Sombrio Beach, Vancouver Island: Why Should You Visit?

Sombrio Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

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Vancouver Island is full of wonderful beaches and waterfalls, but some places combine the two in one, making such an idyllic setting that you should experience to truly fall in love with this island. Like Sombrio Beach and the Sombrio Beach waterfall. Uhm, actually, waterfalls – you can easily miss them if you don’t know you should look for them. That’s why this post is written.

Sombrio Beach and its hidden waterfall(s) are great places to add to your Vancouver Island road trip itinerary, but it’s also a lovely weekend getaway if you live in Vancouver or Victoria. From hiking, surfing, waterfall hunting, watching marine life (it has very cool tidal pools) or simply chilling out on the beach, there’s a lot to do here. You can enjoy Sombrio Beach either on a day trip, a multi-day camping or backpacking trip. So let’s dive in.

Where is Sombrio Beach?

Sombrio Beach is part of the beautiful Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. West Coast Highway 14 runs along the coast here, giving access to several beaches, like China Beach, Mystic Beach or Sombrio Beach.

Sombrio Beach, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

None of them are right by the road though, you need to walk through some lovely temperate rainforest to get to these beaches. The trails through the forest can be rough at places (with large roots and rocks), and they can also get quite muddy, but it’s worth the effort.

How to get to Sombrio Beach?

The Sombrio Beach Trailhead parking area is about 2 hours drive from Victoria, or half an hour drive from Port Renfrew. From Nanaimo to Sombrio Beach it’s at least 2.5 hours of driving, so it’s not as comfortable for a day trip, but an excellent weekend or long weekend getaway.

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Follow directions towards Sooke when driving from Victoria. Most of the drive is on Highway 14, a winding road that follows the western coastline of Vancouver Island to Port Renfrew. The turnoff to the beach parking is about 25 km past Jordan River, and the last ~2 km is on a rough gravel road that has many potholes. It’s doable with any car, just drive slowly and watch out for the potholes.

There are two access roads to Sombrio Beach, and the old one (marked on Google Maps) is closed with a concrete barrier, because a newer one is built a few hundred meters further. There was signage 400 m before the turnoff, but not at the actual turnoff when we visited. However, the concrete barrier is easy to notice, and wherever you see a turnoff after that, it’ll be the one you’re looking for.


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Parking at the Sombrio Beach Trailhead

You can’t drive all the way to the beach, like usual in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. But the hiking trail to Sombrio Beach is only a few hundred meters and quite easy. There’s ample parking at the trailhead, but you might still find it full on a nice summer weekend.

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

In this case you can park along the side of the road all the way back up the hill. You need to walk more, but at least you’re able to find some form of parking (not at all an obvious thing in parks near Vancouver).

There are two pit toilets and an information board at the trailhead.

Best things to do at Sombrio Beach

Take the Sombrio Beach Trail – and choose a beach

From the parking lot, it’s about a 500 m hike down to the beach. It’s slightly downhill (but neither as steep nor as long as the trail down to Mystic Beach), takes you through lush temperate rainforest and can be very muddy after heavy rains.

But the question is which beach area to get to? The Sombrio River meets the Pacific Ocean at the beach, and cuts it into two. The beach on the north side of Sombrio River is called West-West Sombrio Beach, and the long beach south of Sombrio River has two areas: West Sombrio and East Sombrio Beaches.

As you start walking down from the trailhead, you’ll soon reach a fork where the trail splits to the east or the west. The east path is wide and gravel, you can even pull a cart with your beach or camping gear. You find the Sombrio Beach hidden waterfall at East Sombrio Beach.

The other path takes you through a suspension bridge over Sombrio River to the West-West Sombrio Beach area. It’s a bit longer and usually more muddy than the eastern trail.

Sombrio Beach, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

East & West Sombrio Beach

This is the more popular beach area of the two, because it’s larger, has more facilities (two pit toilets) and a picturesque hidden waterfall. It has a sandy shoreline, though the sand is mixed with pebbles and rocks. This area might be suitable for beginner surfers, too.

West-West Sombrio Beach

Crossing the suspension bridge over the Sombrio River gives access to the West-West Sombrio Beach area. It’s less busy and looks more wild than the other side of the river, and it has one of the most popular surf breaks for advanced surfers. We visited this area, as well, and enjoyed the tranquility. However, wear sturdy shoes as the beach here is rocky, and be careful, because wet rocks are slippery.

