Sombrio Beach – 7 Reasons You Should Visit 

Sombrio Beach is a beautiful stone beach nestled inside the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on the west coast of Southern Vancouver Island. It offers scenic beauty, gorgeous waterfalls, hiking, and surfing and is a great place to relax and watch marine and wildlife. 

One of the highlights of the beach is a Hidden Waterfall that cascades into an emerald green canyon. The waterfall is located just steps away from the beach. Make sure to bring a camera to capture some unique photos!

Sombrio Beach has some sandy areas but is predominantly made of cobblestones. You can bask in the natural beauty of the coastal landscape as you walk along the shoreline or have a picnic. 

Sombrio Beach is also a popular place for camping. It is surrounded by a lush forest and is one of the highlights of the 47-km long Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. You can enjoy the beach as a day trip, an over-nighter or as a multi-day hike. 

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park extends from China Beach, just west of the community of Jordan River, to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. The park can be accessed by a vehicle at various points along West Coast Highway 14. 

How to Get to Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach is about 1 hour 40 minutes (85 km) drive from downtown Victoria and a short 25 minute (23 km) drive from the town of Port Renfrew. A rough road to the parking lot from the highway is manageable with most vehicles.

Driving Directions to Sombrio Beach Trailhead

To get to Sombrio Beach from Victoria, you can take the more scenic route through Colwood and Esquimalt Lagoon or the faster way through Langford and Goldstream. Both routes join together before the Sooke Basin. Follow the directions for Sooke. 

Continue driving on Hwy 14 past Sooke and Jordan River towards Port Renfrew. Highway 14 is very scenic, so enjoy the picturesque views. 

Getting to the Sombrio Beach parking lot is confusing as the access road outlined on Google maps is closed with a concrete barrier. You need to continue to the next exit 100-200 m down the highway and turn left onto a gravel path. There is no sign at the actual turn. 

The gravel road leading to the beach parking lot is just under 2km long but is rough and has potholes. You will be fine driving without 4WD, but taking down trailers or RVs is not recommended.

The parking area is large, but it fills up fast during popular times (weekends and holidays) from early morning. If you do not find a spot, you can park along the side of the gravel road up the hill. We suggest not leaving any valuables in your vehicle.

The Trail to Sombrio Beach

You can find the route info and a map on a board at the trailhead near the parking lot. Sombrio Beach is a nice and easy 10-minute walk down the hill through a moss-covered forest. During winter, you will probably see surfers walking up and down the path.

The trail descends about 200 metres to a junction where you can go left to East Sombrio Beach or right to West Sombrio Beach. It is about a 400-meters going either way.

If you have time to visit only one of the beaches, we recommend East Sombrio Beach. This side of the beach is where the Hidden Waterfall is located and is also easier to reach. 

East Sombrio Beach

Turn left at the junction for East Sombrio Beach. Continue your hike through the tranquil forest. This trail is easier to walk on and is usually less muddy than the path for West Sombrio Beach. 

When you first get onto the beach, it might be a bit crowded, but as you carry on walking, it will be less busy. Stroll along the ocean’s edge, and find the Hidden Waterfall, which also happens to be one of the best waterfalls to see on Vancouver Island. 

Most of Sombrio Beach is made from an assortment of oval stones, but there are also some sandy areas that are good for camping. Walking over the stones is difficult, so wear some suitable footwear.

West Sombrio Beach

Turn right at the junction to take the trail for West Sombrio Beach. Soon you will come to a swaying suspension bridge over the Sombrio River. Cross the bridge and continue your walk through a lovely West Coast temperate rainforest. 

This trail gets very muddy and has tree roots. Before you reach the beach, you will notice some wooden platforms for camping tucked in amongst the forest.

The West Sombrio Beach is made of large rocks and has driftwood you can sit on and enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean or watch surfers riding the waves. This beach has fewer visitors than East Sombrio Beach and offers more privacy.

Things to Do at the Sombrio Beach

With a temperature rainforest full of giant Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, and Cedar trees, stunning waterfalls, a beautiful beach and excellent surfing, there are enough activities at Sombrio Beach for everyone. 

