Hiking the West Coast Trail – BC’s Most Iconic Backpacking Trail

Hiking the West Coast Trail – BC’s Most Iconic Backpacking Trail

The West Coast Trail is a 75 km point-to-point hiking trail along a remote stretch of the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. Originally created in 1907 to help rescue
shipwrecked survivors along the coast it’s become one of BC’s most popular long-distance trails, attracting nearly 7,000 visitors each year from all over the world. The trail offers a unique and challenging
experience, complete with deep sand, thick mud, torrential rain, creek crossings in cable cars, slippery roots, rocks and boardwalks not to mention the countless ladders. The coast guard rescues someone from the trail on average every second day. But it’s also a place of incredible beauty,
offering glimpses of wildlife like wolves, eagles, humpback whales, and sea lions, as you make your way through dense forests past lakes, caves and waterfalls, and along rugged beaches and awe-inspiring coastal features at every turn. Growing up in Vancouver, I’d always wanted to hike the trail so I jumped at the chanceto join my friend Karl in the summer of 2017 when he managed to secure permits. We caught the 9pm ferry on Friday evening from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo. We then made the 3-hour drive to the northern trailhead of the West Coast Trail at Pachena Bay arriving at 3am, and managed to get about 30 minutes of sleep in the car before making the 6km walk along the road to Bamfield. At 6am, we caught our water taxi from Bamfield to make the trip back to the southern trailhead at Gordon River. The water taxi provided amazing views of the rugged coastline we’d soon be hiking along with sightings of two humpback whales and other wildlife. We arrived at Gordon River at 9am, just in
time for the 10am mandatory hiker orientation. We set up camp and made
dinner while watching the sunset, as we prepared to catch the first ferry across Gordon River the next morning at 8:45am. We began to climb up gradually, through rooted and heavily forested terrain, as we made our way from sea level up to 230 m elevation which would be the highest point on the trail. It had been completely dry the week before we arrived, which meant the trail was about as dry as it ever gets. This is a hike typically known for its mud. Heading South to North meant we’d be tackling the most difficult section of trail first, and the view of the ocean was unfortunately obstructed by the thick forest for most of it. There are two routes in several areas of the trail, one a beach route and another higher, inland route. Given the timing of the tides we had been
forced to play it safe and avoid the beach near Thrasher Cove. But we’d really wanted to check out the
cave at Owen Point, so decided to drop our packs near the next beach access outside of the Port San Juan inlet so we could quickly backtrack along the beach to Owen Point. This would give us about 10 minutes to explore the cave before we had to rush back along the shelf to avoid the incoming tide. We carried on along the beach for as long
as we could until we were forced back up to the inland trail, reaching our destination
at Camper Bay around 6pm, after covering 16km on foot including our little detour. Not long after leaving Camper Bay en route to Walbran Creek, we encountered our first of many sets of ladders for the day. This leg would be totally inland with no beach access. But there was a ton of ladders! We’d gotten a bit of a late start and spent a lot of time taking photos, so didn’t reach the campsite until 6 after covering a leisurely 9 km. We’d been warned about the mice that tend to lurk in the driftwood near the main campsite so we setup in a cave across the creek instead where we’d also be protected from the rain overnight. The next morning, we took a cable car across the creek to rejoin the inland trail. We’d later find out that there was indeed
beach access from the campsite and we’d unnecessarily taken an inland route with much more climbing and of course more ladders. After popping back out to the beach at Vancouver point, the rest of the day was scenic and easy walking. We arrived at Chez Monique’s legendary burger shack around noon, a popular rest stop around the half-point that has fed hikers from around the world for 25 years. Sadly, Monique passed away in 2018 followed closely by her husband, marking 2019 as the first year that the restaurant was not open for business. After a delicious burger and a beer, followed-by a short nap in the hammocks and some conversation with other hikers, we were back on our way. Our next stop was to visit the lighthouse
at Carmanah Point which was established in 1891. The present tower was built in 1920 and remains in operation today. We setup camp for the night at Cribs Creek after covering 11 km for the day. The sound of hundreds of sea lions bellowing out could be heard from the rocks off Carmanah Point nearby. Our fourth day would be the longest in distance, but would also prove to be an incredibly scenic day of beach hiking. We made great time along the boardwalks of the Ditidaht First Nations territory which were in excellent shape compared to most of the other boardwalks throughout the park which are in desperate need of repair. We soon arrived at Nitinat Narrows for one of our most anticipated parts of the trip fresh salmon and cold beer. The Crab Shack at Nitinat is quite unique,
where the salmon is caught, prepared and grilled right before your eyes. After catching up with some friends we’d made on the trail, we hopped on the ferry across the narrows to continue on our way. The stretch of inland trail after Nitinat
climbs a cliff high above the tidal shelf below. We took a walk through the ‘hole in the wall’ at Tsusiat Point before making the final trek to Tsusiat Falls, another iconic
stop on the trail. The falls were some of the coldest water we’d swam in, but there’s absolutely no better way to end a 19 km day of hiking. After 9km, we’d reached our campsite at
Darling River. A short hike up the mouth of the river led to a waterfall in a beautiful canyon. Another perfect spot for a bath, aside from the freez ing temperature of the water. After setting up camp on the beach, we still had plenty of time to soak up the afternoon sun and relax in our hammocks as we tried
to make the most of our last evening on the trail. It’s always sad to see a trip like this
come to an end, and we packed up camp on day 6 with a sense of a melancholy, knowing that by the same time tomorrow we’d be back to real life. And it rained on us for the first time since
our first day on the trail. The final 10 km are relatively flat and fast,
and they ticked by quickly. We reached the end of the trail around 1 o’clock
after covering 14 kms. The only thing left was to sign out at the
ranger’s station near where our car awaited. The West Coast Trail definitely lived up to
the hype and it’s an experience that I won’t soon forget.

22 thoughts on “Hiking the West Coast Trail – BC’s Most Iconic Backpacking Trail

  1. Thanks for the wonderful videos!! this seems to be a really great hike. Also a huge fan of your Annapurna circuit.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for this great video.
    We stayed on Vancouver Island last year before the WAM100 in Whistler, where we both met at the aid station 9/10.
    Vancouver Island is great and we discovered some parts of the costal trails on the Port Renfrew side…awesome area.
    Need to come back for exploring and racing. 😉

    Greetings from Germany


  3. Hiking without hunting just seems foolish to me, cool views non the less tho. Congratulations on the adventure. Now just take it inland to the mountains and go chase the sheep around 😉

  4. Good video Jeff, just subscribed.
    Sad to hear about Chez Moniques, I stopped there during one of y sea kayak circumnavigations around Vancouver Island and it was a nice break. Someday I have to backpack the trail and see it from the perspective of the land after having seen it twice during my sea kayak trips all the way around the island

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