Juan De Fuca Marine Trail
Earlier in the summer, I went on my first backcountry camping at Deeks Lake. I survived, broke in my hiking boots, and was aching for a more challenging adventure. The Juan De Fuca Marine Trail offers adventurous hikers 47km of beach and forest trails with designated backcountry camping sites along the way. Interesting and challenging terrain include constant elevation gain, steep muddy slopes, and high tides. More experienced hikers should be able to complete the trail in 3-4 days.
Keep reading to see how we did!
Give yourself enough time to double check your bags before hitting the road. To get the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail, you will need to catch a ferry from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. We caught the 7 am sailing and arrived at Swartz Bay around 8:30 am. Using GPS to navigate to the trailhead at China Beach, we drove for about 2 hours before starting the hike at 1030am.
Distance walked: 9km (China to Bear Beach)
Time: Approx 4-5 hours
China Beach To Bear Beach
We began our hike at China Beach. We skipped the beach and trekked the short 2km distance to Mystic Beach. There are camping spots available here but would have been a waste of a day to stay. We continued towards Bear Beach where we would set up camp for the night.
This first leg of the hike, totaling 11km, is difficult and includes some steep inclination. Despite having a heavy backpack full of gear, it was manageable and we were able to complete the first day in 4-5 hours. We enjoyed the remaining sunlight and even had time to explore the beach before the tide got too high.
The most memorable physical feature of this beach was an impressive rock face, pictured below. You can enjoy dinner while watching the sun go down and groups of sea lions head West.
What we would do differently…
If we could repeat this day, we would have camped further West. The designated camping sites were nicer and more secluded. It also is closer to the trail so you can get an early start!
Distance walked: 11km (Bear to Chin Beach)
Time: Approx 6 hours
Difficulty: Super freakin’ difficult
Bear Beach To Chin Beach
The 11km hike from Bear Beach to Chin Beach is grueling. On this section of trail, we encountered very steep muddy slopes and mud pits where Danton almost lost a boot. The elevation gain is also constant and, with a heavy pack, it really built the lactic acid in the thighs. Imagine constantly walking up 100m hills, then coming down to only go back up again- all day! This is definitely the most difficult leg of the entire Juan De Fuca trail.
Strong hikers can take on the trek to Chin Beach and continue for another 6km to Sombrio Beach. The trail was much too difficult for me and we would not have cleared the beach portion of the trail by 4 pm to beat the high tides (make sure you refer to a current tide chart).
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.
We continued, for what seemed like an eternity, walking up and down hills and avoiding the loss of boots in mud. We passed by some hikers that warned us of wasps nest along the trail. Fortunately, the area was sectioned off with florescent colored tape and we avoided a potential calamity.
On a grueling hike such as this section of the Juan De Fuca trail, I would bring energy gels or better snacks with me to keep my sugar levels up. It was a very difficult hike, physically and mentally, and the extra energy would have kept my spirits from being deflated.
Distance walked: 6-7km (Chin to Sombrio Beach West )
Time: Approx. 3.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Sombrio Beach (West)
Compared to the hike from Bear to Chin Beach, the trek to Sombrio was a piece of cake! You can expect some hills and some very muddy patches, but not to the same degree as the previous day. The mid-point of this section is very flat and a nice break for the legs.
As you approach Sombrio, you can see some amazing views of the ocean. Below, the kelp forests sway to and fro in the emerald green waters and the calls of sea lions can be heard in the distance. We were so close, and I could not wait to set up camp!
The last obstacle was a very, very deep mud pit. It probably took us 15 minutes of mapping out the safest (and cleanest) way to cross. Once it was crossed, getting to the beach took 15 minutes. From here, you can find a spot on the beach, or you can walk 1 km to Sombrio West to a more secluded and quiet area.
There is a parking lot at the Sombrio East Beach and is a popular spot for day use. From what we were told by other hikers is sometimes groups have drinking parties- so, it can be loud! Danton and I decided to set up camp at Sombrio West Beach where it is not as popular and definitely quieter. This area has elevated wooden tent pads away from the beach. It is not as nice as the beach, but it was quieter and closer to clean potable water.
The vehicle was left at China Beach where we began the hike. We decided that we would cut our hike a day short and drive to end of the Juan De Fuca trail so we would have time to explore both Sombrio and Botanical Beach.
Danton went on his own hitchhike to retrieve our vehicle. The walk from the Sombrio parking lot to highway is about a 30 min walk so if you can get a ride to the highway that would be ideal. Many cars passed Danton, but he continued walking until someone was kind enough to give him a lift.
Distance walked: *18kms* if we walked…
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (based on hikers we asked)
Our hike ended here. Instead of hiking the 18kms to Botanical Beach, we decided to take our time exploring the area and then drive down to Botanical Beach. Many hikers say it is very flat from Sombrio onwards so it wouldn’t have been too difficult, but we just wanted to check out the sights since it was our first time there.
Sombrio Beach (East)
Sombrio East Beach is so beautiful! Towards the trail’s exit is a waterfall emptying into the ocean. It looks like it belongs in a tropical paradise. In addition, there are lots of small tidal pools filled with mullosks and small anenomes.
The best discovery by far was a hidden grotto accessible from the beach. To find it, you have to walk East once you get to the beach from the parking lot. Then you need to find a creek emptying out on to the beach and walk up for about 100m. You will know if you found the right place if you see green walls and feel the cool gusts of wind blowing in your direction. I can’t believe this place exists!
You will pass this small community on the way to Botanical Beach. If you missed having a WiFi connection, then I have some good news for you! There is a library near a firehall that offers free WiFI. Even if the library is closed, the wifi can be accessed standing outside of the building. We used it to let our friends and family know we were okay, and also used it to book a hotel room for that evening.
We also stopped at a small family diner to have a HUGE cheesy burger, and bought some drinks and snacks at a nearby convenience store.
Botanical Beach has so much to offer. I’ve seen some of the nicest tidal pools here that I hadn’t seen in Vancouver. The pools are teeming with life ranging from limpets to funky looking crabs. You will also be able to spot fish and purple urchins hiding behind kelp and grass.
The most exciting thing we were able to see at this beach were pods of orca whales! They were likely hunting for salmon in the area. It was my first time seeing orcas in the wild and it was such an incredible and surreal moment…pinch me!
After having a much-needed shower, we spent the evening and afternoon the next day eating! That’s it- we ate till we couldn’t eat anymore.
Check it out: Things Jennormous Ate In Victoria, BC
We went to a total of 6 different places. It was quite the feat. I am looking forward to the next time I get to eat my way through the city.
You NEED to do this trail…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our hike and endeavor to try the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail as well. It is a challenging, yet rewarding hike to do. Below are a few things you will need to plan your trip accordingly. Make sure to bring a lot of high caloric foods and snacks, too!
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
- Consider making a reservation for BC Ferries
What is the most memorable hike you’ve ever done? Let me know in the comment section below!
Live large. Live Jennormously!
**All the images were taken by @DantonNuwen, check him out!