One of the best hikes in the world
Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
The West Coast Trail is the best hike in the world. Right?
But we recommend neighbouring Juan de Fuca precisely because it is not the WCT. 🙂
- it’s the West Coast Trail ‘alternative’ that does not cost C$140+
- coastal hike of 47km (29mi) sharing one of the WCT trailheads – Port Renfrew
- no reservations needed
- no quota on number of hikers
- you can hike Juan de Fuca year round, weather permitting, while the full WCT is only open 5 months a year
- May to October are the best months
- we like August and early September best of all
- off-season is very cold and rainy
Why We Like This Hike
- it is easily hiked in segments, unlike the WCT
- bald eagles, herons and other coastal birds
- we’ve seen whales, sea lions, bears and even a cougar dashing across highway 14
- this is a good hike for those who have not done much multi-day hiking
- good tent pads, far dryer 🙂 than on the West Coast Trail
- fascinating tidal pools at Botanical Beach and elsewhere
- pretty sea stacks and other fascinating coastal geology
- campfires allowed below tide line and in some campsite fire rings
- gorgeous sunsets
- leashed dogs allowed
- no biting insects
- it’s fairly new, opened April 1, 1996
If you love big trees, save time for:
- Red Creek fir – world’s largest Douglas fir
- San Juan Spruce, Canada’s largest Sitka spruce
- Avatar Grove and Canada’s “gnarliest tree.”
Critical on this hike: sections of the trail are impassable at high tide. Check maps posted at each trailhead. Remember to add one hour to the listed tidal times during May to October as Daylight Savings Time is in effect.
- extreme climbs and descents if you hit the tides wrong
- tides can trap you in the wrong place (we waded thigh deep at one point — very dangerous!)
- rogue waves can knock an inattentive hiker into the sea
- risks of both hypothermia and heat stroke
- Emergency phone number is 911. (Unlike the WCT where you should not call 911.)
- some mobile phones work some of the time
- creek crossings are normally no problem
- very muddy in spots
- bear-proof food caches available at Little Kuitsche Creek and Payzant Creek. Perhaps other campsites, as well.
- you must carry your own pack
- gas camp stoves for cooking
- pit toilets are available at the campsites
- drinking water must be treated (it’s tannin coloured in places)
- miserably exposed to the Pacific, rain and wind is the norm. You need a good tent and tie-downs.
- small cabin at km20.5 for emergency use only
- summer highs around 14C (57F)
- this track has many harmless garter snakes not seen on the WCT
- bring rope to hang food from a tree or bear pole each night
- Juan de Fuca has very little old growth forest compared with the WCT
- you must share the trail with day-hikers, dogs, kids, surfers, and bikini-clad sunbathers. You enjoy much more solitude on the West Coast Trail.
camping is C$10.00 per person / night (16ys and older)
C$5.00 per child / night
- parking fee of $5 / vehicle at some lots
- only cash can be deposited in tenting self-registration fee deposit boxes (bring a stack of C$5 dollar bills)
- China Beach may cost less, C$14.00/party /night
- coastal hike of 47km (29mi)
- we recommend 5 days, 4 nights on the trail for an optimal experience. But you can easily vary the route for shorter hikes, if you are short on time.
- we prefer to start at Port Renfrew (Botanical Bay) and hike towards Jordan River (China Beach)
There are 4 main access points and more possible campsites:
- all campsites are first-come, first-served except for China Beach
We would not bother making a reservation for China Beach. But if you are interested, check:
BC Parks Campsites Available at China Beach
… or, phone 1-800-689-9025 (604-689-9025 in Greater Vancouver)
- decide as you go where you want to camp. An “open” itinerary is best.
- often you can choose between an inland path or a coastal route. The coast is almost always better.
- you need study a tide chart to plot your best itinerary, hitting specific points at low tide
- it’s possible to thru hike Juan de Fuca and the West Coast Trail with a resupply in Port Renfrew
Though Juan de Fuca is always referred to as “easier than the West Coast Trail“, don’t be complacent. Footing can be treacherous. Bear Beach to Chin beach can be as challenging as anything on the WCT.
Gladly, if you have problems it is easier to escape Juan de Fuca. Several emergency trails lead up to the highway. (On the WCT you would be stuck.)
Almost everyone hikes Juan de Fuca independently. But you could hire a very experienced guide for day hikes.
- easy access from Victoria, B.C., a lovely tourist destination
- travel by personal vehicle to one of the trailheads, or book with the convenient West Coast Trail Express bus. (If you book a return fare, this company will store your excess luggage until you finish the hike. They also rent gear.)
- do some research if you want to park a car en route. Vandalism is not uncommon.
- Sooke RCMP (police) 250-642-5241
- many hikers park a vehicle at the start, then catch the hiker’s shuttle bus back once they finish
- start the hike from either end, or either of the access points in between. You have many options.
- highway 14 connects all 4 trailheads. It is clearly signed.
Don Mill’s book is dedicated to this hike. It’s the best dead tree guidebook. We particularly like his “Exploring Hidden Treasures” section.
- Giant Cedars, White Sands. Juan de Fuca Marine Trail – Donald Mills
- Juan de Fuca Hiking Guide (digital $5) – Pure Outside
- Hiking The West Coast Of Vancouver Island – Tim Leadem, 2005
- Juan de Fuca Marine Trail – Payne & Vasilevich, 1998
Payne’s book has errors and is out-of-date but is still worth carrying on the trip. It’s small and includes some interesting background detail. The Pure Outside digital resource is most up-to-date.
- Lonely Planet – British Columbia & the Canadian Rockies 2011
Other Recommended Books
- Hiking on the Edge (2002) – Ian Gill, a charming travelogue with wonderful photos
- Plants of the West Coast Trail – Collin Varner
- Soaring with the Eagles on Canada’s West Coast Trail – Al Brawn
- Back Country Bear Basics – David Smith
- Timeless Shore
A good paper map is included with Giant Cedars, White Sands (1:50,000). You can buy the map separately, but that would be crazy. Get both.
- B.C. Parks – official map
Best Web Pages
- BC Parks – Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
- wikipedia – Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
- wikitravel – Juan de Fuca Marine Trail
- Giant Cedars, White Sands: Juan de Fuca Marine Trail Guidebook
- Club Tread Juan de Fuca – local hiking club
- Juan de Fuca Marine Trail – Sooke Outdoors
- West Coast Trail Express – trailhead shuttle bus
- TrailPeak.com – Juan de Fuca
- Bear Safety
Best Trip Reports
- Matthew Lettington – Canada Day Long Weekend (2014) – muddy!
- Brian Payton – Hiking in the Mist
- Just Ambling (2014)
- Jenny Strong (2012)
- Henry Armitage (2011)
- Traveling Canucks (2010)
- Dan Durston (2009)
- Joanna Wandel solo
- Kevin Gong trip report and photos – 2005
- Stephen and Carol trip report
- Sooke Harbour
- CanadaTrails.ca trip report
- Ray Siemens trip report – April, 1998
Click PLAY or watch an August 2012 hike on YouTube. (2min)