Sombrio Beach offers ethereal beauty and interesting history


Sombrio Footprints

There is an ethereal beauty to Sombrio Beach.  Perhaps it is the salt spray and ever-pounding surf, or the endless miles of cobble beach, the waterfalls and caves, the never-ending horizon that looks out to the wild Pacific.  Or maybe it is the unique history of the place.  Whatever it is (and I suspect it is a combination of all of these factions) it has become one of my favourite spots on the southwest coast of the Island.

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

Sombrio Beach is situated along remote Highway 14, part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) south of Port Renfrew, it retains much of the wild splendour that first attracted surfers and a community of squatters to it in the 1960s.

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

The surfers continue to come to the beach; the squatters, including one family that raised 10 children there, were kicked off the beach in 1997 when the provincial government moved in to create park space.  Several of them continue to live in the Port Renfrew area and often visit Sombrio, to surf and to reminisce.

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it's not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it’s not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Getting to Sombrio takes a little perseverance.  The access road off paved Highway 14 is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) of totally unmaintained, pothole-filled gravel disaster owned by a logging company.  Once you get past that however there is plenty of good parking and a wide, easily traversed gravel trail down to the beach. You can take one of two directions, each half a kilometer (1/3 mile) to the beach.

We chose the left fork in hopes of seeing some of the waterfalls along the beach.  There is an exceptionally lovely one located back off the beach, a First Nations sacred site that, unfortunately, has been defaced and in the not-too-distant future may have access blocked because of the disrespectful graffiti that now adorns the moss-covered surroundings.  There are also a couple of other waterfalls well over a mile along the beach, but the tides were working against us and we were unable to access them on this trip.

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

We had a long discussion with the park ranger, who pointed out a very rocky outcrop with caves hidden in it.  Exploration of that area certainly brings home the power of the sea and of nature – sheer cliffs with huge trees hanging off them loomed over us as we clambered around.

But for me, the stunning cobble beach was what captured my heart. Every step brought a profusion of photo opportunities – the stones along our pathway came in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The power of the ocean and an eternity of wind and weather were revealed in every step. (The rocks made for some tough walking, but it was well worth it).

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

We lingered for a long while during our visit, reveling in the wild, sweeping vistas, the untamed and ever-changing surf and the timeless mysteries of the natural world. We were mesmerized for so long, in fact, that we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to take the right fork of the trail to explore the second area set aside for wilderness camping. But that’s just fine with me – there is always next time, and my heart tells me that there will, indeed, be a next time.

If you can’t get to Sombrio Beach, I highly recommend Manly Media’s one-hour documentary ‘Sombrio’, available for rent through Vimeo or for purchase.  It is an excellent piece chronicling the beauty of the place and the history of the squatter community.

            The best way to find Sombrio Beach is to keep your eyes peeled for the directional signs on Highway 14.

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

            Lat. 48.479236  Long. -124.272294

            N 48 28.754  W 124 16.338



About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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3 Responses to Sombrio Beach offers ethereal beauty and interesting history

  1. Michael says:

    Having been to the waterfall on Sombrio, I’m still trying to grasp the reason why people cannot just appreciate nature for what it is and deface nature the way they do. From scrawling on the mossy walls of this canyon, to tipping rocks off of the cliffs at Cape Kiwanda in Oregon, human beings can be the most destructive, heartless and ignorant species on this planet.

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Michael, thank you for your comment about the waterfall at Sombrio. We ran into a park ranger when we were there and he specifically asked us not to publish any photos of it in the hopes that it would help protect the area from more vandalism. It is a sad comment on society today that these things happen – we abhor them as much as you do.

  2. Shawn says:

    Having spent almost a week there so far this summer, I can say that the word is out about the waterfall in the slot canyon. We spent 3 nights camped beside the creek, and watched as many people tried to find the waterfall. Most were in awe of it when they did, and hopefully respectful as well, although I can’t be sure. There is a sign indicating it is a sacred place for First Nations, although I doubt this has much effect on those inclined to scrawl their initials. We also packed out 4 bags of empties left in the bear cache at that end of the beach, for which the hikers on the trail were thankful.
    Thanks for social media keeping treasures like this a secret is nearly impossible, but I hold hope that demonstrating and encouraging respect for all things will keep them safe for future generations.

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