I want to love the outdoors as much as my significant other so that’s how we arrived at the decision to do a multi-day backpacking trip. We had done a one night trial camping trip at Deeks Lake a while back to see how I’d do. I survived and I wanted to do a much longer trip after I got back from traveling in the UK. One night of camping to four nights, why not?! Go big, or stay home!
This trail is located at Juan De Fuca Provincial Park just a 1.5 hour drive from Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. Hikers can enjoy 47 kms of beach and forest starting at China Beach and ending the journey at Botanical Beach (or vice versa) with backcountry camping along the way. The trail has interesting and challenging terrain including: several frustrating mud pits, steep hills, and high tides.
Before you go:
- Remember to pay your camping fees. It’s more convenient to do it in advance online!
- Print a map
- Bring a tide chart
Keep reading to see how we did!
Day 1, August 22
Home –> Ferry –> China Beach –> Bear Beach
We wake up at 4:30am to give us enough time to double check our packs and grab some breakfast before checking in for our 7:00am sailing from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. I highly recommend making a reservation to ensure you make your desired sailing time and avoid unnecessary stress.
The ferry ride lasts approximately 1.5 hours, and we arrive at Swartz Bay around 8:30am. We used GPS to navigate to the trailhead and filled up on gas along the way. The drive wasn’t too long and we get there before 10:30am! We are ready to grind it out!
We had decided from the beginning to skip the campsite at Mystic Beach, since it is only 2km in, and head straight for Bear Beach totaling 11kms in the first day. The first leg is”difficult” and has a few steep inclines, but overall not bad. Despite carrying a pack full of gear we make it to Bear Beach with zero issues. Danton even carried his camera and tripod in hand the entire time!
The first leg of the trip took us between 4-5 hours and we had enough energy to cook and explore a little bit before the tide got too high. We watched the ocean and even saw a seal bobbing his head up and down as the current carried him away.
Pro Tip: Camp further west. The sites are nicer and you’ll get a head start in the morning since that is where the trail to the next beach begins.
Bear Beach–> Chin Beach
We start the day with high spirits. Day 1 was a piece of cake; Day 2 is going to be cherry pie. Little did we know…
We had our breakfast and packed everything up by 9am and were on our way down the beach to the trail. After snapping some photos, we enter the trail by 9:45am and the adventure continues!
We needed to make it to Chin Beach by 4pm to beat the tide. I was feeling a bit ambitious and suggested the idea to hike straight to Sombrio, thus adding another 6kms to our day, but we would have to see what time we got to Chin.
Perhaps an hour or so into the hike we come across a majestic mud waterfall. Foregoing the gaiters at MEC seems like a bad idea now, but taking your time and staying close to the sides gives you support to make it down.
At about 2.5 hours we bump into another group headed opposite of us and they tell us about the wasps nest up ahead. Something about someone being stung 7 times? Also, more mud pits. Wonderful. My spirit isn’t completely shattered yet, but I think this is where things started going downhill for me.
The second leg of the hike was very difficult. You are constantly going up, and coming down. I would say a lot of the hills went up 100m- yuck. There were a few more muddy patches waiting for us up ahead and the stability of the ground is very deceiving. Danton almost lost his shoe twice when he misjudged the mud. Since he was ahead a lot of the time, I was spared.
Pro tip: Test the ground before you commit.
We continue this way for a while- an eternity it seems- and it is hot, uncomfortable, and our bags are heavy. For me, the trip goes from Juan De Fuc YEAH to Juan De
Fuc this trail and it wasn’t looking like we were going to make it to Sombrio after all. We would need to clear the beach to the next trail before 4:30pm when the beach is unpassable due to the high tide. We were only getting to the exit to the beach by 3:30pm so it might have cut it close…and we were exhausted.
After about 6 hours of hiking we make it to a spot to set up the tent. I pass out right away and have the best nap ever while Danton explored the area. The sun was still up when I awoke so I was able to watch groups of sea lions (or seals?) playing and swimming east. The sky was clear so at night Danton captured a time lapse of the milky way.
Chin Beach –> Sombrio Beach (West) –> Hitchhiking
Compared to Day 2, this was so easy. There were a couple hills and a couple more muddy spots so we kept the camera tucked away to get to the end as fast as possible. Total walking time was under 4 hours and the midpoint was quite flat for a while.
