In the 1880s an explorer named James French traveled from New Brunswick to Vancouver Island on foot, losing five toes and one heel to frostbite along the way. He eventually reached a beautiful and secluded beach to the west of what is now Sooke, where he made his home. French sought to create a large provincial park in order to protect the land from development. Eventually his dream was realized, albeit 22 years after his death in 1952.
Today, French Beach is one of several ocean access points along the highway between Sooke and Port Renfrew. Visitors will enjoy easy access from the large parking lot, a small playground, and some picnic tables and benches scattered around a large, grassy area overlooking the beach. There is also a 1.6-kilometer stretch of scenic oceanfront pebbles and sand with the typical assortment of driftwood, kelp, and seaweed strewn across it. At high tide it’s mostly pebbles, but there are patches of sand. When the tide starts to retreat, it reveals plenty of soft sand to stroll the beach barefoot. French Beach features great views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains across the water, and it’s a perfect spot to spot migrating gray whales in the spring and fall on their way between the Arctic Circle and the Baja Peninsula. Aside from whales, this portion of the Pacific is teeming with marine life such as seals, Stellar sea lions, California sea lions, sea otters, and of course seabirds such as bald eagles and osprey. Keep your eyes peeled!
French Beach Campground is immediately adjacent to the parking lot, and there are several trails linking the campground to the beach for those who’d like to stay more than just the afternoon. During the winter months this is one of the only campgrounds in the area that remains open.
The waves at French Beach are generally fairly small, so it isn’t a popular surf spot; additionally, beach-goers can expect strong ocean currents here during the winter storms, so surfing is not recommended.