Visit Sombrio Beach waterfall, the hidden highlight

But the highlight of a visit to Sombrio Beach is the hidden Sombrio waterfall. Although it’s hidden, it’s no secret anymore. Beach waterfalls are not rare on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but this one with a narrow, moss-covered canyon is unique. Though it’s only a few steps away from East Sombrio Beach, you can’t actually see it from the beach, and it feels like a different world (like being transported into Jurassic Park).

Sombrio Beach hidden waterfall, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

In case other hikers don’t lead the way to the Sombrio Beach waterfall, here’s how to find it. Turn left once you reach Sombrio Beach and walk on the beach for about 15 minutes (roughly half a mile). Keep your eyes open for a cave-like rock and a small restroom building at East Sombrio Beach. Both of them mean that you’re almost there.

Soon you’ll notice a small creek flowing into the ocean. It might be harder to notice (and also to access) at high tide, but it’s quite obvious at low tide. This is the entrance to the canyon, just follow the creek. Either wear waterproof boots, sandals or go barefoot, because you need to walk the last stretch in the little creek. There’s no official trail here, but the creek takes you into the fabulous mossy canyon where you can hear the roar of the waterfall, and quickly you’ll get the mist into your face, too.

The waterfall is quite narrow and about thirty feet high, but the whole setting is so pretty that pictures don’t do it justice, you need to see and feel this place for yourself.

Sombrio Beach hidden waterfall hiking info:

Explore the tide pools

The tide pools at East Sombrio Beach are really cool. You can find urchins, clams or little fish there, and they look like tiny aquariums.

Hike the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (and find another waterfall)

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Sombrio Beach is along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a 47 km long backpacking trail from China Beach to Botanical Beach. It follows the coast but runs in the steep coastal temperate rainforest, with occasional viewpoints and beach stops. It can be accessed at several of the beach stops, so it’s easy to do shorter sections of it, like we did.

It’s a rough trail, and unlike what you’d imagine, steep uphills and steep downhills follow one another, the only flat sections are the walks on the beaches. Also, it’s the most muddy trail I’ve ever seen, and that’s really something after hiking in the Vancouver area year-round.

How to find the second Sombrio Beach waterfall?

Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

first waterfall view (keep hiking a bit for the better one)

But if you only have a short time to hike a very short section of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, continue further east from East Sombrio Beach, past the hidden waterfall. Hike to the top of the coastal rocks, and after about 15 minutes you’ll have a wonderful reward: another beach waterfall. It’s not named or marked on maps (as much as we know), and it was pure luck we found it.

This waterfall empties over the coastal cliffs into a scenic bay, and you can view it both from the west and the east side. The views are the best after you actually pass the waterfall, from the coastal cliffs that directly face it. If you continue further, there’s another rocky bluff you’ll reach soon. It has great views, and the waves crashing to the rocks are spectacular. This can be your turnaround point though, the trail leads deeper in the forest after this viewpoint.

Though this there-and-back hike on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail from East Sombrio Beach is short, it’s not easy due to the rough terrain and the incredible amount of mud. Wear proper hiking boots.

Juan de Fuca Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

viewpoint past the waterfall

Watch the sunset

There’s not much to say here. This is the West Coast, you’ll enjoy breathtaking ocean sunsets – well, given that you can see the sun which is not at all obvious.

Light a campfire

Oh, a beach bonfire! Sombrio Beach is one of the few places in this area where fires on the beach are allowed. But they should be made below the high tide line so the embers will be washed away by the tide. You should also bring your own firewood, don’t use the driftwood on the beach (most likely you can’t, anyway, it won’t be dry enough).

Occasionally there are fire bans. Signs are posted at the trailhead, please respect it.

Spend the night at the Sombrio Beach camping

Sombrio Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

If you’re not yet convinced that Sombrio Beach is very special (how could that be?!), here’s my last argument: beach camping!

Again, camping right on the beach is not allowed just anywhere. It is on Sombrio Beach, and you don’t even need to book spots in advance (which usually means it’s very hard to book anything, because Canadians like camping, and everything will be fully booked as soon as the booking period starts), just get a backcountry permit.

