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Hiking Vancouver Island’s Famous West Coast Trail

Are you interested in hiking Vancouver Island’s West Coast trail?

"A long set of stairs on Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail"

A long set of stairs on 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
"Sunset along the West Coast Trail"

Sunset along the West Coast Trail

  • You can lunch on freshly caught crab at Nitinat Narrows between Cribs Creek campground and Tsusiat Falls.
"Lunching on freshly caught crab at Nitinat Narrows"

Lunching on freshly caught crab at Nitinat Narrows

  • 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.)
"Chez Monique's Restaurant on the West Coast Trail"

Chez Monique’s Restaurant on the West Coast Trail

  • 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.
"Tsusiat Falls campsite"

Tsusiat Falls campsite

"Campsite at Michigan Creek at dusk"

Campsite at Michigan Creek at dusk

  • 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.
"Tsunami Zone"

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.
"Log walking along the West Coast Trail"

Log walking along the West Coast Trail

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.
"One of the many ladders on the WCT"

One of the many ladders on the WCT

  • 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.

"The view through the Hole in the Wall"

The view through the Hole in the Wall


Hiking Vancouver Island's Famous West Coast Trail

Location map of the West Coast Trail

Hiking Vancouver Island's Famous West Coast Trail

Map of the West Coast Trail

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Melvin says:

    Wow… it sounds & looks amazing.

    Especiall the first pic as awesome!

    • Parts of the West Coast Trail were beautiful and amazing. And some parts through the long stretches of knee deep mud while wearing a heavy pack were grueling. Glad I did it – once.

  • Andrew says:

    It looks beautiful, but tough, Leigh. Having those restaurants along the way must make for a nice break.

  • Christina says:

    I did it in 2009 with my dad, it was great! We lucked out and the weather was beautiful, and after a few days of crowded campgrounds, so one day we hiked a little further and stayed in a campground all by ourselves!

  • John Klassan says:

    Planning to do it this late summer been getting in to shape lol. I lost 30 lbs and am walking 5 miles a day plus doing a gym work out three times a week. Hoping to lose another 20 lbs that will grt me down to 230 lbs.

  • Thank you! This guide has been really useful in planning our trip, particularly the itinerary advice (we are doing 7 day). We are leaving in a couple of weeks!

  • Caroline Helbig says:

    Thanks. Fingers crossed the nice weather continues!

  • Erik says:

    Me and a friend of mine walked the trail three weeks ago. A nice experience and for the first time we went with packing (tent and food). Particularly the part around Naimo was very cool. Fortunately we also had perfect weather as expected, with sometimes fogging out of the sea and later shining weather with nice skies. For us a high point during our Canada trip. Certainly passed by all the friendly Canadians we met during the draw.

  • Jim McConnan says:

    Two of us hiked it in 1971. there no maps or ladders, cable cars or any assistance whatever. No restaurants, nothing except raw nature.
    The native guy at Nitinat sold us a salmon for $5.00 and ferried us across the inlet. Warm sunny weather every day.

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