For those looking for a great hiking trail on Canada's stunning West Coast, one of the most spectacular and popular is the West Coast Trail (WCT). It runs around the southwest coast of Vancouver Island in Canada's British Columbia. British Columbia famously has some of the most stunning and dramatic scenery in all of North America and has plenty of things to see and do.
The West Coast Trail is a multi-day backpacking trail through some of the island's most iconic backcountry. It is a challenging trail that can prove challenging even to experienced hikers. Compared to America's massive Pacific Coast Trail (something of the Appalachian Trail of the West), the West Coast Trail is rather short - but it is intense and very challenging.
The West Coast Trail - The Stunning Graveyard Of The Pacific
The West Coast Trail was first built in 1907 to help rescue shipwrecked survivors along the coast (the coast is part of the Graveyard of the Pacific). Today it is thought of as one of the world's top hiking trails.
- Length: 47 miles or 75 km
- Location: Southwest Vancouver Island, British Columbia
The area has been inhabited by native people for thousands of years, and there were long trails there that were used for trade and traveled long before European settlement. The territory was the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples.
The European presence in the area began around 200 years ago when foreign sailing ships first started arriving off the coast. Over the years, there were so many shipwrecks along the coast that the coastline became known as "the Graveyard of the Pacific."
The trail starts near Barkley Sound at Bamfield and runs to Port Renfrew on Port San Juan Bay. During the days of the British Empire, Bamfield was the terminus for the All Red Line. The All Red Line was a system of electrical telegraphs that linked much of the British Empire and spanned the world, linking Britain, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and back to Britain.
Plan Ahead And Be Prepared For A Challenging Hike
Hikers can expect to have to scale over 100 ladders with their backpacks. The trail has deep mud, mountain streams to ford, and sometimes the driving wind and rain of the wild West Coast.
The trail is open seasonally between May 1 and September 30. Reservations are required to hike the trail, and reservations can be booked on the Parks Canada website. Hikers need to plan ahead as spaces fill up quickly, and there may be no available spaces. The permits are only required for overnight hikers. Day hikers can use the trail free of charge.
The trail goes through forests, bogs, and beaches and sometimes requires rappelling. Hikers are greeted with old-growth trees, waterfalls, pebble beaches, exposed boulders, and plenty of mud. Parts of the beach can become impassable during high tides.
Parks Canada issues tide tables and maps to all hikers before they start out on their epic trek.
Even though the trail is only 47 miles long, it normally takes hikers around seven days to complete the West Coast Trail. Around 6,000 people complete the trail annually.
The West Coast Trail is closed in the winter season because of prolonged periods of heavy winds, high takes, short days, and strong winds.
West Coast Trail Fees
The maximum group size is 10. There are a number of fairly basic campgrounds along the route, and hikers are recommended to start the trail at least five hours before sunset to get to the first camping area before nightfall. There are no services along the trail, so hikers need to take everything they need with them.
West Coast Trail Fees:
- Overnight Use Permit: $136.00 CAD ($103 USD) - Per Person Per Trip
- Reservation Fee: $25.75 CAD ($20) - Per Person
Additionally, there are also the National Park entry fees (typically around $10.50 CAD).
Ferries are needed to get to the trailhead. The ferry fees are:
- Gordon River Ferry: $24.00 CAD ($19.00 USD)
- Nitinaht Ferry: $24.00 CAD ($19.00 USD)
- Water Taxi Fee: $62.50 CAD ($47.00 USD)
The total fees can be expected to be approximately $200 CAD - $250 CAD.