Hiking the West Coast Trail

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Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew | Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

Pacific Rim National Park and Reserve, located on the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island, consists of three separate units. Long Beach is the most popular of the three, and it is easily accessible by car. The second unit, the Broken Group Islands, is only accessible by kayak and boat. The third is the West Coast Trail, which is only accessible by foot from May 1 to September 30.

misty view of a beach and tree landscape along the coastline

Moody morning on the West Coast Trail | @wild_route_adventure

The trail, popular with experienced hikers, is 75 km long, and taken an average of five to eight days to complete. The trail is bookended by the communities of Port Renfrew to the south and Bamfield to the north. We chose to start from the north end near Bamfield, as that is the easiest part of the trail and we wanted to have lighter packs when we reached the more difficult terrain.

After a mandatory half-hour orientation session, we were on our way! We started the first day by hiking along the beach. Depending on the tides, there is often a choice between walking along the many beaches or along forested trails. Where possible, we chose the beaches, making sure we were aware of the day’s tide schedules so we didn’t get trapped if the tide came in suddenly.

hikers with backpacks walking on a beach near water

Beach walk along the West Coast Trail | @michaelrmoy

There were a few days where we had to walk on the forest trail, either because the tide was too high, or there was no beach access. Both the beach and the forest routes had their challenges—slippery rocks, roots, mud, and deep sand.

We found that the campsites were well marked with buoys, and there were distance markers along the forest trail so it was easy to keep track of where we were. There are several camping options, but we chose to stay at the main campsites. We looked forward to arriving each night, as it gave us a chance to visit with other hikers.

colourful boat fenders hanging from trees

Cribs Creek campsite on the West Coast Trail | @martin.reinberg

All along the trail, there was so much beautiful scenery, and plenty of wildlife. We saw bald eagles, sea lions, seals, and even grey whales. We also enjoyed peering into the tidal pools, which were filled with starfish, anemones, mussels, and crabs.

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

Sea urchin along the West Coast Trail | Carolyn Ibis

If you’re considering hiking this trail, read the information on the Parks Canada website carefully as it’s extremely important to be prepared for this trip and to do your research beforehand. I also recommend booking a spot as soon as you can, as Parks Canada limits the number of people that can start on each end of the trail every day and space fills up quickly.

Originally published in September of 2013.

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