The southern 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. 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.
Mystic Beach Map
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?
Of course, it is about 75 km from Victoria, if that is a more useful landmark for you than the rental 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.
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.
The Hike to the Beach
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 and takes most people 3 or 4 days to complete and is in the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. 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 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 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 Peter 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.
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 is 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, the 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 the 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. 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.
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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