Well, like my last post said, the fog rolled in late last Friday and cleared the Vancouver Island’s skies of smoke, and my urge to get out on the trails is back. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t get out on the trails for a back-burning trek through the wilderness this weekend, so instead, I sit behind my computer screen editing photos and reliving various adventures from my favourite oasis I’ve found on the south coast so far: Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
Famed for its 47 kilometers of coastal trail, Juan de Fuca stretches from Jordan River out to Port Renfrew, connecting China and Botanical Beach, with several others along the way. The marine trail offers a perfect training ground for those interested in doing the West Coast Trail or the Pacific Rim. Broken up by numerous stunning suspension bridges and stretches of gorgeous views of the strait, the Juan de Fuca trail is also easily accessed for day hikes, which is exactly how Conor and I chose to explore this massive wonderland of waterfalls. Some access points are much more popular than others – leaving the parking lots overflowing onto the highways – so we’ve found ourselves exploring the lesser known trailheads of Juan de Fuca on a couple different occasions, and this park never disappoints.
Coming from Victoria, the first access point into JDF is from the China Beach day use trailhead. Turn down the road to the lots and you’ll be presented with two options: head east for China, or west for Mystic. Of course, you can park wherever you want, but the trails off of each lot will lead you to two very different -respectively awesome- views.
The trail down to China Beach is short and easy, perfect for giving your friends or family a taste of the beauty Van Isle has to offer. Walking back will tire you out more on this walk, as the short stroll down to the beach is all downhill from the parking lot. About a kilometer away from your car, you will find a gorgeous tan sand beach, with plenty of room to explore both east and west. Because of the ease of access to this particular stretch of beach, it is often packed with people. However, secretly tucked away in this portion of the park is a series of somewhat small waterfalls, one of which had been left seemingly untouched, and since we live for Leave No Trace principles, it stayed that way. Neither of us could find photos of it from other accounts on Instagram, either! A truly unique experience, but it goes to show just how much there is yet to be discovered on this island.
The trail to Mystic, however, is a more rugged 45 minute long hike through fern-filled forests. Less experienced hikers beware- the signs may say 2 kilometers to Mystic Beach, but the trail is often interrupted by tree trunks, and toe stubs and tripping on roots are common mishaps. Depending on what time of year you choose to visit, you may want to wear boots that will hold up to deep pits of mud, as the trails often become saturated by the wet season in the months October through March.
The hard work is well rewarded: various bridges keep the views through the forests interesting, crossing creeks and steep ravines filled with blooming wilderness. Coming to the beach, the excitement is imminent. Look left, and you’ll see a rope swing and waterfall in the distance (and probably lots of people), and if you choose to take the path less traveled and go right, you’ll find cairns leading the way to some pretty stellar sea caves at low tide.
Perhaps the most photographed section of Juan de Fuca is Sombrio Beach. One of the best surf spots in the Victoria – Renfrew corridor, signs to this section of the park are occasionally deliberately vandalised by locals in an effort to protect the secret spot from tourists, and I can totally understand why.
Located on Pacheedaht territory, hidden in Sombrio is a glorious, sacred canyon, which has been robbed of it’s pristine growth by years of tourists wanting to leave their mark on the land, engraving names into the walls.
Please, if you do have the opportunity to experience the beauty that this sacred stream holds, consider this:
Instead of leaving your mark on it, allow it to leave a mark on you. The power of the winds and the water, in an area that seems almost underground can be a deeply spiritual experience. Go ahead, climb up under the falls, and you’ll have the purest shower you’ll ever experience in your entire life.
Perhaps the hidden gem of the JDF, Parkinson Creek is often underrated. We’ve only explored here once, but we had an absolute blast when we did. Hell, we didn’t even make it down the trail. We wound up walking the creek, instead, which we found to be possibly the best bushwhacking experience we’ve had yet.
The creek itself is full of energy, and teeming with various species of beautiful birds. Years of running against the rocky bed, the creek has stirred up lots of sediment, so the waters appear incredibly dark at some points. Me, being the total pansy that I am, struggled with the deeper segments of the stream. I will totally blame my older siblings and family friends for this one, since I would always get teased at the beach as a kid for being gullible enough to believe the lake had an undertow. Now, I simply hate swimming – or apparently even walking – in water where I can’t see the bottom. Despite this, we adventured as far as we could up and down the creek, until both of us were exhausted from walking against the current. We both hope to return to this area of the park soon, so we can finally see where the trail takes us.
The most western point of the JDF, Botanical Beach marks the end (or beginning) of the Marine Trail. Another area we’ve only had the pleasure of exploring once, this part of the park lives on the edge of the Fog Zone of Vancouver Island, and experiences an average of 3.5 meters of rain a year.
Yep. You read that right. Meters.
As you can imagine, sunny days are rare there and we weren’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about seeking out the rainiest corner of the island, however just like Parkinson Creek, we fully intend on returning once again.
Famed for the miles of tidepools found here, this is hardly a beach by most people standards. However, the sights to be seen here are unlike any others. Time your visits appropriately, as there’s not much to see at high tide. Visit at low tide, on the other hand, and you’ll be able to venture out onto the potholed plateau and experience the marvels of nature for yourself, every tiny tide pool its own intricate ecosystem. Don’t get too caught up, though- rogue waves coming crashing in on occasion, surprising those who adventure just a wee bit too far out.
The park has been well respected over the years, as most who wander the walkways there also have an opportunity for education. Numerous plaques border the trails with an abundance of information about the ecosystems around you, and their delicacy. But it’s not just marine wildlife you can find here, oh no! The tide pools attract many land animals in search of a tasty seafood snack. This was even where Conor and I had our first daytime bear encounter!
There are so many wonders of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, and I’ve already had so many adventures there. I love it so much, I’ve been working hard on creating a little video/series(?) for it. Be sure to follow the blog for more hikes and stories, and let me know in the comments what your favourite getaway is!