The BEST hike in the world is the
West Coast Trail
AT A GLANCE
- 75 km (47 mi), 5-7 days traditional route Pachena Bay <> Gordon River
- 3-5 day routes possible via Nitinaht Village trailhead
- southwestern edge of Vancouver Island
- Pacific Rim National Park
- Permits required May 1 –
September 16September 30
- Trail closed October 1st to April 30th
- essential ferries across Gordon River and Nitinat Narrows only run May 1st to October 7th.
- extremely rugged, requires a high level of fitness
- 6,000+ backpackers / year
- permits limited and in high demand — WCT Trail reservations
- The reservation system opens 8am on a specific day in early January, for example. Reserve online or be ON the phone at 8am.
- only 75 overnight hikers allowed to start each day. There are no longer any “standby” spots. All spaces are reservable.
- … most expensive hiking permit in Canada
Why We Like This Hike
- #1 on our top 10 hikes in the world
- it’s a near perfect hiking experience in pristine Canadian wilderness
- very careful Trail management
- on no other trek have we taken as many photos
- mystic dawns and mind-blowing sunsets
- pretty beaches, cool caves, hidden pocket coves, weird cliffs and coastal geology
- WCT is in a well protected National Park, but access is easy from Victoria or Vancouver
- it’s challenging — though 99% of those who start (somehow) finish
- evacuation in case of disaster is efficient
- thrilling boulder and log walking between Thrasher & Owen Point
- scrambling up slippery Sandstone Creek
- playing at Hole in the Wall
- impossibly situated, gorgeous Tsusiat Falls
- walking impressive old growth forest
- share the trip with whales, sea lions, mink. Maybe bear and cougar. Or even wolves!
- ship wrecks and other historical artifacts
- cable cars and ladders can be “fun”
- campfires below the tide line
- few biting insects
- excellent hiking guidebooks available
- optional side-trip up to see the Canada’s tallest tree, the Carmanah Giant, at 95.836 m (314 ft)
- quota system limits the number of people (75 / day in 2018)
- get the 24 hour emergency phone number from Rangers. Use that only. Not 911.
- some cell phones work on the beaches. A safer option is a marine VHF radio.
- hikers have died on the West Coast Trail
- rogue waves and surge channels pose the greatest risks
- this is not a good hike for those who have never done a long multi-day trip
- though the WCT is improved a little each season, it is still tough
- slippery footing causes almost everyone to fall multiple times
- few finish this adventure pain-free
- you must carry your own heavy pack
- you may need to climb as many as 50 HUGE ladders
- miserably exposed, rain and wind is the norm. You need a good tent.
- can you handle 6 inches of rain in 12 hours?
- summer highs around 14C (57F)
- risks of both hypothermia and heat stroke
- river crossing are normally no problem
- food is available to purchase about half way through at km 44.5
- bring rope to hang food away from bears in case lockers are full
- more bear-proof food caches have been added in recent years
- footwear is critical. Most carry at least 2 pairs of trusted walking shoes, one suitable for water.
NOW are you having doubts?
Try not to be one of those evacuated.
This is the most expensive hike in Canada. Costs shown are full the full hike Pachena Bay <> Gordon River.
2016 Reservation Fee C$24.50 (non-refundable)
2016 TOTAL including Reservation Fee = C$184
(If accessing or exiting the trail from the Nitinaht Narrows, the Nitinaht Water Taxi fee was $62.50 per person one way in 2018.)
Even if you’ve got the money, it is difficult and a hassle to get a reservation to hike in July and August as only up to 75 Trail Use Permits are available starting each day.
If you simply show up at one of the two trailheads — with luck — you might get on the WCT after waiting a day or two. You MIGHT replace a reserved hiker who does not show up. This works well if you are hiking solo or two together, but not for large groups.
If you have plenty of money for the WCT, consider making a reservation for the Ditidaht First Nation luxury 4-person tents at Tsuquadra.
Does this sound too expensive?
The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail immediately south of the West Coast Trail is a brilliant alternative hike. We often recommend people stand by to get on the WCT at Port Renfrew and — if they do not get on — hike Juan de Fuca instead which heads off in the opposite direction from Port Renfrew trailhead.
We have also done shorter hikes on the easier Bamfield end of the WCT exiting at Nitinat Narrows.
Nearby over on the mainland is the Sunshine Coast Trail.
- traditional route is a coastal hike of 75km (47mi)
- trailheads near towns of Port Renfrew (Gordon River) and Bamfield (Pachena Bay)
- all campsites are first-come, first-served
- decide as you go where you want to camp. An “open” itinerary is best.
- we recommend 7 nights on the trail for an optimal experience. Take time to enjoy this beautiful place.
