Enjoy beautiful ocean camping at Mystic Beach on Vancouver Island

We settle into our nook by the fire and drink in the slowly darkening ocean and stars, just beginning to sparkle. A ferry, lit up like a Christmas tree, glitters in the distance and we watch as it slowly crosses to the Mainland. The waves crash, mere meters from our campsite, and we can’t help but have smiles plastered across our faces. Just like Second Beach, we know this night on Mystic Beach will be forever in our memories. There’s something beautifully inexplicable about engulfing ourselves so fully in nature, even if it’s just for one night.

Despite how perfectly our night ended, our adventure didn’t begin so well.

The Mystic Beach trail zigzags through a maze of roots and mud, occasionally interspersed with boardwalks.
The Mystic Beach trail zigzags through a maze of roots and mud, occasionally interspersed with boardwalks.

422km across Vancouver Island

We started the day in Tofino, driving along the windy, gorgeous road of Highway 4 and cutting across the tip of Vancouver Island by taking the Pacific Marine Road. It’s an active logging road, but it was so well maintained we would never have guessed. The drive was beautiful, bringing us through temperate rainforests and along the coast, but after hours of driving, we became restless. We stopped at Botanical Beach to stretch our legs and explore the beautiful tide pools the area is known for. We lost service and as we continued towards Mystic Beach, it didn’t come back.

In fact, we didn’t have service the entire time we explored the west coast of Vancouver Island. After relying so heavily on Google Maps our entire roadtrip, it was disconcerting to suddenly have no directions. There’s only one road down the coast though, so we figured it would be hard to miss Mystic Beach.

As it turned out, that was a lie.

The well-worn stairs near the beach on the Mystic Beach trail.
The well-worn stairs near the beach on the Mystic Beach trail.

Sooke, where’d you come from?

After an hour and a half of navigating the twisty coastal highway and passing various park signs, we began to see city infrastructure, and, like a punch to my stomach, we arrived in Sooke. I panicked, knowing we had gone way too far and somehow missed Mystic Beach. We regrouped over sushi, scoured the internet for directions, and headed back up the coast. This time, we knew where we were going.

A boardwalk leads us down the hill towards the Pacific Ocean.
A boardwalk leads us down the hill towards the Pacific Ocean.

China Beach day-use area

The trailhead for Mystic Beach is at the China Beach day-use area, which is clearly marked on the highway. There are no signs for Mystic Beach, though. The parking lot for Mystic Beach is the first, almost immediate right after turning off the highway. We practically leaped with happiness at having finally found the trailhead. It was almost 8 o’clock and we had an hour and a half before sunset.

We packed our backpack with all our full-sized camping gear — which made for quite the sight! — and registered for the night. Camping on Mystic Beach is $10 per person (slightly less for kids) and requires self-registration at the trailhead. Registration is easy, just make sure you have a pen. It would’ve been devastating to have finally found Mystic Beach, only to be waylaid by such a trivial thing!

According to numerous signs, the area has active thieves. We brought all of our valuables with us, but having lived in our car for over a week, it was impossible to pretend it wasn’t filled with things to steal. In an effort to dissuade thieves, we left our dirty laundry and garbage in plain sight. Disgusting, I know, but we hoped it would stop our car from being broken into. Thankfully, we ended up not having any troubles with thieves.

Camping on Mystic Beach was a lot of fun and required packing everything in on our backs.
Camping on Mystic Beach was a lot of fun and required packing everything in on our backs.

The 2km hike to Mystic Beach

The hike to Mystic Beach is two kilometers long and took about 45 minutes. There are outhouses at the beginning and end of the trail, but none in between. We set off in high spirits, Jacob packing our huge backpack and me with our cameras and safety equipment. The trail heads straight into the forest and zigzags through mazes of roots and mud. The path was difficult to follow, with many trails forking before meeting again. I forged ahead, hoping we weren’t becoming hopelessly lost. Thankfully, there were many small boardwalks along the way that reassured us we were following the trail.

The Mystic Beach trail runs parallel to the highway for about one kilometer and goes through a forest full of thin, creaky trees. Coupled with the fading light, groaning trees, and warnings of wolves in the area, we were on edge for most of the two kilometers. Despite that, we couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of the trail.

A suspension bridge marks the (almost) halfway point, spanning over Pete Wolfe Creek and swaying slightly as we walked across. After the suspension bridge, the trail, leaving the highway, descended deeper into the forest. We crossed numerous boardwalks and navigated many roots, which became increasingly tiresome as we grew weary. The previous week of heavy physical activity was seriously affecting us.

The suspension bridge, which marks the almost halfway point of the Mystic Beach hike, is beautiful.
The suspension bridge, which marks the almost halfway point of the Mystic Beach hike, is beautiful.

Arriving on Mystic Beach

I’ll be honest, Mystic Beach wasn’t what I expected and I cursed social media for ruining it. It was beautiful in its own right, but my preconceived notion of the magical, other-worldly beach initially left me disappointed. I’d read countless accounts of its beautiful white sand and magnificent archway that welcomed us to the beach. The Instagram photos painted pictures of a hidden, extraordinary paradise in my mind. That wasn’t exactly what we found.

The trail deposited us onto a beach full of everything from head-sized rocks to tiny pebbles, with no archway anywhere to be seen. Dark rocks stretched in either direction, with the Instagram-famous swing far to our left. The beach was already dotted with tents hugging the forest.

The beach at Mystic Beach is covered in dark rocks and littered with driftwood.
The beach at Mystic Beach is covered in dark rocks and littered with driftwood.

