Thru-Run the Juan de Fuca Trail
Rate this Adventure Canada › Juan de Fuca Trail, China Beach Trailhead
Added by Rumon Carter
At 47km long and only ~ 1 hour from a major centre, Victoria, BC, the Juan de Fuca is the shortest, most accessible of Vancouver Island's iconic coastal trails. As Rachel Kristensen describes in her description of hiking the trail, it typically takes backpackers 3+ days to travel it end-to-end - running it means you get to pack all of that awesome gobsmacking scenery into one fun-filled day - huzzah! Along the way you'll pass through old-growth and second-growth forest; along sandy beaches, pebble beaches and rocky slabs along the shoreline; over vertiginous suspension bridges and past idyllic waterfalls. In short, along this long trail you'll get a sample of all the very best of Vancouver Island's spectacular coastal environment, wildlife and scenery, and you won't need to deal with the travel and logistics of the Juan de Fuca's farther- flung - and in the case of the West Coast Trail, far more famous - cousins
If you have your eye on Vancouver Island as an adventure destination - and we hope that you do - then you likely already know that our Island is not only home to a diverse and unique alpine hiking scene, but that it also offers 3 (+) world-class long distance hiking routes along our coastline. From north to south those are: the North Coast / Cape Scott Trail, the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Trail. (The “+” references the fact that beyond this better-known triad the more adventurous hiker - or trail runner - can find a handful of off-the-beaten-path coastal trail options along the edges of Vancouver Island and its satellites, including the Nootka Island Trail, the Wild Side Trail (Flores Island) and the Hesquiat Peninsula.)
What’s more, if you’ve been doing your Vancouver Island advance reconnaissance via The Outbound, you’ll have already come across Rachel Kristensen’s report of hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail. But you may have also noticed that Jennie and I have a tendency to do our hiking as, well, not hikes at all. For a variety of reasons, we have a passion for experiencing trails at a run. And, for all the reasons listed in The Draw here, the long-distance (47km / 30mi) Juan de Fuca is one of our favourite and most frequent thru-runs.
If you’re going to join us and run it yourself, we suggest going south to north, from the China Beach trailhead to finish at Botanical Bay. The reasons for this are that (1) the significant (nearly 8000’) elevation gain along the trail is front-end-loaded going this way, i.e. it flattens out (a little) in the back half; and (2) as well as being a little flatter, the trail at the north end is also smoother, with a series of boardwalks instead of the gnarly roots and deeper mud found at the south end.
While the Juan de Fuca’s fastest known time (FKT) is under 6 hours, the average runner should plan for 9+. So while running means you don’t need to plan your camping stops, you will need to be mindful to bring sufficient food for the long day and to keep a few other trail features in mind.
Primary amongst those is the fact that portions of the “trail” are actually along the beach. And whereas Mystic Beach can be travelled anytime, there are other areas (e.g. Bear Beach) that get covered by water at high tide, rendering them impassable (unless you’re into swimming). To that end, plan your trip to coincide with lower tides - i.e. at full or new moon - and check the local tide tables to ensure you’re be on the trail during low tide. (We’ve heard of parties getting held up waiting for a tide change - not fun when you’re hanging around in short shorts and skimpy running singlets.)
Additionally, while water is plentiful on this rainforest trail, you’ll want to be mindful of keeping your hydration pack topped up. On this subject, the trail does dry out a little at the north end, so ensure you load up at Payzant Creek for the final stretch.
Other than that, the route itself is straightforward, if also really challenging. You can’t go wrong while you’re on the trail in the forest and trail ins and outs along beaches are clearly indicated with orange markers. As mentioned in the packing list, we highly recommend carrying a personal locator beacon - while you’re never far from the highway as the crow flies, in practical terms the trail is very remote and your opportunities for egress are limited. On that topic, one of those access points, Sombrio Beach, near midway, provides a great spot to start a shorter run if you want to build up to the full trail. (Or for a drive-in family picnic or overnight camping trip.) It’s also a great spot to leave some food and fluids in advance if you don’t want to pack all your calories the whole way.
Which leads to the final topic, logistics: Anyone doing the Juan de Fuca point-to-point requires some means of pick-up and drop-off, and running is no different. If going as a group, we typically drive a car to the far end, drop-off some food and fluids at Sombrio, and then continue on to the start at China, picking up the other car back at Botanical to head home. However, your other option - which I’ve used on solo outings - is to drive to China and then ensure (!) you get to Port Renfrew in time to catch the 5:45 p.m.Trail Bus back to your car (book in advance). If doing this, keep in mind it’s ~ 5km of paved road from the trailhead at Botanical to the bus pick-up spot in Renfrew. Trust me when I tell you that this is a bit of a drag. But not as big a drag as crossing your fingers you’ll be able to hitch a ride back to China, which I’ve also done...after 12km of hiking on the road. In other words, book the bus. And grab a well-earned beer at the Lighthouse Pub while you wait.
- Trail running shoes (trail runners have evolved significantly in recent years - ensure you're using a pair with a low heel-to-forefoot drop to facilitate proper biomechanics, lower your centre of mass, and maximize sure-footedness on the trail - in our experience, Salomon has the best product on the market - for muddy coastal trails, go with something with a larger lug on the sole, e.g. the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Softground
- Hydration pack (here again our experience favors using the Salomon S-Lab Skins hydration packs - for this run you're going to want the 12L capacity version in order to carry sufficient food, water and emergency equipment)
- Food, lots of it (what you eat and how much is up to personal taste preference and your calorie requirements based on body size, but expect to be consuming between 150 and 300 calories per hour out on the trail - for the 8-11 hours most people take to complete the run, that adds up to a lot of bars)
- Trekking poles (optional, but given the elevation gain on this trail, not a bad idea - choose a telescoping version that you can affix to your pack should you wish - we use the Leki Traveller Carbon)
- Trail gaiters (optional)
- On-trail clothing (the season during which you're running will dictate the amount of clothing you're wearing, but in all cases ensure its lightweight and breathable - consider compression sleeves for calves and/or thighs)
- Back-up/emergency clothing (we always run with a long-sleeve shirt in our packs in the event of needing emergency warmth - subject to the weather we'll also run with a lightweight jacket in our packs and, if cold is a possibility, gloves and toque - for the wet Juan de Fuca we typically pack a spare pair of socks to change into halfway)
- Water purification system (if you're hydrating properly, you're going to need a way to reload on water in a hygienic fashion - dependent on the trail we'll run with either an MSR pump or a Lifestraw - alternatively, you could use iodine tablets or some other similar form of purification, but I hate the taste that leaves in the water)
- First aid kit (at a minimum you'll want to have athletic tape for a sprain, moleskin for blisters, and bandages for cuts and abrasions - what else you carry is subject to your needs (e.g. bee sting allergies) and the nature of the trail, i.e. beyond the scope of this post)
- Personal locator beacon (especially if travelling alone, but regardless the group size we run with a SPOT device anytime we're beyond cell coverage and a long way from a limp out to safety - it goes without saying that you should also always file a route plan etc with someone back home)
- Trail map and tide tables
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