Visiting one (or more) of the beaches along the Juan de Fuca coast on Vancouver Island is the perfect way to spend a day trip from Victoria. While they each have unique draws (e.g. Mystic Beach starts with a great hike through the forest, Botanical is known for its tide pools and rock formations), they’re also similar enough that you could spend the day at any one of them without fear of missing out. Heads up: if you have a rental car, Sombrio may not be the best choice for you! Read on. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to head to Sombrio Beach for the day:
Sombrio is between a 1.5 and 2 hour drive from Victoria. You’ll follow the mostly single-lane Highway 14 most of the way. It can get a little twisty, but you’ll eventually be treated to spectacular views of the coast. Consider stopping on the way at The Stick in the Mud Coffee House in Sooke for great coffee, treats, and West Coast decor.
After signs for Sombrio Beach, you’ll take a left off the main highway onto a gravel road. Once you spot the enormous pot holes, you’ll know you’re on the right track! You’re going to want to go pretty slow, but you’ll eventually get to the parking lot (overflow parking is along the road). From there, it’s a quick 3 minute (downhill) walk through the forest to the beach.
East or West (Left or Right)?
Sombrio’s about 2 kms long. If you’re coming from the parking lot, you’ll come to a sign post pointing east and west. The reason it’s divided is Sombrio River, a surprisingly strong and deep (in places) creek that runs right out to the ocean. Kyla and I just crossed through it when we hiked the Juan de Fuca trail but totally soaked our socks and shoes. If you cross it from the beach, make sure to find a shallow section (and I’d recommend shoes off!), or some stable rocks to stand on. The alternative is a suspension bridge. More on that below.
To the left is East Sombrio. A short boardwalk will bring you to a small gazebo with info about the land, a set of pit toilets, and the beach! There are campsites right as you enter (first come, first served patches of sand), and you can walk east quite a ways. Rumour(/blog and photo evidence) has it that there’s a hidden waterfall out this way! I haven’t been, but this blog post explains how to access it. Access the eastern section of the Juan de Fuca trail from this side of the beach (towards Chin, Bear and Mystic Beaches).
To the right is a suspension bridge leading across the narrow (but deep/fast) Sombrio River to West Sombrio. There are campsites on the other side, as well as access to the western section of the Juan de Fuca trail (Payzant Creek, Botanical Beach). On our February trip, we crossed the bridge but could not(/chose not to) continue on the trail because a section was caved in. It was also pretty muddy (totally fine when hiking the trail but less so for our day trip). We could probably have bushwhacked around or found a way to cross the stream on the beach, but we’d had a wonderfully full day already so we skipped it this time.
What to do?
- Watch the SURFERS! I was pleasantly surprised to see that in February Sombrio becomes a surf beach! Almost everyone camping there had boards, and there were dozens of surfers in the water.
- Pack a picnic: Find a rock or a log; enjoy your food with a dash of salty sea air.
- Try to find the hidden waterfall!
- Look out for bears: bears are a fairly common sight on Sombrio – we saw one on our 2017 JdF Trail hike… and narrowly avoided getting eaten! Don’t approach bears if you see them, and put your food away.
- Hike: Sombrio is partway along the 47 kim Juan de Fuca trail. You could get on the trail at either the east or west end of the beach (towards Botanitcal or Mystic, respectively). This is a multi-day trail, so you’ll probably only see a bit of it on a day trip where you need to return to Sombrio. Keep in mind that there are a lot of elevation changes on the trail, and that it can be very muddy in places. Go prepared with lots of water, snacks, and proper hiking boots.
- Beachcomb: there are plenty of tide pools to check out and rocks to clamber over!
Want to stay longer?
If you’re camping, pay at the trailhead – it’s $10 per person, per night; leave your money in an envelope at the box in the parking lot (there are instructions on site). There are pit toilets, bear caches for food, and streams to fill up water bottles (BYO filter) – pack your garbage in and out. In the summer, beaches along the trail get quite busy. I’ve never camped on Sombrio, but from my experience on Mystic, Chin, and Bear, go early to get a nice spot. On a long weekend, you will no doubt be surrounded by lots of people, but you’ll wake up on a quintessential West Coast beach with lots of space to spread out!