Walking close to the sea, Botanical Beach, Juan de Fuca trail.
HIKING North America

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail, Vancouver Island, Canada

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a remarkable multi-day hike along the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, progressing over beautiful beaches and through spectacular indigenous forest.

In this article you will find all information needed to plan a hike on the Juan de Fuca trail, all about our hike; detailed itinerary and packing list.

This is a moderate to strenuous 47 km hike in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park along the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. We hiked the route in four days, which is the most common way to complete the entire trail. The footpath stretches from China Beach, close to the town Sooke in the south, to Botanical Beach located close to Port Renfrew in the north. The more famous West Coast trail with similar scenery also start close to Port Renfrew extending along the coast in the opposite direction.

The Juan de Fuca Marine trail meanders through a spectacular mix of solitary rainforest, sandy and rocky beaches and biodiverse rock pools, offering panoramic views and an unreal variety of fauna and flora. Keep your eyes on the ocean and you might spot grey whales, killer whales, seals or sea lions, in the forest keep a look out for black bears and cougars and don’t skip the fantastic tidal pools inhabited by  starfish, sea urchins,  barnacles, blue mussels, anemones, sea cucumbers and plenty more interesting animals.

Hiking so close to the ocean is one of the amazing experiences on the Juan de Fuca trail.

Trail Information

  • Distance – 47 km/ 29 miles
  • Time required – 3 to 5 days
  • Starting and End point – Botanical Beach to China Beach
  • Total ascent (in 4 days) – 1973 m
  • Total descent (in 4 days) – 1930 m
  • Walking surface – a mix of sand and rocks on the beach, footpaths with surface varying between dirt and knee deep mud.
  • Route marking – wood signs, orange markers on trees
  • Average cost – average of $30 per person per day
  • Accommodation – camping
  • Food – carry food for the duration of the trail


Various walking surfaces on the Juan de Fuca trail

How to do the Juan de Fuca Trail

Which direction to hike The Juan de Fuca Trail

The complete trail is 47 km/29 miles according to the official markers, my GPS gave me a bit more distance everyday, maybe there was a bit of variation in distance because we tried to go to the beach as much as possible. The trail can be hiked either way; from north to south starting at Botanical beach close to Port Renfrew and ending at China Beach or the other way around. We hiked the trail mid August, there were only a handful of people on the trail and traffic in both directions was very similar, but I have heard more people hike from China Beach heading north to Botanical Beach in season. All the hills are steep ups and downs as can be seen on each day’s elevation profile, our total ascent and total decent was almost identical confirming the difficulty would be similar in both directions.

forest hike juan de fuca trail
Hiking next to the ocean alternates by hiking some spectacular forest paths on the Juan de Fuca trail.

Time required to hike the complete Juan de Fuca trail

I was visiting family in Canada and my brother hiked the trail with me, he is not a very experienced hiker. We did the trail in 4 days and 3 nights comfortably, so if you are reasonably fit you should be able to complete the trail at a very relaxed pace in 4 days without problems. It took us an average of 6 hours per day, that leaves a lot of time to swim, break and explore. You know what pace you are comfortable to walk at, we met a couple of people on the trail doing it in 3 or 5 days respectively. We even passed some runners completing the trail in one day! I would recommend that you try to get up early enough to start walking by 10 am. The first day we totally overslept, waking up at 10 am and only starting our walk at 12:00, we walked almost 7 hours finishing quite late.

Day hikes on the Juan de Fuca trail

The trail can be accessed from several trail heads each with car parking if you want to do one-day hikes or only walk part of the trail, in this way some people also do the trail over more than one weekend. The trail can easily be accessed from the road at Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach and China Beach.

Starting the trail Botanical Trail head.

Juan de Fuca Trail Transportation

The trail is easy to reach by public transport or with your own vehicle. The West Coast Trail Express provides a shuttle bus service in season, May 1 to September 30, picking up and dropping off passengers at Victoria, Sooke, Jordon River, China Beach, Sombrio Beach, Port Renfrew, and Nanaimo. At the time of writing the price is $CAD55 one way with the shuttle. If you have a car, you can park at the trail head parking area where you will end your walk and book the shuttle to pick you up, finishing the hike at your car. For example, many people park their cars at the China Beach car park and book the West Coast Trail Express bus to pick them up at China Beach taking them to Port Renfrew to start the hike. Another popular option is to book the shuttle to pick you up after your hike and take you to Victoria, but remember it only drives once a day in each direction so you might have to wait a couple of hours and if you are late the bus will leave without you. We did not book the return shuttle since I knew we would finish hours before the pickup time, we hitchhiked to Sooke from where we took a public bus, it only took us 5 minutes to get a ride.

Best Time of the Year to Hike Juan de Fuca

  • The Juan de Fuca Trail is open the whole year, no booking is required for campsites.
  • Although the hike may be done all year round, weather wise a pleasant time of the year is mid-May to mid-September. That’s also the main camping season.
  • Busy season from mid-June through to early September
  • Peak season July and August.

Role of Tides on the Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca trail has some sections that can be hiked on the beach. Some of the beaches may be underwater at high tide, there is however always an alternative trail in the forest. The entrances from beach to forest trail are clearly marked with red buoys and there are signs that show at which tides certain beaches may not be accessible. A tide table from the Port Refrew area will show you when and how high tides will be. Botanical Beach is said to be one of the richest tidal areas on the island’s west coast and the life in the rock pools is fascinating. To fully appreciate the life in the tidal zone of this beach explore this area at low tide, preferably below 4.0m.

The following beaches can only be passed when the tides are are lower than indicated below. We found the info on the table below on the official BC trails map.

Beach NameKm Marker
(South to North)
Passable at tide
height below m/ft
Bear Beach8.03.00/9.8
Chin Beach (east)20.62.75/9.0
Chin Beach (west)21.32.75/9.0
Sombrio (east)28.03.0/9.8
Sombrio (west)29.62.6/8.5
Sombrio (west-west)30.23.0/9.8

Campsites on the Juan de Fuca Trail

Camping along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is only permitted in designated beach and forest camp sites, these are open all year. All camp sites where we stayed had a bear cash, running water and toilet. Self-registration envelopes and safes are located at each trailhead for depositing your camping fee, you can also pay online. China Beach is the only camp site where sites can be booked, all other sites are first come, first serve.

camping chin beach juan de fuca trail stingy nomads
Camping on Chin Beach on the second night.


Camping on the beach – Camping on the beach is possible at Mystic Beach, Bear Beach, Chin Beach and Sombrio Beach (East). If camping on the beach make sure you camp above the high tide mark. At Chin beach we thought we were pitching our tent above the high tide mark, I woke up in the middle of the night with the water about a meter or 2 from our tent, the ocean was very loud! We decided to move the tent to a safer spot.

Camping in the forest – at Little Kuitsche Creek and Payzant Creek the camp sites are in the forest and away from the beach.

Toilets on the Juan de Fuca Trail

The facilities on the trail was excellent, it was long drop style toilets, but every camp site had very clean, modern toilets with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We were super impressed.

Bears on the Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca trail is in bear country, it is mainly black bears that live in this area. Bears hibernate in winter and from mid March through summer they leave their dens to find food. There is a lot of pair scat on the trail and you have a good chance of seeing them, for most tourists this is an exciting prospect! We just missed a mom with two cubs on the trail (spotted by fellow hiker). I have often heard that a mom with cubs is dangerous, statistics however proves this theory passed as fact wrong, solitary males are responsible for the biggest portion of the few of bear attacks that take place. Off course these animals can be dangerous, but there has only been a handful of bear attacks in BC over the last 20 years. You have a much bigger chance of getting killed in a car accident on the way to the hike. Put your food and garbage in a bear proof container (bear cache) at the camp site. Don’t leave your garbage there, you are suppose to carry it with you.

What to do if you see a bear (regional parks) – stay calm, speak to the bear in calm voice, back away slowly, don’t run – the bear is faster than you, take out bear spray and know how to use it, take some nice photos! if attacked use bear spray and fight back!

Food on the trail

Packing food for this trail was a pleasure since we had access to hiking store selling awesome dehydrated camping meals in Vancouver, a bit more pricey, but light, filling and delicious! everything you want from camping food.

  • Breakfast – 2 packs of instant oats each per day for breakfast
  • Lunch – a chocolate per day each
  • Dinner – We packed a mix of what Alya and I usually pack and dehydrated meals. Nights 1 and 3 – A dehydrated meal (2 servings) each. Night 2 – 2 packs of noodles and a small pack of tuna each.
Food in each person’s backpack for 4 day 3 night Juan de Fuca trail hike, x2 dehydrated meal,
x2 Noodles, x2 Tuna, x4 chocolate bar, x8 Oats

Alya (the other Stingy Nomad) and I are serious caffeine junkies, Kobus fit perfect suffering from the same addiction. We made awesome coffee twice a day with our aeropress.

To boil water for coffee and prepare meals we carried a little gas stove and two small gas canisters and a cook set.

