The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a coastal wilderness trail located in Pacific Rim National Park on the southwestern side of Vancouver Island. Its 75 kilometres of trail are some of the most scenic I've had the chance to witness.
I hiked it originally in 2005 with a couple friends, and told myself I would do it again. This trip took place in the fall of 2013. The hike takes you along rocky shoreline, pristine beach, coastal rainforest, and more.
Originally built as a lifesaving trail for survivors of shipwrecks off the coast, it now is widely considered one of the world's finest hiking trails.
You can choose to start your hike from either Bamfield, at the northern terminus of the trail, or Port Renfrew at the southern end. Our hike began at Port Renfrew with a quick orientation session from a Parks Canada ranger, followed by a short water taxi ride across Port San Juan to the trailhead.
What makes the WCT unique is the sheer volume of manmade features that you have to negotiate.
Built to protect the sensitive areas and access areas not hikeable by the numerous ladders (70), bridges (130), suspension bridges and cable cars (four) the WCT has spectacular views making this a hike you, and your calves, will never forget.
Some of the wooden features are not for the faint of heart.
Expect to see plenty of wildlife along the way as well — we had a couple close bear encounters this trip and caught sight of sea lions, seals and grey whales. Don't forget to examine the tidal pools along the way; there's a multitude of life in even the smallest of them from hermit crabs, to anemones, snails and chitons.
There are a couple minor spots of civilization along the trail: Chez Monique's where you can grab some snacks, liquor and a pretty decent hamburger, and Nitnat Narrows, where the ferry operator has fresh seafood (crab, salmon, halibut) that he'll cook up with a baked potato for hungry hikers (it's amazing after eating dehydrated meals for half a week).
Also, give yourself some time to wander around the two lighthouses located along the trail at Pachena Pt. and Carmanah Pt.
Your daily mileage varies based on where you decide to camp for the night. The first couple days involve a fair number of ladders, so don't plan on breaking any distance records — but once you hit the beach/boardwalks your mileage picks up considerably. We did 17 kilometres to Tsusiat from Cribs.
When planning your hike make sure to give yourself plenty of time, reservations for the trail (50 a day per direction) open up March 16 for the hiking season of May 1 to Sept 30. Though reservations are only needed for start dates between June 15 and Sept 15.
Both times I've hiked mid-to late-Sept to avoid the crowds, and the weather has been amazing with no rain my first hike, and one night this time around.
Make sure to pay attention to the tide tables given to you at orientation, or you may end up fjording a stream in an incoming tide as we did one morning.
One more thing: the composting toilets located along the trail work like magic; I've done my share of camping and never smelled a latrine so fresh this late in the summer season.
How long will I take? Five to seven days, depending if you want a rest day or not, often people spend an extra night at Tsusiat Falls.
When to go: May to September. I recommend September, as you can often get by without a reservation and the weather is quite nice for hiking, cool in the evenings and pleasant in the day with a small chance of rain.
Northbound or southbound? Both times I've done it northbound starting in Port Renfrew and ending in Bamfield. You get right into the fun stuff — the ladders and the bridges — while you're pumped and fresh. The rest of the hike is literally a walk on the beach after the first couple days. The southbound alternative starts off fairly easy, and you reach the ladders when your packs are slightly lighter from food consumption.
Bedtime reading: Blisters and Bliss, A Trekers Guide to the West Coast Trail by David Foster, Wayne Aitken and Nelson Dewey is everything you need to know in a humour-filled, easy-to-read book.
Missed getting a reservation this year? Try the Juan De Fuca Trail, less popular, but similar in terrain and just as many beautiful views.
West Coast Trail bus: An essential part of planning your trip, either have them pick you up when you finish to shuttle you to your vehicle, or have them take you to your start point. www.trailbus.com.
What to bring:
• Cash for Cheq Monique's and fresh crab at the Nitnat Ferry.
• Broken in hiking boots; the guidebook for the hike is called blisters and bliss after all,
• Rain gear — it's the "wet coast."
• Hiking poles; not just for old people! The added stability will save your knees on the many ups and downs of this hike
• Swimsuit. There are lots of cool places to have a dip whether it be in the ocean or a random trailside waterfall.
• Camera. Seriously — the views are awesome, as well as the coastal sunsets.
• A second pair of footwear. It's so nice to take off those hiking boots at the end of the day and put on, say, sandals.
• Gaiters. I forgot to mention there's a lot of muddy sections so gaiters help keep the mud off your legs.
About Patrick Hui: Since moving to Whistler over a decade ago, after completing a BSc. in Earth Science from Simon Fraser University, Hui has gradually fallen win love with photography. His work has appeared in various editorial and online publications, including Mountain Life Magazine, Outpost Magazine, The Vancouver Sun, Pique Newsmagazine, Snowboardcanada.com, WhistlerBlackcomb.com and WhistlerIsAwesome.com. Recently his work appeared on the Sarah Burke commemorative Official First Day Cover envelope for Canada Post. Born in Vancouver, surrounded by the Coast Mountains he spent his childhood gaining an appreciation for the outdoors, including hiking.