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The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

I’m just back from a four day backpacking trip on the 47 kilometre long Juan de Fuca Trail. Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, a little south of its more famous cousin, the West Coast Trail, its short distance belies the difficulty of the trail. This post is meant for those who have yet to hike the trail but want to – and would like to be as prepared as possible. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

The beauty of some of the forest on the Juan de Fuca Trail

Opening times for the Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca Trail is open year round and reservations are not required for backcountry camping. The trail is busy from mid-June through to early September, with peak times in July and August. Campsites are first come, first served with the exception of China Beach Campground – which isn’t really on the trail anyway. My advice is leave early in the morning (by 9 AM) so you get to the next campsite in good time and have a choice of campsites. In peak periods, some campsites like Chin Beach will be extremely crowded and nice sites will be at a premium.

Trailheads on the Juan de Fuca Trail

If you’re planning to backpack the entire length of the Juan de Fuca Trail then you’ll need to decide whether to start at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew in the north or at China Beach at the southern end, located just north of Jordan River. The driving time between the two trailheads is approximately one hour. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other though my impression was that there were more people hiking north.

If you have a couple of cars you can do a shuttle leaving one at each trailhead. We chose to start at Botanical Beach so we could walk out to a waiting car at the end. I made a reservation on the West Coast Trail Express for a pickup on the highway at the China Beach Provincial Park Day Use Trailhead. (Drive down about 100 metres and the parking lot is on your right. The trailhead is right there too.) Just make sure you’re there in plenty of time as the bus won’t wait. Also, make sure you’re waiting on the far side of the highway in the pull off a few metres north of the entrance to China Beach Provincial Park. (We were not and had to flag the bus down as it wasn’t planning to stop!) You can also pick up the bus in Victoria. At the end of the hike you can take a bus from Port Renfrew back to China Beach or Victoria.

There are several other access points to the trail if you’re interested in doing only day hikes or a shortened version of the trail. You can get to the trail via Sombrio Beach and Parkinson Creek. Locals know of a road that gets to a trail that takes you to Bear Beach but I’m not sure of its location.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

The bus picks up on the highway across from the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park DAY USE Trailhead

Camping Fees on the Juan de Fuca Trail 

Everybody that camps overnight needs to pay $10 per night if they are 16 and older. You can use a self-registration envelope and pay at the trailhead. I found it more convenient to pay online, especially as I knew we’d be rushing for the bus. Information on how to do that is here.

Campsites on the Juan de Fuca Trail

Everyone is asked to camp at established camping areas to minimized impact. All campsites come with outhouses (toilet paper included) and bear boxes.

There are two forest campsites – Providence Cove (around Km 40) and Little Kuitsche Creek (Km 33). These in my opinion are the least desirable campsites because you don’t have any ocean views. And as you can see in the photo below, not all of the tent sites are well-drained. But unless you hike all the way from Sombrio Beach to Botanical Beach – a very long go – you’ll have to choose one of them. At Little Kuitsche Creek it is possible to hike down to the ocean and enjoy a view.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Watch out for wet camping spots at Providence Creek

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Our campsite at Little Kuitsche Creek

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Ocean views if you hike down from the Little Kuitsche Creek Campground

The beach campsites are found at Sombrio Beach East (~Km 27-28), Chin Beach (Km 21), Bear Beach (Km 9) and Mystic Beach (~Km 2.5). Sombrio Beach would be a great spot for the night if it works with your hiking schedule. We stayed at Chin Beach – on a bench and watched high tide come crashing to within about four feet of our tent around midnight. If you camp on the rocks make sure you’re above the high tide line! Bear Beach has some lovely campsites particularly at the southern end of the beach near a large creek. Mystic Beach gets very busy with lots of people who aren’t hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

View from our campsite at Chin Beach

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Beautiful Bear Beach

The Juan de Fuca Trail at High Tide

Some parts of the Juan de Fuca map are impassable at high tide. These sections are clearly marked on the maps and trails. For planning purposes and so you don’t have any surprises its well worth downloading the tide charts beforehand. Use the Port Renfrew section. You will also find tide tables at the trailheads and anywhere there are large boards with maps. Don’t forget to use Pacific Daylight Savings Time for tide times between March and November.

