Hike the West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, BC (Backpacking)
To hike the West Coast Trail is an adventure into personal accomplishment. The trek is physically demanding, especially during a rainstorm with gale-force winds, and tests your mental toughness as you trek muddy trails through ancient forests, walk along endless beaches and scale deep gorges on thin ladders.
That's why this 75 kilometer trail along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, BC, is one of the top backpacking trips in the world and the premier backpacking trip in Canada.
On the trek, you'll follow the southwestern shores of Vancouver Island and have the constant roar of the powerful Pacific Ocean always in the background. You'll feel like you're camping along the edge of the world as you weave along this thin boundary between land & sea.
Hiking the West Coast Trail takes between 6 - 9 days (most backpackers do it 7 days). The trail is always muddy but in autumn, after months of bright and sunny conditions, the Vancouver Island coastline is muchless muddy.
You'll hike through a thick temperate rainforest & witness the beauty of the intertidal zone along the rocky coastal shelf of Vancouver Island. Camping on secluded beaches at night under a full moon is a magical memory that a hiker will never forget.
After backpacking for a week, under some of the largest trees on the planet, you'll have earned the privilege of calling yourself a survivor of the West Coast Trail.
The trail is a part of the Pacific Rim National Park, which is a protected area along the western shores of Vancouver Island.
The area is in a temperate rainforest and exposed to the open Pacific Ocean. The park is made up of three distinct areas - Long Beach near Tofino, British Columbia, the Broken Island Group in Berkley Sound and the West Coast Trail, a thin sliver of protected lands along the foot of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range.
The West Coast Trail extends from Port Renfrew, BC up to Bamfield and retraces the route of an old British telegraph line from the 1890's. Bamfield was going to be the western terminus of a Trans Pacific Telegraph line, which was never completed. Hikers are still be able to see some remnants of the telegraph cable and posts.
This coast is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Over 60 ships have been smashed along the rocky shores, mainly attributed to fog and fierce storms. You'll witness some of these rusting wrecks on the beach and just off-shore.
Why Hike the West Coast Trail?
Navigating around a surge channel on the West Coast Trail.
Hikers come to see the remote beauty that can only be found along the coastal shelf. In the winter, western Vancouver Island is pounded by gale-force winds and the giant waves have carved the rough and jagged shoreline out of the thick rain forest.
This is one of the best hikes in the world and it starts only 2 hours away from Victoria, BC.
There's waterfalls and gorges, abundant wildlife and MASSIVE trees. These giants have thrived in this briny environment. The remoteness of the area has protected them for centuries.
Hikers will find the ever changing weather a challenge. The area is a temperate rain forest that's constantly shrouded in fog, drenched in rain (up to 3 meters annually) and battered by strong wind. But despite this immense power, the Pacific sunsets make for great photos and even better memories.
In fact the forest is home to an ancient forest that includes old-growth spruce, Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, hemlock & cedar. Some of the largest trees in Canada, and in the entire world, are known to be just near the West Coast Trail.
View The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in a larger map
Map of the West Coast Trail.
Tips from Those Who Have Hiked the West Coast Trail
- Access to the trail requires a permit. Space is limited so make reservations early. There are last minute spots available every day but make your plans in advance to avoid any disappointment.
- Purchase the book The West Coast Trail & Other Great Hikes by Tim Leadem for an excellent trail description, preparation guide and nature guide. It's a well written book.
- September is the best month to do the West Coast Trail. Daytime weather is usually sunny and warm. Fog is common during the morning, rain usually falls at night. Storms can blow in from the Pacific at anytime.
- Port Renfrew is a VERY small town (Bamfield is even smaller). The hikers in our group first gathered near Sooke (2 hours south of the trailhead) to gather the group and collect supplies.
- I've only experienced motion-sick two times in my life - once taking the bus to the trailhead on a bumpy, curvy road (Victoria to Port Renfrew); the second, leaving at the other end (Bamfield to Nanaimo). BLAH!
- Plan your trip around the full moon to make night navigating around camp easier. The area is magical when bathed in cool moon-light.
- People who are scared of heights may have problems with the ladders, log-crossings, cable-car rides & suspension bridges.
- Hikers have died on the West Coast Trail. Follow the tide tables, watch out for rogue waves and be careful on slippery logs!
- You're going to meet people from around the globe so prepare for lots of conversations!
Useful Phone Numbers
- Pacific Rim National Park Administration Office (Ucluelet, BC) - 1-(250)-726-3500 (year-round.
- Information Center - Pachena Bay (North)- 1-250-728-3234 (May 1 - October 4, 9-5).
- Information Center - Gordan River (south) - 1-250-647-5434 (May 1 - October 4, 9-5).
- BC Ferries (Vancouver to Victoria) - 1-888-223-3779 (within North America); 1-250-386-3431 (outside of North America)
- Victoria Clipper Passenger Ferry (Seattle to Victoria) - 1-800-888-2535
- The West Coast Trail Express bus from Victoria & Nanaimo to the trail.
- Stay at Comfort Cove Cottage (1-250-483-6969), an oceanfront cottage on Vancouver Island for a relaxing break before or after the hike in Sooke, BC.
- Port Renfrew weather. Weather in Bamfield, BC.
Is the West Coast Trail for You?
- Hikes on Vancouver Island. Alternates to the West Coast Trail.
- Required Fitness Level for hiking the West Coast Trail.
- What to expect on the West Coast Trail.
- What to bring on the West Coast Trail.
- Hazards and injuries. How to safely hike the West Coast Trail
- Getting to Vancouver Island and to the trail head.
- FAQ's for the West Coast Trail
To hike the West Coast Trail may be one of the most challenging outdoor wilderness experiences in your life. It's tough yet scenic, beautiful yet wild. If you want to see how mentally & physically tough you are, consider challenging yourself on this 75 kilometer backpacking hike.
Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.