In my opinion, Port Renfrew is one of the most underrated destination areas on Vancouver Island. In the three days we were there, we didn't have any problem finding things do. Here are a few of my favourites.
Avatar Grove is indeed named after the epic film of the early 2000's and once you are inside you can quickly see why. Avatar Grove is located about six kilometres up the Gordon River Main Road. You can access that road near the marina on the north side of the San Juan River. The Gordon Main is not the best road I have been on so there are spots you have to go pretty slow. Still I made it up in my old Hyundai Elantra so any car should do just fine.
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The entrance to the grove is well marked with a walk you can do on either side of the road. We did both. The lower loop is absolutely stunning and quite a lot of trail upgrades have been made to the trail. The sun was streaming through the branches and there was an amazing quiet except for the sound of the Gordon River in the distance. Along the route you will see an absolutely huge Douglas Fir and another tree that has huge burls growing out of it.
The upper loop is a bit more work and is just a linear path. Still it is well worth the exercise. Along the route you cross a serene little brook, many more humongous trees and at the end, the so-called gnarliest tree in Canada. If you have been to Cathedral Grove on the way to Port Alberni, then you are going to enjoy this place. Even better, it is more wild and untouched than Cathedral Grove.
On our second day we went to Botanical Beach. To get there you have to drive through the town of Port Renfrew and when you get to the Port Renfrew Hotel and Pub, turn left. You then follow that road for a few kilometres until it ends in the parking lot for the provincial park.
It is about a 20 minute walk down to the beach along a decent trail. The day we were there the fog had rolled in which made it fairly cool but the exercise warmed us up. You finally get to these little paths down to the beach and when you get out there it is absolutely stunning. Where you would normally see a beach with waves rolling up on it, is a fairly flat rock shelf that is just a few feet above the water. As you walk out on the shelf there pockets, some small and some the size of swimming pools, each filled with seaweed, sea anemones and fish. The contrast of grey rock and these little undersea gardens is stark and beautiful. To make the place even more surreal, above the beaches are these high bluffs with trees overhanging the beach. It feels raw and untouched despite the hundreds of people clambering over the rocks.
You will see signs, but the beach can be dangerous, as it is simply waves crashing into rocks, it is best to keep a wide berth from the water.
Town of Port Renfrew
While the town of Port Renfrew is not huge, it has everything you need. It has a couple of restaurants, a pub, a few accommodations, a general store and coffee shop. The Port Renfrew Pub sits at the end of the Government Dock and has some cabins as you make your way out on the pier. The pub is relatively new as the original structure burned to the ground in 2005.
I am always surprised that the town has not been developed more. A couple of years ago the road between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan was paved and the government has been advertising it as the Pacific Marine Circle Route. It certainly has started to open up the area but it is still nothing like Tofino. Yet at only two hours from Victoria, numerous beaches, amazing hiking and lakes it is still relatively quiet. Maybe it is the lack of cell service or the bad reputation of the road but I would bet in the next ten years Port Renfrew is going to be a lot busier than it is now.
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