Look for orange balls on the beach as they indicate an exit onto the trail.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Chart with the beach cut-offs

What to Expect Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail

Even though there are people that run the Juan de Fuca Trail in one very long day – and we saw about a dozen of them – most people opt to backpack it over three to five days. We took four days which felt like the right amount of time, considering we averaged about 2 km/hour except for the first three and last five or six kilometres which were some of the easiest on the trail.

Just because a trail is along the coast and not in the mountains, does not make it an easy trail. The Juan de Fuca Trail has plenty of ups and downs especially on the section between Chin Beach and Bear Beach. One gentleman we met who looked completely bagged called this section “dreadful.” (It was our favourite as there wasn’t much mud.) Expect hours of negotiating mud if its rained at all, slippery boardwalks, roots that are designed to trip you, occasional downed trees, slimy tree trunks and rare sections of lovely flat hiking interspersed with beautiful beach walking if you time the tides right. Suspension bridges, ladders and beautiful sections of rainforest walking round out what you encounter.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

It’s hard to be speedy when you reach sections like this on the trail

Our route on the trail heading south looked like this.

Day One – Botanical Beach to Little Kuitsche Creek – 14 kilometres in about seven hours. Lots of mud; beautiful forest section but overall our least favourite day.

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Don’t forget the gaiters

Day Two – Little Kuitsche Creek to Chin Beach – 12 kilometres in about six hours; Lots of mud again, one delightful flat as a pancake section through forest, beach walking with tide pools, Sombrio Beach; three suspension bridges

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Beautiful beach walking past tide pools on route to Sombrio Beach

Day Three – Chin Beach to Bear Beach – 12 kilometres in about 5.5 hours; about a dozen steep ups and downs to bypass creeks but far less mud; the most aerobic part of the trail; the least favourite day of most people because of all the climbing and descending

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail

There are plenty of ladders to negotiate on the Juan de Fuca Trail

Day Four – Bear Beach to China Beach – 9 kilometres in about four hours; the easiest day by far; Mystic Beach lovely for lunch but very busy for camping

There are plenty of ladders to negotiate on the Juan de Fuca Trail

Mystic Beach is the perfect lunch stop

Other Useful Information for the Juan de Fuca Trail

  • The night before we stayed at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in Sooke. Apart from the fabulous views, it’s got a mini-fridge in the room so you can keep your food cold, a great dining room and it’s only a 30 minute drive to the parking lot at China Beach.
  • Dogs are permitted on a leash.
  • Leave valuables at home. Break-ins are a huge problem in the parking lots.
  • You can have campfires on the beaches but carry a stove, especially as you’ll need it for cooking in the forest.
  • Water needs to be treated. You only need to carry one bottle of water as there are loads of places to fill up.
  • Gaiters really helped keep the mud out of our boots.
  • Hiking poles are useful in mud and for helping to keep your balance in slippery sections.
  • Good rain gear is essential.
  • Bear and cougar sightings are possible. We only saw squirrels and seals.

Read: Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country

  • Before you go, get into shape and do something aerobic a few times a week. It will make the trip far more pleasant and decrease the chances of an injury.
  • My cell phone never worked on this trail though there are several exit points should you have an emergency. There is also an emergency shelter immediately south of Chin Beach at the top of the cliff.
  • Carry lots of high energy food. Backpacker Magazine suggests for a strenuous day of backpacking – which most of these are – you’ll burn 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight and even more if your pack is super heavy.
  • Stop in at the Coastal Kitchen Cafe in Port Renfrew for breakfast before beginning the trail. If you end in Port Renfrew grab a beer while you wait for the bus at the Renfrew Pub. If you have a big appetite as you’re driving home stop at Mom’s Cafe in Sooke for a piece of their famous apple pie. Each slice has about seven apples!
The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Refuel at the end of the hike with a piece of apple pie from Mom’s Cafe in Sooke

I’m very glad I hiked the Juan de Fuca Trail but I was equally happy when it was over. I suspect most people feel that way but as usual we met many people who were doing it for the second, third and even the fourth time. I think they forgot about how much their feet and shoulders ached by the end.

