We spent a long weekend at Pachena Bay Campground with my brother and his girlfriend and a couple other families. It’s a beautiful beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island with a remote vibe.
- Kayaking: some of the families had kayaks and the big bay provided a great semi-sheltered spot, with tons of caves and little beaches along the shoreline to keep things interesting. Some paddled to the end of the bay and around the corner to the right into another bay.
- Canoe crabbing: My brother brought his canoe with a little electric motor – we took my daughter out to the end of the bay and she quickly fell asleep sitting in the front, resting against my legs. We dropped a couple crab traps along the way but didn’t catch any keepers. The views of the rugged shoreline were stunning. We were told grey whales sometimes come into the bay.
- Swimming: The beach was perfect for swimming. Pachena Bay is open west coast water, quite close to Tofino so I was expecting icy water but the shallow water over the long flat sandy beach was quite warm and the river running beside the campsite opening into the ocean was also very warm and the swimming was glorious.
- Tour of the Bamfield Marine Science Centre: some of our friends did this tour before we arrived and really enjoyed it. The Centre is an education and research facility for coastal marine sciences and there are some hands on activities.
- Keeha Bay trail hike: one mom took her toddler on this hike out to Keeha Beach. The beach sounded awesome but they said it was longer than expected. It is a difficult hike with ropes, steep sections and sometimes deep mud areas. It is 3.5km one way and can take up to 3 hours one way. Recommended for experienced hikers and older children. If taking young kids leave early and pack plenty of food and water.
- Beach walks: Pachena Bay is the start/end point of the west coast trail so you can hike part of that trail which one family in our group did with a kid backpack. We stayed at the Pachena Bay beach and found the walk from one end to the other was far enough for our kids. When you get to the end there are tidal pools to explore.
- Campfires: beach fires are usually allowed even when there are bans in other areas. Check local restrictions.
- Kite flying: it was often quite windy on the beach making for great kite flying conditions.
- Games: there is tons of space on the beach for games – my brother brought his Kuba wooden stick toss.
- Bikes: if you have room for kids bikes, balance bikes or scooters they are always fun to have around a campground. Our kids borrowed from the neighbours – next time I’ll bring ours for sure.
We ate all our meals at the campground. The first night we had a delicious group meal where each family contributed one dish. I loved trying everyone else’s specialties. My brother is an amazing cook so we were treated to having him take the lead on a lot of the meals. He brought an awesome 5 burner campstove that made big meals a breeze. A highlight was a paneer curry served with rice and papadums. Camping favourites like sausages, chips, and crackers were also a big hit. Our kids tried s’mores around the campfire for the first time too. If you forgot anything, want to pack light, or need some snacks for the drive home, stop in at Bamfield Mercantile for groceries, assorted prepared food and other supplies.
We camped in tents – the campsites are quite spacious and we shared a site with my brother and his girlfriend. We set up a small tent for the kids with the door facing our adult tent. The kids stayed in their tent the whole night so we slept great. It looked like all the campsites on the beach side had their own trail to the beach. The trail was only 20 feet or so making it easy to go back and forth and get lots of beach time.
We drove to Pachena from Lake Cowichan via the logging road. It is also possible to drive through port alberni and take the logging road from there or avoid logging roads by taking a passenger ferry from Port Alberni. From there you can get a short taxi ride to the campground. Check out Lady Rose Marine Services for ferry info.
Pachena Bay gets classic wild westcoast weather – often fog and drizzle in the morning, and can still get hot during the day, so you’ll want clothes for a mix of temperatures and raingear is a must. Don’t forget your swimsuits! With our 1.5 year old we found the baby carrier made beach walks more enjoyable. We also found the jogging stroller worthwhile. Some friends brought kids bike which we borrowed. If you have room, a bike is always good fun at a campground.