Highlights on a Road Trip from Sooke to Port Renfrew
Updated: a day ago
Looking for the best hikes and beaches between Sooke and Port Renfrew? We have you covered in this post, highlighting how the rugged coastline to the Northwest of Victoria is perfect for a day or weekend trip. With little to no phone reception and pure wilderness surrounding, it is a true escape from the hustle and bustle of Victoria! The West Coast Road connects the town of Sooke in the south to Port Renfrew in the north, passing by lush rainforest, rocky cliffs, surf-tossed beaches, and some of the most beautiful scenery on Vancouver Island. Go camping right next to the ocean, chase the "hidden" waterfalls, or hike one of the many nature trails... Adventure is waiting. Find in this article what the highlights are on a road trip from Sooke to Port Renfrew!
Legend: (1) East Sooke Regional Park, (2) Sooke Potholes, (3) Sand Cut Beach, (4) Mystic Beach, (5) Sombrio Beach, (6) Port Renfrew
1. East Sooke Regional Park
Only an hour's drive to the north from Victoria lies East Sooke Regional Park. With 50 kilometers of hiking trails, it is the perfect destination for a leisurely day hike. The most popular hike is the 13 km (9 mi) Coast Trail which winds through the rainforest right next to the coastline. Along the way, you'll encounter rocky bays, hidden beaches, tide pools, and spectacular views of the Strait of Juan the Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in the US. It is not surprising that the Coast Trail is one of the best day hikes on Vancouver Island. Bring enough water and good hiking boots as the trail is muddy, rocky, and fairly challenging!
Click here to see a map with all the hiking trails in East Sooke Regional Park.
Hiking trail details
Duration: 5-6 hours
Elevation: 520 m (1706 ft)
As the Coast Trail is a thru-hike, there are two different trailheads you can start the hike from. You can either start at Aylard Farm Trailhead and go east or start at Pike Road Trailhead and go west. It doesn't matter which one you choose as the elevation gain is about the same. However, you will need to have a car or shuttle at the other end of the trail if you want to avoid walking another 13km back to the car. In case you are two people, you could possibly take two cars and drop each car at a different trailhead. If you are hiking solo, you could hire a shuttle that brings you to the opposite trailhead at the start.
We started our hike at Aylard Farm Trailhead and had our friends' car parked at the end of the route, making for a one-way trip. The video below summarizes our experience and the beauty that can be found along the trail!
2. Sooke Potholes
If you are traveling on a hot and sunny summer day, it is time to hit the Sooke Potholes! This is one of our favorite hidden gems in all of BC. As the name implies, the Sooke Potholes are a set of naturally formed pools or "potholes" and unique rock formations along the Sooke River. The pools are perfect and available for swimming, but bear in mind that the water is cold! A beautiful 5 km (3 mi) area of pools is filled with bright green-colored water and numerous cascading waterfalls along the way. We love to jump in off the rock edges and feel the pure water rush over us under the hot sun. Just make sure to be careful of rocks and only jump where others are jumping, as many locals frequent this location and know the best spots. Sooke Potholes is the perfect destination for a refreshing dip before continuing your road trip towards Port Renfrew.
3. Sandcut Beach
A 30-minute drive from Sooke will take you to the mesmerizing Sandcut Beach! We always make sure to stop along the way for a coffee and pastry break at the renowned Shirley Delicious (Address: 2794 Sheringham Point Rd, Shirley).
Sandcut Beach is located in the Jordan River Regional Park and a popular day-use area among the locals. The parking area is just left off the Highway towards Jordan River ( approx. 4 km before the town). From the parking lot, a short 15 min walk will take you through a lush cedar forest with boardwalks to the beach. The shore is filled with beautiful cobbles and a small waterfall. Walk up close to the waterfall and breathe in the fresh ocean air.
4. Mystic Beach
How to get there
Mystic Beach is located in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park about 10 km north from Sand Cut Beach. It is undoubtedly the most scenic beach and waterfall along the West Coast Road! Here you will get a real taste of the wild West Coast of Vancouver Island. Park your car in the parking lot at the China Beach Trailhead, and start following the 2 km trail through the ancient forest! As part of the well-known Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (47 km / 29 mi), this short walk is a great introduction to this longer more rugged hiking trail.