Find the Hidden Sombrio Beach Waterfall

To reach the Hidden Waterfall, turn left on the beach and head southeast for about 20 minutes (around 1km). Enjoy the views along the shore and listen to the enchanting sound of moving cobblestones as the waves roll gently in and out. 

You will come to a small creek emptying into the ocean. Just walk over the stream and continue your journey until you come to the second creek. This is where you need to start searching.

If you did not know about the existence of the Hidden Waterfall, you would never expect to find such splendid beauty steps away from the beach. 

Follow the creek up into the trees until you see a trail next to it. You can walk on the path or over the stream, stepping from rock to rock to keep your feet dry. We recommend bringing waterproof footwear or sandals during summer unless you do not mind getting your shoes wet.

Soon you will see and hear the waterfall crashing down inside a narrow, moss-covered canyon. You can walk to the waterfall’s base, but be prepared to step over some rocks inside the creek. Be careful because the rocks can be slippery. 

The Sombrio Waterfall is sacred by the indigenous people. Enjoy the unique ambience and positive energy of this remarkable place.

Second Sombrio Beach Waterfall

If you continue walking southeast, you will come to the second Sombrio Beach waterfall, which is not hidden. It empties right over the edge of a cliff into a scenic bay. 

You can view the waterfall from the west or east side of the trail. Depending on the tidal cycle, you can make your way to the waterfall’s edge. The best photo spot is along the path, before the falls. 

To reach the best viewpoint, walk down the beach and follow the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Soon, you will enter a forest. After about 5 minutes, you will come to the best viewpoint for the waterfall. 

If you continue walking along the trail, you will come to an area where you can walk to the bottom of the falls at a low tide. Just be aware of the tidal cycles, as this is not somewhere you want to get caught when the tide comes back in.

If you keep going on the Juan de Fuca Trail, you will come to the second viewpoint.

Sombrio Beach Surfing

While Tofino is the epicentre for surfing on Vancouver Island and provides the best surfing in all of BC and Canada, Sombrio Beach is a top-rated destination in fall and winter. It is also an excellent location for windsurfing.

Storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska bring some terrific waves to the coastline of British Columbia from late September through March. Other swells come all the way across the Pacific from Japan or are caused by more localized weather systems. 

Sombrio Beach is suitable for all levels of surfing, from beginners to experts, depending on the current conditions. Tide tables are posted at the trailhead. You can also check out the surf forecast and report here.

Don’t forget your full-body wetsuit and booties, as most rescues are for people not wearing wetsuits. You will also appreciate the heat insulation once you are inside the ice-cold Pacific Ocean.

Sombrio Beach Hiking

Sombrio Beach is approximately kilometre 29 of the scenic Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. If you visit in the spring or summer, you will see backpackers hiking across the beach.

This famous wilderness trail runs for 47 kilometres from China Beach to Botanical Beach (or vice versa) and is one of Vancouver Island’s most popular hiking trails. The natural scenes along the entire length are stunning, especially during nice weather.

Although most of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is designed for multi-day hiking and camping, you can do shorter or longer trips from the trailhead. 

Walk east or west along the beach, explore the tide pools, or spend a few hours hiking the rugged coast trail and the evergreen forest. Watch for orange balls as you walk; they mark an exit from the beach to the trail. Beaches may be cut off from the trail during high tides and storms.

Picnic at Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach is a delightful place for a picnic. You can enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean and watch surfers attempting waves while you eat your lunch.

There are many downed trees and driftwood to sit on, and you can bring a camping chair or a blanket if you prefer. 

Small fires are permitted on Sombrio Beach below the high tide mark; you can use the driftwood for the fire. During dry periods, there may be a fire ban. There will be signs posted at the trailhead to let you know.

Bring your drinking water, as potable water is unavailable at Sombrio Beach. Water is available from streams, but you should boil or filter it before drinking. 

Sunset Photography at Sombrio Beach

You can watch and photograph some breathtaking sunsets from the rocky shore of Sombrio Beach. Check the weather forecast before you go to ensure the sky is not overcast; otherwise, there won’t be much of a sunset. 

