The tiny logging community of Jordan River, on the West Coast Road on southern Vancouver Island, offers a terrific view of the open Pacific Ocean. Highway 14 makes its only approach to the ocean here before beginning to climb San Juan Ridge once more.
Jordan River lies about 19 miles (30 km) south of Sombrio Beach and is the home of the West Coast Surfing Association (also called the Jordan River Surf Club). Locals tend to be turf conscious (make that surf-conscious) and are touchily protective of their place in the lineup. Any attempt to drop in out of turn risks a wrathful encounter.
Surfing on Vancouver Island is a dicey proposition at the best of times. Inconsistent wave conditions, big weather, bone-rattling water temperatures, and poor access all conspire to ensure that a summer safari to the real West Coast is a bruising experience. In winter, the climatic environment intensifies, and wave riding is best left to addicts, fools, and cryogenic researchers. Although the epicentre of surfing on Vancouver Island is in Tofino, there is a hard-core clique of riders centered in Jordan River. Storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska generate most of the tastier surf that lashes British Columbia’s coast from late September through March. Other swells come from Japan and more localized weather systems. This is in marked contrast to the summer, when distant Southern Hemisphere swells have a minimal effect, blocked entirely from the southernmost areas of Vancouver Island by Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
At first glance the ocean around Jordan River in winter looks grey and barren. The surprise, once you get out into it, is how alive it actually is. Seals pop up in the kelp beds to check your style, while black cormorants cruise around outside the takeoff zone. Waves average 2- to 4-foot sets of rights that break off the point. When it’s cold and raining, with the water temperature in single Celsius digits and a sky growing darker as the day wears on, you may well have the swells to yourself. The ideal board for British Columbia conditions is slightly longer (in the 7-feet-6-inches range) and wider than normal, and with three fins, which makes catching and controlling waves easier in less-than-optimum conditions.
There is a convenient picnic park and a small campsite for overnight visitors at Jordan River (or River Jordan, as shown on some maps).
Jordan River Regional Park is a 187-hectare mixed coastal forest park located along Juan de Fuca Strait. Established in 2010, the park features a short walking trail through coastal hemlock and cedar forest to Sandcut Beach, a long cobble shore along the Juan de Fuca Strait. This is a day-use area, with fabulous views of the Olympic Peninsula across the strait in in Washington State. The trail includes boardwalk and a set of stairs leading down to the beach. The Sandcut Beach parking area is approximately 4 km east of the community of Jordan River.
Camping: There is an oceanside tent and vehicle campsite located at The Point in Jordan River Regional Park adjacent to where the Jordan River flows into the ocean. This self-contained campground is open year round and operates on a first-come first-served basis, offering 15 drive-in sites and 7 walk-in tent sites. Camping at this campsite was suspended in December 2014 after a seismic study on the Jordan River Diversion dam above the community identified potential safety hazards to the community in the event of a major earthquake. While BC Hydro has indicated that they have no intention of rectifying the dam’s weaknesses, the camping ban was lifted with effect from 15 May, 2015. It is therefore prudent to be aware that the element of risk is aligned directly with the chance of a major earthquake occurring in the area on the very day that you choose to camp at this great campsite. Do one thing every day that scares you, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Visit the family recreational area at French Beach Provincial Park, east of Jordan River. The beach is easy to reach off Highway 14, and a wide swath of lawn fronts this pea-gravel beach where you can picnic, swim, beachcomb, and watch for wildlife. The waters here are a favourite feeding ground for migrating gray whales.
At nearby China Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, just west of Jordan River, a 15-minute walk through glorious rainforest leads to a wide sweep of sandy beach and a hidden waterfall. China Beach Campground, offering vehicle accessible campsites, is located in a forested area with open understory just east of the China Beach day-use area.
The popular Juan de Fuca Marine Trail begins at China Beach (east trailhead) and continues a tough but accessible 47 kilometres along shoreline and through forest to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. Beach camping is permitted along the way.
Sea Kayaking: For those who have paddled only in sheltered passages, sea kayaking along the outside waters of Vancouver Island is another world, one where you go big or you go home. However, if you pick your time, particularly in summer months, you’ll find that the Pacific can be as well behaved as a sleeping giant. The 37-mile (60-km) ocean route between Sooke and Port Renfrew, with its string of beaches to touch on, can be paddled in a lengthy summer day. Of course, you don’t have to do the entire length of this coast to enjoy an outing, nor do you have to paddle it in one day, as you can camp ashore along the way. Pick your launch locations, such as from French Beach, one of the few beaches where you can drive to within a short distance of a launch site. Two other good locations include Jordan River and Pacheedaht Beach in Port San Juan (Port Renfrew).
Sea Kayaking around Vancouver Island.
The Pacific Marine Circle Tour, which incorporates West Coast Highway 14 from Victoria to Port Renfrew, is an excellent way to explore the historic West Coast of southern Vancouver Island. The wilderness route traces the coastline from Victoria through Sooke and Port Renfrew, continuing on to Cowichan Lake and the Cowichan Valley, and looping back down the Trans-Canada Highway via Duncan and the Malahat to Victoria.
Jordan River is accessed via the West Coast Road (Highway 14), which runs along Vancouver Island’s southwestern coastline between Sooke and Port Renfrew, including French Beach, China Beach, Botanical Beach, and Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. The exposed waters of Vancouver Island’s southwestern coast quickly dispel any notion that an ocean is an ocean is an ocean.
East of Jordan River is the pleasant harbourside village of Sooke, which provides a tranquil refuge from the bustle of city life. Sooke enjoys a relaxed, casual lifestyle in a rural setting that also affords many of the amenities of city life. For centuries, this area was a thriving Coast Salish First Nations settlement.
West of Jordan River is the small village of Port Renfrew at the end of Highway 14. Port Renfrew calls itself The Jewel of the West Coast, where you can experience the tranquility and beauty that has made the West Coast famous. Port Renfrew is best known as the trailhead for both the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and the historic West Coast Trail.