West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is an old life saving trail that used to be used to rescue people from shipwrecks along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. It stretches 75 km from Port Renfrew in the south to Bamfield in the north, running through the Pacific Rim National Park. The Bamfield end is somewhat flatter and begins more gently than the Port Renfrew end. The trail is in the Pacific Rim National Park.
Access and Permits
You can get shuttles from Victoria to either trailhead. An excellent alternative is to take the Lady Rose ferry to/from Port Alberni to/from the Bamfield trailhead.
There is a reservation and quota system in place for the trail, although they do accept a certain number of walk on hikers a day. You can reserve your spot up to three months in advance. The fees are quite high, check the official Parks Canada site for current numbers.
The trail is open May through September. The main source of discomfort on the trail is the rain. May and early June are the wetest. Any time you go, make sure you and your gear is prepared to deal with continuous rainfall.
The trail passes through amazing stands of old growth cedars, hemlocks and Sitka spruce, along pebble beaches, sandstone shelfs and over massive rock headlands. There are lots of ladders to help you get up the bluffs and cable cars to help you cross the creeks so be forewarned if you are afraid of heights. The trail itself is flat in some parts, with sections of up and down and plenty of ladders and some (very slippery) boardwalks through the boggy parts. Walking along the beach is surprisingly tiring, but nice. Lots of wildlife is usually seen.
The trail itself is well marked, bring tide tables (available on the web) and know how to read them so that you can do some sections on the beach without getting caught by impassable headlands or surge channels. Most people take 6 or 7 days to hike the trail. This is a fairly leisurely pace which allows you to explore, hang out on the beach, and check out the tide pools. The trail is also interesting because of it's people. Be prepared to share a campfire with interesting people from all over the world.
Very few people hike the trail during the "closed" months. There are two good reasons for this :
- The weather is usually very wet and cold during the winter months.
- During the summer, your trail permit fee includes two water-taxi rides accross a couple rivers/inlets.
However, hiking the trail in the off-season has it's rewards:
- You'll likely have the whole trail to yourself.
- You don't need to pay the permit fee.
If you choose to hike the trail in the off-season you need to develop a plan for getting accross the two spots that you would normally be ferried accross. Only consider swimming if you are real tough.
Official Parks Canada information.