Top 5 Places to visit in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island?
I have been photographing and exploring the wilds of nature around Port Renfrew for over 17 years. Port Renfrew really has it all. Within minutes you can be in a beautiful old growth forest or a walk along a gorgeous beach. Over those years, I have compiled a “5 Must see places to visit in Port Renfrew”.
- First on my list when visiting Port Renfrew would be the world-famous Fairy Lake Tree. This little bonsai tree is fabulous in all seasons but there are a few key factors to get that beautiful shot. With Fairy Lake Tree, the light (time of day) and wind are the two most crucial factors. Early morning is by far the best before the wind picks up usually about half hour after sunrise. The most magical moment tends to happen right when the wind starts and a painterly effect can be captured on the lake. The best physical spot tends to be east on the lake before the boat ramp, but there are many great spots. Look for a clearing in the vegetation. Driving time from Port Renfrew is 10 minutes along Pacific Marine Road. Fairy Lake is the first lake on the right and no hiking is required. Parking available on the roadside (be careful of traffic as there is not a lot of space for cars).
- Number two on my list would be Botanical Beach (and Botany Bay), which is also part of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. Botanical Beach attracts thousands of visitors per year simply because it is filled with a variety of subject matter (and is the start or finish of the 47km Juan de Fuca Trail). From waves crashed on the rocky shoreline, sunsets, and the amazing tide pools, Botanical Beach offers something for everyone. Pay particular attention to the tides. At high tide (9-10 ft or more), not much can be accessed. A mid tide (5-7 ft) can work well and leave enough foreground to still make image making interesting. A very low tide of 1-2ft will enable you to walk around the tide line from Botany Bay to Botanical Beach (see first image below). I highly recommend installing an up to date tide app like GPS Real Tides to ensure your safety. A low tide will also reveal the creatures left behind in the popular tide pools along Botanical Beach. And don’t forget to check out the lookout mid-way between the two beaches for a telephoto shot (last image below). Driving time along Cerantes Road to the parking lot at the end is 5-10 minutes from Port Renfrew. Hiking is light to moderate and can vary depending on what you see, but allow at least an hour or two in total to cover both beaches. The forest between the two beaches is also amazing!
- Third on my list would be the well-known ancient old growth forest, Avatar Grove. Originally protected in 2012 after an intense campaign by the Ancient Forest Alliance & the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, Avatar Grove is a favorite among travelers. Avatar has two distinctly different areas called the upper and lower groves. My favorite is the lower grove. This part of the forest is generally “cleaner” of debris but largely depends on what storm has come through the area. One year I went to the upper grove, and the recent storm was so bad that I didn’t photograph as the forest was in chaos. However, the upper grove does have the must-see “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree”. Wander all the way to the top and check out the gnarly tree with lots of character and there is even a bench to take a rest on when you reach the top. Lower grove and upper grove, on average take about 30-45 minutes (each). The hiking is light to moderate. Driving time along Gordon River Road (gravel road) north out of Port Renfrew is about 15-20 minutes. Parking is plentiful along the roadside.
- The next spot is somewhat of a tie due to the proximity to each other. Both Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove are a must see when you are in Port Renfrew. However, be sure to have a full tank of gas and very good tires as the logging road to these old growth forests can be rough but still passable in most front wheel or four-wheel drive cars. Note, the last .5-1km before Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove is rough and usually requires four-wheel drive clearance. I have walked this last stretch many times and it is a light walk with hiking boots. Both Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove are about a 30 minute drive from Port Renfrew along Gordon River Road and then right for 10 minutes on Edinburgh Main Road (large Y in the road). Eden Grove is another 10 minute walk along Edinburgh Main past Big Lonely Doug and it is on your right. There is a large wooden arch marking the start of the trail to Eden Grove (see pic of me below).
- The final location I would recommend visiting is Payzant Creek. It is an absolutely gorgeous waterfalls and especially wonderful in the spring months when water flow is usually excellent. The spring greens are also wonderful with the ferns showing themselves after the winter. Out of all the location listed, this is the most strenuous and rated as moderate and high if muddy. Wear ankle high hiking boots for the trek to Payzant. To access Payzant Creek and the waterfalls, park at the Parkinson Creek Trailhead parking lot about 10-15 minutes south on Hwy 14 (West Coast Road) and turn right on Parkinson Creek Trailhead Access Road for another 10 minutes until the road ends in the parking lot (day parking is free). Take the trail to the far right from the parking lot (then a left after a few minutes – there is a sign) and head along the Juan de Fuca Trail for approx. 60 minutes. The waterfalls are located 2 minutes upstream from a wooden foot bridge which is part of the trail. The AllTrails app would also be wise to load prior to your trip to ensure you find the waterfalls. Note, there are some sections of the trail that scoot onto the beach and back into the forest. Follow the large buoys along the beach that mark the reentrance back onto the trail.
Dave Hutchison, CPA, BA Hon. is an award-winning landscape & wildlife photographer based near Victoria on southern Vancouver Island. Dave offers Adventure Photo Tours around Vancouver Island with info available at https://davehutchison.ca/adventure-tours/. He also leads multi-day workshops for wildlife photography in The Great Bear Rainforest. Details are at https://davehutchison.ca/grizzlies-great-bear-rainforest/. He also offers webinars & workshops for Beginners and Long Exposure Photography – “The Art of Seeing What You Can’t See”. Dave is an International Brand Ambassador for Singh-Ray Filters based in Florida (discount coupon code dhi15 for 15% off at checkout at https://singh-ray.com ). Other discounts and deals can be found at https://davehutchison.ca/affiliates/.