The Pacific Marine Circle Route is one of the lesser-known – but nonetheless very worthwhile – adventures within easy reach on the Island. There are activities for all ages and levels of ability, including wheelchair access. There are lots of dog-friendly venues, plenty of good places to stay and eat.
We have recently completed a four-day exploration of this coast-to-coast trip, commencing out of Duncan, south to Sooke and up the west coast to Port Renfrew and back through Lake Cowichan to the east coast of the Island. Herewith, some tips and highlights of the trip, to be followed in the coming weeks by a closer look at many of the activities that we enjoyed.
Although many claim to have driven the Pacific Marine Circle route in a day – and it is do-able, at 255 kilometres/160 miles long – I can only think that other than the scenery it must have been little more than a waste of time for them. There are so many delightful adventures to be enjoyed for those who take the time to explore the many beaches, eateries, accommodations and historical attractions. Four very full days weren’t enough for us to cover everything we would like to have seen, as we kept discovering yet more ‘stuff’ as we travelled what is essentially still a pretty wild and unsettled area. It is so remote in parts, in fact, that there was no cell phone service and no cellular data service. There are also no gas stations between Sooke and Lake Cowichan heading up the west coast (although one marina does sell gasoline during the summer months). So, be sure there is plenty of fuel in your vehicle to drive the 129 kilometres/81 miles between the two communities.
Depending on what you are interested in seeing you will find that time and tides will dictate some of your travels. Botany Bay and Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, for instance, are best visited during low tide so that you can enjoy the myriad aquatic flora and fauna that thrives in the tide pools. The same applies to historic Sombrio Beach, where tides dictate whether you are able to get to the waterfalls just over 1 kilometre/1 mile along the waterfront.
There is a host of other spectacular beaches and provincial parks along the way, along with the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail and Avatar Grove, home to the gnarliest tree in Canada. French Beach offers campsites and easily accessible picnic tables, firepits and waterfront. Sandcut Beach is a tougher hike in but worth the effort – it is a little wilder than its neighbour and thus, less populated by visitors. Sombrio remains a surfing haven and a rock hound’s dream. The sound of eternally pounding surf and the multitude of spectacular vistas is enough to take the breath away of even the most seasoned traveler.
We began our trip with a leisurely visit to the excellent Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, then moved on to an afternoon walk along Whiffin Spit before settling in at our bed and breakfast near Sooke for the night. The following morning it was on to the beaches and in to the parks, then two nights in Port Renfrew (population less than 200).
Despite the remote location we had no trouble discovering comfortable accommodation and some really great places to eat along the way. Virtually everyone we dealt with was friendly, welcoming and most helpful, as is so often found in small, isolated communities.
If you are planning to travel this route be prepared for the fact that much of the best scenery involves getting out of your vehicle and walking, either along well-groomed pathways or over very rough trails. Good footwear is highly recommended – sandals and flip-flops simply won’t cut it on some areas of some trails. Many of the beaches are ‘’cobble’ beaches, not sand, so walking on them in inappropriate footwear can be a challenge as well. But all the effort is worth the great rewards of seeing some of the most magnificent scenery anywhere.
Although we began our journey at the southern end of the route it is also possible to begin at Lake Cowichan and head west towards Port Renfrew. The road is paved all the way, but the section between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew slices through what is still an active logging area, so be prepared to see log trucks coming at you. There are many one-lane bridges and sharp curves along the drive as well.
In the coming weeks we will be writing in more detail about our discoveries, with many photos (we shot 1,141 pictures during the course of the four days).
If you plan to begin your journey from the south end of the route we suggest checking out the Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre, which offers great insight into the history and heritage of the area.
Further information on the Pacific Marine Circle Route can be found at:
The Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Information Centre is located at 2070 Phillips Road, Sooke.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat.: 48.384369 Long. -123.706173
N 48 23.062 W 123 42.370