Winter Drift Logs Park On Port Renfrew Beach

I love a good drive even more now since I am doing it less, keeping most of my adventures local and self-propelled. A drive well worth making is the 107km (66mi
) trip from Victoria to Port Renfrew. There is enough to keep the tree enthusiast occupied for a day trip, weekend, or lifetime.

The twisty, dangerous, and fun-packed West Coast Road takes you past some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere, and through some impressive second and third growth tree plantations. Small remnant patches of old growth and nice beaches, can be accessed from the highway all along this rugged route. One of my favourite forest/beach areas is at the Pacheedaht campground in Port Renfrew. Bordering San Juan Beach, San Juan River, and Harris Cove, it is also one of the most accessible.

When we pulled up to the beach we were surprised at the changes since our last visit. Winter storms had tossed debris over the entire 2 km stretch of beach, creating a labyrinth of wood sure to swallow the unaware beachcomber.

From end to end the beach is strewn with wood, from large trees with complete root systems, to tiny wood chips ground and polished by the pulsing waves. For 2 km these large trees stretch, all pulled tips-in to the beach at the same angle, looking like cars parked at a drive-in.

A few huge logs, escaped from the log booms of days gone by, lay partially buried further up the beach, thrown by tempests of the past. These columns are being reclaimed by the relentless sands of time.

The Sitka spruce forest behind the beach is a green, misty, mythical place. In the Coastal Western hemlock zone, and right next to the ocean, this rugged spot is all about water. Sitka spruce, the third tallest conifer species (after coastal Redwood and Douglas fir), is tolerant of the constant salt spray in their ocean environment.

On this beach, more exposed to the open Pacific than those further up the Juan de Fuca Strait, the thundering surf can get big. Big enough to throw huge trees and logs around like toys.

The hemlock climatic zone is the wettest zone, on average, in British Columbia. This wonderland of wetness receives major moisture, about 1000 to 4400 mm of rain annually. That explains the dripping fluorescent green mosses hanging from everything creating a magical Tolkienesque landscape. You expect the ancient trees to move, or talk, or scream and shout.

Compare this to the beginning of the drive from Victoria. It sits in Vancouver Island's Coastal Douglas fir zone, in the rain shadow of Washington's Olympic Range. This zone stretches from just past Sooke, around the bottom of the island, and up to Campbell River. 

Because of the influence of the Olympic Range, the Coastal Douglas-fir zone is much dryer with about 647mm of moisture every year. Compare that to Port Renfrew, only 80 km from Sooke. Here a year will bring around 3671mm of precipitation. This is giant Sitka spruce country, and the second largest Sitka, the San Juan Spruce, is only a few kilometers away at the San Juan campground.

Another reason I like the Port Renfrew area is that it marks access to the West Coast and Juan de Fuca Trails. Both pass through areas of old forest and provide glimpses of trees and forests largely pillaged elsewhere on the island. Indeed, hikers are often treated to the chainsaw sounds of similar forests disappearing outside the narrow park boundaries.

Big trees gro
wing next to the ocean or on rivers naturally erode out and fall into water. Wind storms can take out thousands of trees in a single weather event, as in December 2006. It looks like many of those trees end up on San Juan beach. This wild west coast phenomenon shows the enormity and power of this special place. It is the rugged west coast and I love it. Big surf, big trees, big drift logs, big rain.

Well worth taking a leisurely big tree adventure in this awesome location.


  1. Anonymous12/8/12

    Is it ok to take home some of the drift wood from the beach to construct a bench ?

    1. Excellent question. It is good to be aware of removing anything from a natural area. As long as you are not in a park or on First Nations land, judicious driftwood collection from the beach should be ok.

      Some people think that visitors to wild places should take only pictures.

      You could always construct a bench on the beach, take a picture of someone sitting in it, then leave it there.


Leave a comment - no trees are harmed in doing so! Comments are moderated for spam.

Related Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails