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The Juan De Fuca Trail: What You Need To Know Before You Go

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

I did a four day backpacking trip on the 47 kilometre long Juan de Fuca Trail in early June before the crowds appeared. 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 Juan de Fuca Trail but want to – and would like to be as prepared as possible. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Before you start planning your trip, check the most recent updates on the BC Provincial Park website – as there has been some minor re-routing, tree fall, and part of the trail will be closed till June 30, 2020.

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.

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 least 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 above the beach 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. Try the day hike on the Coastal Trail in nearby East Sooke Provincial Park for a taste of what you’ll be in for. While it’s easier – without the mud and as much elevation change – it’s a good warm-up for what lies ahead.

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

We did 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 

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Dogs are permitted on a leash.

Leave valuables at home. Break-ins are a huge problem in the parking lots.

I’d recommend buying a Juan de Fuca trail map before you leave from home.

You can have campfires on the beaches but carry a lightweight stove like this one that can boil water in 100 seconds, 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. I like the lightweight SteriPen along with water purification tablets as a back up.

Gaiters really helped keep the mud and small stones out of our boots.

Hiking poles are useful in mud and for helping to keep your balance in slippery sections. I like the collapsible super light-weight carbon poles. Consider them an investment.

Good rain gear is essential. I swear by my Arc’teryx jacket – a long term investment piece.

Don’t forget a rain cover for your pack. Make sure its big enough to cover the whole pack when it’s stuffed.

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. Keep your cell phone in a waterproof case!

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.

Where to stay the night before you start the hike

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.

A guest favourite in Sooke is the Seascape Inn. If you’re after a hostel check out check out Sooke Hostel – Westcoast Guesthouse.

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.

Trail Updates

Check the BC Parks website before you leave for the trail. There are often minor re-routes because of bad weather.

In 2018 there was “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. ”

Further reading on Vancouver Island hiking

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

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

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

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

This Post Has 50 Comments
  1. 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. =)

  2. 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?

    1. @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.

  3. 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.

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

    1. @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.

  5. 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?

    1. @Julie I would start at the first entry point south of Botanical Beach and do the next 2 days of hiking. The last day near Mystic Beach was too busy for my taste.

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

    1. @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.

  7. 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?

    1. @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.

  8. 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.

    1. I’m nervous about the descents & slippery logs. Besides hiking poles, any recommendations for increasing tread? I was considering wearing ice cleats over my boots. Did anyone in your group slip and fall?

      1. @Kim No one fell but there were a few times I opted to bushwack so I didn’t have to walk over a slippery log. 99% of the time the trail is great – maybe even more. I’d say it’s only the logs to avoid where you can. You could bring lightweight ice cleats and see if they helped. They might but you’d also have to pick up your feet. I bet after you’d done the first few you’d be fine.

        1. Thank you. Can you remember (approx) how many logs there was to cross over? It’s literally my deciding factor on whether or not to go..

  9. Great post! This was already very helpful, thank you!
    Just one more question, is it necessary to make a reservation for the campsite Sombrio Beach and Bear Beach? We will try to do the track in days…

    Thanks for the information!

    1. @Lauren To the best of my knowledge you can’t actually make reservations. The only thing I would say is try and arrive at a decent time so you can get one of the nicer campsites.

    1. @Dieter I suspect you’ll have pretty good luck as there are a lot of trees. My mental picture is that the first stop might be the most challenging. Some of the trees qre very big so you have to have enough rope to go around them.

  10. Im planning an adhoc 2 night 3 day adventure this weekend along the south coast with my 11 yr old … can camp but dont have to .. any brilliant ideas .. and how are the bees/wasps this year

    1. Hi Eric,
      You could start part way in along the Juan de Fuca Trail and go for just 2-3 days. With luck you could leave your car at one end and have the shuttle drop you part way up the road towards Port Renfrew. If you skipped the first stage south you’d also miss the least pretty stage.
      Don’t remember any bees/wasps – and I’m tuned in. I’m not deathly allergic but I react. However – if that’s changed since I was there I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

  11. Thanks for the account which was very helpful and we just completed this with our 7 year old son who found it challenging but loved it.

    Wonderful trail with loads of wildlife. Definitely recommended, especially if you are thinking about doing the WCT as it’s an excellent intro and not as commuting due to being easily escapable.

  12. Thank you so much for such a thorough article. I’ve only done day hiking along this trail but plan to do the full thing next summer. This will help me get ready. Thanks again!

  13. I want to bring my dog with me he’s a large dog .. would the trail be doable for him if anyone’s done it before? He’s only 4 so he’s still young enough for strenuous activities.

  14. My Friend and I just finished the trail last weekend, we did the whole thing in two nights three days 9KM first day camped at bear beach. we then hiked from bear to sombrio the next day 19km, then on the third day we hiked out to the Renfrew Pub. trail was a bit messy but it only opened a week prior. From 16 1/2 Km to 18km took about an hour lots of big trees downed on the trail other than that it was a great expierience. I recomend doing it as a training course for the WCT.

    1. @Eric You pushed hard. Appreciate the update with regard to the number of trees down – and completely agree that it’s a great training run for the West Coast Trail – or also the North Coast Trail. Understand for 2020 the West Coast Trail will remain closed.

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