Upon nearing the end, some hikers told us that we were 15 minutes away. Uh huh…. I know what that means. Soon after hear that, we get to a really bad muddy spot. We could tell that it was deep and someone has a good chance of losing their boot in this. It probably took us those 15 minutes to figure out a path to make it across. So after those 15 minutes, it was the “real” 15 minutes to the beach.
Sombrio beach is divided into 3 parts. You have East, West, and West-West. Sombrio East has a beautiful waterfall and some tidal pools, but it can be noisy and crowded because it is a popular spot for day-use. We stayed at Sombrio West where is was quiet, and had platform tent pads. We never did venture over to West-West.
Danton went hitchhiking to retrieve our vehicle from China Beach so we could drive to Botanical Beach in the morning. When he got back, we had our dinner and watched the sunset with the hords of seagull near our campsite.
Sombrio Beach (East) –> Botanical Beach –> Victoria
Our hike ends here. Instead of hiking the 18kms to Botanical Beach, we were going to take our time exploring the area and then drive down there. Many hikers say it is very flat from Sombrio onwards so it wouldn’t have been too difficult, but we thought our choice was the most enjoyable one.
We got a lot a photos of Sombrio East, and found this amazing grotto just about 100m up a creek emptying its contents into the ocean. I really recommend looking for it because it is so beautiful! I can’t believe we have something like this is in British Columbia- it looks like we were in a jungle in the tropics.
We drive towards Port Renfrew to get to Botanical Beach, and decide to stop at the community center to figure out our plans. If you’ve been dying to check your phone you are in luck because there is free WiFi. It was such a lifesaver because we could quickly catch up with life (work is so hard to leave behind) and figure out our plans for the last two days before continuing on.
We get to the parking lot a little after 1pm and saw some familiar faces! A lot of our camping neighbors were coming up from the beach and adjourning their hike. I felt a tinge of guilt “cheating” by driving over instead of completing the 47 kms, but maybe we’ll give it another go in the future.
The beach has much to offer. A lot of interesting things to find in the pools. I found crabs, urchins, anemones, and little fish. This has to have been my favorite beach, and it is easily accessible by car with a short walk. We were so lucky to catch the pods of orcas hunting salmon right in front of us! This was the first time seeing wild whales so it was a very magical moment for the both of us and everyone else on the beach.
We explored the pools after the orcas were gone and came across some interesting things! I haven’t seen urchins or sea anemones in BC before, aside from in the aquarium, so it was exciting for me. You’ll also spot tons of crabs, mussels, and fish.
It was about time for us to figure out our sleeping situation for the evening. The one thing we realized earlier, before the excitement of the whales, was that this beach has no designated camping sites and the closest one was a 7km hike East. Our options were to hike, go back to China Beach, or go home a day earlier. None of the options seemed too thrilling so we went back to the free WiFi spot and Danton actually booked a hotel room for the night.
We get to downtown Victoria by 6:30pm and get showered. It feels so good to be clean, and it is such a different scenery from the tent life! We went out for a meal that didn’t consist of freeze-dry foods, oatmeal, or trail mix and I’m not sure if it was really delicious or we were deprived, but it was a great way to end our hiking trip.
Exploring Chinatown –> Home
I will never take hot showers and pillow top mattresses for granted ever again! I think it was a great way to end our hiking trip and vacation away from the city. It felt like two trips in one.
I will make a separate post for our day in Victoria that consisted of a lot of eating in the Chinatown area and a trip to Church and State Winery before our ferry ride home.
This hike and trip has such a positive experience for me. It was challenging physically, and also mentally at times. I can now say I’ve done a multi-day backpacking trip and I am looking forward to more in the future!
I feel so grateful that I live in British Columbia where we have so much nature in our backyard (or a ferry ride away). The wildlife I was able to see is a reminder to me that nature is so beautiful and effortless, and we sometimes take it for granted in our busy urban lives.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our hike and endeavour to try the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail as well. You can be sure we will go on more adventures in the future!
All the images were taken by @DantonNuwen, so check him out for more stuff!