Ideally, you want to use a good camera with a high dynamic range, wide-angle lens and a tripod to avoid camera shake. If you have only your phone, that’s ok too. The best camera is the one you have with you.

Take a walk to find the best spot. Some handy applications that can help predict lighting conditions for a sunset shoot are Photo Ephemeris and PhotoPills

Sombrio Beach Camping

Sombrio Beach is a popular place for camping all year round. There is plenty of space for tents; all you need is a backcountry permit. Unlike many BC campgrounds, you do not need to book months in advance.

There are three designated wilderness camping areas; East Sombrio, Main Sombrio and West Sombrio. There are pit toilets located in all three spots. 

West Sombrio Beach has wooden platforms; otherwise, there are no designated sites. You will find some nice sandy areas in the Main Sombrio, where the trail enters the beach. You will be lucky to find a spot, though, unless you get here early.

East Sombrio Beach has an excellent area for camping if you do not mind walking the distance. This beachside is large and popular with backpackers and multi-day-trippers. 

The camping fees are $10 per adult per night (16 years and older) and $5 per child under 16. You cannot reserve a site, but you can pay online on the BC Parks website or leave exact cash in the self-registration envelopes at the trailhead by the parking lot.

Food Storage and Water 

There are bear-proof boxes to store your food. If they are full, bringing your bear bag or canister might be a good idea. 

During our visit to Assiniboine Provincial Park, some people threw sausages inside the grey water disposal basin, and a grizzly came to our campground. He could not get to the sausages, so luckily, he left and decided to chase after ground squirrels and berries instead. Before exiting, he made a big hole inside the ground, just 15 meters from our tent (we were not inside). 

There are only black bears in the Juan de Fuca area, no grizzlies. On that note, I am sure you do want a black bear eyeing your tent. 

There is no potable water, but there are several streams from which you can drink. You will need to either boil or filter the water. 

Pack your trash, and take out anything you bring in. There are garbage and recycling bins in the parking lot. Do not put garbage in pit toilets because it attracts bears. 

Please leave this beautiful beach in the same condition that you found it.

Where to Stay Near Sombrio Beach

If you do not like camping or do not have the gear, there are some lovely places to stay in Port Renfrew. Located 23 kilometres from Sombrio Beach, this small community is known as the “Tall Tree Capital of Canada.”

We suggest booking your accommodation in advance to ensure you get one of the best places. Here are a few of our recommendations:

Mid-Range Hotels

Budget-Friendly Hotels

Where to Eat Near Sombrio Beach

Port Renfrew and Shirley have great places to eat, serving homemade dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Here are our recommendations:

Restaurants in Port Renfrew

  • Coastal Kitchen: Modern West Coast cuisine. Fresh seafood, organic salads, delicious burgers, soups and power-packed smoothies. Made with quality local ingredients. Friendly staff and fast service. 
  • Wild Renfrew Pub: Freshly cooked local cuisine. The Renfrew Pub is the homey gathering place for locals and visitors. Situated at the heart of Snuggery Cove, with panoramic views of the bay and bluffs.
  • Bridgemans West Coast Eatery: West Coast fare. The restaurant offers imaginative dishes grounded in the unique community they serve.

Restaurants in Shirley

  • Stocked Wood-Fired Pizzeria: Located in the rural community of Shirley, this is a must-stop place if you enjoy great wood-fired pizza. On their menu, you will also find homemade ice cream sandwiches and sundaes, available all summer long. Friendly service, local ingredients and laid-back atmosphere.  
  • Shirley Delicious: A go-to spot when cruising along Highway 14 to Port Renfrew. Serving fresh baked goods, panini sandwiches and a wide range of made-from-scratch delectables. Consistently good food and a warm, funky ambiance.

Things to Know About Sombrio Beach

Do you want to know the best time to visit Sombrio Beach, or are you interested in the history of this unique place? Then keep reading. 

When Is the Best Time to Visit Sombrio Beach?

Sombrio Beach is a popular destination during any season. It is a great camping spot in the summer and a fantastic surf spot in winter.

The beach is most crowded in July and August, especially during the weekends. Make sure to arrive early if you want to find good parking or a camping spot. 

