Beaches & Parks

Come and Experience Canada's Wild West Coast!

Grab a SOOKE to PORT RENFREW FLAT MAP from your host and go west! Highway 14 leads from East Sooke to the town of Sooke, where it becomes West Coast Road, and meanders along 70 kilometres of rugged and tempestuous Pacific Ocean shoreline, through thick rainforest and past many spectacular beaches which are provincial parks, some of them wheelchair accessible. West Coast Road becomes yet more breathtaking, and increasingly less populated, as one travels along the Pacific Marine Circle Route to Otter Point, Shirley, Jordan River and Port Renfrew. You will find awesome blue ocean, green rainforest and mountain vistas around every corner, with many viewpoints for spotting whales and wildlife. Approaching "Rennie" there's a good chance of seeing a black bear or two feasting on salmonberries or blackberries by the side of the road. Don't forget the camera and binoculars! With so many special places to stop and explore it's easy to find your own private paradise on a sunny beach or in a cool green forest setting. Following is a description of some of our favourite destinations, to help you make the most of your adventure.

East Sooke Regional Park

West Coast wilderness awaits you in East Sooke Regional Park. Explore it on Canada's premier all-season day hike along windswept rocky headlands, over dry hilltops, through dense, dewy rainforest to sandy beaches in sheltered coves. It's a soul-stirring elixir for urbanites ... Especially invigorating in howling winter gales! East Sooke is the most-visited regional park by residents of Southern Vancouver Island. The park is huge -- 1434 hectares -- and features 50 kilometres of trails, from simple seaside strolls to arduous routes for the hale and hearty. Most challenging is Canada's most acclaimed hike, the 10 km Coast Trail, a 6 or 7 hour trek along the entire southern shoreline of the park, but most visitors choose shorter treks to the oceanfront or mountaintops. East Sooke Park has all the best attributes of our parks in one big beautiful setting: spring and summer wildflowers, stunning old forests of western red cedar, Douglas fir, towering hemlock, stately Sitka spruce, twisted arbutus and stunted shoreline pines. Barred owls hunt silently in the forest, eagles watch from the treetops. Black oystercatchers feed on shellfish and nest on bare rocks, while pelagic cormorants, tufted puffins and, perhaps, brown pelicans, fish along the open shore. Deer browse the meadows, river otters and mink scurry among driftwood logs, and sealions patrol the thick kelp beds offshore. Open fields and small beaches, many with reachable islets, make excellent picnic sites. Rocky pocket beaches offer tide pools for exploring and access for scuba diving. Spin casting for salmon is particularly good near the kelp beds. Visitors may be alerted by a distant swishing sound and rewarded with glimpses of mist shooting from the blowholes of passing Orcas. Begin your exploration at one of three entry points: Aylard Farm is popular with picnickers, families with young children, and those looking for an easy excursion. A 5 minute walk through an old orchard leads to a beautiful white sand crescent-shaped beach, fringed with red-barked arbutus trees. It's an ideal place to build sandcastles with the kids, or to search for crabs in the shallows. Anderson Cove is a tranquil backwater on the Sooke Basin. Canoeists and kayakers can launch from the shore trail. Inland trails lead to Babbington Hill and Mount Maguire. On these hilltops, bald eagles, turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks join you for sweeping views from Beecher Bay and Secretary Island to the Olympic Peninsula. Pike Road is the most westerly access to the park, and to the Coast Trail. An old logging road winds through forest to meadow and beach. Here, at low tide, look for periwinkles, goose-neck barnacles and purple sea stars. Sometimes you'll see seals swim through a school of tiny herring, chasing them to the surface where they're scooped up by waiting seagulls. That's teamwork! Birdwatcher's Note: this is the only location in the Pacific Northwest where hundreds of hawks and turkey vultures "kettle" in the fall, waiting for the right wind current, at land's end before migrating south 21 kilometres across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in their jouney to Washington State and beyond. Expect to observe birds and wild animals in their natural habitat throughout East Sooke Park and you may experience the thrill of a lifetime: not long ago area residents hiking in the forest say they saw a pure white Spirit Bear, also known as a Kermode Bear, the Provincial Mammal, a black bear that has white fur due to a rare genetic trait!

Ayum Creek -- Sea to Sea Green Blue Belt Park

This hidden gem is a birdwatchers' paradise! The small creek and estuary enter the Sooke Basin just behind Goodrich Peninsula. A haven for swans and purple martins, with many bird boxes on tall poles for nesting. The mud flat shoreline attracts diving ducks and herons aplenty. Ayum Creek is also an important spawning ground for coho and chum salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout. Park your vehicle in the 5500 block of the Sooke Road, by the Ayum Creek bridge.