Drinking Water on the Juan de Fuca Trail

There are many water sources along the way and carrying one water bottle per person should be sufficient. Every camp we stayed at has a river or at least little creek with running water close to the camping area. It is recommended by the official government website that drinking water is boiled, treated or filtered before drinking, do this if you want to be safe. We carried a Lifestraw filter bottle and a MSR filter to treat water with, other campers had chlorine tablets, this is cheaper but taste terrible. My opinion is that the water is good quality, running water with slight discoloration due to tannins from foliage. There are no big herds of farm animals like cows, sheeps or alpachas we discussed this, reasoning a couple of bears and deer can not crap that much and drank water without treatment when we got lazy, we did not have any problems. Don’t get drinking water directly down stream of a busy camp site.

Accommodation

There are plenty of accommodation options to suit your budget in Port Renfrew and Victoria.

Victoria

Port Renfrew

  • On a Budget – You can camp at China Beach and start walking North in the morning, Botanical Beach does not have camping, there are several other campsites in Port Renfrew if you are on a budget.
  • Trailhead Resort (economy cabins)
  • Wild Coast Chalets (good rating, 400m from town center)
  • Remote Renfrew Riverside Retreat (pet friendly cabins)
Walking on the beaches is sometimes very rocky making for slow progress.

Juan de Fuca Trail Budget

  • Camping – $CAD10 per day pp – $30
  • Food – $CAD15 per day pp – $60
  • Transport – $CAD55 pp Trailbus one way
  • Bear spray – $CAD50
  • Stove Gas – $CAD6

Total – $CAD201 per person ($150)

Juan de Fuca Trail Itinerary

Day 0 – Vancouver to Victoria

Take a ferry from Vancouver (Tsawwassen Ferry terminal) to Victoria (Swartz Bay Ferry terminal). Take a public bus from Swartz Bay to Victoria. Overnight in Victoria.

There were some very muddy sections on the Juan de Fuca trail, you definitely need a hiking stick or your hands some time!

Day One

Victoria – Port Renfrew-Botanical Beach

We took the West Coast Trail Express from Victoria to Port Renfrew departing at 06.45 and arriving at 08:45. See the West Coast Trail Express Bus Schedule here. Had a great breakfast at Coastal Kitchen Cafe. Walk from Port Refrew to Botanical Beach Trail Head is 2.5km on the road (25 min). There was an ATM at the Coastal Kitchen Cafe.

Botanical Beach to Little Kuitshe Creek

Botanical Beach, Payzant Creek Camping, Parkinson Creek Trailhead, Little Kuitshe Creek Camping

  • Starting point – Botanical Beach Trailhead
  • Finishing point – Kuitshe Creek Campsite
  • Distance – 14 km (walked 18km total according to my GPS)
  • Walk on the Beach – 1.5 km
  • Total Time – 7h 6min
  • Moving Time – 4h 19min
  • Total ascent – 457 m
  • Total descent – 488 m

Highlights of the Day

  • The Rock pools at Botanical Beach

We arrived in Port Renfrew just before 9am, finding a place to have breakfast, buying water and drawing money took some time (we ended up doing all of that at Coastal Kitchen Cafe). The bus drops you in Port Renfrew from where it is an half an hour walk to the start of the trail, we only started the hike at 12 pm.

Take sometime to to explore the awesome rock pools of Botanical beach.

We crossed Botanical Beach when the tide was fairly low allowing us to take a look around in the famous rock pools. We walked about 2km from Botanical Beach on the beach, according to maps we looked at parts of the beach is underwater at high tide and there is an alternative path in the forest. We went for a swim at the beach at Providence cove, the water was freezing! About a kilometer after Providence Cove we walked another section of about 1km on the beach.

Elevation Profile from Botanical Beach to Little Kuitshe Creek Campsite

As can be seen from the elevation profile there were some fairly flat section with going up and down medium to big hills. Hiking this stage in either direction would be equally hard. Most of the day is walked on paths in the forest. It was a long day for only 14km, taking about 7 hours! There were some muddy sections, but not the worst we had on the trail, we were lucky with dry weather! The day became very long because we got up at 5am in Victoria, walked 2km to the bus stop, another 2 from Port Renfrew to the start of the trail and ended up finishing the day quite late, I would recommend you try to start hiking not later than 10am.