What About Dogs at the Sombrio Beach?

Dogs are allowed on Sombrio Beach but must be on a leash. The backcountry areas of the Juan de Fuca Park are not suitable for dogs or other pets due to wildlife issues and the potential for problems with bears and cougars.

History of Sombrio Beach

Compared to other beaches in the area, Sombrio Beach has a unique history. Long before it got its name from the Spanish explorers, the area was home to the Pechaeedaht First Nations. The word “Pacheedaht” means “Children of the Sea Foam.” They chose this site because of its abundant fishing, seafood, and hidden sacred waterfall.

From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, there was a village of people living in driftwood shacks. The village was disbanded after Sombrio Beach became a part of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park in 1994. 

The Strait of Juan de Fuca was named in 1787 by English captain Charles William Barkley in honour of a Greek mariner, Juan de Fuca, who had explored the area as a part of the Spanish expedition in 1592.

Other Places to Visit Around Sombrio Beach

If you have time to explore, many unique places are located nearby. Ancient trees, incredible beaches, waterfalls and fantastic views are just a few steps away. 

Mystic Beach

Mystic Beach is situated along the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about 25 minutes drive (20 km) from Sombrio Beach. It features a small waterfall that cascades from the sheer cliff above the beach. There are small caves on the western side of the beach that you can explore during low tide. 

It is about a 2 km (45 min) hike from the trailhead to the beach through a beautiful ancient forest. Mystic Beach is also very popular for backcountry camping, but check the tide chart before setting up your tent.

Botanical Beach 

Botanical Beach is a fascinating place with one of the richest intertidal areas along the West Coast. You can walk across the flat sandstone outcroppings and view the tidal pools filled with brightly coloured marine animals.

If you are lucky, you might see whales, seals and sea lions. The best time to see grey whales is in March and April when they migrate from Mexico to Alaska. You can spot killer whales periodically all along the coast.

The Botanical Beach is located about 28 minutes drive (22 km) from Sombrio Beach and a 15-20 minute walk to the beach from the parking area. It is best explored at low tide.

At the parking lot, you will find two trailheads. One will take you to the Botanical Beach and the other to Botany Bay. We recommend making a Loop and visiting both areas if you have time. Botany Bay has some interesting rock formations.

Port Renfrew

The small but picturesque seaside community of Port Renfrew is located 23 kilometres from Sombrio Beach. It provides a relaxed atmosphere, and if you like being outdoors, you will love this place.

Port Renfrew is “Canada’s tall tree capital” with old-growth forests and some of the largest trees in the world! The most popular place to view these ancient giants is inside Avatar Grove. 

The Big Lonely Dough is the Second-largest Douglas fir in Canada and can be found between Avatar Grove and Eden Grove. 

The Red Creek Fir is the World’s Largest Douglas-fir and is around 1,000 years old. Getting to the tree is not very easy, but it is worth the trip if your car can handle the rough gravel road. The exit is located close to Lizard Lake. 

If you like photography, you can stop by Fairy Lake and take a photo of the popular “Bonsai Tree.” Both Lizard and Fairy Lakes are good places for camping and swimming.

Pacific Marine Circle Route

Whether you only have a couple of days or a whole week, the Marine Circle Route (also referred to as The Spirit Loop) is filled with adventure, amazing places, stunning ocean views, ancient trees and waterfalls. 

Find a deeper connection to nature and discover new communities on this memorable Vancouver Island Road Trip. 

The Pacific Marine Circle Route connects Victoria, Sooke, Port Renfrew, Lake Cowichan and Brentwood Bay on South Vancouver Island. 

Plan Your Trip to Sombrio Beach

  • Travel Insurance: Do not forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury, theft or a cancelled trip. World Nomads offers excellent coverage and competitive rates.
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  • Experiences: Make your trip memorable and try out a new activity. You can find some of the best tours at Get Your Guide and Viator
  • Flights: Skyscanner is our favourite search engine for finding the best deals on airline tickets.

Read More Travel Guides

We hope you enjoyed our guide on visiting Sombrio Beach. Let us know in the comments below. Here are a few of our favourite articles to inspire your travels around Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

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