All across the coast of Vancouver Island, especially on and around the Juan De Fuca Trail, there are countless little beaches and hidden coves – each with their own little bit of magic and unique reasons to visit. Sombrio Beach is one spot not to be missed.
Welcome to Sombrio Beach
There are many features of Sombrio Beach that draw a crowd. But the top three are:
- Sombrio Beach Camping
- Sombrio Beach Waterfall
- Sombrio Beach Surfing
We can tell you how to find both Sombrio Beach itself (which Google Maps will get incorrect) and the hidden Sombrio Beach Waterfall. We will go into detail about all three of these amazing aspects, but first, let’s honor the history of this special place.
History of Sombrio Beach
Sombrio Beach has a very interesting history, both in the near and distant past. From its First Nations roots to its takeover as a beach bum squatter hangout, you can be certain that a diverse and fascinating load of people have enjoyed the beauty and bounty of nature here.
We will start far back in time.
Archeological and anthropological evidence suggests that people have made this part of Vancouver Island their home for at least 5,000 years. This is not particularly surprising when you see the vast amount of wildlife and resources, both in the sea and on the shores.
In fact, trade and supplies from this area not only sustained local populations but also made their way far afield in the cargos of traders and explorers.
The most recent First Nations people to inhabit the area around Sombrio Beach were the Pacheedaht. The name translates to ‘Children of the Sea Foam,’ which demonstrates the vital role these gorgeous waters played in their lives.
However, between the 1960s and the 1990s, the area began to attract quite a different crowd.
Various hippies, surfers, and other off-the-grid types began a community here. As is usual with the sort of thing, a diverse crowd called this place their home.
Many wanted to return to nature, while others were attracted by what was no doubt a rather good party lifestyle. Here is a cool little film you can watch about the community who called Sombrio Beach home.
Since 1994, the area has been part of Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. The protected nature of this land has removed the remnants of the squatter community.
Now you can enjoy it as a slice of gorgeous untamed British Columbian wild – but remember to try your best to retain a respect for the cultures that have thrived here and seek out knowledge and understanding where you can.
How to Get to Sombrio Beach
As we mentioned briefly earlier, finding your way to Sombrio Beach can be a tiny bit tricky – but it is definitely worthwhile, especially when somebody else has done all of the homework for you!
Located on the west coast of Juan De Fuca, Sombrio Beach is around a 2-hour drive westward from Victoria. If you are coming from the east, it is around a 20-minute drive from Port Renfrew.
To find the slightly sneaky trailhead car parking lot, you can type it into Google Maps, but you will also need some small additional details.
It seems a new road has been constructed but the Google Maps team clearly was not informed. So, what you want to do is reach the place that Google Maps directs you to, and then continue driving a little further west. The first left turn you come across is the correct parking lot.
While this is not a huge inconvenience, if you do not know it can be very confusing and potentially derail your visit – and we wouldn’t want that!
Finally, the trail down to Sombrio Beach splits into a fork giving you the choice between East and West Sombrio. The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy half a kilometer trek to access either one, so don’t worry about having to make any hard decisions.
This East Trail is quite wide and maintained. We see a lot of surfers and campers lug their gear up and down in wagons on this beautiful trail.
East Sombrio is the more popular of the two beaches, mostly because the best surfing waves and both of the waterfalls can be found here. The landscape of the beach is a mixture of sand and rocks, with plentiful fallen trees and twists of driftwood.
Best Feature #1: Hidden Sombrio Beach Waterfall
As well as being a notoriously great surfer hangout surrounded by beautiful forest with multiple falls, it also hosts a hidden waterfall.
For many travelers, ourselves included one of the best things about discovering a new location is stumbling across something not everyone who wanders down the beach will know about.
Yes, many people do know about the hidden waterfall at Sombrio beach, it’s “hidden”, meaning it’s not marked. But it’s certainly no secret.
How to find the Hidden Sombrio Beach Waterfall
First, follow the signs at the trailhead down to East Sombrio Beach. Make sure you take your time because the walk is brief but beautiful throughout. After arriving on the beach, turn and walk to the left.
You will be walking for a little over half a kilometer. The terrain is not the easiest, with lots of slippery sea rocks afoot, so we would recommend some sensible shoes alongside your flip-flops.
Once you get to the waterfall, your shoes will be wet. I love my waterproof Scarpa hiking boots. They went in and out of all sorts of water while on Vancouver Island and my feet were steady, comfortable and dry.
The interplay between the sea, the stony beach, and the edge of the wild forest will keep you amazed.
You will pass through a number of different terrains, in this order: sea rocks, a mixture of sand and logs, and then an area that differs depending on whether you have timed your visit with high tide or low tide.
If you come at low tide, it will be an easy walk around a rocky outcrop. However, if the tide is high you will need to clamber up the rock and jump a few feet down onto the next section of the beach.
