- Meg Cuthbert
Hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is 47-kilometres on the southern edge of Vancouver Island. It is a popular, well-travelled hiking trail with many access points and even more beaches.
My Dad and I hiked the Juan de Fuca in August 2017. I had invited him to join me on the trail months before and he said, “maybe.” Three weeks before lift off I called him to see if he was going to come. He said, “no.”
I said, “Ok well, I’m going to go by myself anyway.” Forty-five minutes later he called back and said he had enough arimiles to fly down to the Island and that he was coming.
He’s a funny guy.
We hiked the trail in four days, but we added an extra day of camping on at the start. We camped the first night at the China Beach campground with Daniel. Originally he was going to drop us off at the China Beach Trail Head and then pick us up four days later at Botanical Beach. But that would be a road-trip bummer for him, so he decided to join us for a night of camping to get a little slice of adventure in between hundreds of kilometres of driving.
DAY ONE: CHINA BEACH TO BEAR BEACH (9 KM)
The first official day of the hike started at China Beach; because we had spent the night at the campground, we were able to get an early start.
After two kilometres of wilderness hiking and a skookum suspension bridge, we were spit out of the forest and onto Mystic Beach. With a trickle of a waterfall and caves carved by ocean waves, Mystic Beach arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the route.
We hiked on to Bear Beach. There are many sites along the beach, but because we had a fresh and early start that morning we decided to hike to the farthest point on the beach. Day Two is supposedly the hardest day on the trail, and we wanted to give ourselves an advantage. I’m glad we did, not just for the head start in the morning, but for the stunning spot we got to spend the evening. Bear Beach ends with the curve of a bay giving us a gorgeous view of mushroom rock and the rock pillars.
DAY TWO: BEAR BEACH TO CHIN BEACH (12 KM)
Day Two is a grind. Every stream means a valley, vertically-up means vertically-down, and you just have to accept the ascents with the descents —put yourself in low gear and ride through it.
There are trail markers every kilometre along the trail, we were looking for marker 16 to stop for lunch, but it never came. This added to the mental game of the day; we kept looking for markers to give us some inclination to how far we needed to go, hiking for hours but seemingly getting nowhere. We shouted and hopped around with joy when we finally came up to kilometre 21 (with the Chin Beach campsite only one kilometre away). As we headed down the trail, we heard the group of hikers also shout and whoop when they must have approached kilometre 20.
We camped at Chin beach in a sheltered rock formation a little ways away from the main camping. It was more private than where everyone else was camping, and it had a with a beautiful, yet sheltered, view of the ocean.
The shore and fog acted like two sides of a positive magnet, keeping the fog just far enough off the coast to let the sun shine in. We didn’t get views of the Olympics, but we did get some sun.
NOTE: The lower part of the stream in the camping area looks like a lovely place to collect water; however, it is on the downstream of an outhouse which at some angles you cannot see. Get your water further upstream. I’m very grateful to the woman to pointed this out to me before I put my filter pump in the water.
DAY THREE: CHIN BEACH TO LITTLE KUITSHE CREEK (12 KM)
From Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach we encountered the most mud we had on the trail. It had been a summer of little rain, but still, the mud was abundant. If you go during a wet season make sure you have some gators! The boardwalks were in rough shape and looked like they have been completely saturated with water since the day they were installed. That’s the west coast for ya!
The hike from Sombrio point to the beach was lovely. The lookouts of the waterfall and beach are beautiful and borderline tropical. The lush green of the forest meeting the blue and white of the ocean is stunning, and there are a few good bluffs to stop and have a rest to take in the views. We stopped for lunch at Sombrio beach before continuing on to Little Kuitshe Creek.
I would have added an extra day to this trip just to camp at Sombrio Beach. The beach camping sites looked great, although Sombrio does get busy in the summer with car campers. Little Kuitshe is up off the beach, but the views from the rock bluffs are nice too. The sites are in the trees so they're a bit darker and a bit damper than the beach.
DAY FOUR: LITTLE KUITSHE CREEK TO BOTANICAL BEACH (14 KM)
It rained overnight. We were worried about making it to our pickup location at Botanical Beach by 5 pm to meet Daniel for our ride home, so we got an early start.
This last section of the trail is by far the most leisurely hiking of the trail. The boardwalks made hiking a breeze, and we sailed over the kilometres. Once we realized that at the pace we were going we would arrive at Botanical Beach too early we stopped at a rocky beach pullout and took our boots off for a little rest. We basked on the warm rocks like seals, and after our rest, we were in good moods to continue on to Botanical Beach.
If you can arrive at Botanical Beach at low tide, you will be treated to a beautiful display of tidal potholes. We arrived at a medium tide and got to view some of the tidal action, but not all. We arrived just after 4 pm and waited with other hikers at the parking lot. When Daniel pulled up, he bought with him our friends Holly and Eric. We went to the Port Renfrew Pub for victory dinner and tequila shots (the first tequila shot I’ve ever done with my Dad).
Nature is good for stress and anxiety, the exercise is good for you, the views are spectacular, no cell service is a blessing, but on this trip, it was the company that made the difference to me. Not everyone has a Dad that can, or will, go hiking for four days on a wilderness trail. Along the four days my Dad recounted bits of family history, I learned a lot about my Dad, my Mom, my Grandparents — and their time in WWII — and my Dad’s childhood in Burnaby. Getting this family education while hiking along with Juan de Fuca was priceless in the most meaningful sense of that word. And seeing my Dad so strong on the trail was encouraging for my own future.
My Dad is a cool guy.
Watch my Dad's stellar on-camera presence here:
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