Hiking trail details
After about 45 mins of hiking, you will arrive at the sandy Mystic Beach. To your left, you will see a stunning waterfall cascading down a rocky wall. These waterfalls are quite impressive during the autumn and wintertime when the West Coast receives the most rain. During the summer, however, the stream of water slowly dies which makes for a thin and disappointing waterfall. We've been to this beach in both the winter and summer and have to say that the winter is much more spectacular if you want to see the waterfall in its true glory.
The good news is that there is much more to Mystic Beach than just the falls. Another mysterious sight is the small hidden cave on the western side of the beach. When it is low tide, you can make your way inside this cave and observe the waves crashing onto the rocks. When you are watching the tide coming in, look out for seals, sea lions, and whales! The Grey Whales migrate to this area each spring and are often spotted from Mystic Beach. We saw a few seals ourselves on our last trip to the Mystic Beach caves.
Mystic Beach Camping
In the summer, Mystic Beach becomes a popular camping spot. As the beach is more sandy compared to the other West Coast beaches, it is the ideal spot to set up your tent and start a campfire while you watch the sun go down.
5. Sombrio Beach
Sombrio Beach is our all-time favorite beach on Vancouver Island. Attracting a fairly young crowd, this beach has a relaxed and pleasant vibe. During the summertime, it is a popular camping spot with friends or family, while in the other seasons the conditions for surfing are great. Besides surfing, visitors come here to relax on the beach, play beach games, hike (part of) the Juan de Fuca Trail, or explore the hidden waterfalls!
Sombrio Beach Waterfalls
There are two waterfalls near the beach worth searching for. The "secret" waterfall in the cave is a true delight and although it used to be a hidden gem, many people are starting to know about it now! A 20 mins walk to the left side of Sombrio Beach brings you to the only creek that runs into the ocean. This is where you want to follow the creek inland until you reach the canyon and waterfall soon after. The giant green wall with the tumbling waterfall is the picture-perfect location of the whole area. Another waterfall can be found along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail which continues near the creek more to your left. This waterfall pours down right into the ocean, making for an impressive sight.
Sombrio Beach Camping
In our opinion, Sombrio Beach is the best camping spot on Vancouver Island! The cobbled beach can be found about 20 km (12 mi) north of Mystic Beach. There is a small gravel road off Highway 14 that takes you down to the Sombrio Beach Trailhead parking lot. Park your car, pay for your camping at the trailhead (bring cash), and walk about 250 meters down to the beach. Right when you access, you will see many tents scattered around the beach. This is because this part of the beach is the sandiest and thus softest to set up camp. It is also close to facilities like toilets and food caches. Campfires are allowed on the beach (unless otherwise noted in a dry season), and absolutely recommended! Roast some s'mores, have a few beverages, and observe thousands of stars in the clear night sky.
6. Port Renfrew
The fishing village of Port Renfrew and its surrounding area is the last stop on the road trip. Also called "Wild Renfrew", this area is known for its ancient rainforest, world-class hiking trails (both the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail start here), and its stunning beaches. When we visited Port Renfrew for the day, we drove around the town and unexpectedly found some of the most beautiful sights we've seen on the island. Discover this small, rugged, and rural community of more or less 200 residents, and you will be immersed in a true West Coast Island experience.
The highlight of Port Renfrew, and what brings most tourists to this town, is Botanical Beach. This diverse marine bay is located right next to Port San Juan and Botany Bay and is known for its rich tide pools and impressive geological features. This natural wilderness area is a biologist's dream! You can observe hundreds of species of plants and animals, such as the beautiful starfish and purple sea urchins who "hide" in the tide pools. Make sure you visit when the tide is low, as only then will you be able to walk on the rocks and explore the many tide pools. Keep in mind that the rocks can be slippery and you should not disturb the tide pool life! Inter-tidal sea life has been impacted negatively by human activity. Touching the marine life or the water in the tide pools may destroy the vulnerable sea creatures.
