Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
Created in 1994, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is one of the most spectacular oceanfront wilderness hiking opportunities on Vancouver Island. Rivalled only by the West Coast Trail, the Marine Trail stretches from the western entry point of Botanical Beach, just outside of Port Renfrew, to the eastern most entry point of China Beach, 35 km west of Sooke. Two other access points, Parkinson Creek and Sombrio Beach, also provide midpoint entry for day visitors and those who do not wish to hike the entire trail.
The Marine Trail winds along the oceanfront for 47 kilometres; hiking the entire trail takes three to five days, depending on speed and skill level. Most hikers choose to complete the trail in more time, to allow for side hikes and enjoyment of the scenery. It is possible to begin the marine trail at either end, but most hikers choose to start their hike at China Beach. This allows hikers to reward themselves with the beauty of Botanical Beach at the end of their trip.
Starting from either end, the most difficult section of the trail is found at the midpoint, between Chin Beach and Bear Beach. Aptly named the 11 hills, the trail ascends and descends hundreds of metres over seventeen small headlands before arriving at Bear Beach. Chin, Mystic and Sombrio Beaches have long stretches of sandy foreshore, perfect for beach walking and camping. Sombrio presents opportunities to watch surfers, especially during the shoulder season when ocean swells are higher. Glimpses of seals, sea lions and orcas are common along the oceanfront sections of the trail.
Botanical beach is perhaps the most stunning section of the trail. Arriving here at low tide allows for exploration of hundreds of tide pools, thick with marine life, carved by water into wide sandstone ledges safe from the surf. The last few kilometres of the trail can be walked along these ledges, a natural platform between sea and land.
The sound of the surf itself is an ever present lull for the full duration of the Marine Trail, but hikers should be aware that trail conditions are rugged. Tides can be extreme and must be anticipated; rogue waves can sweep an unsuspecting hiker out to sea. Much of the trail may be muddy and slippery, with changing weather conditions, suspension bridges and log crossings at streams. Sightings of wildlife such as cougar and bear are not uncommon. Food should be cached at night away from tents and cooking should be performed in open areas or on beaches. Leave scented products such as lotions or perfumes at home.
Be fully prepared. Research the trail and accustom yourself to strenuous hiking before you leave!
Port Renfrew has accommodation and services for visitors, as well as a multitude of other wilderness recreation areas to explore.
© images courtesy of Jonathan Sloan, Neil Banas & Mary Sanseverino