There are many great beaches along the southern coast of Vancouver Island but popular China Beach BC, located within the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, is undoubtedly one of the best. Like many of the beaches in this area, it requires a bit of hiking to reach, but at least it is only a nice 15-minute walk through the trees in this case. Although it is fairly steep and there are quite a few stairs, it isn’t particularly strenuous, and requires ust enough effort to keep the place from getting overrun. At the end of the trail you emerge to a long, gorgeous stretch of soft sand with amazing views across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Marine life is commonly spotted in the waters just off the beach, including seals, orcas and even Grey whales (best seen during their migration from Mexico to Alaska in March/April).
China Beach Map
To the northwest, the beach ends after a few hundred metres in some sheer rock walls and a small waterfall, backed by an impressive set of hills that separate China Beach from Mystic Beach (also known for its awesome beach waterfall) on the Juan de Fuca Trail. While there are some excellent surf breaks on China Beach, there are not nearly as many surfers as at the nearby Jordan River area, probably because of the need to hike in with your board and gear.
China Beach Vancouver Island
A beautiful spot for a family outing, China Beach is the ideal place to bring a picnic lunch, set up in the shelter of some of the atmospheric deadfall and watch the kids play in the sand, collect shells and explore the driftwood. While it is possible to swim all year-round, the water is considerably warmer in summer (although, in general, the younger the child, the less they care about the water temperature). There isn’t a lot of shade on the beach itself so in summer it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella if you planning a beach day. The sunsets can also be pretty amazing, just make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp to navigate your way back up the trail in the dark.
Keep in mind, there are no fires or camping allowed on the beach area, only in the designated campground. Dogs are allowed on both the trails and the beach but they should be kept on a leash. There are outhouses available both at the parking lot and near the beach.
China Beach Trail
Even though the beach is the highlight, the trail to get there is worth the trip as well. A really nice walk through old trees, it features typical Vancouver Island forest scenery. It does get a bit steep in a few spots, although there are a few sets of steps to make it easier. There are two parking lots – upper and lower. The multi-day Juan de Fuca Marine Trail that passes Mystic Beach starts from the upper lot. The trail to China Beach starts from the eastern end of the lower parking lot, right near a handy set of outhouses.
At first it is an easy, wide path between towering Sitka spruce and western red cedars, then it slowly gets narrower and more uneven, continuing through some bushes before passing some massive Douglas firs. Near the end you’ll reach a wooden viewing platform with tremendous views of the strait. From there it descends steeply down to the beach. The trail takes most people around 15-20 minutes each way.
China Beach Campground
You are not allowed to camp on the beach but the nice, sheltered campground is open in the summer months, from mid-May to mid-September. The 85 vehicle and tenting sites are large, roomy and nicely sheltered in the forest. Most are well separated by the trees and shrubberies. There are no showers, just pit toilets, but there is a tap with drinking water, as well as garbage and recycling bins. You can book sites through BC Parks for $20/night. In summer you can buy firewood for $8/bundle. There is no Sanidump on site but you can use the one at French Beach (13 km east toward Victoria). The China Beach camping options are some of the best on this part of Vancouver Island.
From the campground a steep 1-kilometre trail leads down to “Second Beach”, also known as “Campground Beach”, where there is another pit toilet and not much else (other than a nice beach and wonderful views, of course). Keep in mind, the trail features 260 stairs. Each way, so don’t get too complacent on the way down…
How to Get to There
China Beach is located just off Highway 14 roughly 15 kilometres west of Shirley, 30 kilometres west of the town of Sooke and 70 kilometres from Victoria (1 hr 15 min). The popular surfing area where the Jordan River meets the ocean is just around the corner to the east. Port Renfrew, meanwhile, is about another 40-minute drive farther west. Coming from the east you’ll pass French Beach (a popular family beach with easy access) and the Jordan River, then the sign for the China Beach Day Use area will be soon after.
You can park in either the upper or lower parking lot but if there’s room the lower one is closer to the China Beach trailhead. Both lots sometimes fill up but it is also possible to park in a few spots along the side of the highway. As with any hiking trailhead, we recommend never leaving valuables in your vehicle.
Things to Do Nearby
This part of Vancouver Island is filled with things to do. You could base yourself in the area or make day trips from Victoria. It took us four separate day trips to see all of the highlights along the southern Vancouver Island coast so depending on the length of your visit you may have to pick and choose.
Just outside of Victoria, you’ll find the fascinatingly diverse Witty’s Lagoon, featuring a beach, a rocky headland and Sitting Lady Falls.
The Sooke Potholes are a series of interesting rapids, pools and small waterfalls on the Sooke River. They are actually at their most scenic in the summer when the river is lower because in the rainy season the water gets up so high that the “potholes” actually disappear. Nearby Mary Vine Creek waterfall, on the other hand, is at its roaring, frothing best after a big rain.
There are a lot of scenic hiking trails in East Sooke Park, with the East Sooke Coast Trail, in particular, considered by many (including us) to be one of the best day hikes in British Columbia.
Beach lovers can make a whole day of it, stopping at family-friendly French Beach, Sandcut Beach with its cute waterfall and maybe even check out an even bigger beach waterfall at Mystic Beach (if you are up for the rugged, hilly and muddy 4 km hike to the beach and back).
If you have time to continue on to Port Renfrew there are several more highlights to add to the list, including hikes to Sombrio Beach for a hidden waterfall and Botanical Beach for the tide pools, or visits to Fairy Lake and Avatar Grove.
On your way back to the excellent beaches in and around Victoria, the Jordan River is worth a stop to watch the surfers do their thing, and a little farther along, Shirley Delicious is a wonderful little café with snacks and desserts to hold you over until you make it back.
The walk to China Beach seems to be just enough of a deterrent to keep it from getting as busy as some of the other beaches that are accessible directly from the parking lot (French Beach, for example). With great waves, the standard incredible views, some great forest hiking and a nice, if basic, campground, China Beach ticks all the boxes for an enjoyable day trip or as an overnight stop on a Vancouver Island road trip.
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