Monday, February 16, 2015

West Coast Winter Backpacking

Winter backpacking has been on my list of adventure things to do for a few years now.  I want to experience a pristine winter wonderland and take in the snowy landscapes, cold air, freezing temperatures, sunsets and sunrises all from the comfort of a tent.   

This year I finally was able to fit in a weekend winter backpacking trip with my family.  Problem is winter on the West Coast of British Columbia has not arrived.  It is early February and the mountains that are usually covered with white peaks are bare, the ski resort on Vancouver Island has halted operations due to lack of snow (not that there was much to start with), temperatures are above normal, and a Pineapple Express x 2 came a rolling across the Pacific Coast and has washed away the little snow there was on the higher elevations.  Bummed at missing yet another opportunity to winter backpack I realized a winter backpacking adventure was still possible.  I just had to trade snow for sand.

Enter the Juan de Fuca Trail, a rugged 47-kilometre wilderness hiking trail along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island.  This trail is special to me.  We have hiked and backpacked along several sections of the trail over the years and back in 2010, it was the first location for us to backpack as a family.  Liv was 3 and Ben was 5 years old.  Neither of them remembers that adventure.   So I decided to make a special trip back to the Juan de Fuca Trail and Mystic Beach to celebrate our west coast winter.

Mystic Beach is the ideal location to try backpacking for the first time or as an introductory family camping adventure.  The trailhead is easy to access, hiking distance to campsite/beach short, amenities like outhouses and bear caches are available, and the scenery is stunning.

Then there are the special features that make Mystic Beach so darn memorable.  On one end of the beach there are small sea caves that are accessible at low tide.  Tall enough to stand up in and with multiple entrances, the sea caves are pretty cool to explore.

On the other end of the beach is a waterfall cascading off the cliffs on to the beach.  When tide goes out one can walk around (or under) the waterfall.  Just for an added bonus, a rope swing is set up close by the waterfall giving some pretty cool vantage points of the whole scene. 

Check out the video of the OTBP crew swinging from the rope swing.  Fun for the whole family.

Like all coastal hiking trails camp life offers ocean front views and a five star dining location.  Bonus was being able to have a camp fire, something that is not usual because Vancouver Island becomes very dry in the summer.  Often there are island wide fire bans from May til September.

The West Coast version of winter camping may not have been the snowy landscape I was looking for but it certainly was every bit as magical.  Like every adventure, there are lessons to be learned.  I learned that not all adventures need to be long, epic hikes into the backcountry.  Sometimes it can just be a quick jaunt down a coastal forest trail, pop up a few tents, explore the area and let the adventure of spending time with the people you love most take over.


  1. You've inspired me to hike from the south end of the Juan de Fuca trail to Mystic Beach when I visit Victoria this May -- can't wait! I always enjoy your posts and have nominated you for a Liebster Award :)

  2. WOW! Thank you. I write and share our adventures for my own enjoyment and am always thrilled when I learn my stories inspire others. Following you on instagram now and will certainly keep up to date on life as resident MD. Congrats!
    Some info for you when you hike to Mystic Beach, it is only a 3km hike down to Mystic Beach which would give you plenty of time to explore the beach, rope swing, caves, and waterfall. If your looking for a bit more to hike, you can continue another 6k to Bear Beach. (and then the 6 + 3km back to car) Enjoy! Can't wait to hear all about your adventure there! Cheers...

    1. Thanks for the info! Sounds like it'll be a perfect little day trip for my family.

  3. I was so excited to see this post as we have hiked parts of the JdF Trail and are planning to backpack parts of it this summer (Mystic to Bear, skip middle, camp at Sombrio a couple nights) with our kids!! Didn't know about the caves, so we'll definitely check them out!

  4. It is quite rare for me to find a camping website that focuses on the beauty of West Coast winter camping adventures. However, I really believe that no matter what the level of camping or backpacking experience a person has, he or she must know the basics of winter camping because this is a different league compared to the usual camping season. I found an article that truly helps: http://backpackingmastery.com/basics/winter-backpacking.html