Pacific Marine Circle Route: A Photo Road Trip

“The journey, not the arrival, matters.”

– T.S. Eliot

Travelling in circles doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lost. Ending up right back where you started can be a wonderful thing if you consider everything that happened along the way. So it goes with the nine B.C. highway circle routes designated by Tourism BC and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The shortest route can be done in a single day, or carried out over several, depending on your pace. The Pacific Marine Circle Route connects southern Vancouver Island’s coastlines from south, east and west, linking the communities of Victoria, Mill Bay, Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Port Renfrew and Sooke.

We wanted to show some of the great sites and sights along the way, including some of the highway improvements designed to make the route safer. What better way than through photos? After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

From Victoria, road trippers have two options. Option one: take Highway 17 north to Brentwood Bay and hop on the 25-minute ferry across the Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay. But before embarking, be sure to check out Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, which offers beautiful views across the inlet to Malahat Drive (which happens to be option two).

If you decide to take Highway 17 to Brentwood Bay, you’ll notice a new “congestion ahead” warning sign, part of a series of ongoing improvements designed to increase safety along the highway near the Sayward Road intersection.

Option 2: if you take Highway 1 from Victoria, you will be treated to gorgeous views from Malahat Drive, and the added safety of 5.4 kilometres of new median barriers, set for completion by spring 2013.

Once past Duncan, get onto Highway 18 and head west toward Lake Cowichan, a fantastic spot for a dip.

From Lake Cowichan, it’s a winding road to Vancouver Island’s west coast and Port Renfrew. On Pacific Marine Road, a single-lane, deteriorating bridge is being replaced with a new two-lane bridge over Upper Harris Creek. This photo shows a temporary bridge allowing traffic to pass as work progresses.

There are a few aged points of interest located just off Pacific Marine Road, including the massive Harris Creek Sitka Spruce and an old suspension bridge. There’s a sign directing travellers to the giant spruce, but the suspension bridge is tucked away a few metres further on – watch for an entrance on the left side of the road.

Once you’ve reached the island’s western coast and passed Port Renfrew, it’s time to hit the beaches along Highway 14. Botanical Beach (above) is the prime spot to explore marine life surrounded by crashing waves. Located in Juan De Fuca Provincial Park, Botanical Beach features tidal pools teeming with starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and other creatures. Further along, Sombrio Beach is perfect for surfing and catching rays, and French Beach is a great place for family picnics and camping.

The drive on Highway 14 from Port Renfrew to Victoria is getting a big upgrade with the new 124-metre long concrete and steel Sombrio Bridge, which is replacing the existing single-lane timber bridge. Travellers will soon enjoy a straight shoot over Sombrio Creek rather than carefully navigating tight switchbacks. Work is scheduled for completion by earlyDecember 2012.

Highway 14 continues along gorgeous coastline, through Sooke, and on to Victoria. Before you finish full circle, however, be sure to visit Sooke Potholes Regional Park (above) or East Sooke Regional Park.

The Pacific Marine Circle Route is the ultimate south Vancouver Island road trip, complete with mountains, lakes and coastlines. And with ongoing highway and bridge improvements, it’s only getting better.

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34 Responses to Pacific Marine Circle Route: A Photo Road Trip

  1. Tanya on July 9, 2017 at 8:25 am

    We are hoping to visit Port Refrew from Salt Spring Island. Is the road from Cowichan Lke to Prot Refrew in good shape or should we go down to Langford and up Hwy 14. Thanks.

  2. Lisa on February 12, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    We were thinking of driving part of the circle route from Victoria up to Lake Cowichan and Duncan this June (2017) but after reading the comments above I’m not so sure. We’re driving a 28-foot motorhome. Can you confirm that the road between Sooke, Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan is not suitable for an RV?

    • tranbceditor on February 15, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Hi Lisa,

      The road is used primarily for logging trucks year round, so you shouldn’t have any issues. Happy trails!

  3. Jennifer on May 20, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Haven’t done this route yet, but live right next to it – DO NOT use it on weekdays – logging trucks come out of the Renfrew to Mesachie section & run past our house from about 4 a.m. till 4 p.m. Monday to Friday – on weekends they’re replaced by the bikers! They obviously love it. I was worried that the section from Mesachie to Renfrew would be bad – sounds like the section down to Sooke is actually the worse part.

  4. Cara Clark on May 10, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    What is the condition of the road from Sooke to Port Renfrew? Is it safe for motorcycles or small car? Would like to complete the loop from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan and back to Victoria this summer–hopefully in June

    • tranbceditor on May 11, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Hi Cara,

      The road from Sooke to Port Renfrew is paved and safe for all motor vehicles. The Pacific Marine Road is also paved but is a narrow road and still an active logging route so, please use extra caution for large trucks while driving this route. DriveBC is a great source of information for travellers, with road conditions updated as they happen. Hope that this helps!

  5. Grant on November 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    road from Port Renfrew direction is in need of great repair. If you are driving from Port Renfrew, check out seasonal road conditions before using this road! A four wheel drive is required and it is a good half day trip including the 2 hour drive. Drive slow or you will break your car.

    • tranbceditor on November 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Grant,

      Thanks for this feedback. We have shared it directly with the area manager.

