Skip to Content

Conquer the Wild: An Epic Adventure on Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail

High Point

High Point:
190 meters (623 feet)

Total Ascent

Total Ascent:
1,800 meters (5,906 feet)

Difficulty

Difficulty:
Very Difficult

Distance

Distance:
75 kilometers (47 miles)

Skyblue Overland may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.

Embark on the West Coast Trail’s 75-kilometer journey through ancient rainforests, windswept beaches, and historic shipwreck sites. This challenging hike promises unparalleled beauty and adventure, forging unforgettable memories in the heart of nature.



Overview

The West Coast Trail (WCT) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia is one of the most iconic and challenging hiking trails in the world. Stretching 75 kilometers along the southwestern edge of the island, this trail offers a rugged and scenic journey through coastal rainforests, along windswept beaches, and past historic shipwreck sites. Originally developed to facilitate the rescue of shipwreck survivors, the trail now stands as a testament to the region’s maritime history and natural beauty. Hikers can expect to navigate muddy trails, slippery boardwalks, and numerous river crossings, making this a trek suited for experienced and well-prepared adventurers.

The WCT is managed by Parks Canada and is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The trail is typically open from May 1 to September 30, with reservations highly recommended due to its popularity. The trail’s rich history, diverse ecosystems, and stunning scenery make it a bucket-list adventure for many outdoor enthusiasts.


Read our complete British Columbia travel and adventure guide here.


Directions to Trailhead

The West Coast Trail can be accessed from two main trailheads: the northern trailhead at Pachena Bay near Bamfield and the southern trailhead at Gordon River near Port Renfrew.

Pachena Bay Trailhead:

From Nanaimo: Take the BC-19 N/BC-1 N to BC-4 W. Follow BC-4 W to Port Alberni. From Port Alberni, follow Bamfield Road to Bamfield. The trailhead is located at Pachena Bay Campground.

From Victoria: Head north on BC-1 N to Nanaimo, then follow the same route as above.

The route to Pachena Bay involves a combination of paved and gravel roads, and it’s essential to be prepared for the latter’s challenging conditions, especially in wet weather. The drive through the dense forest is scenic but slow, so plan accordingly.

Gordon River Trailhead:

From Victoria: Take the BC-1 N to the Sooke Road/BC-14 W exit toward Sooke. Continue on BC-14 W to Port Renfrew. The trailhead is located near the Gordon River Campground.

The drive to Port Renfrew along BC-14 offers stunning coastal views and passes through charming small towns like Sooke and Jordan River. This route is more straightforward and entirely paved, making it a popular choice for those starting their hike from the south.

Both trailheads are relatively remote, and transportation logistics should be planned well in advance. Many hikers arrange for shuttle services or use car drops to facilitate their journey. Companies like West Coast Trail Express offer shuttle services between Victoria, Nanaimo, and the trailheads, providing a convenient option for hikers.

Places to Stay

Accommodations near the West Coast Trail are varied, ranging from campgrounds to lodges. It’s crucial to book in advance, especially during peak season, as availability can be limited.

Pachena Bay:

Pachena Bay Campground: Located near the northern trailhead, this campground offers tent and RV sites, along with basic amenities like showers and picnic tables. The campground is situated in a beautiful forested area, providing a serene setting to start or end your hike.

Bamfield: A small village offering a few bed-and-breakfasts and guest houses. Options include Bamfield Boardwalk B&B and Kingfisher Lodge. These accommodations provide a cozy and comfortable stay with a taste of local hospitality.

Port Renfrew:

Pacheedaht Campground: Situated near the southern trailhead, this campground provides sites for tents and RVs, with amenities such as showers and fire pits. It’s a great spot to relax and prepare for the hike.

Seaside Cottages: Cozy accommodations offering a comfortable stay with stunning ocean views. The cottages are well-equipped and provide a perfect place to unwind after completing the trail.

Wild Renfrew Seaside Cottages: Charming, well-appointed cottages ideal for relaxation before or after the hike. These cottages are known for their excellent service and beautiful coastal setting, offering a luxurious retreat.

Field Notes

The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a legendary multi-day backpacking trail that many hikers have on their adventure bucket list. It’s an experience that can test even the most experienced hikers. Those who are physically fit, mentally prepared, and well-equipped come back with tales of determination.

Hikers must conquer over 100 ladders while carrying a heavy pack, slog through deep mud, ford hip-deep mountain rivers with strong currents, and brave whatever weather the wild West Coast throws at them – often fierce winds and rain.

The 75-kilometer (47-mile) West Coast Trail has been used by indigenous communities for trade and travel for generations. Villages and camps belonging to the Huuay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht were established long before foreign ships began arriving on these shores more than 200 years ago. As the number of ships increased, so did the number of shipwrecks and drownings along this treacherous coastline, earning it the nickname “the Graveyard of the Pacific.”

The West Coast Trail is renowned for its challenging terrain and unpredictable weather. Hikers must be well-prepared to face the diverse conditions and obstacles presented by this trail. Here are some essential statistics and tips to keep in mind:

Basic Trail Stats

  • Length: 75 kilometers (47 miles)
  • Trailheads: Pachena Bay (North) and Gordon River (South)
  • Duration: Typically 5-7 days
  • Difficulty: Very challenging
  • Elevation Gain: Approximately 1,800 meters (5,906 feet)
  • Permits Required: Yes, through Parks Canada
  • Season: May 1 to September 30
  • Highest Point: 190 meters (623 feet)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Notable Features:
    • Over 100 ladders
    • 7 cable car crossings
    • Numerous boardwalks and bridges
    • Historic shipwreck sites
    • Scenic waterfalls and coastal views
  • Wildlife: Bears, cougars, wolves, sea lions, and whales
  • Best Months to Hike: June to September for optimal weather conditions

Terrain and Weather

The trail includes steep climbs, descents, and ladders, as well as sections with muddy paths and slippery boardwalks. River crossings and cable cars add to the adventure. The trail’s difficulty is compounded by its length and the weight of a fully loaded backpack.

