With its empty sand and rock covered beach expanses, to its eerie old growth forests, and its high mountain peaks, Vancouver Island has a plethora of outdoor locations to visit and experience. The island is also home to two challenging and well-known hiking trails, the West Coast Trail, and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail that traverse the southwest corner of the island. While worthwhile, both of these trails are lengthy, challenging affairs that require a multi-day time commitment to complete. Fortunately, for all levels of hikers, there is a short trail at the end of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail that allows everyone to experience the epic scenery of Vancouver Island in a short distance and includes a trek through the forest, a suspension bridge, and a stunning beach with caves and a waterfall. That trail, and that destination is the aptly named Mystic Beach.
Directions: Mystic Beach is located in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, and is either the jumping off point for backpackers heading northward along the Juan de Fuca Marine trail, or the near the terminus point for backpackers heading southward along the trail. From downtown Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and the largest city on Vancouver Island, Mystic Beach is roughly some 76 kilometers (47 miles to the northwest. Visitors to the area should be aware that cell phone reception is spotty, and as such, it is advisable to have a GPS unit or map. Having said that, the trailhead for Mystic Beach is very easy to find, and is directly off BC-14. Following the BC-14 north, one will pass the Jordan River, which is signed; and impossible to miss. From this point, visitors will want to follow the BC-14 for an additional 4.5 kilometers, and turn off at the well-signed China Beach trailhead parking.
While there is a well-signed turnoff for the China Beach campground some 500 meters to the south, before the trailhead parking, this is not the turnoff. From the signed trailhead turnoff, visitors will want to park in the first trailhead parking immediately to the right, for Mystic Beach. The road continues on, but the latter trailhead parking is for China Beach. While the lot appears somewhat large for British Columbia park standards, due to its use for backpacking parking, and the overall popularity of the Mystic Beach hike, it does fill regularly, especially during the summer months. Also, when I utilized the lot, I spoke to a helpful volunteer who informed me that while the area appears remote, car break-ins are common due to the high volume of traffic, so belongings should be safely stored out of sight, or not left in cars. (For the record, I felt the area was safe, but obviously, I have a limited experience with it to judge).
From the parking lot, the trail is well signed, and maintained, and heads directly into the old growth forest of the provincial park. Within fifty feet of the parking area, one first feels that they have traveled to a distant time, place, or planet, as the terrain is starkly wild and beautiful. The second thing one realizes is that the reputation that the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail possesses is well deserved. While the trail to Mystic Beach is as well-maintained as it can be, the ground is damp, irrespective of whether it is actively raining, and therefore slippery. Adding to the difficulty are the many tree roots that run alongside or over the trail which are also slick.
And, on occasion, it is not uncommon for there to be plant debris on the trail from recent storms. While none of these conditions are insurmountable, appropriate footwear is a must, either some sort of boot, or rugged athletic shoes. In addition to the previous factors, the trail has a fair amount of up-and-down sections, which cause a hiker to traverse areas slowly. One of the many advantages to going slowly, however, is that this allows a day hiker to fully appreciate the scenery of the area. At the one kilometer mark, there is a hanging suspension bridge which provides great views of the area. From the bridge, the trail winds over the course of another kilometer down to the beach, where the majority of the elevation loss occurs. At the two kilometer mark, one finds themselves on Mystic Beach, which has sweeping views of the Juan de Fuca strait, and an enormous expanse of mostly empty sand, rocks, and driftwood.
While backcountry camping is allowed at Mystic Beach, most of the people who elect to camp there are clustered near the trailhead marker at the beach entrance. Again, while this is a “popular” hike, when I visited, I found the beach relatively abandoned during the high season. A short distance down the beach to the south is the waterfall that cascades onto Mystic Beach, and depending on recent rainfall, is either an immense sight to behold, or slightly around a trickle. Like many of Vancouver Island’s beaches, there is plenty to explore, and during low tide, there are some very small sea caves nestled in the cliffs near the waterfall. Once one has fully explored and had one’s fill of the beach, the route back is the same trail one took to get in, for a moderate 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) hike that is a great introduction to the varied types of terrain and natural beauty of Vancouver Island.
Tips: Generally, there is a non-park approved rope swing near the waterfall that is repaired with new ropes by hikers and backpackers. While I used it, like any adventure seeker I think naturally would, one must always be careful with unknown third-party rigged items, but as this is a swing that is slightly above the ground, I would rate the risk of using it as low. Also, while this may be obvious, the best time to visit Mystic Beach is at low tide, as it allows for greater exploration. Finally, while all things are subjective, and travel and adventure writers (including myself) in general rate things highly overall, this was one of my favorite hikes of the last several years, in that it allowed for a high amount of solitude, provided great scenery with minimal effort, and had a number of super unique features; and as such, if one has the ability to travel to this area while on Vancouver Island, I would highly highly recommend this hike.