  6. Ted on October 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Why is this road in such bad shape? Wow, just blew a trailer spring and got a flat in the span of 20 mins out of Jordan River. You sure this is a highway?, parts of the road just sluff off the side of the road and sections just drop. Couldn’t help but notice three sink holes with three different patches on them that all had sunk again just meters apart. Speed limit for trailers should be 40 kph MAX. The road bed is in really really bad shape. With all the heavy rain coming, not sure much of the route will hold up. RVer’s take note, don’t take the Sooke to Port Renfrew section, come in from Lake Cowichan and return that way.

    • tranbceditor on October 29, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Hi Ted,

      Thanks for sharing your comment with us. We have forwarded your feedback to the local area manager for follow up.

  7. Cliff Stead on August 15, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Is the road paved between Port Renfrew and all the way to Lake Cowichan?

    • tranbceditor on August 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Cliff,

      We are looking into this for you. Stay tuned.

      • mike on October 20, 2015 at 10:17 am

        Yes it is, and has been for many many year, why transbc has to look into this just shows how out of touch they are with rural bc they are.

        • tranbceditor on October 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm

          Hi Mike,
          We like to confirm we are sharing the correct information here and had sent this question to the local area office for confirmation. They answered right away and we somehow forgot to provide their answer in response to the question above. So, thank you for your comment and bringing this oversight to our attention.

      • tranbceditor on October 20, 2015 at 1:42 pm

        Hi Cliff,

        Yes, it is paved all the way.

  8. Dave on August 15, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Is the road I bed all the way?… Is it good for a motorcycle?

    • tranbceditor on August 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Dave,

      We are confirming this with the local area staff. Stay tuned for more info.

    • Colin MacLennan on September 17, 2015 at 11:41 am

      319 Ker Ave. Dave, the road is all paved and is a great motorcycle route, a stop at Jordan River at the Cold Shoulder cafe for coffee and eats then on to the Port Renfrew pub for lunch and a pint then onto Mesatchie Lake passing Fairy Lake, look to your right you’ll see a little tree growing out of a stump in the lake, looks like a bonsai,then onto Lizard lake for a dip on a hot day then you come to the huge spruce tree just 100 yds off the road. Once you get through Lake Cowichan take the old Cowichan rd toward Duncan, turn right on Stoltz Rd to Riverbottom Rd, follow that to Barnjum Rd turn right, it takes you onto Gibbons Rd into the back of Duncan and straight into the town centre where you can either hit the highway or take Indian Rd to Glenora Rd to Koksilah Rd to the highway and back to Victoria. All in about 300 Kms, an absolutely great bike ride.

  9. Colin on July 1, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    That route for a bike is the best on the island, But what is that NELSON’S FOLLY on the right hand side about 20klms south of Mesachie Lake?

  10. Bill huget on June 23, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Just did the circle tour and there is four hours we will never get back.Winding and twisting down to 20k on most corners.No gas anywhere past Sooke.French beach was a nice place to stop. But after that nothing.Turn around there and go back.

    • tranbceditor on June 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Oh dear! Sorry to hear that you felt that way Bill. There are lots of other Circle Routes to try – we hope you like one of them a bit better!

    • Colin on July 1, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      Bill, you need to come for a ride with me and my mates , we”ll show you a Circle route that I assure will thrill and leave you in awe of the locations and the brilliant road that they’ve thoughtfully laid out for us bikers.



    • mike on August 14, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      You are right Bill, anything after Jordan River is a waste of time, the road is far too dangerous. Too narrow for road users like RV’s mixing with fully loaded logging trucks. Many people have died along that road too. The road bed is failing and honestly should be closed. Really wish the MoT would just close this section of the highway.

      • tranbceditor on August 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm

        Hi Mike,

        We connected with the local area office about the route and they informed us that the ministry continues to invest in the Highway 14 corridor including the portion west of Jordan River as it is a vital link to communities and tourism on the West Coast. In 2012 the ministry replaced the Sombrio no. 3 bridge, west of Jordan River, at a cost of $2.4 million and this year the ministry will be replacing a concrete box culvert near “Point No Point” estimated at $200,000.

  11. Ian Matthews on May 22, 2014 at 7:43 am

    What is the Elevation of the road over the Mountain Pass between Port REnfrew and Mesachie Lake???Just curious,



    • tranbceditor on May 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Ian,

      Our district staff estimate 365 metres. Hope that this helps!

      • matt on July 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm

        Hello, question. i haven’t driven the old renfrew road since bedsprings suspension bridge was removed back in 87. over williams dad and uncle use to take me up they worked for bcfp renfrew logging division. do you have a up to date map as to how to get to the old bedsprings suspension bridge????

  12. Botty Bot on May 2, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    The road trip from Sooke to Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan is
    really amazing. BUT you need to know that there is NO gas station
    past Sooke. NONE. No gas station in Port Renfrew.
    Some of the online guides and other books say there is.
    But NO, no gas station in Port Renfrew.
    Fill your gas tank up in Sooke or Duncan, first. (as of April 2014)

    • tranbceditor on May 6, 2014 at 9:54 am

      Thanks for the heads up Botty Bot.

    • Colin on July 1, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      319 Ker Ave.There is is petrol at Port Renfrew if you go over the bridge heading to Cowachin and after the second bridge turn left and go to the Marina (it’s signed) you’ll get gas there.

    • matt on July 27, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      There is a full service gas station at the renfrew marina and has marine gas and regular gas. 150 a liter. there’s been gas availble here for years. goodluck

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