The southwest side of Vancouver Island is a wild wilderness coast with the Juan de Fuca Trail traversing incredible rock beaches. We were mesmerized at this beautiful wilderness. There are thick mossy forests, massive waves, hidden waterfalls, and vibrant tidepools. We loved exploring the Juan de Fuca Trail area and up into the small town of Port Renfrew.
We visited in November and were met with gentle rain, which showcased the wildness of Vancouver Island and Port Renfrew.
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Where is Port Renfrew?
Port Renfrew is located on the western side of Vancouver Island. It is around a 2 hour drive from Victoria, 110 kilometers one-way.
What is the Juan de Fuca Trail?
The Juan de Fuca Trail is a trail along the west coast of Vancouver Island that is 29 miles long and has views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca across to the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. Many people do the full trail every year, but even if you are not wanting to do the full length of the trail, you can see some of the best parts of the trail on day hikes.
Places to See along the Juan de Fuca Trail and in Port Renfrew
All of the locations listed are listed in order from south to north.
features: surfing, beach views, tidepools, oceanside car-camping
Jordan River is the last sign of civilization before reaching Port Renfrew if driving from the south to Port Renfrew. The Jordan River area is super popular area with surfers as the conditions here are great for surfing. At low tide, the intertidal zone is wide and it is a great place for tide-pooling.
There is a small campground right along the ocean in Jordan River that is also very popular with the surfing community. Several private campgrounds and house rentals are in the area as well. There is a super cute eclectic café called Cold Shoulder Café as well.
features: start of Juan de Fuca trail, sandy beach, camping
China Beach is technically the start of the Juan de Fuca trail. Here you can find a sandy beach which is unlike most of the surrounding beaches that tend to be much rockier and harsher. China Beach also has a campground with reservable spots.
features: rocky beach, popular with surfing, campsites, hidden waterfall
Sombrio Beach was my favorite beach we visited on the coast near Port Renfew. To get to the beach, you must drive down a gravel road until you get to the parking lot. From the parking lot it is a 0.7km walk to the beach. The beach is very rocky and at a sharp angle towards the water. The waves powerful crash the rocks together, sounding like thunder.
The best part of this beach though is a hidden waterfall and a magical mossy canyon down the beach. To find the waterfall, start walking left (or south) on the beach. You will eventually come to an area where you have to step around a rock wall, that can be difficult to pass in high tide. There will be a stream coming down the beach and leading to the sea. At this point, take a left and follow the stream away from the ocean. You will come upon the mossy canyon that ends in a beautiful waterfall. I recommend wearing waterproof boots here, or just expect your feet to get very very wet.
Botanical Beach and Botany Bay
features: unique tidepools, forest trails, rocky outcroppings
Botanical Beach and Botany Beach are incredible, especially if you like tidepools. Botanical Beach and Botany Bay are in the same area are on a short loop trail within Botanical Beach Provincial Park, but I will discuss both of them separately. The full loop that contains both Botanical Beach and Botany Bay is 1.8 miles round-trip and starts from the parking area. The parking area is fairly large and is free.
Botanical Beach is known for its unique tidepools. The rock on Botanical Beach is softer which has allowed for uniquely deep tidepools to form in holes in the rock. Each deep tidepool has its own entire ecosystem with many sea creatures and plants. In the summer, the plants in the tidepools appear vibrantly green. In the colder, darker months, the green plants are not present but allow for pink algae and small sea creatures to shine. You can even find gooseneck barnacles here, which are sometimes harder to find since they prefer deeper water. I saw one starfish, but I do not know if they are super common here.
To see the tidepools, I recommend going at lower tide. At higher tide, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to see these unique tidepools. There are a ton of websites that have the tides, but I recommend using the Canadian national tide website.
