Are you interested in hiking Vancouver Island’s West Coast trail?
The West Coast Trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island enjoys an international reputation for its beauty and its difficulty. It’s on the wish list of many a serious hiker. Although it’s only 75 kms long (45 miles) most people require anywhere between six to eight days to do it properly. If you do decide to do it outside of the shoulder seasons then be warned that you will not be alone. In fact 8,000 people from around the world hike this trail every year. Some campsites end up overflowing with people so it may not be the solitary experience you’re hoping for. But it does offer a raft of redeeming features.
- Beautiful sunsets on scenic, remote feeling beaches – sometimes with lots of people and sometimes alone – depending on your chosen campsite
- You can lunch on freshly caught crab at Nitinat Narrows between Cribs Creek campground and Tsusiat Falls.
- On the food theme again – enjoy something other than what’s in your pack at Chez Moniques – a restaurant near the Carmanah Lighthouse (bring cash). Plus you can purchase beer and wine here too. (Empty a bottle of wine into your nalgene bottle for dinner that night.)
- You can have a campfire on the beach every night – if you can get it started.
- There’s great trail camaraderie. Everyone commiserates about their aches and pains together.
- Every campsite is beautiful.
- Needless to say you will have a great sense of accomplishment upon completion.
Like everything in life there are a few negatives to hiking the West Coast Trail that are worth knowing about.
- It’s not inexpensive. Fees this year include a $24.50 reservation fee plus $127.50 for a West Coast Trail fee. Add in two short ferry crossings (they were $30 each in the past) and transportation to and from the trailheads. As a holiday it’s not that expensive but as a hike when most are free it is.
- The weather is uncertain – even in the height of summer. If you were very unlucky you can end up hiking in rain for the entire time – through mud and often in hypothermia type conditions.
- The West Coast Trail is in a tsunami zone.
- Trails are tough – often slippery, muddy and in poor shape. This might be a positive for people who want to test their mettle. For people with back, knee or ankle problems it can be a tough go.
Other West Coast Trail Considerations
- There are long sections when beach walking is an option – and a preferable one to walking in the forest. But it’s the tides that are going to dictate what you can do.
- You’ll have to decide which end to start at. The Gordon River start is harder but you get the worst over with in the first few days. The Pachena Bay start allows your shoulders and legs to harden up before you attempt the really tough sections. There is no right or wrong, best or worst start/finish – though you do need to either start or finish with a ferry ride so the timing at the Gordon River may be harder to anticipate – and you could end up either missing the boat altogether or waiting for many hours..
- Decide how many days you want to hike. Do you need a rest day? – and if so then you need to carry more food. Six days is the minimum amount of time I would recommend unless you’re an elite hiker.
- If you have never backpacked before do not begin with this trail. It will turn you off forever.
- Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
- There may be the odd bear around but we didn’t even see bear scat.
- Be prepared to climb a huge number of ladders – especially near Cullite Creek.
- Booking transportation and organizing logistics needs to be done well in advance. There is a trailbus that offers transportation between trailheads every day.
I’m glad I backpacked the West Coast Trail – but I wouldn’t do it over and over again like many people do that I met. Other trails that offer a similar experience are the Juan de Fuca Trail, just south of the West Coast Trail, the Nootka Island Trail on Nootka Island – accessed out of Gold River and the North Coast Trail at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
If you to decide to go hike the West Coast Trail then you can download my free guide. Go with a positive mental attitude and you’ll have a great time.
MAPS of the WEST COAST TRAIL