Day Two

Little Kuitshe Creek to Chin Beach

Little Kuitshe Creek Camping, Sombrio West West, Sombrio West, Sombrio Middle, Loss Creek Bridge, Chin Beach

  • Starting point – Little Kuitshe Creek Campsite
  • Finishing point – Chin Beach Campsite
  • Distance – 12 km (walked 15km total according to my GPS)
  • Walk on the Beach – 1.7 km
  • Total Time – 6h 13min
  • Moving Time – 4h 16min
  • Total ascent – 411 m
  • Total descent – 448 m

Highlights of the Day

  • Slot Canyon and Secret Waterfall
  • Sombrio Beach
  • Suspension Bridges

After very little sleep before day one we totally overslept and had another late start! The tide was to high to walk over Sombrio West West on the beach, but from there we had about a 2km walk on the beach. Sombria is a great beach, it is very popular with local surfers and there were a handful of guys out there even though the surf was very flat. Many day visitors and weekend campers come here, walking the 2kms from the Sombrio trail head. There were some muddy sections through the forest, at least it was flat. After 3 hours and 40 mins (9km) we hit the steepest climb of the day, 1 km uphill with some muddy parts which took almost half an hour, you can see on the elevation profile after a flat section we started going down again and ended the day walking a couple of hundred meters on Chin Beach to the camp site. You walk over 3 fantastic suspension bridges on this day. Don’t miss the amazing ‘secret waterfall’ in a slot canyon from Sombrio Beach, it is easy to miss. This amazing waterfall and canyon was a great place to break for a lunch break and a super refreshing shower!
Highlights of the Day

Don’t miss the amazing slot canyon and waterfall at Sombrio Beah!

Walk to the east end of Sombrio Beach eventually you will pass a cave-like rock, just past that look for a small stream of water running from the woods to the sea, we only saw one stream. Follow that watercourse. It is about 250m to the waterfall, it is not visible from the beach.You will see two huge cliffs of moss-covered rock with the waterfall right in the middle of it.

Our campsite on Chin Beach was our favorite on the hike, we camped about 50m away from the main campsite, right on the beach. Unfortunately we were closer to the high tide mark than we thought and were woken by the ocean in the middle of the night and moved our tent!

Day Three

Chin Beach to Bear Beach

Chin Beach, Loss Creek Bridge, Bear Beach 3 Camping, Bear Beach 2 Camping, Bear Beach 3 Camping

  • Starting point – Chin Beach Campsite
  • Finishing point – Bear Beach Campsite
  • Distance – 12 km (walked 14.9 km total according to my GPS)
  • Walk on the Beach – 1 km
  • Total Time – 5h 49min
  • Moving Time – 3h 49min
  • Total ascent – 666 m
  • Total descent – 675 m

Highlights of the Day

  • Swimming in the rock pools in a creek on the way to Bear Beach.
  • Bear Beach is really beautiful

The stretch from Chin to Bear is known as the toughest day on the trail. We got up at 7am, it was great to start walking a early! You can see on the elevation profile we walked over 14 hills (you can count 16, depends on what you see as a hill). There was again some muddy sections, but it was not the incredibly tough day we expected and was our shortest walking day so far taking about 5 hours in total. On the way went for a great swim at a some pools about 3 or 4 kilometers before bear beach.

You can see from the elevation profile that the total ascend and decent for this day was the most for any day, so it should be the hardest, since we started early and finished early this day did not feel that hard. Again you again see ascend and descent was similar so direction of this day should not matter to much regarding difficulty.

We had such an awesome camping spot at Bear Beach 2.

Bear Beach is a long beach and a nice walk, all three campsites; Bear 1, 2 and 3 have toilets and running water. We really liked Bear 2 and camped here. Bear 2 is divided in two campsites with toilets only the main site has running water. We decided to sacrifice running water and walk a bit more for a less crowded campsite.

Day Four

Bear Beach to China Beach

Bear Beach, Mystic Beach, China Beach

  • Starting point – Bear Beach Campsite
  • Finishing point – China Beach Campsite
  • Distance – 9 km (walked 10 km total according to my GPS)
  • Walk on the Beach – 1 km
  • Total Time – 3h 44min
  • Moving Time – 3h 01min
  • Total ascent – 439 m
  • Total descent – 368 m

Highlights of the Day

  • Mystic Beach, great place for a swim
  • Shower, coffee, hamburger

The last day was a short one, as per usual this day we just walked to finish and buy a big americano and something greasy and unhealthy to eat 🙂 We had a fairly early start and finished at about 12 pm. If you look at the total up and down and the elevation profile you will see it was about the same as most of the other days and thus not that easy, but the length of the walk made it easy. There is some beach walking on Bear beach at the start if the tide allows and on a nice beach, Mystic Beach on the way. We were planning a swim here but this never happened, I kept thinking about a hamburger with my name on it.

