The west coast of Vancouver Island is a wonderland of beaches, rainforest and scenic rocky coastline. Surfers love it, fishermen love it, birds clearly love it and, from what we could tell, anyone with a handful of kids they are trying to keep busy seem to love it as well. We’re told humpback whales love it, too, but we still haven’t seen any so are hesitant to jump to such a conclusion. And Mystic Beach is unquestionably one of the best spots along that coast. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Mystic Beach hike, amazing waterfall and beach camping.
Eager to take advantage of a surprisingly promising forecast – Is that really a tiny slice of sun I see peeking out from behind the little grey cloud icon? Dare to dream. – we embarked on an ambitious road trip that took all day to complete, even though we only covered just over 100 kilometres in total. 100 km driving, anyway, then we tacked on another 7 or 8 on foot, easy.
Obviously, there were many stops along the way, but our main target was Mystic Beach, a reputedly stunning beach located on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail known for its impressive setting and, get this, a waterfall dropping from the cliffs right onto the beach! Hey, I can appreciate maniacally swirling rock pools as much as the next guy, obviously, but this was something I simply had to see. Besides just on Instagram, I mean.
And you might want to think about getting there soon yourself, since Mystic Beach just made this list of the 50 Best Beaches in the World. Obviously word is getting out.
Mystic Beach Map
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How to Get There
There is no vehicle access close to the beach and no signs for Mystic Beach on the highway – most people hike in from the China Beach Day Use Area (which does have some pretty large, obvious signs). One trail heads east from the lower parking lot to China Beach, another heads west from the upper lot to the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and Mystic Beach.
The China Beach parking area is located about 40 km east of Port Renfrew, 4 km west of where the Jordan River reaches the Salish Sea and about 50 km west of our Langford AirBnB.
How Far is Mystic Beach from Victoria?
It is about 75 km from Victoria, if that is a more useful landmark for you than the rental property where I keep my ski helmet and extra pair of long underwear. Highway 14 is a winding, scenic road but with only one lane (per side) and virtually no passing areas, I wouldn’t exactly call it fast. It will probably take about 1.5 hours to get there from Victoria.
From downtown Victoria, take Douglas Street north and follow it as it turns into Highway #1, then take Exit #14 to Langford to the Veteran’s Memorial Parkway, take a right onto Sooke Road and stay on that until you get there. Or just follow your GPS.
The Mystic Beach Hike
Next to the upper parking lot is a wooden map board marking the start of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, one of the best multi-day hikes in Canada. The entire route is 47 kilometres long in the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park and takes most people 3 or 4 days to complete.
We have not done the whole thing (yet) but from the parts we have seen you can bank on the Juan de Fuca trail being rough, rooty, hilly, muddy and extremely beautiful.
You need to camp along the way and, based on most reports and, you know, every day on Vancouver Island, you should probably expect at least some rain before it’s all said and done. Many people consider it the smaller, more manageable counterpart to the world-famous West Coast Trail located farther north.
If you’re only going as far as Mystic Beach, however, all you have to do is hike 2 km up and over the rocky headland at the north end of China Beach (then another 2 km back). Of course, even this section is very rough, rooty, hilly and muddy (it certainly doesn’t ease you in) so it will probably feel longer than that and will take 45 minutes to an hour each way.
Make sure you wear good, sturdy hiking footwear – something waterproof would be perfect. We even saw a couple of people hiking in rubber boots.
Even though the hills are generally small and spread out, you are constantly going a few steps up, a few steps down, over and over, so the total elevation gain of the hike works out to over 150m.
Along the way you will cross a pretty little suspension bridge across Pete Wolfe Creek (yeah, you heard that name right) and at the end of the trail the steps down to the beach are carved out of a single, gigantic, downed log.
AllTrail GPS: Mystic Beach Outlook Trail
There is a small connector trail that comes in from the highway about halfway to the beach – there is no official parking there but if you get dropped off you could cut down the total distance.
The entire trail until you get to the beach runs through massive, looming rainforest that, it turns out, is pretty effective at blocking out the sun. The trail is marked with reflective orange markers that are easily spotted but keep in mind that it starts getting pretty dark in the trees long before the sun actually sets.
