13 (+1) Tips for hiking the Juan de Fuca trail

Having a great hiking trip is all about preparation. The more you know about where you’re going and the gear you’re taking the better. The Juan de Fuca trail is no different. It can be a fantastic trip if all goes as planned but it can be a struggle if everything goes wrong.

Here are a few tips that will help you have a great trip on the Juan de Fuca.

If you are thinking about hiking the entire Juan de Fuca, or even just spending one night, we have a full guide book that details every section, all the campsites and what you need to bring.

Prepare for the mud

The west coast of Vancouver Island can be a very wet place. Prepare for mud on the Juan de Fuca if it’s just rained a lot, the mud puddles can be big enough to swallow hiking boots whole. Gaiters and hiking poles are great defences against the thick mud.

Know your distances

Every time I hike the Juan de Fuca our plans change slightly. We hike longer one day and shorter the next or finish a bit early. Knowing the distances from campsite to campsite lets you change plans on the fly. Knees giving you trouble? Hike less that day. Feeling great? Bank some extra kilometres and take an easy day later in the trip. You’ll need to pay attention to where the campsites are located along the trail. They are at set points so if you start off to the next site, make sure you have time and energy to make it.

Lock your car

I’d rather not have to give this tip. It sucks to have to worry about your stuff but I’ll say it anyways. Lock up your car. Don’t leave valuables in your car in the parking lot. They say on the BC Parks page that thieves operate in the area and I’ve heard many stories that they actually do.

Bring camp shoes

Be nice to your feet. They’re the ones carrying you that 47 kilometres. Walking around at the start and finish and at each campsite mean you are actually walking more than 47. Having loose camp shoes like sandals let your feet and your boots dry out. Having dry, rested feet means less blisters and other problems. Give your feet a break whenever you can. Happy feet equals happy hiker.

Tarp it

When it’s pouring down rain and you have to get camp ready, a tarp is great to have to keep the rain off. It provides a dry place to rest, put together your tents and make dinner with your friends. Sitting in a small 2 person tent the entire time it’s raining can get a little claustrophobic. When you are ready to go in the morning, wait until everything is packed up and then take down the tarp last.

Sombrio Beach can be busy

The middle of Sombrio where the trail comes down from the parking lot can get busy with other folks that aren’t hiking the trail. If you are looking for a more relaxed experience, you might want to camp at the east end of the beach where you get to first if you are hiking south to north.

The south end is harder

The south end is more work. I prefer to hike the more difficult end first when your legs are fresh. Some people save the hardest for last for when your pack is the lightest. I find my pack weight doesn’t change very much as I eat through food and my gear gets wet. Based on that, I recommend hiking south to north, going from China Beach to Botanical. The easy stroll to Botanical Beach is a really nice way to finish the trail.

Check the tide

There are high-tide cut off points in certain places so make sure you know where these are and have how high the tide is going to be. You don’t want to have to wait a couple hours in the middle of prime hiking time during the day so you can get going again.

Dogs

Dogs are allowed on the trail but you they have to be leashed all the time. Remember there are cougars and bears in the area and smaller dogs have been taken by cougars other places on the island.

Good weather is best

Well, I think this one goes without saying. Who wants to go hiking in the rain. Rain isn’t all that bad though. “There’s no bad weather, just bad gear,” some say. So don’t forget to aim for good weather. Rain and the resulting mud make for wet gear and clothes and that just makes everything harder. When it is pouring down, that tarp comes in handy.

Keep yourself upright with hiking poles

The first time I hiked the Juan de Fuca years ago we ended up doing it in 2 days. In hindsight, it would have been much nicer in 3. We ended up hiking it from North to South and those last few kilometres up from Mystic Beach were wicked. I’m glad I had my hiking poles with me, and I’m pretty sure my hiking partners did as well. I used them to pick my way through mud pits (although sometimes solid-looking spots aren’t so solid), balancing on slippery board walk and pushing myself up steep hills. The final kilometres of that first Juan de Fuca hike were spent leaning on my hiking poles. Not only can you use them to push yourself up hills, they hold you upright when you stop for a rest. I also used them on the West Coast Trail, though the ladders can be a bit awkward.

Fresh water is available at all campsites but filter it first

You aren’t going anywhere without water and being 3 or 4 days, you probably aren’t carrying all that in your backpack. You’ll need to filter it. Each campsite has fresh water nearby but it needs to be filtered. Bring a filter or water purification drops to prep the water you will drink.

There are black bears and cougars

There are black bears and cougars in the area. Use the bear caches to store your food and be noisy. They are probably more scared of you than you are of them. Be especially careful with mothers and cubs. Do not approach them trying to get photos.

Campfires

Campfires are allowed below high tide mark on the beach. There aren’t any campfires allowed at Little Kuitshe Creek or Payzant Creek because they are forest campsites up away from the water. 

Now go hike!

Hiking the Juan de Fuca is an amazing experience and well worth every ounce of sweat and effort to do it. These ones are a bit more geared towards hiking the entire trail in multiple days but you can always day-hike one section.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll have a great hike.