- fit hikers can easily do it in 5 nights
- often you can choose between an inland path or a coastal route. The coast is almost always better.
- you need study a tide chart to plot your best itinerary, hitting specific points at low tide
- if this sounds too daunting, consider doing just half the WCT entering or exiting via Nitinat
- Coastal Bliss ($1650-$1800 in 2013)
- Sea to Sky ($1650-$1800 in 2013)
- Ecosummer Expeditions
- BC Yukon Adventures
You should be on the phone in early January (exact date varies year-to-year) making your reservation for the following season:
1-877-737-3783 (toll-free within Canada & US)
- buy fuel & rent gear, if needed, at MEC in Victoria
- this is a complex hike — get yourself a hiking guidebook as early as possible
- look closely at how to get a reservation.
- a big decision you need to make is whether to start from Port Renfrew or Bamfield. (Much argued is which is the better direction to hike.)
- many have that decision made for them when they make a reservation
- if one trailhead is fully booked, pick the other. If both are booked, consider starting at Nitinat.
- once you know where you are starting, organize transportation to get to and from your trailheads
- Pachena Bay is the name of the northern trailhead (5 km south of Bamfield)
- easiest is to drive your own vehicle, but public transport is fairly convenient too
- you can park at one trailhead, book with the convenient West Coast Trail Express bus to get back ($80 one way 3hrs in 2013). This company can store your excess luggage until you finish the hike. Confirm that.
boat transport is also available between the two trailheads by tour boat, weather permitting — UPDATE – JUAN DE FUCA EXPRESS Water Taxi closed March 2015.
Tel: 250-728-3234 (Pachena Bay)
Tel: 250-647-5434 (Gordon River)
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Blisters & Bliss: The Trekker’s Guide to the West Coast Trail – northbound and southbound. Get the most recent edition
- Tim Leadem – Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island
- Robert J. Bannon – The West Coast Trail: One Step at a Time 2008
Blisters and Bliss is the classic. We’d recommend carrying that and Leadem both, at minimum. This is one adventure where you really, really appreciate advance information.
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Lonely Planet – British Columbia & the Canadian Rockies. Get the most recent edition.
Other Recommended Books
- Plants of the West Coast Trail
- Soaring with the Eagles on Canada’s West Coast Trail – Al Brawn
- Timeless Shore
Every hiker gets the free CanMap West Coast Trail (1:50,000). This is either mailed or handed to you at Orientation. It is somewhat water resistant, but we recommend you put it in a waterproof Ziploc bag.
- West Coast Trail & Carmanah Valley map 2010
Better to carry hiking guidebooks than a map on this trek, in any case. You’re not going to get lost. But you MIGHT make the wrong decision on whether or not to take the coastal route — or the inland trail.
Best Web Pages
- MB Guiding NEW
- Parks Canada Planning your Hike on the West Coast Trail
- 2018 HIKER PREPARATION GUIDE (pdf)
- West Coast Trail: Transportation
- How not to die on the West Coast Trail
- Lady Rose ferry – Bamfield to Port Alberni
Juan De Fuca Express water taxi Bamfield – Port Renfrew– cancelled
- Air Tofino – fly Tofino to WCT trailheads
Best Trip Reports
- MB Guiding NEW
- Emylene VanderVelden – evacuated from her 2017 hike
- Emily – See Her Travel
- 20 Takeaways from Hiking Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail
- Brad – Bike Hike Safari (got a cancellation permit at the trailhead)
- BarbaraB 2012:
They have a new map out and every campsite that is marked with a “T” (for toilet) has a composting toilet (or two or three) AND bear lockers. Unless you really get off the beaten path for a camping spot, you will not need to hang your food. …
One used to always hear about Chez Monique’s, but now there’s a number of spots that offer you stuff on the trail:
– km 44.5 – Chez Monique’s – as much food as you need
- West Coast Trail – site editor Rick McCharles, 2013
- West Coast Trail Suffer-Fest – Flying up side up (2012)
- BluePeak WCT photos – 2003
- Without Baggage trip & photos 2008 Hank Leukart
- West Coast Trail Trip Report – Brett on Stuff
- My West Coast Trail Adventure! – Wolfman
- Guy Jones photos – May 2006
- FormerFatGuy.com – 2004
- Soggy Bottom Boys – 2005
- WCT trip report – Janet Wilson, 2007
- Saskatoon Does the West Coast Trail – Warren Long, 1999
- stodmyk – 2005
- Blunders and Buffoonery – Rick McCharles, 2004
Click PLAY or get a short, entertaining glimpse on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch a 2017 hike on YouTube.
Underwater in the tidal pools included in this edit.
Check our blog for posts tagged “West Coast Trail”.