Juan de Fuca Trail, Vancouver Island, BC

by Janice Saunders
February 9, 2012


Always interested in new travel experiences, my husband, five sons, one son's girlfriend and myself decided to try long distance backpacking. Mostly day hikers, this would be a new experience for many of us. It would also be great opportunity to use my  10-24mm wide angle lens to its best advantage for those long beach shots. 

Cliff along China Beach by Janice Saunders ©

Cliff along China Beach

The Juan de Fuca Trail connects China Beach, about an hour up the coast from Victoria, to Botanical Beach just outside of Port Renfrew. Not as remote as the West Coast Trail (WCT), some of the beaches, Sombrio and Botanical, attract day-trippers while others, Chin and Bear, are inaccessible from the highway. Wilderness campsites, pit toilets and bear caches are provided for hikers, but all food must be packed in and fresh water pumped or treated. Botanical Beach is widely appreciated for its tide pools caused by erosion in the sandstone, conglomerate and shale rock. Anemones, coralline algae, sea urchins and starfish populate the potholes and concretions.  Sombrio Beach attracts surfers to its wide sandy expanse. The portion between Bear Beach and Chin Beach is the most difficult with many changes in elevation up over the headlands

China Beach by Janice Saunders ©

China Beach

The Juan de Fuca Trail is described as a strenuous 47 km multi-day hike. Little did we know what challenges lay ahead over the next five days!  Our journey began by shuttle bus in Victoria to the trail head at China Beach. We had the return trip on the West Coast Shuttle booked to pick us up beside the Port Renfrew Hotel. With four bear barrels weighted down with enough food for 8 people, we hit the trail.  After a moderate 9 km hike through scenic BC rainforest, we camped at Bear Beach. A wee nap, then it was picture taking time, dinner and a game of Hearts. I made wonderful use of my wide angle lens for the beach shots. Kids never get tired of exploring the beach…rocks, driftwood, water, mussels. We even saw some whales in the distance.

Bear Beach 1 by Janice Saunders ©

Bear Beach 1

Day two was our real test. This 11 km portion is rated as most difficult.! It consists of 12 headlands to ascend and descend and approximately 3000 ft of elevation gain. There were some switchbacks to ease the pain, but also a surprising number of vertical scrambles up the headlands that required grabbing onto tree roots and negotiating quite a lot of mud. We arrived at remote Chin Beach exhausted and nabbed the last campsite big enough for our group. We ate dinner, made a fire, chatted with other hikers and my son Michael left a small inuksuk on some driftwood as a reminder of our visit.

Chin Beach  by Janice Saunders ©

Chin Beach

 Fog rolled in the morning of the third day. After a search down the beach, the trailhead into the forest appeared as a rocky outcropping 15-20 ft above the sand. Hmm! Some of us climbed up with our packs on but I opted to send my pack up first and then not very gracefully, clambered up after. There were a few nasty steep bits at the beginning but it was  definitely a reprieve from yesterday’s punishment. Scariest of all, at the end of the day before descending, the trail narrowed to a foot wide track skirting the edge of the cliff around picturesque Sombrio Point.

Hidden waterfall at Sombrio Beach  by Janice Saunders ©

Hidden waterfall at Sombrio Beach

Sombrio Beach is a lovely wide sandy beach, very popular with day-trippers and surfers. It also has an interesting history. Apparently Sombrio was home to a year round community of ‘hippies’ from the 1970s to the 90s before the BC government bought the land and turned it into a park.  This was our last beach campsite of the trip...soft warm sand, cascading waterfalls, the soothing sound of the surf and a beautiful sunset.

Sombrio Beach

We began our fourth day hiking on a sandy beach, through a boulder field along the water’s edge, back into the forest and then out onto a very different landscape of crusty black slabs of rock stretching out into the sea. We saw lots of fresh bear scat on the trail and a cougar paw print in the mud but none of the big predators themselves.

Conglomerate shelf between Sombrio Beach and Paysant Creek  by Janice Saunders ©

Conglomerate shelf between Sombrio Beach and Paysant Creek

Later that afternoon we arrived at the Paysant Creek campsites up on a ridge. Filled with tall trees and ferns, it was  dark, still and quiet. Now deep in the forest, we could no longer hear the roar of the surf  below.

Paysant Creek by Janice Saunders

Paysant Creek

In the morning my oldest son pushed us to get moving early, and hustle on to Botanical Beach's famous tide pools. After an easy 8 km hike, much of it on boardwalks with some wooden stairs to climb up and down, we arrived at our destination before lunch. Mostly fogged in, Botanical Beach appeared as a vast moonscape with sunken pools of water in warm ochre rock. Lots of purple sea urchins populated the pools alongside the occasional sea anemone and starfish.

Botanical Beach by Janice Saunders ©

Botanical Beach

Our final stop before hiking out to Port Renfrew was Botany Bay. My husband and I sat on the beach while the kids explored yet more tide pools. A wonderful hike with lots of photo opportunities in a relatively short 47km.

Botany Bay  by Janice Saunders ©

Botany Bay

There are definite weight considerations when photographing on a backpacking trip...every pound counts! I weighed all my gear and we did a trial run. My camera and lenses came in at around 6 pounds plus extra weight for a monopod. I took an extra battery and extra disk storage and rain gear as well as the monopod and gorilla pod. Most of the time I kept the wide angle lens on my camera, with a telephoto and 18-55 in my bag. I wasn't focused on wildlife shots but rather wide vistas. I carried the camera in a small pack out front so I could access it without having to remove my backpack or get help. The camera needed to be in some sort of bag to protect it from weather, mud, foliage and potential falls. While we couldn't  control the weather, elements like fog gave wonderful atmosphere to the photos, bright blue sky was a colorful contrast to the warm gold tones and sunsets over water are always beautiful. The coastline evolved constantly...a variety of textures, landforms and colors...grays, greens and warm gold tones. Shooting wide has it's challenge, with distortion problems and objects in the background appearing really far away. Both issues can work to your advantage though. I paid attention to getting down low to get as much foreground as I could in the picture. Other times I worked to emphasize the wide curve of the landscape as it swooped  away from me.


Janice Saunders portrait


 Janice studied Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo with a focus on drawing and painting. Mostly self taught as a photographer she applies her art training to address issues of composition, colour, detail, and tonality in her photographs. Her work encompasses a variety of themes, both urban and natural...landscape, gardens, flowers and street scenes.

"I enjoy the challenge and adventure of landscape photography and the pleasures to be discovered in exploring urban environments... as well as the creative process in the digital darkroom."

Based in Ottawa, she is a member of the Nepean Fine Arts League, OMMA and the Foyer Gallery. A solo show featuring photographs from this trip was on display the Atrium Gallery in Ottawa between January 13 and February 15, 2012.

Web site: www.janicesaunders.com

E-mail: jr_saunders@msn.com

Download detailed Map of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail Map from BC Parks

Related Links


  • Hiking on the Edge by Ian Gill and David Nunuk, Raincoast Books, Vancouver ISBN 1-55192-146-4



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