Hiking British Columbia’s West Coast Trail
For many, hiking the West Coast Trail isn’t just a pretty walk. Thousands of hikers, like me, come to Vancouver Island every summer to trek the 77km between Bamfield and Port Renfrew for something more. Not only is the West Coast Trail one of Canada’s foremost and most famous trails, but for adventurers, Canadian or otherwise, the trail is itself the destination and the quest is the experience.
I decided to hike the West Coast Trail in my home province of British Columbia for several reasons:
- I had always wanted to hike it
- I had no job and therefore had ample time
- I have done many hikes around the world and had never done the penultimate trail that was right in my own backyard
- I was itching to test myself and prove to myself that I could do it.
I booked my spot on the WCT (hikers need to reserve their start date and park permit in advance on the Parks Canada website) and started to gather everything I would need: tent, boots, sleeping bag, food, water filter etc. To be completely honest, I did not do too much physical training. I felt I was in ok shape and I assumed it was going to hurt regardless so I planned to rely on mental grit and stamina. That was misguided.
I travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island via the Lady Rose Marine Services, a beautiful 3-hour boat ride from Port Alberni to the small coastal hamlet of Bamfield. Along the way, I began speaking with a group of fellow hikers who were starting the same day as me. Soon enough, though still technically a solo hiker, I was part of a hiking family, later to be named Team Buffoon.
We spent a night in the Pachena Bay campsite south of Bamfield. We struggled goodheartedly while hanging our food bags from a very high tree only later to be treated with a visit from a pod of grey whales right in the bay. The sun was shining as we broke down camp to start our first day on the West Coast Trail.
The West Coast Trail is a one-way trail which you can start at either end. I started at the North, because there were openings available for my dates only from the North. Starting at the north end, the first introduction to a true feature of the trail comes at the 5-minute mark: ladders. The WCT is full of wood ladders in various states of repair, a range of lengths and laying at any number of inclines. We were later to learn that for hikers starting from the South end, they are also met with a ladder at the outset. So the WCT is an equal opportunity ladder provider.
The WCT runs right along the coastline of Vancouver Island’s southwest coast. The trail moves from the beach, to the rocky headlands, to the coastal rainforest and back again. Never too far from the ocean, the sounds of crashing waves are nearly constant, as is the possibility of looking out at the ocean and spotting seals, bald eagles, sea lions, or even whales. Bears are a possibility, which I pondered during those times I was walking on my own. Several lighthouses mark the way, as do a couple of excellent, though rustic, eateries.
Chez Monique’s is a trail institution that you either hit at the halfway mark. Monique has been serving up the most delicious burgers for over 20 years from her spot just south of Carmanagh Lighthouse on a native reserve, offering refuge for the trail weary and a cold beer for added comfort. The enterprising folks at Nitinat Narrows have caught onto this idea for flavor starved hikers and in addition to offering water taxi services, now also serve up the freshest catch imaginable: crab, salmon, halibut, cod, or whatever else happened to come into the boat that day. A cooler of beer and regularly restocked shelves of chocolate bars and chips are everything you thought you would never need on the trail.
Specific locations are designated campsites along the WCT, all on the beaches and all within spitting distance of a fresh water source. Each campsite is beautiful, though the sites at Tsusiat Falls, Walbran Creek, and Camper Creek had to be my favorite. Tsusiat Falls must be one of the most glorious waterfalls I have ever seen, cascading down from the sudden cliff and out to the ocean in a dramatic way that can only happen on the West Coast. Team Buffoon happily rolled into Walbran after a fairly mild day (assisted greatly by Chez Monique burgers) and enjoyed the view as we roasted marshmallows around our evening campfire. Camper is a site that is actually sheltered by a large burm, so the ocean is not immediately visible from your tent. That said, walking up and over the burm, the Pacific lays in front of you completely, and after 5 days of hiking, the sight made me feel renewed and rejuvenated.
The West Coast Trail is not easy. The trail is relatively flat and never climbs more than 600 meters, but the walking is rough, with mud, roots, tricky footing, broken boardwalks, those ladders and the constant navigation of fallen logs slowing your way. Depending on the terrain, beach walking may not be better. Some stretches are easily walked on hard packed, solid beach, while other areas provide a more Sahara desert experience trudging through the of deep sand in some areas.
Our last night on the trail, as I sat around a campfire with some of my trail family at Thrasher Cove, I reflected on how far we had come. 71km if I’m being literal. But more than that, we had braved on through mud, rain and injuries, sickness and frustration. There were many times when I was crawling up a mud slick or jumping from log to log praying my ankles wouldn’t break, when I stopped to think, “maybe this wasn’t a good idea…”
In fact, it was a great idea! I survived, more or less intact, and saw a truly phenomenal part of my country that people simply cannot see without surviving this trail. I was among the alumni of the WCT, and was not only proud that I had completed it, but proud that I truly enjoyed my time on the trail. No flush toilets, no electricity, no bathing, and no Internet for a week, while pushing my body and mind to the extreme and sleeping on the ground? I loved it!
Emily Kydd is a Canadian solo female nomad and editor of the blog See Her Travel. Exploring this world to diverse countries such as Kyrgyzstan, St. Lucia, Nepal, Myanmar and Fiji, Emily loves discovering new cultures, meeting wonderful people and having a laugh while on the latest crazy adventure. Emily is currently based in Jamaica.
Social media handles: