Sombrio Beach Photo Guide

Between Port Renfrew and Sooke you’ll find Sombrio Beach where a hidden waterfall cascades into an emerald green canyon just steps away from the beach. If you didn’t know to look for it you’d never expect to find such beauty in this secret place. Here are my Sombrio Beach Photo Tips.

Located about half an hour South of Port Renfrew on the lower West coast of Vancouver Island, Sombrio beach is relatively easy to access by car and offers excellent photo opportunities and a great place to take the family for a day out, picnic or camping.

Secret Waterfall at Sombrio Beach

Getting There

From Nanaimo

You’re looking at a 3 hour and 20 minute drive from Nanaimo and about 2.5 hrs from Victoria. If driving from Nanaimo I recommend taking the Island Highway South until you reach the exit for Lake Cowichan on to Cypress Street  (18). Continue until you get to the small town of Lake Cowichan and the road turns into S Shore Rd. Follow this out of town, pass the smaller village of Mesachie Lake and look for a left turn to Port Renfrew which will be sign posted.

Stay on this road which is basically a long mountain pass until you see a sign for Deering Road, take that left and continue across the bridge until you hit W Coast Road and turn left to continue South East to Sombrio Beach. From here it’s about a 25 minute drive. The sign for Sombrio Beach is 400 m before the right turn down to the beach ans there is no sign at the turn for some bizarre reason.

From Victoria

Follow the Trans Canada highway North then take the Sooke Rd 1A highway to Sooke which turns into the W Coast Road North. On your way North you’ll drive over ‘Loss Creek’ and then ‘Jack Elliot Creek’ just before you see the sign for Sombrio Beach which is 400m before the left turn down to the beach.

The Trail

From the car park the trail takes about 5 minutes to hike down to a fork. Take the left fork for Sombrio Beach and you’ll soon be on the river rock beach. To reach the hidden waterfall turn left on the beach and head South for about 20 minutes. The first and only creek that you come across will be running into the Pacific ocean and this is where you want to stop and explore. Just a few metres up the creek you’ll soon find the emerald canyon and the hidden waterfall in all it’s green glory.[ml-adverts location=in-content]

Recommended Equipment

  • Rain Cover – The weather is treacherous and the falls gives off a lot of spray.
  • Tripod for bracketing your shots due to high dynamic range.
  • Polarizer – For control of reflections, glare and colour saturation.
  • Wide Angle Lens and Zoom Lens. The zoom will get you out of the spray.
  • Warm Clothes – It never gets HOT near Sooke.

The Photographers Guide to Sombrio BeachTop Tips

If you get there and it’s foggy, stick around. The fog can create stunning atmospherics, especially if the sun gets the chance to break through just a little.

If your camera is not weather sealed bring a rain cover because the little slot canyon really traps the airborne water particles and your camera will get wet.

Walk along the trail at the side of the creek and get above the falls to get a shot down into the emerald canyon.

Take multiple exposures and bracket your shots for exposure blending. This little canyon has a lot of contrast so you’ll probably be doing a touch of HDR or manual blending in Photoshop to balance out the dynamic range.


Sooke has plenty of options for lodging and there’s something for all tastes and budgets. There a quite a lot of high end places if you like to spend the big bucks.


You can actually camp right on the beach at Sombrio beach. There are areas with dirt floors next to the river rock on the beach and a few wooden platforms. There are lots of fallen trees for kindling and a toilet provided at the beginning and end of the trail.


Be aware that you are sharing the environment with predators. Use common sense and don’t create a situation that would put yourself or an animals life in danger. It’s normal to cross paths with bears on the West coast so give them plenty of space and avoid creating a temptation for them. If you’re carrying a whole smoked salmon in your backpack don’t be surprised if a bear starts eyeing you up.[ml-adverts location=in-content]

While You’re There

Walk a little further South down the beach and you’ll be rewarded with the stunning site of a waterfall running directly into the ocean over a little cliff. There are also caves and interesting rock formations littered along the beach so take some time to explore and make the most of your time there.

Published by Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at


  1. Thank you for the tips! We are going to experience this beautiful beach this weekend. Love that you can camp right on the beach. The pictures are magical!

  2. Gavin, This a fantastic editorial of your kindness in sharing some fantastic spots to take images. Not many others would be so forthright in disclosing the amazing areas, not to mention the items to watch and watchout for. Well done and thank you so much!!

  3. What a wonderful place to take photos! You know when a see a photo of a beautiful location and when you finally get there you are sometimes disappointed, well, you will certainly not be disappointed with Sombrio Beach! I was hoping for a cloudy day but had a very bright sunny day which had me worried, but the canyon is nicely sheltered from the sun. The colours are so vibrant you will want to spend hours just taking in the beauty. Gavin’s directions are bang on, the only things I would add are when you are walking south along the beach, try to keep as close as you can to the forest. There’s a section close to the water where it’s very easy to sink into the beach stones and walking can get difficult. Also, make a mental note where the trail enters the beach, I didn’t see any signs showing the trail and it’s easy to walk by. Don’t be turned off looking at the road from Lake Cowichan and Port Renfew on a map. Twisty, but very smooth pavement with hardly any rough sections. Next to no traffic, much nicer to drive than hwy 4 to Tofino! The only bad spot on the entire drive is the road down to the beach. Highly recommend that you take a car with some ground clearance! I’ve driven thousands of kilometers of logging roads and this one was as rough as you can get. Still early in the year so maybe the province will do some repairs. Just have to be sensible when you drive it.

  4. Is there any other way to get to Sombrio Beach besides the logging road down to the beach?

  5. What’s really handy is the log you can set your camera bag and tripod on before you cross the little creek into the canyon. No matter how hot the weather is on the day, be prepared for a drop in temperature inside the canyon. It was really warm and sunny a couple of weeks ago but I was so glad I had a sweater with me.

    Gavin, you mention a waterfall further south. I went as far as the tree growing out of the side of the hill and didn’t see anything.

  6. You forgot to mention that this is sacred grounds, its a spiritual place. Too many people are forgetting the importance of the land and only going to these places for self gain. Respect the place and always pack out, even if you see other peoples garbage.

    Thank you.

  7. Love this! Is there a way we can download the photos? I would love to use one as my desktop picture!


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