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Looking down at French Beach from the point at Priest Cabin Park

Priest Cabin Park Trail

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Shirley

A Short & Challenging Hike with Fantastic Views

Activity:
Hike
Difficulty:
Moderate-Strenuous
Location:
Shirley
Time:
1hr
Distance:
2.7km (1.7mi)

Activity:

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Accessibility:

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Where to this weekend, Vancouver Island: The best view of French Beach is not at French Beach

The Priest Cabin Park is situated only 1km beyond French Beach Provincial Park and is a lesser-known property managed by the CRD. The natural 17-acre park features a 1.7km out-and-back trail that offers a spectacular view and boasts the ruins of a cabin built by a Jesuit Priest (which is how the park got its name) but was never completed.

Parking

There is no marked parking lot, so it is best to park just off West Coast Road at the start of Cedar Coast Dr before the gate. There is room along the side and within a turn-around loop. There won’t be enough room if you are towing a trailer. Note – the gate does get locked, so parking at the entrance is highly recommended.

Beyond the gate, it’s private property, noted by the large contradicting sign that says to keep out and enter at your own risk. Stay on the road until you reach the trailhead and head to the CRD public property.

Priest Cabin Community Park Trailhead

After leaving the parking lot, make your way up the gradual incline of the logging road for about 200 meters. On your right, you will see the well-marked trailhead. You can’t miss the signs stating that there is no alcohol, campfires, smoking, motorized vehicles and camping allowed in the park.

 

The Trail

Elevation Gain: 165 m (514ft) in 1km
Grade: up to 21% in some spots
Distance: 2.4km (from the trailhead)
Time: 1hr

The trail is well-used and easy to follow. You will climb the whole way up through a lush, thick young forest from the trailhead to the top. The trail narrows and crisscrosses up the hill with one very short partial scramble. The path is not difficult; take it slow and be prepared for elevation gain.

 

Priest Cabin Trail Map

Directions via Google Map

Reach the top, and oh, that view

The effort is worth it as you reach the top, it flattens out, and the remains of the log cabin come into view. The 14’x18′ bunk house is set into the trees a few meters away from the lookout to protect it from the wind and rain.
Hiked to the top of Priest Cabin trail and look out over the Juan de Fuca Strait and French Beach during a sunrise in August

As you pass by the wood structure, it’s just a few more steps down the trail, and everything opens up. You will come up to a conveniently added bench, allowing you to catch your breath as you sit and take in the view of the beautiful Juan de Fuca Strait and the extended beach that makes French Beach Provincial Park such a popular stop for visitors.

The trail ends here, but you can walk along the opening and head to the left for another view looking back at the hills and forests.

Overall the Priest Cabin Hike is a great one to add to your list if you are staying at French Beach Campground or in the area and have limited time but what to get a quick hike in. Priest Cabin Park offers a challenging climb with a great payoff and view.

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Winter vs Summer

I have visited the Priest Cabin Park trail on two occasions, once in December and then again more recently in August. Both visits were thoroughly enjoyable, and I would like to share their differences and what to expect on this trail, depending on the season.

Summer

As I woke up very early in the morning, I had the ideal experience planned. In my head, it was going to be the perfect picture opportunity. I was going to get to the bottom of Priest Cabin Trail in the dark, walk up and as I get up to the top, it will be perfect timing to watch the golden rays of the rising sun brighten up the hills and onto French Beach.

In reality, I forgot one important fact about living on the west coast, most mornings start with heavy fog and low visibility. I quickly realized this as I began to gain elevation, hiking in the dark and I heard the dew droplets that sounded like light rain as my glasses promptly fogged up.

As I get to the top and the morning light brightens the path, I look over the hill to see absolutely nothing. The only thing I could do was wait, pour myself a coffee and hope that the morning sun would burn off the fog.

About a half hour after the sun rose, I could start seeing signs of the shoreline, and within another twenty minutes, the fog started clearing out, revealing the blue sky, glowing trees and all of French Beach down below.

Although things didn’t go as planned, what a morning it was the perfect way to start the day with no distractions, a cup of coffee with a view looking over one of the best places in the world, and I was able to get some beautiful photos of the sun gleaming off the trees and cabin and the blue water of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Winter

The trail itself in winter is similar. It’s steep enough that the water doesn’t pool and the trail is protected from the elements due to the thick forest canopy. During our hike in December, the path was still covered by fallen leaves from the autumn and although the trail was damp there was very little mud.

During winter, it is unlikely to have clear blue skies, but the cloud cover is generally high. However, there is still a good possibility of seeing across the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Upon reaching the summit, the weather can be blustery and damp, however during our hike it was calm. We could distinctly hear the sound of the winter waves crashing against the shoreline, it was so clear and crisp that it was difficult to fathom that French Beach was only two kilometres away.

 

The History of the Cabin

Priest Cabin

The park is named after Father Sherburne, a Jesuit Priest who, in 1981 made an agreement with Merrill & Ring Company (the land owners at the time) allowing him to build a Forest Warden’s Cabin and a shed on the property using logs and stone available on site. The plan was to gradually build a retirement residence over the next 6-10 years.

The cabin was never completed. With the changing local development, a new road and increasing vandalism, the site no longer offered the solitude the Jesuit Priest sought.

 

The History of Priest Cabin From the Rural Observer

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Original Author:

Modified: August 22, 2023
Last Visit: August 4, 2023
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