Juan De Fuca Marine Trail (Part 1) – BC, Canada

I’ve been very blessed this year to be able to go on not one but TWO amazing backpacking adventures. Earlier this summer I hiked the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail over 10 days. When a friend suggested that she wanted to try hike Juan De Fuca during her visit to Vancouver in early October, I jumped on the opportunity and convinced my roommates to tag along for the fun (and for an additional car to shuttle us between the start/end of the trail).

This post is Part 1 that will cover our trip logistics, getting there, hiking times, recommended gear and suggestions. Part 2 will cover our day by day journey that will be posted soon after.

The views along the Juan De Fuca trail – beautiful!

We seriously lucked out with the weather on our trip, sunny blue skies, without a single drop of rain. This area generally gets a good share of rain, mist, wind, and all round bad weather conditions. It’s historically been referred to as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” notorious for sinking ships when the Europeans were exploring back in the 18th century. The history of how it was named is even more curious – first discovered in 1592 by a Greek pilot named Juan De Fuca sent by Mexico on a voyage of discovery. Whut? I digress, my original point is that we lucked out with the weather; be prepared for wind, rain, high tides, and very muddy conditions that will slow you down. Then again, if you’ve come out here to the wilderness, what’s the rush?

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

  • We took 2 cars to make it easier to shuttle ourselves once we finished. We started the trail at Botanical Beach and finished at China Beach. We left on a Sunday evening, camped overnight at China Beach Campground which is vehicle accessible, then left one car at the China Beach Trailhead and took one car to start at Botanical Beach.
  • Since we live in North Vancouver, it was easier for us to take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. You can also take the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. Check the BC Ferries website for more information.
  • Once past Sooke the drive to the trailhead has very little light, we drove at night and I can imagine in bad weather conditions the road would be stressful to drive on. It’s paved well so no issues there, just narrow with potential for wildlife to suddenly jump in so be careful. Best to drive during the day if possible.
  • When we finished at China Beach, we drove back to Botanical to pick up our other car. Then we drove through the town Lake Cowichan to make a loop back to Nanaimo. This drive was nice and scenic.
  • If you don’t own a car, or you only have access to one car and you need to get back to it once you’re done with the trail, there are shuttle bus services that run from Victoria or Nanaimo to the Juan De Fuca trailheads. You can find out more information on their websites: Westcoast Trail Express, Westcoast Shuttle Bus

Hiking time & Difficulty

  • People on average take 3-5 days to complete the trail. Most people choose to do it in 4 days which I think would make for a relaxing and manageable trip. We decided to do it in 3 days because it was more ideal for us to be back in Vancouver Wednesday night. Plus two of us were sick in the start (boo) so if the weather got rainy and cold, a shorter trip would be “easier” in a way.
  • Below is the trail map which you can find as an online brochure by BC Parks. They’ve broken up into “easy / moderate / difficult / most difficult” sections. Don’t let the “most difficult” rating scare you away, I found the trail overall not crazy hard. It’s just more challenging when carrying heavy backpacks and navigating the mud.
  • We spent the first two days hiking for about 8-9 hours. The third day was an “easy” 3 hours on the last section of the trail. We started at Botanical Beach and finished at China Beach.
  • The toughest part for me was needing to hike on the rocky and sandy beaches finding our campsite after a long day already hiking.
  • The trail is pretty obvious to follow (in the daylight), I feel there could be a few more markers on the trees but overall it was fine.

Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Start at Botanical Beach. Camp at Sombrio Beach (18km, 450m elevation gain, 8.5hrs)
  • Day 2 – Camp at Bear Beach (20km, 660m elevation gain, 9hrs)
  • Day 3 – Finish hike at China Beach (9km, 400m elevation gain, 3hrs)
Be prepared for rainy weather, lots of mud, and fun times on the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail

Gear & Suggestions

  • 10 essentials
  • We had a friend let us use his new fancy water filtration bottle BeFree Microfilter on this trip which had the benefit of just collecting water from the creek, hanging it up somewhere and letting the water flow into my cooking pots. I would use it only where the water is flowing and not murky, the filter is small and apparently clogs easily. I still brought my go to Pristine water treatment as back up.
  • Gaiters! I always find it slightly ironic that I love being outside, but getting mud on my pants drives my crazy. I’ve had my trusty MEC gaiters for many years, and they’re a great buy to not only keep out mud but I use them in the winter to keep snow out of my boots when snowshoeing in the mountains.
  • Hiking poles really helped to balance on some dicey mud crossings, and are great knee savers on the downhill. I have a pair of Black Diamond FLZ that fold which makes them nice and packable.
  • This is bear and cougar habitat, be bear aware and bring bear spray.

Other Info & Useful Links

  • I had no cell reception on the trail.
  • Know your tide tables during your trip dates – this was really helpful when we were crossing sections of the beach towards Sombrio Beach campsite. Certain sections of the trail along the beach are only passable in low tide. The map above notes the “beach cut offs” only passable below certain tide levels. The Port Renfrew Tide Table is helpful.
  • No reservations required to hike Juan De Fuca, but you do need a backcountry permit applicable per person each night you’re there. You can purchase permits online. Backcountry fee is $10CAD per person/day.
  • There are bear proof caches at each of the campsites. If the caches are full, you may need to rig your own. The trial is pretty popular in the summer months so be sure you know how to hang your food out of reach of animals.
  • BC Parks Juan De Fuca site has more specific information – be sure to check this site before you leave as it contains the latest updates on trail conditions. Some sections may be closed due to unsafe creek crossings, know before you go!

Have fun out there and remember to leave no trace! Part 2 will be coming soon covering our 3 day Juan De Fuca journey. It was an incredibly beautiful and lucky sunny hiking trip for us!

Soaking in the views of the strait along the trail

Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my experience and is my opinion. While I’ve provided all the information to try and be helpful, it doesn’t replace you doing your own research and making smart decisions based on your overall levels of experience and fitness. Stay safe and have fun out there!


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