There’s plenty of space for tents on the beach. You find three designated wilderness camping areas: East Sombrio, Main Sombrio and West Sombrio camping areas. West-West Sombrio has a few tent pads, otherwise you can set up your tent on the beach.

However, there’s no potable water on Sombrio Beach, so you will need to boil or filter the water that’s available from the streams. The “washrooms” are pit toilets, there’s no shower. You find some bear lockers. There are trash and recycling bins at the parking lot, please take your trash there. Essentially, this is a backcountry campsite, but accessible by a short walk from the parking.

Where to stay when visiting Sombrio Beach?

Sombrio Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

If you don’t feel like camping (or don’t have the equipment), you can find accommodation in the nearby towns along Highway 14.

The Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages in Port Renfrew are only 20 minutes drive from the Sombrio Beach Trailhead, and they offer lovely beachfront cottages (studio or two-bedroom cottages with private kitchen/kitchenette), an on-site restaurant and garden. Guest ratings are great, and the location makes it perfect for a romantic stay, but also for a chill family holiday.

Wild Coast Chalets are also in Port Renfrew. It offers one-bedroom cottages with ocean or garden views, beach access, fully furnished kitchen and barbecue facilities.

But if you have no luck in Port Renfrew, we’re still not out of places with lovely ocean views. Orca View Cottage is in Sooke, an hour drive from Sombrio Beach, but it’s still a great base to explore the area, including East Sooke Regional Park or Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. It has a private beach, barbecue and kitchen facilities, and also a fireplace.

SookePoint Ocean Cottage Resort is another waterfront property where all rooms come with a sea view, and some also have a balcony. Scenery, tranquility and proximity to countless pristine hiking trails are what you get here, but don’t expect easy access to restaurants or shops (or anything). The address is in Sooke, but the location is remote, and it’s 1.5 hours drive from Sombrio Beach – but only a few km away from East Sooke Regional Park.

Best time to visit Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

You can visit and camp here all year. It’s snow-free even in the winter months, but temperatures are not much above freezing, and it gets plenty of rain in the colder part of the year.

Summer is short and hot, it’s mainly July and August. The beach will be the most crowded at this time, but it’s also the only time when wearing swimsuits seems like a reasonable choice (though swimming in the ice cold water might not really be reasonable at any time for some – like me). The rest of the year is more suitable for windbreakers and waterproof boots.

Surfing at Sombrio Beach is said to be the best in fall and winter. Since we are not (yet) surfers ourselves, we believe it. Also, we can confirm surfers to be seen at the beach in large numbers, though they wear full body wetsuits that keeps them from freezing.

Other nice places to visit near Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach is not the only attraction that’s worth visiting in this area. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is home to several other beach waterfalls and pretty, wild beaches (reachable on muddy forest trails).

Mystic Beach

Mystic Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Mystic Beach is another popular one, featuring a waterfall that cascades from the high coastal cliffs onto the beach – or into the water at high tide. Fires on the beach are also allowed. However, prepare to hike 2 km to the beach from the parking lot, through a rough rainforest trail with large roots and plenty of mud. It’s actually the very first section of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail.

China Beach

China Beach is accessible from the same parking lot as Mystic Beach, but the trail is shorter (about 1.1 km one-way), smoother and easier. However, we found China Beach less impressive than Mystic Beach. It doesn’t mean it’s not nice, but quite similar, with a less impressive waterfall. Hey, it’s not easy to get into the top league here. 🙂 

Sandcut Beach

Sandcut Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Are you bored of beaches with waterfalls? Skip it then. Otherwise, check out the small waterfall on Sandcut Beach, you can even walk behind it. It’s a 2 km round-trip hike to visit Sandcut Falls, though more than half of the hike is on the beach.

You need to drive past Sandcut Creek, then park in the small parking lot by the road, hike to the beach from there, and walk back to Sandcut Falls. I wouldn’t call it a real hike, but it’s a combination of a lovely forest walk and a lovely beach walk, ending at a lovely, lovely waterfall. It’s nice to do around sunset, and you can quickly get back to your car once darkness falls.

East Sooke Regional Park

East Sooke Regional Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

This small park is on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and its Coastal Trail is among the most scenic ones we’ve hiked in British Columbia. Unlike Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, the Coastal Trail in East Sooke Regional Park can be a day hike, and it doesn’t only have occasional views of the ocean, rather we could enjoy the views all the way. What’s similar is that there are lots of ups and downs here, as well.