Packing List

For long term travel and serious hiking the Osprey Aeather 70L AG Rucksack or Ariel 65 women’s version is and excellent backpack.

Hiking boots/shoes – make sure your shoes are;

  • waterproof
  • breathing
  • have good grip – sometimes you walk on muddy or rocky terrain
  • fit good – you have some space to wiggle your toes
  • good quality

Should you hike in boots or shoes? this is a very common debate, the need for ankle support is a personal preference, but with all the mud on the trail boots has a definite advantage.   Wearing merino wool socks in waterproof hiking shoes is the way to go.

If you like a low cut shoe – Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof or Salomon X Ultra Prime  are good option for you; durable, waterproof, comfortable, have good grip. For those who prefer high-cut models – KEEN Targhee II Waterproof or more budget option – Columbia Granite Ridge. 

For ladies – Alya prefers a more ‘girly’ option to leather boots – shoes like KEEN Targhee IISalomon Ellipse 2 or Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof. She has walked about 3000km in her Merrel Moab2’s ! If you’re looking for something cheaper Columbia Dakota Drifter is a good option. For ladies that prefer a boot cut Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Hiking Boot, is an excellent choice.

A waterproof jacket ladies or (men’s model) with hood in case of strong wind or rain. 

Rain poncho – In the rainy season a poncho that can fit over you and your daypack is a good idea to keep you completely dry, light and small to carry.

Trekking pants – One or two pairs of light fast dry hiking pants, for women I’d suggest to pack trekking pants and yoga pants. Alya always take both and prefer wearing yoga pants – they stretch easy and are more comfortable. 

Fleece vest– very light to pack,  a fleece vest is nice for extra heat layering, ladies.

Hiking shirt – Do not pack cotton, if you sweat under your jacket you will be wet and cold underneath. Alya prefers hiking in breathable, moisture wicking, quik dry T-shirts, packing a long sleeve shirt and one short sleeve T-shirt. I love hiking in Columbia shirts, they do not absorb water so dry quickly and protects me from the sun if I take my jacket off. Quick dry if I get importunity to hand wash on the way. 

Sport bras – they are great for hiking and outdoors, Alya says that she prefers sport bras over normal bras. 

Underwear – take two-three pairs with depending on a hike duration.

Merino wool socks – a must have especially for long hikes. In the past we didn’t pay much attention to socks – bought any random cheap socks and used to have blisters. We’ve heard a lot from other hikers about merino wool socks and finally decided to give it a go. They do work great, now we always wear them for hiking. Some advantages of merino wool socks; don’t absorb odors, protect your feet, dry quick and very durable. For even more comfortable walk check Darn Tough hiking socks they’re famous for great foot support and blister protection. Alya likes their ladies’ models; colorful and funky.

Cap/hat – a must have in the mountains for sun protection. Alya prefers wearing a cap, I usually takes a hat on hikes. 

Sunglasses – bring sunglasses for hiking in the mountains with high UV protection and polarized lenses.  

Pack a BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – protects your neck and face from sun burn, wind and weather. Get a funky one, mine is a South African flag, awesome for photos!

Gaiters – Waterproof Windproof Warm Shoes Cover. On this hike gaitors are very important to keep mud out of your shoes!

Trekking Poles – very helpful in the mud, if you don’t have a pair get a stick early on, helped us a lot. TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks, TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks very well rated, good value for money, aluminium trekking poles. Aluminium is strong and a bit heavier than carbon, my advice is save some money, go for these guys! Top of the line Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Pole, 68-140cm.

Microfibre towels take almost no space, are light and dry easy so that they won’t get moldy and start smelling.   Active Roots Microfiber Travel Towel

Travel wet wipes are very handy to replace a shower, we have been sitting in our tent ‘washing’ with these on countless hikes.

Hand cleaner easier than finding a tap and soap to wash your hands if you want to eat.

First Aid Kit

  • pain killers paracetemol/aspirin/ibuprofen
  • imodium for an upset stomach
  • rehydrate (isotonic drink) for when you are dehydrated and helps with cramping
  • Plasters – make sure you have enough you might get blisters  Tip! If you have spots on your feet where you usually get blisters try to prevent them by first putting some vaseline on it and then plaster. If you already have blister you can use Compeed – a special plaster that you can put on blisters, it reduces the pain and protects against rubbing. There are special blister prevention patches for shoes as well. We’ve never used them but the reviews are quite good.
  • Antiseptic/iodine.

Toiletries

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