Setting up camp

We found the perfect driftwood nook near the end of the beach, complete with a pre-burned fire pit and enough privacy to create our own paradise. Where else do you find such a beautiful, private ocean side room for only $20?

Our tiny, two-man tent fit in the small crevice, but just barely. Laying in bed, we enjoyed a spectacular view of the ocean as it relentlessly beat against the rocks. We smiled to one another, basking in the beauty of nature and the slice of it we’d found to call our own. Of all the campsites we’ve stayed at, the beach has always taken the cake. The rugged, unusual camping experience makes it a thrilling adventure.

Our campsite on Mystic Beach was mere meters from the ocean.
Our campsite on Mystic Beach was mere meters from the ocean.

Exploring Mystic Beach

Despite my initial disappointment in Mystic Beach, it quickly made a stellar second impression. The waterfall and rope swing, which initially peaked my interest in the area, were only a few minute walk from our campsite and made for an exhilarating nighttime adventure.

The elusive white sandy beach

The beachgoers had long since vacated and our fellow campers were making dinner, leaving us free to explore the beach at our leisure. We walked along the tide line, bathing in the colourful sky, full of pinks and purple. The rough rocks occasionally gave way to small patches of white sand and as we neared the iconic landmarks of Mystic Beach, the rocks entirely disappeared. Here was the white sand I’d read about. Truthfully, it wasn’t exactly white and soft, more a gray, wet, compact sand. Nevertheless, it was a nice change from the large rocks of the rest of the beach and would be a great place to relax during the day.

The sandy shores of Mystic Beach are located at the far left of the beach, near the waterfall and rope swing.
The sandy shores of Mystic Beach are located at the far left of the beach, near the waterfall and rope swing.

A disappointing waterfall and archway

The waterfall wasn’t so much a glorious display of nature than a small trickle down a large cliff. I supposed we’d arrived too late in the season (end of June) to enjoy it in all its glory. And the large archway? No more than a cave in the cliff face, which given the right photography tricks, can appear as an archway. A little disappointing, to be sure.

The Mystic Beach waterfall was little more than a trickle when we visited it in late June. From the pictures I've seen, it's usually quite impressive.
The Mystic Beach waterfall was little more than a trickle when we visited it in late June. From the pictures I’ve seen, it’s usually quite impressive.

A thrilling, Tarzan-esque rope swing

It wasn’t all disappointing though! The rope swing, swaying in beautiful solidarity on the empty beach, was inspiring. With its driftwood seat and seemingly endless feet of rope towering above us, my want to jump on was impossible to ignore. I swung far over the ocean before looping back to the cliff and loved every second of it. I felt like Tarzan, ready to leap from swing to swing on my mighty adventure! We enjoyed our solitude and I couldn’t help but imagine how busy the swing would be during the day, with people fighting each other to hop on. Late at night, we had it all to ourselves and all the time in the world to enjoy it.

The rope swing at Mystic Beach is amazing!
The rope swing at Mystic Beach is amazing!

Small caves and a second swing

At the opposite end of the beach live small, rocky caves and a second swing. The caves are wet, with water constantly dripping from the ceiling. Hundreds of tiny inukshuks line the high tide line, standing as if guarding the cave against intruders. The swing marks the entrance to the cave, too high for a single person to enjoy without help.

The small caves and archway at the far right end of Mystic Beach.
The small caves and archway at the far right end of Mystic Beach.

Spending the night on Mystic Beach

Back at our campsite, we gathered bits of driftwood and started our fire. It was fickle, but we soon had a warm, small fire nestled in the crook of a huge piece of driftwood. We hadn’t brought food, but there was a communal food storage box which would have been perfect had we needed in. Instead of roasting marshmallows, we watched the sky fade from pink to black and listened to the ocean coming steadily closer. It was just us and nature and it was perfect.

That night, we kept the tent’s cover open to watch the ocean and wake to the salty ocean air. As the waves crashed throughout the night, surprisingly loud, we watched them draw steadily closer and finally, at their peak, lap mere meters from our tent. It was exhilarating, so much different from camping on Second Beach in Washington!

Jacob starting our campfire on Mystic Beach, mere meters from the ocean.
Jacob starting our campfire on Mystic Beach, mere meters from the ocean.

An early morning on the beach

The next morning we woke early to gray skies, the Mainland barely visible through the clouds. It was cool as the sun had not yet warmed the ocean air or banished the light fog. I woke before Jacob and took the opportunity to explore the beach on my own, the only person awake.

Upon my return, Jacob was just beginning to wake. We sat contently for a little while before our rumbling stomachs prompted us to pack up. With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Mystic Beach. Ocean camping has become such a fun experience that I can’t wait for the next time — because there will definitely be another!

Trailhead Location & Information

Mystic Beach is a beautiful beach located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, roughly 45 minutes north of Sooke. The trailhead is located at the China Beach day-use area and the two-kilometer trail is very uneven, littered with tree roots and mud. Camping is available for $10/person, with outhouses and communal food storage available at the beach. Mystic Beach is part of the Juan de Fuca Trail, so camping on the beach is quite common.

Visit our SmugMug gallery for more photos of Mystic Beach.

Distance: ~4km return
Duration: ~1hr 30min
Difficulty: Moderate

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  • I love eating, hiking, and taking awesome road trips. I'm particularly fond of perogies and mangos; find them for me and I'll be your best friend. My love of exploring began as a kid; my family took many road trips and I loved building forts in our backyard. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than exploring the world around me.

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