Post Summary: Things To Do In Port Renfrew On Vancouver Island
Did you know that a rainforest escape is closer than you think? (Literally in our backyard for all you PNW readers!)
The Pacific Northwest’s Vancouver Island boasts a thriving temperate rainforest and endless ways to enjoy its unique beauty.
One of the most convenient ways to experience the rainforest is in Port Renfrew, British Columbia. Heavy winter rains, giant sea swells, and stunning coastal views make this quite the attraction in Vancouver Island’s green-blanketed southwest.
There are a lot of amazing places and things to do in Port Renfrew. We’re sharing tons of different locations to explore, including a trail next to giant trees, crystal clear tide pools, gorgeous beaches, and so much more.
Keep scrolling to discover with us!
Where Is Port Renfrew?
Port Renfrew lies at the west side of the scenic Pacific Marine Hwy (Highway 14) on Vancouver Island, just 107 km northwest of Victoria. If you’re looking at a map, it would be located in the southwest section of the island.
Standing at the shores near Port Renfrew, you could wave hi to your American neighbors in Washington right across the Straight of Juan de Fuca!
Known for hosting one end of the Juan de Fuca Marina Trail (starting at Botanical Beach), Port Renfrew is an extremely popular place for hikers and backpackers as they prepare for their long quest in the rainforest wilderness!
10 Things To Do In Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island
Discover Big Lonely Doug
The result of a logging group sparing this tree, Lonely Doug (named after its type of tree – Douglas Fir) stands alone in the middle of a valley near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. Big Lonely Doug stands 230 feet tall and is estimated to be around 700 to 1,200 years old!
Why was it spared?
Was this particular tree unique from the rest? We may never know, but its presence is a symbol of the ongoing efforts to save this giant Douglas Fir trees on Vancouver Island, as well as the rest of the uniquely giant ancient trees that cover this part of the west coast of British Columbia.
To reach Big Lonely Doug, follow a very bumpy logging road until after the bridge across the Gordon River. There will be crude signs in blue spray paint to guide your way.
Once you cross the Gordon River bridge, park your car off the road and walk the remaining 1.5 kilometers to the giant tree view! If you’ve got a 4-wheel drive vehicle and/or a very skilled driver, you can drive the entire way to the tree.
Botanical Beach is one of the richest and diverse tidal pool areas along the entire west coast! Known for its incredible intertidal life, you can easily spot creatures like purple sea urchin, orange start fish, mussels, anemones, and sea cucumbers!
Framed with ridges of quartz and shale, the shoreline alone is a beautiful sight even before you reach the tidal pools. The journey is just as fun as the destination!
To optimize your viewing pools, make sure to visit Botanical Beach during low tide. This will give you the most access to pools!
Safety Tips and Etiquette For Visiting Tide Pools
- Check the tide charts before you go. (Save this Port Renfrew Tide Chart) The best time to view the tide pools is at LOW TIDE.
- Don’t turn your back on the ocean! Sneaker waves can take you by surprise.
- Take care to step on areas with the bare rock to prevent harming living organisms.
- Return animals to where you found them. It’s okay to peek under a rock or examine a shell, just put it back where you found it.
Avatar Grove is known as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada, famous for its giant residents of old-growth forests.
Just 20 minutes north of Port Renfrew, this is a popular hiking trail to take with your family, as the 1.2 kilometers of boardwalks make the trail fun and easy to follow.
You can also take a photo next to Canada’s proclaimed “gnarliest tree”, a huge tree with several blobs and boils that protrude from the tree’s trunk. Forests like these in Canada can host trees up to 2,000 years old!
Trees that you will find in Port Renfrew’s rainforests include Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Amabilis Fir, and Western Hemlock.
If you are looking for some great camping spots near Port Renfrew, Lizard Lake is an excellent choice in the summer season. Campsite reservations are available from May to September and this is a cash-only spot.
You can use the day-use area to spend the day at the lake canoeing or floating, or simply enjoy a day by the shores soaking up the summer sun. In 2000, a long wooden dock was built along the lake, and you’ll likely find it a popular place to jump off the end into the lake or lie out on your towel for some sun tanning.
This is an excellent lake to bring your canoe or kayak for some easy, relaxing floating along the lake. Remember, no motor-powered boats on this lake! It’s too small to handle anything bigger than a human-powered vessel.
Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree
Close to Port Renfrew is Fairy Lake, which hosts a BC Forest Service Campground for a budget-friendly place to stay on a Vancouver Island road trip. This lake is most well-known as a local swimming and sun tanning spot, so you’ll likely find it being enjoyed in the summer season.
Visitors also come to see Fairy Lake’s tiny Fir Tree, a peculiar site just offshore in the lake. You’ll find the little bonsai tree affixed to a log, dwarfed but determined to survive on its perch!
Note: Fairy Lake is accessed via a gravel and dirt logging road. Be prepared for a bumpy ride, and make sure to steer clear of logging trucks as they come by. It’s hard for them to stop quickly!
Sombrio Beach Trail
If you take some time to get off the beaten trail for an afternoon, definitely come and explore Sombrio Beach Trail.
Not only is this Vancouver Island beach a hidden gem for surfers (not very many people want to hike all the way to the beach with their surfboard!) but it boasts a secret waterfall hidden among an emerald green slot canyon.
Sombrio Beach is located just a short 20-minute drive from Port Renfrew. Just after the Parkinson Creek Trail sign, look on your right for an unmarked road and take it for 1.8 kilometers to the parking lot. Take caution – the road is often rough and filled with potholes – go slow!
Another Mystical Beach Trail: Cape Flattery Trail on Makah Tribe Land On Olympic Peninsula
Mystic Beach is an easy day-trip option off the same trailhead as the Juan de Fuca Trail. This is a common starting point for backpackers to begin their 47-kilometer journey, but day hikers can just take the 4.3-kilometer out-and-back trail to this gorgeous Vancouver Island beach.
Along the way, you can expect to be immersed in the famous temperate rainforest that winds through the tall trees and fern-lined paths.
Expect to get a good workout on this trail. It’s not as simple as it seems! Along the way, you’ll need to climb over giant roots, cross a suspension bridge, ascend hundreds of stairs…but it’s all worth it in the end.
Mystic Beach is popular for its waterfall that tumbles into the oncoming tide! During low tide, you can even walk under it, as the constant beating of the waves has carved out these cliffs into a concave shape.
Don’t forget to check out the rope swing, too! We had fun trying to get up on it. See our attempts below!
Stay In Gorgeous Port Renfrew Cabins
One of the best things to do in Port Renfrew is drifting to sleep to the sound of the rain quietly falling outside. What better way to do that than in a cozy cabin in the middle of the rainforest?
We were STOKED to discover the Fern Gully Cabins located in Jordan River! Jordan River is about a 45-minute drive from Port Renfrew, but it’s minutes away from amazing locations in the area like Mystic Beach, China Beach, and the neighboring town of Shirley. Nevertheless, staying at the Fern Gully Cabins is absolutely worth the drive.
Currently, at the time of writing this, the hosts, Ty and Haley, have three cabins for rent – The Redwood Cabin, The Grand Fir, and the Cypress Cabin. Each is slightly different but has the same shape and basic amenities as the others. Our favorite part? The outdoor shower!
Read More: Stay at the Fern Gully Cabins On Vancouver Island (coming soon)
Hiking Trails In Port Renfrew
From short beach walks to multi-day backpacking adventures, there’s a trail for everyone in Port Renfrew!
We’ve covered some of our favorite ones above (Sombio Beach, Mystic Beach, and Avatar Grove for example…) but for the hardcore adventure-lover, there are a few special ones we need to share. The Juan de Fuca Trail and the West Coast Trail are on a level all their own – keep reading!
Juan De Fuca Marine Trail – The Graveyard of The Pacific 47km
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail stretches 47-kilometers from China Beach to Botanical Beach paralleling Highway 14 of the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
You can opt to enter from one of four trailheads like Parkinson Creek (others include China Beach, Sombrio Beach, and Botanical Beach) for a day hike, or obtain a permit to do the entire thing in 3-4 days.
With camping spots conveniently spread along the beaches’ edge, this hiking trail provides some of the best opportunities to spot grey whales and killer whales off-shore! You can also expect to find eagles, herons, sea lions, and bald eagles.
More Epic Adventures On Vancouver Island: Visiting Hot Springs Cove in Tofino, BC
West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail, originally called the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, is a 75 km (47 mi) 5-7 day backpacking route originally used to save shipwrecked sailors.
Part of the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, this protected coastline is full of opportunities to see wildlife, experience the temperate rainforest in a raw way, and attempt one of the most challenging backpacking routes on the west coast!
This is a route for experienced backpackers only! There are plenty of warnings with any information you find on the web about the West Coast Trail. Several ladders, uneven surfaces, river crossings, and even hand-powered suspended carts can be expected along the way.
Berty and I hope to accomplish this route someday! We are looking forward to doing a lot of backpacking this summer, so it’s on our bucket list of things to do in Port Renfrew when we return!
Best Surf Spots Between Sooke and Port Renfrew
Did you know that Vancouver Island has some of the best surfing opportunities in the winter season? Don’t let the cold deter you!
Grab your wetsuit, load up the car, and visit some of the best surfing beaches on Vancouver Island. Depending on the weather, Whiffin Spit Park is a great spot for beginners.
Kite Boarders can also use the area east of Tugwell Creek Bridge to access some of the best wind conditions on the island.
Another great spot is Sombrio Beach, but you’ll have to take a gravel road towards the beach and then hike with your gear for about 15 minutes for beach access.
Finally, check out the waves by Jordan River Regional Park Campground. We saw many surfer bums cooking dinner by the fire and then hopping back in the water to catch the waves at this down-low Vancouver Island surf location.
Where To Stay In Port Renfrew, British Columbia
There are plenty of places to stay in Port Renfrew, and they all depend on what kind of experience you’d like to have! Here are some of the most common options to help you plan your ideal trip:
Port Renfrew Hotels: Staying at a hotel in the ACTUAL town of Port Renfrew will give you the easiest access to restaurants, convenience stores, and guided tours. Click here for hotels in the area.
Port Renfrew Cabins and Airbnbs: Some generous hosts will share their cabins on Airbnb for you and your guests to enjoy! If it’s your first time booking on Airbnb, here’s $40 for your next trip!
Port Renfrew Campgrounds: The ones closest to town are the Pacheedaht Campground, Lizard Lake campground, and the Port Renfrew Marina and RV Park. Camping is a great option if you want to maximize your time outside on Vancouver Island!
Map of Things To Do In Port Renfrew
Looking to pack your Vancouver Island road trip with things to do in Port Renfrew? We’ve created an interactive map below, which you can save on your own Google app! Click the top left corner and save it so you can refer back to these Port Renfrew activities later. Happy exploring!
Are These All The Things To Do In Port Renfrew?
Absolutely not! We were lucky enough to stay for a few nights but we definitely discovered that this amazing Vancouver Island destination needs so many more trips in our future. Here are some things still on our list that we’ve yet to discover!
- Whale Watching (The Port Renfrew whale watching peak season is May – October)
- Backpacking The West Coast Trail
- Explore Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
- Take a Wildlife Watching Cruise
- Take A Surf Lesson Near Jordan River
- Visit the Sheringham Point Lighthouse in Shirley, BC