Botany Bay is on the northern side of the loop trail. The tidepools here are different and fewer than at Botanical Beach, however Botany Bay has a unique feature that Botanical Beach does not. At Botany Bay there is a small island covered in trees that can only be accessed at low tide. It is very beautiful. There are a lot of rocks for climbing on and exploring the sea plants that have washed up. We found that the waves at Botany Bay are much more powerful due to the direction of the bay and likely the topography under the water.
features: sandy beach covered in huge logs, camping
Pacheedaht Beach is located near Port Renfrew. To get to the beach you will have to cross a long single lane bridge over the San Juan River. The beach on land of the Pacheedaht First Nation. The beach is different than other beaches in the area as it is a long sandy beach that is covered in hundreds (if not thousands) of huge dried logs. There are plenty of lovely logs to sit on and enjoy a picnic or spend the day relaxing. There are multiple drive-up campsites that are only steps away from the beach as well.
To use most of the beach and campground areas, you will need to pay a day use fee at the northern part of the beach. To park and access most of the beach, you will need to enter on the northern side after paying the day use fee. There is also a parking lot on the southern side of the beach, but it is unclear if you need to pay the day-use fee to use it or not.
features: iconic tree growing in the middle of a lake, camping
Fairy Lake is a popular destination right outside Port Renfrew that features a small bonsai-like tree on a log in the lake. The lake is only a few miles inland from Port Renfrew. There is also a campground on the western side of the lake. We unfortunately did not get to visit this sight on our trip to Port Renfrew, but hope to visit sometime in the future.
Where to Stay in Port Renfrew
There are several campgrounds in and around Port Renfrew. Some of these campgrounds are more developed than others. Some of these are first come first serve only while some are reservable. I recommend checking with the campgrounds you plan on staying at prior to your visit.
- Fairy Lake
- Pacheedaht Beach
- Port Renfrew Marina and RV Park
- Sondrio Beach
- China Beach (around 45 minutes from Port Renfrew)
- Jordan River (around an hour from Port Renfrew)
There are a lot of small resorts and rentals in Port Renfrew. We stayed in a cottage at Wild Coast Cottages and our cottage was so cozy with views of the mountains and the water. I would recommend staying here and would love staying here again! I recommend securing your reservation in advance especially if visiting in a summer holiday weekend as a lot of the places in Port Renfrew can be booked far in advance due to the limited amount of lodging. Here is a list of some of the popular lodging options in Port Renfrew:
- Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages: luxury cottages on the waterfront
- Wild Coast Cottages: views of the mountains and water
- Wild Coast Wilderness Resort
- Various Cottages and Rentals Listed on VRBO or Booking.com
Where to Eat in Port Renfrew
- The Renfrew Pub: Delicious food offerings, one of the best mushroom burgers I have ever had
- Coastal Kitchen Café: Adorable café with good coffee and food, and locally made gifts (I got a coffee scented candle that smells AMAZING)
- Pie-ro Pizza: Raving reviews of pizza takeout, not far from the beach
Things to Know about Port Renfrew
There are limited facilities
There are not many facilities in Port Renfrew, so I recommend stopping on your way out of Victoria to get gas and groceries. Sooke is the last substantial town with various stores, gas, and necessities. Make sure that you have enough supplies for your trip, especially if you plan on staying in Port Renfrew more than a few days.
In Port Renfrew there is the Port Renfrew General Store which has some grocery essentials and Pacheedaht Gas Bar which has a rustic gas pump. In the off-season, the hours of the facilities in Port Renfrew (including the restaurants) can be limited.
Be prepared for frequent weather changes
The weather in Port Renfrew can be variable and change quickly as it is located right on the ocean, but also has mountains and deep forests. An area not too far from Port Renfrew (Lake Henderson) is known for being the rainiest place in the entirety of Canada.
During our time in Port Renfrew, there was such a large storm that the electric was out in the entire town for a few hours, but then only a few hours later it was sunny. Be prepared for rain or shine during your visit, especially if visiting in the fall, winter, or spring.
Be prepared for limited phone service
As with some of the best places, there is not a ton of phone service, and when there is phone service, it is quite spotty. I recommend downloading your maps to your phone (or bringing paper maps) and have any information you need (such as how to get into your lodging or what campsite you reserved) downloaded or printed. If you forget to do this, most of the restaurants and café in Port Renfrew have free Wi-Fi if you need to find some information at arriving.
Gear I recommend Having if Visiting Port Renfrew
Overall this is my Guide to Port Renfrew! It is such an incredible place and I can’t wait to go back someday!
Let me know if you have any questions or comments down below!