Sooke Potholes Provincial Park

An iconic location to generations of southern Vancouver Islanders: many of us learned to swim in the sparkling pools of the Sooke River. And we return often and bring our families and friends to enjoy the splendid views of Sooke River Falls, a picnic lunch and a refreshing dip on a hot summer's day! Go early in the morning and find a spot to roll out your towel before the afternoon crowd arrives. The "potholes" are unique geological formations -- deep pools in the river rocks -- that offer some of the best freshwater swimming in the region. The steep cliffs and huge boulders along the river canyon absorb the heat of the day, and warm the pooled water. Wide pebble beaches allow for wading and easy access, while the flow of the river ensures fresh, clean water. Swimmers "haul out" like seals and bask on big smooth rocks scattered throughout the pools. Drive up Sooke River Road to the park entrance, or walk or cycle in on the Galloping Goose Trail. There's lots to do ... Bike through wilderness scenery to the end of the trail at Leechtown. Walk along short forest trails. Sunbathe, and bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the numerous beaches or scenic viewpoints. Listen to the sound of rushing water at many small falls throughout the park. You may see red squirrels scampering along the riverside path, black-tailed deer sheltering in the forest and bald eagles soaring overhead. The Sooke River is the second largest on southern Vancouver Island and home to a productive salmon run every autumn. Walk beneath the huge old trees along the riverbank on a crisp fall day and marvel at the miracle of the spawning salmon, cheering them on their incredible journey. They fight to return home against all odds, to find a mate and ensure there is a next generation, and then, inevitably, their lives end. It's a sacred ritual played out on the river, an example of courage and persistence, the salmon's cycle of life and death, for all to see, suffused with the transcendent energy of nature.

Ed McGregor Park

Located on West Coast Road, within a short walk of downtown Sooke, this municipal park offers a beguiling mixture of natural and cultivated beauty. Lovely gardens and sweeping lawns at street level provide for excellent views of Sooke Harbour, Whiffin Spit and the Olympic Mountains. On a sunny day at Ed McGregor Park, you might see a yoga class stretching or an orchestra practising in the bandshell, or maybe even a wedding party taking advantage of the stunning backdrop for marriage photos. There's access to Sooke Rotary Pier and the Marine Boardwalk via a wheelchair accessible walkway. Sooke residents and visitors fish and crab here at the lower beach level, or jog along the pier. But perhaps the most popular "activity" at the park is to sit at one of the many benches and picnic tables, relax, breath in the invigorating west coast air and simply enjoy.

Whiffin Spit Park

Walk out on Whiffin Spit for a panoramic view of Sooke and the surrounding forested hills from the water. This one-km long rocky finger of land almost bisects Sooke Harbour and protects the inner waterways from the powerful winter waves of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Local folks meet friends and walk their dogs here, and it's also a popular park for a picnic lunch, or launching a kayak. If you are looking for a beautiful spot to settle in and enjoy your day, stroll Whiffin Spit, sit and drink in the expansive views from one of the many park benches along the way. While away an hour or two with a good book. Fantastic beaches exist on both sides of the spit, and offer excellent birdwatching opportunities. Herons are seen hunting at low tide, and osprey frequent the shallow water. On the seaward side of the spit you will see gulls gracefully soaring and Harlequin ducks and scooters tumbling in the waves. Walkers may spot river otter, seals and maybe even Orcas out in the water. During the summer, regal-looking cruise ships with names like Rapture of the Sea glide by on the ocean horizon. From the Lighthouse at the spit's end, watch the fishing fleet, pleasure boats and whale-seeking zodiacs zip in and out of the harbour. At Christmastime, a tree is mysteriously adorned overnight with whimsical decorations, and brave souls dash into the waves from Whiffin Spit for the Polar Bear Dip on New Year's Day.

Kemp Lake

A beautiful small lake in Otter Point reserved for swimming, canoes, rowboats and any non-motorized boats. Dragonflies abound, as do seasonal waterlilies. Turn right off West Coast Road onto Kemp Lake Road, turn right at Chubb Road for easy beach access and small boat launch.

Gordon's Beach

Long cobble, driftwood-laden beach located in Otter Point, 10 km past Sooke on West Coast Road, with easy vehicle access. Watch windsurfers fly by at amazing speed. Great spot for storm watching in the winter when towering waves thunder in. On Spring evenings, a chorus of frogs sings out from the surrounding wetlands. All year round, you will experience the most glorious of sunsets from Gordon's Beach, with the beacon of Sheringham Point Lighthouse flashing on the near horizon.