August 2018 Update

According to the BC Park website there is “slide damage in the vicinity of km 26.3 that has resulted in a minor re-route. The area is passable, but visitors are advised to use caution.”

More importantly there is “a slope failure at Beach Cut-Off #5 (Sombrio Beach-West) that has made the West Sombrio alternate trail (located between kilometre 29.3 and 29.9) inaccessible from the east end. Hikers traveling in either direction need to plan accordingly by using tide tables to pass the West Sombrio bluff. “

Other posts you might enjoy:

The Juan de Fuca Trail: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Thank you to Tourism Vancouver Island for help in making this trip possible.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 29 Comments

  • Candice says:

    This is such a fantastic hike!! You’ve provided so many helpful tips! Great post ????

  • meshack says:

    This is such a incredible hike, i love hiking. thanks for this great post. i admire your passion

  • Michele says:

    Thank you for the post and the pictures. A handful of boys from my son’s Scout troop will be doing it mid-July. Hoping they also see no bears. =)

  • Paige says:

    This was so helpful, thank you! I was thinking of only doing a 2 day , 1 night weekend hike here, do you have any recommendations of where to start and camp? Best not too busy camp spot?

    • Leigh says:

      @Paige You don’t have that many options. I would personally head for Camelot Island – and if I remember properly its first come first served for some of those campsites.

  • michelle says:

    Such a helpful post! Contemplating hiking this trail in the new year. Thanks for all of the useful information!

  • Melissa Lavoie says:

    Thanks for your post. Did you see many people hiking with dogs? We plan to spend 5 days in July on the trail and are considering bringing our dog – she loves to hike with us but I’m wondering about the ladders and bridges. Thank you.

  • Kelli May Sherlock says:

    Thanks so much for your helpful tips. Can i ask — did you hike from port renfrew to botanical beach before starting the trek?

    • Leigh says:

      @Kelli Someone gave us a ride but it really isn’t very far. If you want to keep mileage down you might want to google taxis in Port Renfrew or in a little place like that try hitchhiking.

  • Julie says:

    Great post! I am just wondering, if someone were to only have gone for part of the trail (about 2 days worth of hiking), do you have any recommendations for which part to hike/camp at?

  • Laura says:

    Thanks for this great post. Was the trail well-marked? Did you need a detailed map? Is the guidebook essential?

    • Leigh says:

      @Laura We did have a pretty detailed map from a very old guidebook. I think it’s a good idea in case anything every foes wrong and you need to see where your closest exit point is. Also it really helps you plan your trip – and your days. So long answer but – yes – a worthwhile investment.

  • Lachlan says:

    Is it going to be a mud trudge all year? When did you hike it?

  • Amin says:

    Very helpful post!
    Just a few questions:
    1-Is there any parking near china beach and can I park there for 5nights if the answer is yes?
    2-how safe is the parking on both side?

    • Leigh says:

      @Amin There is parking near China Beach but you will have to walk to the beach. Be aware of thieves at all parking locations for the Juan de Fuca Trail. leave nothing visible.

  • jill Schulze says:

    Just finished the JDF trail with my 15 year old son and his friend. For those allergic to bee/wasp stings, do not do this trail in summer. You will be stung. The first 5km stretch leading from Chin beach to Bear Beach was the worst. Other hikers prepared us for it so we left early hoping to minimize the risk but were all stung anyways. Some hikers were stung 7 or 8 times. My son (stung 3 times) developed hives from his waist up and his friend’s arm (1 sting) was twice its normal size by the next morning. Neither boy is allergic to stings so these wasps pack a punch. We live in the area so I was prepared with After Bite, Calomine Lotion, Benadryl and an Epi Pen because I have some wilderness first aid training. Most people on the trail were unprepared for stings. You will be stung if you hike in the late summer or September when wasps are most aggressive so take Benadryl tablets at the minimum for yourself or others on the trail who aren’t prepared.

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