We would suggest planning to get back at least an hour before official sunset or bring a decent light. Even though the trail is pretty easy to follow, cell service is intermittent out there so be sure to download offline maps of the area (and AllTrails as well, if you use it).
When you finally emerge onto the beach you will be impressed by the expansive ocean view, the picturesque stretch of sand and the intriguing collections of random driftwood. On a clear day you can see the mountains of Olympic National Park across the Juan de Fuca Strait.
All of which is great, although pretty similar to most of the (more easily reached) beaches along this stretch of coastline.
Heading back east along the beach is where things take a turn to the unique, with the famous Mystic Beach waterfall cascading off the cliffs to crash into the ocean 10 metres below (one of the 9 best waterfalls on Vancouver Island, according to, well, us).
It is important to visit at low tide so you can get up close to the waterfall. At high tide it will still be impressive but you will have to settle for distant shots (unless you’re willing to go for a swim).
At low tide it is possible to get up right underneath it, or even pick your way to the other side unsteadily across the slippery rocks, at every moment looking like you’re about to take a humiliating and surely painful tumble into the rocky tide pools. That’s how Laynni did it, anyway.
There is a small cave near the waterfall and a few others at the west end of the beach. About halfway between the stairs and the waterfall is a ragged rope swing hanging from the cliff that seemed far too short to be of much use, although maybe the person who put it there might say the same of me. Apparently the famous Mystic Beach swing (famous on Instagram anyway) is no longer what it used to be.
Considering the effort involved in getting there, many people will pack in supplies for a picnic to stick around and enjoy the beach for awhile before heading back. It is a great place to spot birds and wildlife, with bald eagles, seals, sea lions, humpback whales, grey whales and orcas all commonly seen at different times of the year.
Mystic Beach Camping
Even though the Mystic Beach Campground is one of the main camping areas along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, there are no designated sites. There is a pit toilet but no showers and no potable water, just what you’ll find in the streams, which will need to be boiled or purified before drinking.
It is recommended that you set up camp on the beach rather than in the trees to protect the vegetation.
Of course, make sure you pitch your tent safely above the high tide line to avoid any wet, nasty surprises in the night (beyond the usual ones). If you walk along the treeline you will notice some cleared out sandy patches where people have camped previously.
Because it is such a short distance from the highway, Mystic Beach is a great place to get a feel for backcountry camping and is one of the best places for beach camping near Victoria, BC.
Spending a night out here will give you a chance to experience an extraordinary Mystic Beach sunset and sunrise, which is surely worth using a pit toilet for one night. If you want to have a fire make sure you only use dry, dead wood and don’t burn any more than you must in order to conserve the beach’s resources.
Even better, haul some firewood in with you (potentially necessary if there has been lots of rain in the area which is, well, almost always). While you want to sleep above the high tide line you should build your fire below it so the embers are snuffed out and washed away after you’re done (but no trash or drying pairs of socks).
You need to make sure you pick up a Backcountry Camping Permit ahead of time ($10/night adults and $5/ night children). You can either book it online or leave exact cash in an envelope at the trailhead (bring a pen to fill out your info).
Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle since thieves are aware that people are often gone for several days while hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Make sure you carry your permit with you and pack all trash back out with you.
Bears and cougars are occasionally spotted in the area so take all the usual precautions – store food and anything with a smell to it in the communal container at the beach or hang it from a tree in a personal bear storage container (well away from where you plan to sleep).
You are allowed to bring pets with you but dogs have to be leashed, and don’t count on loyal Rex protecting you from a cougar, no matter how well he does against the neighbour’s tabby.
For details on all the best campgrounds in the area, check out: Port Renfrew Camping: Choosing the Best Campground for You
Where to Stay: Accommodation Near Mystic Beach
If wild camping isn’t your thing, or maybe you just don’t have all the gear you’d need to sleep on the beach, there are some really nice places to stay along the Vancouver Island coast. The following places are all within easy driving distance of Mystic Beach.
Great Escape – Port Renfrew
This fantastic 2-bedroom bunkhouse features a nice terrace with a BBQ, fireplace and views of beautiful blue water of Port San Juan. Guests rave about the amazing hot tub at Great Escape – Port Renfrew and it is located conveniently close to all the outstanding Port Renfrew sights and activities.
Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages
With an incredible view and the sound of the waves to lull you to sleep, Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages is a great choice for accommodation in Port Renfrew. It is close to the local pub and marina and also has a private beach to relax on.
Great Escape – Shirley
For something a little different, check out this luxurious RV parked in the beautiful forest near about an hour outside Victoria and close to all the best beaches. Even though you stay in a (stationary) RV at Great Escape – Shirley, there is wifi, satellite TV, BBQ, comfortable furniture and even a hot tub. A nice, secluded getaway along the Vancouver Island coast.
Ocean Wilderness Inn
This beautiful hideaway is one of the best places to stay along the south coast of Vancouver Island. Occupying a large section of lush forest, Ocean Wilderness Inn is completely surrounded by nature, wildlife and excellent hiking. There is a jacuzzi, exceptional views, an excellent breakfast and a gorgeous private beach is just a short walk away.
Located close to the small village of Shirley, this is an ideal location for exploring the many beaches, hikes and waterfalls found in both directions along the coast.
Places to See Near Mystic Beach
If you are visiting on a day trip you may want to stop and have a look at Witty’s Lagoon and Sitting Lady Falls, or combine Mystic Beach with one or more of the many other highlights in the area, including Botanical and Sombrio beaches near Port Renfrew and China, Sandcut and French beaches closer to Sooke.
The Jordan River area is also one of the most popular surf spots on Vancouver Island. Around Port Renfrew, you’ll want to check out the great little “bonsai” tree of Fairy Lake, the impressive old growth forest of Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug, the second-largest Douglas fir in BC.
Of course, along with all the usual great sites in Victoria, it also has a surprising number of outstanding beaches to check out.
Whale Watching Near Mystic Beach
You’ll have to head to Victoria to do this, but if you’re visiting Mystic Beach you are probably going to end up near the city eventually. And whale watching in the Salish Sea is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and memorable Vancouver Island activities.
Head out on a 3-hour tour in a modern (and perfectly safe!) Zodiac to get up close and personal with the giants of the sea while spending the entire time enjoying the unbelievable scenery of the island’s beautiful coastline. The trip goes from the Victoria Harbour, a reasonable drive from any of the south coast beaches.
What to Take
It is always important to be prepared when venturing out hiking, especially in the mountains. Obviously, long, challenging hikes require more advance planning and safety gear but even for short hikes you still need to be properly equipped.
Dressing properly will make the experience much more enjoyable and carrying useful safety supplies can ensure you are prepared in case mishaps take place (as they tend to). Here is a quick checklist of items we alway carry, wear or use while hiking:
A good day pack is essential. We have recently become big fans of Gregory packs and would recommend the Gregory Miwok 18 for short hikes or when your gear is split between two people. And the Gregory Optic 48 for longer hikes. I know 48L sounds big but it is a super-light and comfortable pack that cinches down smaller when it isn’t full.
Water is obviously important and we go back and forth between using a Camelbak bladder and just a couple of water bottles. We also keep a few Aquatabs with us at all times just in case we ever run low and want to treat some river or lake water.
They are tiny and every now and then come in quite handy. It is always a good idea to carry some snacks as well. It never hurts and sometimes hikes end up taking longer than planned.
Laynni always hikes in compression leggings that she swears by for the extra knee, hip and muscle support.
Layers, baby! You never know what kind of weather nature will throw at you so it pays to be ready for anything. Obviously, the forecast might change what you carry but if there is any doubt (and there almost always is in the mountains), bring extra.
And just in case we are so impressed by the scenery that we decide it’s worth a photo with both of us in it we always carry the tiny, extremely handy octopus tripod.
Of course, a comprehensive first-aid kit is key to make sure those “mishaps” are simply inconvenient and don’t ruin your whole day.
Other useful items that we sometimes carry and sometimes don’t, depending on the hike:
Well, that probably covers most of it, although somehow we have even more to say on the matter in our Day Hike Packing List post. Check it out if you’re looking for even more detailed info.
Mystic Beach Summary
Mystic Beach is one of the main highlights on the southern coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and is definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there. The challenging trail, terrific views and distinctive waterfall ensure it stands out even among the many tremendous beaches in the area.
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