The coastal climate is highly variable. Rain and fog are common, even in summer. Proper rain gear and waterproof packing are essential. Layered clothing is recommended to adjust to the changing temperatures.

Permits and Safety

Hikers need to secure a permit to hike the WCT. These are available through Parks Canada and should be reserved well in advance. The permit system helps manage the number of hikers on the trail, preserving the environment and ensuring a better experience for all.

The trail is remote, and rescue operations can be challenging. Hikers should carry a well-stocked first-aid kit, navigation tools, and enough food and water for the entire trip. Satellite communication devices are recommended as cell service is unreliable.

Wildlife Awareness

Bears, cougars, and wolves inhabit the area. Food storage and wildlife awareness are critical. Bear-proof canisters are mandatory, and hikers should be knowledgeable about safe practices in bear country.

Tides

Monitoring tides is crucial as several sections of the trail are only passable at low tide. Tidal charts are essential to plan safe passage along the beach sections. Hikers should obtain the most recent tide tables and plan their hiking schedule accordingly. Certain areas have “tide windows” where it is safe to cross only during low tide, and failing to heed these times can be dangerous.

Journal

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Darling River (14 km)
Starting at the Pachena Bay trailhead, the first day on the West Coast Trail offers a blend of excitement and caution. The trail begins with a well-defined path through lush coastal rainforest. Early highlights include the Pachena Lighthouse and the stunning views from the cliffs. The trail is relatively gentle, providing a good warm-up for the challenges ahead. Camping near Darling River, the sound of the ocean provides a soothing backdrop for the night.

Day 2: Darling River to Tsusiat Falls (12 km)
The second day brings hikers to Tsusiat Falls, a breathtaking destination. The trail features varied terrain, with some sections requiring careful navigation over slippery rocks and roots. The falls themselves are a highlight, offering a natural pool for a refreshing swim. The campsite at Tsusiat Falls is one of the most picturesque on the trail, with the cascading water creating a serene environment.

Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek (17 km)
Day three is challenging, with a mix of beach and forest hiking. The beach sections are particularly tough, with soft sand and tidal considerations. Crossing the Klanawa River via a cable car is an exhilarating experience. The forested sections provide a reprieve from the sun, but the trail remains demanding. Arriving at Cribs Creek, hikers are often exhausted but exhilarated, ready for a good night’s rest.

Day 4: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek (11 km)
This section of the trail is known for its rugged beauty. Hikers encounter numerous ladders and boardwalks, each presenting its own challenge. The trail meanders through dense forest and along dramatic coastal cliffs. Walbran Creek is a welcome sight, with its clear, cool water providing a perfect spot for a quick dip. The campsite here is well-sheltered, offering a peaceful night under the stars.

Day 5: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay (9 km)
The fifth day is one of the most demanding yet rewarding. The trail includes several significant climbs and descents, along with the infamous Logan Creek suspension bridge. Each obstacle feels like a victory upon completion. Reaching Camper Bay, hikers set up camp by the water and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hikers sharing stories around the fire.

Day 6: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove (12 km)
As hikers approach the end of their journey, the trail continues to test their endurance. The final stretch includes more challenging terrain, with muddy paths and complex navigation. Thrasher Cove, the penultimate campsite, offers a beautiful beach setting. The sense of accomplishment is palpable among groups sharing their experiences and anticipating the final day.

Day 7: Thrasher Cove to Gordon River (5 km)
The last day on the West Coast Trail is bittersweet. The remaining kilometers are a mix of emotions, from the joy of completing the hike to the sadness of leaving such a beautiful and challenging environment. The trail ends with a ferry ride across the Gordon River, a fitting conclusion to the adventure. Many celebrate their achievement in Port Renfrew, sharing a hearty meal and reflecting on the journey.

Conclusion

The West Coast Trail is not just a hike; it’s an adventure that tests the limits of endurance, perseverance, and preparedness. Every step on this trail is a step through history and nature, from the ancient rainforests and majestic beaches to the remnants of shipwrecks that tell stories of the past. The trail’s challenging terrain and unpredictable weather demand respect and careful planning, but the rewards are unparalleled. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the journey is profound, leaving hikers with lasting memories and a deep connection to one of the world’s most spectacular coastal environments. For those ready to take on the challenge, the West Coast Trail promises an unforgettable experience.


Skyblue Featured Video: West Coast Trail Hiker Preparation Guide


Popular Articles:

An Adventurer’s Guide to Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia, Canada

An Adventurer’s Guide to Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

An Adventurer’s Guide to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia, Canada

Best Guided Adventures In Squamish, British Columbia


Enroll With Global Rescue Prior To Embarking On Your Next Adventure.

When a travel emergency arises, traditional travel insurance may not come to your aid, and a medical evacuation can cost up to $300,000.

The cost when you have a Global Rescue membership? $0. That’s why when the unexpected happens, you want the leader in rescue, evacuation and medical advisory behind you. You want Global Rescue.

Learn More!

Terms of Use: As with each guide published on SKYBLUEOVERLAND.com, should you choose to these routes, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While taking a trail, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. SKYBLUE OVERLAND LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.