We settled into our nook by the fire and drank in the darkening ocean. The stars were just beginning to sparkle. A ferry lit up like a Christmas tree glittered in the distance and we watched as it slowly crossed to the Mainland. The waves crashed mere meters from our campsite and smiles were plastered across our faces like kids in a candy store. Just like Second Beach, we knew this night on Mystic Beach would 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.
422km across Vancouver Island
We started the day in Tofino and drove along the windy, gorgeous road of Highway 4 before 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 and brought 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.
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.
China Beach day-use area
There are no signs for Mystic Beach on the highway which is why we missed it the first time. The trailhead is actually located at the China Beach day-use area — that’s clearly marked on the highway. The parking lot for Mystic Beach is the first, almost immediate right after turning off the highway into the China Beach day-use area. We practically leapt 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 had 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.
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 headed straight into the forest and zigzagged through mazes of roots and mud. The path was difficult to follow and had many trails that forked 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 ran parallel to the highway for about one kilometer and went 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 marked the (almost) halfway point; it spanned over Pete Wolfe Creek and swayed slightly as we walked across. After the suspension bridge, the trail left the highway and 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 seriously affected us!
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 rocks ranging in size from heads to tiny pebbles. No archway or white beaches were anywhere to be seen. Dark rocks stretched in either direction and the Instagram-famous swing was far to our left. The beach was already dotted with tents hugging the forest, just as we’d thought it would be.
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 and basked 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.
Exploring Mystic Beach
Despite my initial disappointment in Mystic Beach, it quickly made a great second impression. Who says you have to judge everything by your first impression anyway? The waterfall and rope swing, which had initally made me want to come, were only a few minutes walk from our campsite and made for a fun nighttime adventure!
The elusive white sandy beach
The beachgoers had long since vacated and our fellow campers were making dinner which left us free to explore the beach at our leisure. We walked along the tide line and bathed in the colourful sky that was 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.
A disappointing waterfall & archway
After all the hype I’d read online about the waterfall and archway at Mystic Beach, I was disappointed by what we found.
The waterfall wasn’t so much a glorious display of nature as a small trickle down a large cliff. I suppose we may have arrived too late in the season (end of June) to enjoy it in all its glory, though. Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the waterfall have been amazing! And the large archway? It was no more than a cave in the cliff face, which given the right photography tricks, could appear as an archway.
The area was still fun to explore, but it wasn’t at all what I had expected.
A Tarzan-esque rope swing
It wasn’t all disappointing though! The rope swing that swayed in solidarity on the empty beach was beautiful. With its driftwood seat and seemingly endless feet of rope towering above us, I had to jump on! 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.
After struggling to get my balance on the tippy driftwood seat, I swung back and forth over the ocean and beach. I felt like Tarzan, ready to leap from swing to swing on my mighty adventure!
We enjoyed our solitude and I thought about how busy the swing would be during the day with people fighting each other to hop on. Since it was late at night when we visited, we had the swing to ourselves and all the time in the world to enjoy it.
Small caves & a second swing
At the opposite end of the beach near our tent were small, rocky caves and a second swing. The caves were extremely wet and water constantly dripped from the ceiling. Tiny inukshuk-like rock piles lined the high tide line, standing guard against intruders. The swing marks the entrance to the cave, but it’s too high for a single person to enjoy without help.
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, albeit very 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 it. 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 closer and finally, at their peak, lap mere meters from our tent. It was exhilarating and so much different from camping on Second Beach in Washington where the ocean was far away.
An early morning on the beach
The next morning we woke early to gray skies and the Mainland barely visible through the clouds. It was cool as the sun had not yet warmed the ocean air or banished the fog. I woke before Jacob and took the opportunity to explore the beach on my own as the only person awake at 6 am.
When I returned Jacob was just beginning to wake. We watched the ocean 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!
I won’t pretend that we’re professional backpackers — hell, we’re not even amateur yet — but we still really enjoyed camping on Mystic Beach. We might not have all the right equipment (look at those full-sized pillows in the above picture!), but even so our trip was memorable. Having camped on the beach twice now, I know we’ll slowly continuing building our gear collection.
A tent is a must (unless you want to sleep in a hammock under the stars!) when camping. There are all kinds of tents, from huge tents that could house a family to tiny tents only big enough for one. Our tent is a two-man and we love it. It’s small, lightweight, and extremely easy to set up (it takes about two minutes!). We’re able to fit our air mattress and all our gear inside with ease. While our tent works great for us, it would be a bit small if you have lots of gear you want to store inside or a dog that wants to sleep with you.
Spivo (Selfie) Stick
I’m a big fan of my Spivo stick! It’s a selfie stick that spins 180° with the click of a button – it’s perfect for capturing our adventures from every angle! It’s also waterproof so I don’t have to worry about it dying when I run under waterfalls or into the ocean. I use it with my GoPro, but you can get phone mounts as well.
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.
On BC Highway 14 (West Coast Road), watch for signs for the China Beach day use area. Don’t be confused with the China Beach campground – they’re close to one another but not the same turnoff. Once you’ve turned into the China Beach day use area, turn into the first parking lot on your right.