A Weekend on the West Coast

It was a spectacular forecast, especially for early June. On the west coast, the month of June can be a temptress– luring you into a sultry mood of summer with endless sunshine and a perfect climate– or it’s torture, with heavy gray skies and unrelenting drizzle, making it feel like winter never ended. Now, with a heatwave behind us, it’s apparent this particular weekend foretold blue skies to come. But that Friday my friend and I felt required to take advantage, just in case rain were to follow: we needed a weekend getway.

If you’re looking for an outdoor weekend getaway from Victoria that is both rugged and accessible, Sombrio Beach is an excellent option. It’s only a two hour drive from the city but the backcountry-style camping makes you feel as though you’ve truly escaped urban life. Upon our arrival, we discovered many others had felt the same pull of the outdoors and the beach at the base of the trail was busy with tents. But if you’re willing to walk your gear a little further south, the beach is usually sparsely populated, leaving just you and the pound of the surf.

A day at Sombrio is about taking in the majesty of the west coast. Fog rolls in and blankets everything, and moves away, clinging to the tops of the towering trees. The clatter of the endless rocks shifting beneath your feet, tumbling in the drag of the waves. A bald eagle flying overhead, a seal watching you from the glittering water. In the distance, the Olympic mountains loom. As the sun sets, surfers catch their final waves, riding lazily back to the shore. Campfire drifts through the trees and the light turns warm and golden.

The next day we packed up and drove a bit further up the coast to Botanical Beach, just outside of Port Renfrew. During low tide, an alien landscape is revealed here. Deep, clear pools pockmark rock smoothed by the force of the ocean. Within these pools are tiny worlds, that bloom and unfold for those patient enough to sit and observe: an anemone unfurls to reveal rich purple, a crab scurries from shell to shell, spiny urchins lurk in small pockets in the rock. We even saw a pacific octopus, unfortunately deceased, but still incredible to examine, with its spongey tentacles sprawled across the floor of the tide pool.

It was easy to spend hours at Botanical Beach, and eventually hunger forced us to head back to the car to retrieve lunch and make our way back to Victoria. With the windows down, winding our way through the forest-lined road to civilization, we were confident we had used our sunny days to their full advantage.

For those who have never visited Sombrio or Botanical Beach, here’s some helpful things to know:

  • Sombrio Beach is part of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. It’s about a two-hour, winding but scenic drive from Victoria, and the road to the beach parking lot is not well marked–  the turn off is a left turn down a dirt road about 24 km past Jordan River (my tip: once you cross the one lane bridge, start looking for the turn off!). The road to the parking lot is not in great shape but I did just fine going slow in a 90s Ford Taurus.
  • While you’ll see many people on Sombrio hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail with big packs and sturdy boots, it’s a relatively short, well maintained hike down to the beach– people pack down all sorts of things, like stoves and camping chairs, and generally without any kind of technical gear. It’s pretty accessible but it can be annoying to carry it all back up!
  • If you want to have a fire, bring your own wood! There is almost no dry wood or driftwood easily available.
  • It’s always cooler by the water, so make sure to pack some warm options.
  • Bring cash– Sombrio is considered wilderness/backcountry camping (the only facilities are some outhouses and bear caches) and costs $10 per person/night. You self-pay at the parking lot, and while I don’t think it’s a daily occurrence, I have seen park rangers walk down the beach checking for receipts.
  • Sombrio is a popular place to camp, but if you can carry your gear a bit farther, there’s usually lots of space at the south end of the beach. If you prefer tent pads over cobblestones, there are a few pads in the forest at the north end of the beach across the bridge.
  • Botanical Beach is another 30 minutes past Sombrio. Make sure you check the tides before you leave town– there’s very limited cell service!
  • If you have some time in Port Renfrew, check out The Renfrew Pub— it has a big patio with an amazing view. Also in the area are the giant trees of Avatar Grovebeach camping with Pacheedaht First Nation, or yurts at Soule Creek Lodge. There’s even more ideas on the Sooke to Port Renfrew tourism website.
  • If you can’t get enough of the beaches here, try hiking the 47-km Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, starting at China Beach and ending at Botanical Beach.
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