French Beach Provincial Park

Stop here for wheelchair access to a waterfront picnic area and a fantastic spot for whale watching. French Beach is a beautiful and scenic pebble and sand beach, facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's an ideal park for a family to spend the day, featuring a full playground, large lawns, picnic tables and barbecue pits. This 59 hectare park is situated 5 km east of Jordan River. For those seeking a leisurely walk, beautiful hiking trails lead you through second growth forest and salal, Oregon grape, evergreen huckleberries and a large variety of ferns. There are fossilized shells in the sandstone formation at the west end of the beach. Watch the ocean: Orca whales and Grey whales are often observed swimming past the beach or feeding just off the points. The best time to see Grey whales is during their migration from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico north to Alaska during March and April. Both California and Northern sealions are seen here from late August through May. Otters and Harbour seals play offshore. The seals can be identified by their basketball-shaped heads bobbing at the surface.

Sandcut Beach

A sign-posted trail leads to a lovely beach, named one of the top ten secret beaches by Sunset Magazine. Walk east to Sandcut Creek Waterfall. When the tide is low, there are smooth sandstone tidal pools with a rich and colourful population of ocean life to explore.

Jordan River Beach

Drive right up to the shoreline and watch the heavy surf pounding in at the river's mouth. Home of the Jordan River Surf Club, Maclean's Magazine calls this beach the "pumping hypothermic heart of Canadian surfing." Old VW vans, brightly painted schoolbuses, and firepits scattered along the shoreline provide shelter and warmth on a winter's day. Feast on piping-hot fish and chips from the bright blue chip-wagon, Deja Vu diningroom (formerly The Breakers) or at Shell's charming cafe and convenience store.

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and Marine Trail

Designated as a wilderness hiking trail, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a 47 km day- and multi-day corridor which traces the Pacific coastline to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. The trail offers scenic beauty, remarkable hiking experiences, wildlife viewing and the sound of roaring surf. It's an alternative to the strenuous and isolated West Coast Trail for visitors who want a shorter wilderness hike, closer to the city. Some easy to moderate day hiking opportunities to the beach or along the coast are available at the trail heads, where you may park your car and enter and exit this exhilarating adventure. What really sets the Juan de Fuca apart from most long distance trails are these many easy entry and access points along the route. If you want to bail out, don't have the stamina to camp overnight, or simply want to devour a plate of fresh seafood for supper, bring a cellphone to make a reservation, jump into your car and get back in time to enjoy the pleasures of urban life in Sooke . This unique and challenging trail was created through the Commonwealth Nature Legacy as an enduring reminder of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games. It links provincial parks China Beach, Loss Creek, Sombrio Beach, Parkinson Creek and Botanical Beach. Terrific views will take your breath away, especially at the Loss Creek suspension bridge and the Minute Creek suspension bridge.

China Beach

The southern terminus of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. A 20 minute hike through a forest of giant firs, Sitka spruce and aromatic cedars ends at a fine sand beach, ideal for wading and picnicking. China Beach also features tidal pools and a fabulous waterfall.

Sombrio Beach

An easy 10 minute walk to the sandy (clothing optional) beach brings sensational open ocean views and the sight of numerous surfers riding the pealing waves. There are sea caves to explore, and the remnants of a squatter's community that existed in the surrounding forest for over 30 years. Shanties were built with materials gleaned from the great lumberyard of the sea, but when Sombrio was designated parkland in 1994 the people were told to find new homes.

Mystic Beach

An arduous 45 minute foray across a suspension bridge and down a heavily rooted trail with a long drop to the beach along a giant felled tree may be nirvana for the hearty hiker. The end of the trail reveals a gorgeous white sand beach with a hanging waterfall, beach caves and, at low tide, a walk-through rock arch. At Mystic, you will feel far from the madding crowd!

