailheads and leave your envelopes in the registration boxes provided.
Make sure to check the Tide chart for updates because some parts of the trail will not be passable during high tide.
Have you explored Juan de Fuca? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.