This is not too difficult, but if you do not fancy the scramble then simply make sure you visit during low tide.
You can find excellent tide charts for this area right here, as they will differ depending on what time of the year you visit.
Remember to keep an eye on the time if you are depending on it not being high tide for your return.
Once you have bested the rocky outcrop, continue on down the sandy beach. You will see a little creek coming out of the trees, don’t be tempted that this is your creek to the waterfalls if you don’t see a large piece of driftwood in front of it.
Keep going until you see this large piece of driftwood. It’s almost like it is pointing the way into the cave.
Here is a video of how that area looks. I could go back and forth between the waterfall and this beach for the rest of my days. I can see why those folks we mentioned above moved right in. I would too if I could.
Start following the creek into the trees here. The walk up the creek will take you into a bit of wetland and you may have to negotiate some overgrown vegetation, so again, dress accordingly.
Once you are out of the bushes, you will spot a gorge. Keep walking uphill in that direction and you will arrive at an unbelievably gorgeous site.
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Best Feature #2: Sombrio Beach Surfing
We have already mentioned that Sombrio Beach is a notorious surf spot, so you probably won’t be surprised that the waves here are excellent. It was enough to attract a whole community of surfers and beach bums, after all!
Depending on the time of year you visit, you should be able to find breakers to suit every skill level, from beginner to expert. If you are seeking the largest of the waves, you will want to visit during the winter months.
The weather is relatively mild in this part of Vancouver Island during winter, especially for Canada – though you will still definitely want to bring a wetsuit.
For a full breakdown of the tide charts and surf conditions at the time of your visit, this website is an excellent resource.
It is worth mentioning that if you are looking to find more like-minded surf fanatics, Sombrio Beach is an excellent place to do so. There is more than likely to be other people catching waves here, no matter what time of year you visit.
Best Feature #3: Sombrio Beach Camping
While you unfortunately no longer have the option to get down and dirty with various hippies and surfers in the squat, you can still easily spend the night at Sombrio Beach using one of several choices of campgrounds.
East, West, and Main make up the three designated camping spots that are open no matter when you choose to visit. West Sombrio campground has wooden platforms for your home-on-the-road, while the other two have pre-cleared patches in the dirt.
You can find handy pit toilets where the paths to East Sombrio and West Sombrio meet, as well as in the parking lot. There are no showers or potable water points, nor food amenities, so make sure you come prepared!
You will find handy bear boxes for storing your food safely, although you should take all other bear-related precautions and be aware of your surroundings. Never surprise a bear or get too close, and make sure to back away slowly if you somehow come face to face with one.
We would recommend packing some bear spray just in case and always keep your dogs on leashes to prevent them from interfering with the wildlife.
As with anywhere in the wild, make sure to take away everything you brought with you and leave no trace.
This is one of the few beaches along the Juan De Fuca Trail where fires are permitted. However, in the dry season, there are occasionally fire bans that will be signposted on the trailhead board.
Make sure you bring your own firewood, as not only will it be difficult to burn damp driftwood, but you will also be taking away from the beach’s beautiful collection.
The camping fees are cheap here also, at only $10 for adults and $5 for children. The area is regularly patrolled by rangers so do everything by the book! If nobody is around to take your payment for the night, simply place it in an envelope found at the fee box in the car parking lot.
More Cool Features of Sombrio Beach
We know we have already given you a lot to do, but there are some extra treats available depending on the time of your visit and plenty of beautiful wildlife if you are lucky.
The tide pools are well worth checking out whenever you happen to come, as they are often teeming with the fascinating biodiversity that collects in between tide rises.
Between March and April, you stand a good chance at catching a grey whale sighting if you keep watch. During this time of the year they are migrating up to Alaska, but the kelp forest and reefs draw them close to the shore for a refreshing snack.
Killer whales (or orcas, by their friendlier name) appear here fairly often also, and if you are incredibly lucky there have been reports of them bringing their young very close to the shore.
Also, if you enjoyed Sombrio Beach but have not yet checked out many of the beaches on this side of Vancouver Island, (like Botanical Beach) we cannot recommend the rest of the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail enough.
This relatively small 50 kilometers of trail links up some gorgeous beachscapes with similarly gorgeous hikes.
The best thing? Almost all of the beaches here have their own unique charm and special reason to visit.
Discover some of the Best Ever Vancouver Island Experiences:
Vancouver Island Beaches:
- Mystic Beach
- Sombrio Beach
- French Beach
- Sandcut Beach
- Chesterman Beach
- Long Beach
- Rathtrevor Provincial Park
- Botanical Beach
Vancouver Island Waterfalls:
Tofino Camping Spots:
- Crystal Cove Beach Resort
- Bella Pacifica Campground
- Mackenzie Beach Campground
- Surf Grove Campground
- Green Point Campground