The best way to explore Botanical Beach is to do the Botany Bay Loop Trail. This 2.8 km (1.7 mi) loop trail is accessed from the Botanical Beach parking lot at Kilometre 47. A short shoreline trail will bring you to both Botanical Beach and Botany Beach (both worth exploring!). The best time to observe the tide pools at the beaches is when the tide is below 1.2 meters (3.9 ft). Check the Canadian Tide Tables for Port Renfrew one week or a few days in advance so you can time up your visit!
We were lucky enough that the tide was at its lowest around sunset time. This unique circumstance did not only give us amazing photographs of the tide pools but also made a great time watching the sun go down over the ocean! A perfect sunset to end a great day in Port Renfrew.
Canada’s Gnarliest Tree at Avatar Grove
It may sound weird, but Port Renfrew is home to Canada's gnarliest tree! Canada's gnarliest tree is an immense cedar with a very wide and gnarly-looking trunk. It is located in Avatar Grove, which is a wilderness area with a large number of HUGE trees like the western red cedars and Douglas firs. There are two separate groves at Avatar Grove. The Upper Grove is where the Gnarliest Tree can be found, which is accessed by hiking up wooden boardwalks and stairs. The trail is a short 500m (0.3 mi) round trip. The Lower Grove is a short 650m (0.4 mi) loop trail filled with beautiful cedars and firs. Be cautious as Avatar Grove can be extremely muddy and slippery!
Avatar Grove is found about 10km (6.2 mi) outside Por, which would take you around 1 hour 15 minutes if driving without any stops. Highway 14 is the road that connects both towns and is known to be a scenic drive as it winds right next to the coast. Port Renfrew marks the end of Highway 14 and only connects to other few logging/gravel roads that lead to the east. The Pacific Marine Circle Route continues from Port Renfrew to Cowichan Lake, and back to Victoria. This is an alternative option if you don't want to drive the same way back.
Driving from Sooke to Port Renfrew
The drive from Sooke to Port Renfrew is 71 km (44 mi), which would take you around 1 hour 15 minutes if driving without any stops. Highway 14 is the road that connects both towns and is known to be a scenic drive as it winds right next to the coast. Port Renfrew marks the end of Highway 14, and only connects to other few logging/gravel roads that lead to the east. The Pacific Marine Circle Route continues from Port Renfrew to Cowichan Lake, and back to Victoria. This is an alternative option if you don't want to drive the same way back.
Sooke to Port Renfrew Map
The map below puts the distance between Sooke and Port Renfrew into perspective.
Renting a car
If you are visiting Vancouver Island from abroad or the mainland, we strongly recommend renting a car to get around the Island. Public transportation on Vancouver Island can be tricky, with irregular times and limited routes. If you want to visit the remote and adventurous places, you are in trouble without a vehicle! When you are in Sooke or Victoria, there are bus options which are a cheap way to check out the neighborhood. However, if you want to go outside the towns, it will be a hassle.
For a road trip along the West Coast Road, you will need to book a rental car! There are various car rental companies in Victoria, which is a half-hour drive to Sooke. Car rental options include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Budget Car & Truck Rental, National Car Rental, among others.
How to pick the best car rental
We know that Canada isn't the cheapest place on earth, which is obviously reflected in car rental prices. However, there are a few things you can do to save on your trip across the West Coast:
If possible, avoid airport pick-ups and drop-offs as they cost more.
Drop-off the car at the same rental location (additional fees apply when you drop-off the car at a different location).
Check the age restrictions. In Victoria, you'll need to be at least 21 to be able to rent a car, and most rental companies charge additional fees if you are younger than 25.
Choose your vehicle type carefully. Even though Canada is a developed country, there are many remote places that can only be accessed via gravel roads. For example, the drive from the highway down to the Sombrio Beach Parking Lot is full of potholes!
Get coverage! Like I said above, there are many dirt roads.
If you enjoyed reading this blog post or you have any other suggestions, comment below! If you are looking for more things to do on Vancouver Island, check out our Vancouver Island Travel Guide!
If you are curious about what this area looks like, check out this video of our camping weekend at Sombrio Beach and hike to Mystic Beach below!