I had a panic attack on the way to Soule Creek Lodge. The road to the lodge goes up a steep slope—one that, during the course of my trip research, literally every TripAdvisor review had mentioned. Most of the roads we’d taken on the 2 hour drive from Victoria to rural Vancouver Island gave the impression that they were created after man had waged a lengthy battle with Mother Nature, where Mother Nature had ceded just enough space for humans to painstakingly create narrow, snaking, two-lane roads. And the road to Soule Creek Lodge was no different. My then boyfriend (and now fiancé) would later tell me that he felt the wheels of our rental car slip beneath us on the uneven, gravel road as we inched our way to the top of the ridge where the lodge and assorted outbuildings are nestled together above the tree line. I was white knuckling the car’s console as we rounded the corner that dropped us in front of a cozy, cedar building turned lodge. A sign next to the screen door instructed us to ring the doorbell for service. The co-owner of the lodge, greeted us, bearing only a clipboard—no iPad or other electronic device to check us in. I was taken aback at first because it’s so rare to use pen and paper for anything in 2017. We were checked in and then given directions to our yurt, and continued the next leg of our adventure.
By the time we’d finished checking in, the sky had darkened considerably. Tendrils of fog from the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Ocean had begun unfurling themselves in the small gaps between the branches of the evergreen trees that flanked the property on all sides dozens of sentinels. We stood completely still as we watched in real time as everything we’d seen on our drive up the ridge became completely obscured by the fog. Both Mike and I live in very urban environments—our phone calls to each other are often punctuated by the wail of sirens or the blare of a car horn. Here, there was only the sound of birds on a far away tree or the sound of a seaplane landing in the distance. The crunch of tires on gravel seemed an almost obscene disruption of the unreal peace we’d stumbled upon.
We passed four other smaller yurts as we drove slowly up another (less steep) gravel path, until finally, we were deposited in front of the largest of the property’s yurts, the 500 sq. Ft. Yurt of the Salish Sea. From our porch, it was possible to see the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and beyond that, the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Tired from the long drive (and, for Mike, an early morning flight from Toronto to Victoria that preceded our road trip), we clambered up the stairs of the platform where the yurt perched, and set about making ourselves at home. The yurt was cozy—a mixture of homespun touches (shampoo and conditioner are provided from a large Costco container) and glamping magic (a king-sized bed, mini fridge, electric kettle with tea service, and WiFi, which was wonderful as there is no cell service beginning about an hour from Port Renfrew and the Soule Creek Lodge. The bed was comfortable and soft, and the yurt was insulated, but there were two heater options to keep the space warm when the temperature dropped dramatically after sundown.
After unpacking and a little exploring, Mike and I headed back down to the lodge for dinner, with a box of wine in tow—the lodge doesn’t have a liquor license, so dinner is BYOB. Management requests that you make the reservations at least 36 hours in advance and dinner costs $45 (CAD) per person. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. On the dot. The night we chose to dine in the lodge, we were one of just two couples, but I imagine on subsequent nights that weekend, the dining room was packed. A Culinary Institute of America trained chef prepared a delicious 3-course meal—the first course was a generously sized hunk of goat cheese crusted with Panko crumbs and served over a bed of seasonal greens and fresh yellow peppers. The second course consisted of pan seared trout, and, as the chef informed us, fresh halibut that he’d gotten from the market in town just that day. Odds are pretty high that the halibut we ate had been swimming in the Pacific Ocean no more than two days earlier. The fish was served with tender beluga lentils, sautéed vegetables, and a fresh pea sauce. And while the main course was a real triumph, the dessert was out of this world. Freshly prepared Canelé served with a dulce de leche ice cream and sauce, cheesecake, an apricot and strawberry sauce, pears, and a macadamia nut and chocolate cookie crumble. Mike and I left the lodge full in the best possible way.
The next day, after a brief detour to Sooke for gas (more on that in a separate post), Mike and I headed to Botanical Beach, just a 15 minute drive from Soule Creek Lodge. Adventurous hikers may choose the longer trail loop that’s part of the Juan de Fuca Trail, but Mike and I chose the 20 minute trail version from the Botanical Beach Provincial Park parking lot. The hike itself is gorgeous and, going to the beach, is mostly downhill. The trail drops you onto a soft sandstone beach that is bordered on one side by basalt ridges dotted with jagged, glinting deposits of shale and quartz, and on the other by outcroppings of solid sandstone formations. We arrived just after midday when the tide was low, and the sun had just finished burning off a thick marine layer of clouds. As a child, I loved tidepooling, but as an adult, I haven’t found as many opportunities to engage in the hobby as I’d like. But that day at Botanical Beach was textbook tidepooling perfection—shallow, glittering pools of water stretched for a few dozen yards, holding treasures of mussels, crabs, sea grass, anemones, and sea urchins. As Mike and I finished up our tour of the pools and began to head back to the beach, a man approached us and gestured to where a crowd had gathered on a small ridge of sandstone not far from where we stood. “There’s an angry mama bear over there, you guys should head in before the tide comes back in and we all get trapped out here.” That was our cue to end our day of Pacific Northwest magic and head into Port Renfrew for lunch. As we speed walked away from the beach, we noticed an alarming number of children, and a man crouched low to the ground clutching a telephoto lens, gathered where we knew the bear was. We didn’t stay long enough to find out in which direction the mama bear eventually ran.
Port Renfrew, the closest town to Soule Creek Lodge, is tiny, with just 200 residents. There’s a general store, a small marina, and a handful of restaurants, but no cell service, and no gas station. We chose the Port Renfrew Pub for lunch, and while service was terrible and the food merely serviceable (especially after our delightful dinner at the lodge), the view from the back patio was stunning. Mike and I watched a pair of bald eagles chase and taunt a couple of seagulls, and we spotted two harbor seals patrolling the shallows just off the beach.
Back at our yurt, the marine layer and begun to roll in, deepening the natural silence at the top of the ridge, and making it feel as though our world had been swaddled in a thick down comforter. It was a relaxing and memorable stay, and the lack of cell service and TV was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of our 2017 lives. Soule Creek Lodge also provides free breakfast each morning, and lodgers can visit the common/dining room which is stocked with books, board games, and cards outside of meal hours, which can help if you’re suffering from Netflix withdrawals.
As we packed up the rental car to head back to Victoria to catch the Victoria Clipper back to Seattle, I laughed to myself over how silly I’d been to have a panic attack at the beginning of our stay. Vacations now are so often planned down to the minute, and the surprise that should accompany each new experience you encounter on a trip is leached away by the overwhelming amount of information you can consume before you’ve even left your home. But there’s no real way to plan for a glamping trip in rural British Columbia, aside from packing along a box of wine and a family sized container of Nanaimo Bars. Soule Creek Lodge successfully mixes cozy with charming and rustic, and that, combined with the natural beauty that will be present at all times during your stay, will force you to put down your smart phone, take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride.