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.
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.
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 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”
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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. 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
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)
- 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.
Tel: 250-728-3234 (Pachena Bay)
Tel: 250-647-5434 (Gordon River)
Tel: 250-381-9388 (Nitinat village)
- Parks Canada – West Coast Trail – Planning Your Hike
- Nitinat Wilderness Charters
- West Coast Trail Express transportation
- West Coast Trail Experience and Transport
- Victoria Club Tread
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
Parks Canada Planning your Hike 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
- MB Guiding NEW
- Emylene VanderVelden – evacuated from her 2017 hike
- BestHike editor Rick McCharles June 2021
- 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
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.
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