We were looking for something to do over the Easter long weekend and with about two days notice we decided to do the Juan de Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island. The JdF is a 47km trail that follows the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, generally less popular than its nearby sibling, the West Coast Trail. It follows the coast line, so you nearly always have the ocean in sight and the trail crosses a number of beaches. Generally it’s recommended to do over four to five days, but we completed it in two and a half.
Getting to/from the trail
If you go during the main hiking season (May – September), there is a hiker bus that will bring you to and pick you up from either trailhead. If you are going in the off-season or you’d rather get there another way there are a few options:
- Two cars – Drop one car off at each trailhead. There are parking lots at both trailhead that allow for parking – be aware that they are commonly targeted by thieves and avoid leaving anything in your cars if possible.
- One car – Drop your car off at one trailhead and then call a taxi or hitch a ride to get back to it.
- Take a taxi or hitchhike – Taking a taxi will run you over $100 each direction and that’s what we did. I’ve never personally hitched in this area, but imagine it would be fairly easy as there’s a decent amount of traffic on the road.
The walks from the highway to the trailhead are very easy from both ends – at China Beach it’s a few minutes and at Botanical Beach it’s about 45 minutes. It’s also a super short drive on paved roads, so you may get someone willing to drive you right to the trailhead.
You’ll need a backcountry camping permit which will be $10/person/night – you can purchase permits online in advance or bring cash to pay at the trailhead. Regardless of how you pay, you have to carry your permit with you.
There are food caches at all the designated campsites. Depending on how busy the campsites are/how early you get there, they may fill up. I’d recommend at very least bringing rope and being prepared to hang your food if needed.
BC Parks has an overview map of the trail available and the trail is very easy to follow so extra maps aren’t necessary per se, but I’d still recommend bringing some along with a compass.
The BC Parks map has difficulty of the trail marked – I’d consider this to be fairly accurate and the sections marked most difficult were indeed very difficult.
If you are doing the whole trail, I’d recommend traveling northbound – you’ll get the most difficult part of the trail done at beginning and your last day will be a relaxing hike on mostly boardwalks.
Generally it’s done as a 4 or 5 day hike, we did it in 2.5. The schedule really depends on how much you want to hang at the beaches/hike at a leisurely pace/how much you just want to hike. 2.5 days leaves very little time for lolling about at camp, especially early in the season when light is more limited. There are also a number of sections where your speed will be severely limited by the difficulty of the terrain (mud, rocks to balance on, slippery boardwalks, etc) for a significant portion on of the trail we were doing 2km/hour.
Day 1 – China Beach Trailhead to Chin Beach (21km)
We started off at the Jordan River Campground (4km away from the trailhead) at around 7am and reached the trailhead by 8am. After a quick washroom break at the outhouse and checking over the information board, we were off. For the first couple hours, we were on our own on the trail, but after that a couple groups caught up with us and we began leapfrogging them on the trail for the rest of the day.
The first few kilometers of the trail were nice and well maintained and graded, but after that the trail switched to constant ups/downs, relatively muddy conditions and downed trees blocking the trail.
We reached Chin Beach around 5:30pm to find the majority of the campsites already claimed by the groups we had been leapfrogging throughout the day, so we ended up with a spot quite close by the creek which we hoped wouldn’t be too cold during the night.
Immediately after dinner, we tucked ourselves into bed before it had even fully gotten dark. Most of the other groups were still up, but the sound of the ocean waves drowned them out quite well.
Day 2 – Chin Beach to Payzant Creek (19km)
We had a lazy start on our second day as we’d found the first day extremely tiring, not really getting up until 8am. Despite our late start, we seemed to be the first ones in the area up. After a quick breakfast (pop tarts for Natasha and larabars for Kyle), coffee and topping up our water bladders, we were off.
The morning trail was mostly the same as the day before – muddy, constant ups/downs and trees down on the trail. It was much quieter on the trail than our first day though – it seemed like most of the groups we’d encountered on the first day were just overnighting and not doing the whole trail – we encountered a few groups going the opposite direction as us, but no constant leapfrogging like day one.
We reached Sombrio Beach just in time for lunch. It was quite windy and busy at the beach, so we ducked behind the first unoccupied log we saw to find a bit of shelter to eat lunch.
The trail from West Sombrio to West West Sombrio was closed due to slides so we followed to beach around the bluff – there was lots of rock hopping which is exhausting with a pack on. We didn’t quite time this section right, so we had to wade for a 50ft or so section around the bluff. The water was <6 inches, but still deep enough to definitely get your shoes wet. Kyle took his boots off and did it barefoot and Natasha just waded through with her shoes on.
After West West Sombrio it was back into the forest and the trail got progressively more and more muddy as the day went on. We were averaging 2km/hour for the majority of the afternoon. We finally reached camp – Payzant Creek – just before it got dark and started to rain around 6:30pm. We quickly set up our tent in the site that looked least likely to turn into a mini-lake overnight and put on our rain gear and headlamps to eat dinner.
Despite it’s name, Payzant Creek is a dry campsite – there is a bridge that crosses the creek and as far as we could tell there’s no way to access the creek to get water. There is plenty of water along the trail, but you do have to either get water before you reach camp or plan to get some from one of the next creeks in the trail the next day.
We tried to eat as quickly as possible before packing up and tucking ourselves in for the night as it was starting to rain quite hard.
Day 3 – Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach (7km)
We woke up early on the third day before the sun was even up and started heading down the trail around 7am. Large portions of the trail were turned into creeks the rain the night before, but the mud wasn’t actually too bad. The last few kilometers of the trail alternated between logs and boardwalks, which although slippery were a nice change of pace.
We reached the trailhead before 11am and then headed towards Port Renfrew which took around 45 minutes. The road drops you off right at the Port Renfrew Pub/Hotel which is a great spot to quench some of your hiker hunger before making your way home.
This is a nice trail and has some beautiful sections and we’ll likely do it again at some point. I generally wouldn’t recommend doing it this early in the season though – it was extremely muddy and there were a lot of trees/branches on the trail – even blocking the entire trail at times. It was also quite busy, so I don’t think the mud/trees are worth coming early to try to avoid crowds. It was also a hassle to get to/from the trail without a car as the bus wasn’t running yet.
I’d recommend coming out midweek later on in the summer to try to avoid crowds and get much more ideal trail conditions. It definitely is a nice little section of trail though and I would recommend doing it.