Hiking the West Coast Trail

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The beautiful Pacific Rim National Park and Reserve is located on the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  There are 3 separate units in the Park Reserve: Long Beach is the most popular unit, and is easily accessible by car.  The second unit, the Broken Islands, is only accessible by kayak and boat. The third is the West Coast Trail, which is only accessible by foot from May 1 – September 30.

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

At the end of July, a friend and I had a chance to explore the West Coast Trail, which started out as a life-saving trail after the SS Lithuania (shipwrecked on the coast in 1907).  The trail, now very popular with experienced hikers, is 75 km long, and the average time to hike it is anywhere from 5-8 days. On the south end is the community of Port Renfrew, and on the north end is Bamfield. For us, we didn’t want to rush the hike, so we decided to hike the trail in the recommended 7 days.  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 harder part to the south.

After a mandatory half hour orientation session, we were on our way!  We started the first day by hiking along the beach.  In fact, we spent many of the days hiking along the beaches, as depending on the tides at the time, we often had a choice to walk on many beaches or on the forest trail.  We did make sure to be aware of the day’s tide schedules though, as we didn’t want to be trapped if the tide came in suddenly.  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.

Beach on the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

There are six cable cars that we would have normally usedm as the rivers and creeks are usually too high to safely cross by foot.  But as this year has been very dry, making the rivers and creeks unusually low, so we found that we could simply cross in our hiking boots and gaiters.  There are also many ladders along the trail that were challenging, but I think that they are the best way to cross some of the terrain encountered.  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.  We stayed at the main campsites, but there are other options as well.  We looked forward to arriving to every campsite, as it gave us a chance to visit with the other hikers on the trail.  I really liked that the hikers heading in the same direction formed a little hiking community for the duration of the hike!

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

All along the trail, there was so much beautiful scenery, and lots of wildlife to look at.  We saw bald eagles, sea lions, seals and even grey whales!  It was also very fascinating looking at the tidal pools along the beaches that were filled with starfish, anemones, mussels and crabs.  It reminded me of my childhood when I visited Long Beach and could spend hours playing by the ocean.

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC

After hiking for 7 days, we finally reached the end at Gordon Bay, and soon we were whisked over the bay by ferry to Port Renfrew.  I was sad to finish the trail, but at the same time I was definitely looking forward to a nice hot shower, a burger, and a beer! The next day we took  the Juan De Fuca Express, which is a water taxi, back up to our cars in Bamfield, and along the way we got to see many sea animals close up!  If the sea taxi is not available, there is also the West Coast Trail Express shuttle, which you can take in either direction.

If you are interested in hiking this trail, visit the Parks Canada website for more info.  It is very important to be well prepared for this trip and research beforehand.  I also recommend booking a spot on the trail as soon as you can,  as Parks Canada limits how many people can start on both ends every day and so space fills up quickly.