Botanical Beach

The northern terminus of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. An easy 20 minute hike takes you to one of southern Vancouver Island's most intriguing beaches, exposed to the full force of the open ocean at the mouth of the Strait. Natural amphitheatres and odd formations are carved in sandstone from constant tidal erosion. Walk across flat granite and sandstone outcroppings, great viewpoints for watching Grey whales and cruise ships pass by. A number of shoreline trails full of geographical marvels will take you from beach to beach. Botanical Beach offers one of the richest tidal areas along the west coast, so much so that a marine biological station was built here by the University of Minnesota in 1901, and since then several universities study marine life at this treasured place. If you travel to Botanical Beach to view the intertidal life, check the tide table for Port Renfrew. A low tide of 1.2 m or less is best for viewing the extensive and unique crystal clear tidal pools teeming with an enormous variety of marine flora and fauna. Don't touch or collect these vulnerable creatures or disturb their habitat. Botanical Beach Park was established to protect and preserve this rare and sensitive ecosystem: photographs make a great souvenir! What to See in Tide Pools: beautiful sandstone and shale rock formations, open to the ocean and the tides, form basins like miniature aquariums. In the high tide zone pools limpets and lichen line the rocks, and the acorn barnacle survives, above the range of its predator, the purple sea star. In the middle tide zone pools: see purple sea stars, blue mussels, red anemones, delicate coralline algae, feather duster worms, and mossy chitons. In the low tide zone pools: red sea urchins, brittle sea stars, giant green anemones, orange sea cucumber, sand dollars, Dungeness crab, red sponge and surf grass survive. Covered except during the lowest tides, this crowded intertidal zone has animals normally seen only by scuba divers.

The West Coast Trail -- Prepare for an Unforgettable Experience

"The West Coast Trail is the very BEST hike in the world. That's right. The BEST," says the Bible of hiking websites, besthike.com. Prepare carefully for a 77 km unforgettable tramp through some of the world's most magnificent coastal wilderness. Plan on 6 to 8 days of rain, sun, fog, waterfalls, bogs, bliss and blisters. You must be totally self-sufficient. Buy the best trekking guidebook: Blisters & Bliss, by David Foster and Wayne Aitken, 2003. It is essential reading. And then make a reservation: You can call the Super Natural British Columbia travel information line at 1-800-435-5622 (HELLO BC) and reserve your hike up to 3 months in advance of your adventure. How did this remote hiking trail come into such acclaim? It was first carved through the inpenetrable rainforest as refuge and a way out for mariners shipwrecked along the "Graveyard of the Pacific." It started with the wreck of the 253 foot (77 m) vessel SS Valencia in 1906. The wild and rugged shoreline bordering the forest offered no relief whatsoever and the lives of all 126 passengers were lost. This tragic event spurred the government to construct a life-saving trail and telegraph line between Port Renfrew and Bamfield, as this section of the Pacific coastline had been the site of more than 60 shipwrecks since 1854. The present West Coast Trail generally follows the route of the historic life-saving trail. Recommended only for experienced hikers and backpackers, the trail is part of Pacific Rim National Park and is open May 1 to September 30. "Experienced" means this trail is absolutely no place for the casual weekend camper. The trail begins across the San Juan River from Port Renfrew, in the traditional territory of the Pacheenaht First Nation. You get there by taking a ferry from the dock in front of the Port Renfrew Hotel. There are two major river crossings that cannot be forded, the San Juan River in this section and the Nitinat Narrows near mid-point. Members of Pacheenaht of the Huu-ay-aht Nations can be depended on to ferry you across these waterways The trail also transects Ditidaht First Nation territory. Trail guardians from these native bands work with Parks Canada to manage the trail, and to look after their ancient fishing, hunting and village sites. The West Coast Trail is the only coastal land connection between Highway 14 and Port Renfrew to Bamfield, Ucluelet, Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Because the trail is not a circle, getting home from the terminus can be complicated. The West Coast Trail Express bus offers daily service with pickups in Sooke during the hiking season, and air charter services are available. What will you see, hear and experience when you undertake this life-altering challenge? Variety! A mesmerizing dose of nature! You’ll be blown away by the scenic splendour of bays, coves, creeks, surf-swept beaches, sheer cliffs, storm-chiselled caves and magic waterfalls. Explore fascinating tidal pools. In the intertidal zone, every square inch of rock is covered in colourful seaweed, including edible sugar kelp and nori. Scooping up and sampling sea urchin (Uni for Japanese restaurant aficiandos) will surely awaken your taste buds. See seaside plantain, sea blush, coastal strawberry and stonecrop flower among the rocks. Shore pines and Nootka rose grow gnarled and twisted. Hear whales spout and smell sealions! Alternate thundering surf with the serene quiet of old growth forest ... Enjoy the sun streaming through the gigantic misty forest cathedral of Douglas fir, hemlock, Sitka spruce and wonderfully fragrant red cedar. Awake to mystic dawns and stretch out on your sleeping bag beneath the last and very best sunsets in North America. You'll need lots of rest ... Expect to climb precipitous ladders, wade mud bogs, ride cable cars, scramble ocean boulders layered with slippery seaweed, walk drift logs, race the tide across a sandstone shelf, skirt dangerous surge channels, and you will haul yourself (and others) up rocky cliffs on pull ropes. Ah, camaraderie ... Meet hikers from all over the world in sociable, wilderness campsites. The yin and the yang of the West Coast Trail: if all of the above sounds too good to be true, be aware of the potential hazards. Choose the coastal or inland route: The coast choice is the best, but is tide dependent, and is much easier at low tide. At other times, there's as many as 70 near-vertical ladders to climb, 130 narrow log bridges to cross and four cable cars. On the inland route: a heavy wet climate has produced a dense forest and fallen trees to traverse, and the forest floor is jammed with salmonberry, huckleberry, salal and in places, the heavy spiked stalks of devil's club. Whatever route you choose, you must carry a heavy pack and your own tent, and all of your food. The best memories of the trail? ... your successful quest, the wildlife and the wilderness. White-tailed deer and Douglas squirrels are common in the forest, where you walk along a sun-dappled path lined with gigantic swaying ferns ... Catch sight of Grey whales, killer whales and sealions offshore ... The sheltered coves abound with birdlife -- pelagic cormorants, black oystercatchers, marbled murrelets, tufted puffins -- and at low tide, all manner of sealife can be spotted in the pure tidal pools. Black bears are still a frequent sight as they roam the shores in early morning and evening looking for a share of the many edibles along the tidal flats. Just remember, good preparation will ensure that you will thoroughly enjoy an unforgettable experience on the very best hike in the world!

Port Renfrew ...  a Pot of Gold at the end of West Coast Road

Port Renfrew is at the estuary of the Gordon and San Juan Rivers, and is the southern terminus of Pacific Rim National Park's West Coast Trail and the northern terminus of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. There's much coming and going here at the end of West Coast Road, with hikers from around the world dropping in at the pubs, putting up their feet and trading tales of their adventures. Plan to stop by the Port Renfrew Hotel's outdoor patio overlooking the government wharf, and drink in the views. Try to find a seat at a table with true locals with time and stories to spare. Port Renfrew's sea-going heritage is celebrated throughout the community, with many murals on homes and garages depicting ships ahoy and nautical pursuits, and with one wall mural showing the 130 shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Pacific. This scenic village (population 400) -- where the rugged rainforest meets the tempestuous sea -- once home to loggers and fishermen, is now a tourism mecca, the visitor population swelling with freshwater and saltwater sport anglers (who catch halibut so big, they are called "barn doors"), beachcombers, board sport enthusiasts, paddlers, birdwatchers and naturalists. With so many folks stopping by the tiny town, there's plenty of spots to grab some great nosh, from burgers and beer, to fabulous, fresh plats du jour. The world's most majestic and tallest trees are just down the road, where the Pacific Marine Circle Tour veers inland along the 54.5 km logging road to Lake Cowichan. Take the Harris Creek Mainline east through steep canyons and logged and regenerating forests. Outdoor adventure options abound in this wilderness playground: nearby Fairy Lake and Lizard Lake offer swimming, fishing, canoeing and birdwatching. Mountain cycling on rough trails is a popular activity. Hundreds of windsurfers seek out the strong and predictable afternoon winds at Nitinat, a rare tidal lake known as one of the best places to pursue the sport in North America. At Harris Creek you will find refreshing pools and a short path to a giant ancient Fir tree towering on the bank, and in the fall these waters are full of spring salmon, coho and steelhead. And where the fish leap and spawn, the black bears come to feast and fatten up for their long winter's sleep.

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Plan Ahead to Make the Most of Your Visit: Make sure your host has your vehicle make and licence plate number. Pack your backpack with a camera, binoculars, and a tasty lunch and drinks. Water is not available in all areas. Maps and information are available at most trail heads. Wear a hat and sturdy shoes. Rainwear and a warm sweater may come in handy as the day cools. Bear bells can be attached to clothing. Allow yourself ample time to be out of the forest before dark. Do not leave valuables in your vehicles. Park Watch monitors park and beach parking lots in the summer but they are not always at every location. Safe Travel in the Working Forest: Always be alert to expect the unexpected and drive with great care, wear your seatbelt and turn your headlights on to make yourself more visible. Expect to encounter logging trucks at any time - 24/7. Yield to logging trucks and do not pass until signalled by the driver. Watch for falling rock, downed trees and blind corners. Take special care approaching single lane bridges, and obey the yield to oncoming traffic signs. Stay in your vehicle if you encounter large wildlife, particularly those with young.