West Coast Trail

UPDATE – After being closed in 2020 due to COVID, reservations opened April 30th, 2021. However … only Canadians were eligible and no standby spaces available for walk-on hikers. In June, only those resident in British Columbia could register.

World → North America → Pacific NW → Canada → West Coast Trail

Click PLAY or watch a 1-minute preview on YouTube.

The BEST hike in the world is the West Coast Trail

The very BEST hike in the world. That’s right. The BEST. In 2014 a new access point was opened, Nitinat Narrows. Instead of 60 hiking permits / day, we’re now allowed up to 75 / day. Exiting or entering via Nitinat make shorter WCT adventures possible.

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AT A GLANCE

  • wctma75 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 16 September 30
  • Trail closed October 1st to April 30th
    • essential ferries across Gordon River and Nitinat Narrows only run during the season.
  • 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 the winter, for example. The online reservation system works well. 
    • only 75 overnight hikers allowed to start each day. All permits are reservable — but unused permits are available to standby walk-in hikers. There’s a chance you could get one by waiting a day or two at a trailhead.
  • … most expensive hiking permit in Canada
  • both “Nitinat” and “Nitinaht” are acceptable ways to spell the First Nations name in English

Why We Like This Hike

  • #1 on our top 10 hikes in the world
  • it’s a challenging hike in pristine Canadian wilderness
  • good Trail management
  • on no other trek have we taken as many photos
  • 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 dangerous — though 99% of those who start (somehow) finish
  • thrilling boulder and log walking between Thrasher & Owen Point
  • scrambling slippery Sandstone Creek
  • impossibly situated, gorgeous Tsusiat Falls
  • impressive old growth forest
  • share the trip with whales, sea lions, mink. Possibly bear, wolves and cougar.
  • ship wrecks and other historical artifacts
  • cable cars and ladders can be “fun”
WCT ladders
writzofpassage.com
  • 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)

Considerations

  • 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.
  • mobile phones work on the beaches, but normally only via the Verizon network in Washington State. A safer option is a marine VHF radio.
  • very little mobile phone service in Port Renfrew. Bamfield is good.
  • 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
  • miserably exposed, rain and wind is the norm. You need a good tent.
  • can you handle 6 inches of rain in 12 hours?
  • mud
  • summer highs around 14C (57F)
  • risks of both hypothermia and heat stroke
  • river crossing are normally not a problem
  • 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.
Version 2
writzofpassage.com

NOW are you having doubts?

Try not to be one of those evacuated.

Below are 7 videos we put together in 2021 for the first time WCT hiker. If they help, bookmark and/or subscribe on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch the Introduction on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Bamfield to Michigan Creek on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Michigan Creek to Tsusiat Falls on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Tsusiat Fall to Cribs Creek on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Cribs Creek to Cullite Creek on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Cullite to Port Renfrew on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Nitinat Option on YouTube.

Cost

This is the most expensive hike in Canada. Costs shown are full the full hike Pachena Bay <> Gordon River.

2021 Reservation Fee C$24.50 (non-refundable)
2021 TOTAL including Reservation Fee about C$200

(If accessing or exiting the trail from the Nitinaht Narrows, the Nitinaht Water Taxi fee is an extra $62.50 per person one way in 2021.) 

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.

Other WCT alternatives on Vancouver Island include the far less developed Nootka Trail. And the much newer North Coast Trail.

Nearby (over on the mainland) is the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Routes

  • 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. 3-4 nights is fast.
  • 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

Trekking Guides

Logistics

You should be on the phone on registration day 1 (exact date varies year-to-year) making your reservation for the following season:

1-877-737-3783 (toll-free within Canada & US)
1-519-826-5391 (international)

  • 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. For 1st time hikers, we slightly recommend starting in Bamfield.)
  • 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. This company can store your excess luggage until you finish the hike.
  • another transportation option is West Coast Trail Experience and Transport.
  • boat transport is also available between the two trailheads  by tour boat, weather permitting — UPDATE – JUAN DE FUCA EXPRESS Water Taxi closed March 2015.

Local Information

Information Centres
Tel: 250-728-3234 (Pachena Bay)
Tel: 250-647-5434 (Gordon River)

Tel: 250-381-9388 (Nitinat village)

Best Trekking Guidebooks

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

Other Recommended Books

Best Maps

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.

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.

Online

Best Web Pages

MB Guiding

Parks Canada Planning your Hike on the West Coast Trail

2018 HIKER PREPARATION GUIDE (pdf)

West Coast Trail Experience & Transport

wikipedia

How not to die on the West Coast Trail

Lady Rose ferry – Bamfield to and from Port Alberni (3 days/week)

Juan De Fuca Express water taxi Bamfield – Port Renfrew – cancelled

Air Tofino  – fly Tofino to WCT trailheads

Click PLAY or watch BestHike editor Rick McCharles’ GEAR on YouTube.

Best Trip Reports

hiker in surf

Movies

Click PLAY or watch the West Coast Trail Hiker Preparation Guide on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch Rudy D’Alessio’s excellent 2021 edit on YouTube.

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.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a REPLY on this page. Our editors will reply.

18 Replies to “West Coast Trail”

  1. hey if want to hike the trail around may 20th, do i make a reservation? and if so where and how?
    thanks in advance!

    jan

      1. it says on the website i can’t reserve for a permit till 13th of june and its first come first serve. So i just head out there and be as early as possible on the 20th?

  2. Please forgive a naive and foolish question about the West Coast Trail, and your choice of it as the #1 hike:
    I just watched several videos depicting it, and I don’t understand why everyone loves it, as they clearly do. Every day there’s forest and ocean, and rough, muddy trails requiring strength and endurance. But that’s it. Every day on the videos looked the same, and pretty boring. – – – *Please* explain what makes this trail so wonderful. Thank you!

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