One of the best hikes on Vancouver Island is the West Coast Trail.
This is not a trail to be taken lightly – it’s not a Sunday afternoon type of hike. This is a major expedition that can take anywhere from a few days to over a week to complete – depending on your condition AND the condition of the trail.
If you are an experienced hiker, you can plan and execute the hike on your own … if not, there are numerous companies that offer guided hikes that supply food, equipment etc. Simply google ‘West Coast Trail Guided Tours’ … lots to choose from. Here’s a little bit just to whet your appetite!
The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a coastal wilderness component of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It has the reputation of being on of the most grueling treks in North America. It is isolated, strenuous, physically challenging and potentially hazardous. It is also extremely rewarding due to the spectacular scenery and unique setting.
Hiking the WCT demands stamina and expertise in hiking and backcountry camping skills. Only competent backpackers should attempt the entire route. You are required to cross deep gullies on fallen trees, negotiate very steep slopes and follow an irregular, slippery trail. This is a wilderness area and it may be many hours before help can be obtained should an accident occur. All hikers should carefully evaluate their individual and group abilities before attempting the route.
Normally, the time to hike the WCT is six days. A more leisurely journey requires eight days. Plan your trek so there is time to explore, enjoy the scenery and relax as well as to deal with unforeseen difficulties and delays.
The weather is characteristic of a marine temperate climate. It is very changeable with heavy rainfall possible even in July, August, September and likely in April, May, June. Rainfall averages 120cm per year; summer temperature average is 14 degrees Celsius (57 F). Heavy morning fog is very common, especially in July and August. A solid week of rain can make a WCT hike a very unpleasant experience and will almost certainly delay hikers at river crossings. Be flexible… have alternative plans and allow extra days for delays due to adverse weather.
The management and operation of the West Coast Trail is the responsibility of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a component of Canada’s national park system. The Park is assisted in WCT operations through a partnership with QUU’AS West Coast Trail Group., a coalition of the Pacheenaht, Ditidaht, Huu-AY-Aht First Nations.
National Park personnel and QUU’AS staff patrol the WCT regularly between April and early October. They are responsible for hiker information and assistance, regulation enforcement, upkeep, public safety, rescue operations and protection of natural and cultural resources.
The WCT is open from May 1 to September 30. It is closed the remainder of the year. During the winter season, frequent and prolonged periods of heavy rain, strong winds and high tides are the norm. There are no shelters and no dry firewood. There are no hiker ferry services. Short days greatly reduce the safe traveling time. Anyone on the WCT requiring assistance during the closed season must be prepared to pay the full cost of rescue services, which may be several days away.
Trail Use Permits
Every person using and hiking the West Coast Trail requires a Trail Use Permit regardless of the number of nights on the Trail. This includes landing anywhere on the Trail by boat or kayak and day-hiking. All WCT users must have a Trail Use Permit in their possession. Hikers without a permit will not be permitted to complete their hike and will not be provided ferry services. Users without Permits are subject to enforcement.
To reduce resource impacts and visitor pressures a quota system for Trail Use Permits is in place. This system provides user’s with a more satisfying experience. Each day between May 1 and September 30, 26 overnight hikers can start the WCT at Pacheena Bay (north) and at Gordon River/Thrasher Cove (south) and 8 at Nitinat Visitor Centre (mid-point Trailhead for hiking half the WCT). These are the only three access points on and off the West Coast Trail, no exceptions. There are no trails or access to the WCT via Carmanah Pacific or Walbran Provincial Parks or the Klanawa River. Access to the WCT from Tsusiat Lake requires special permission.
There are two ways to obtain a Trail Use Permit:
1. To obtain guaranteed hiking dates, hikers may reserve ahead starting april 1, by calling Hello B.C. Reservation Services at the following phone numbers:
1-800-495-5688(within Canada and USA)
250- 387-1642 (outside North America)
Reservations may be made Monday to Saturday between 9:00 am and 5:00 PM (PST). The fee to make a reservation is $24.50 CDN. per person and is non-refundable. Reservations are optional but recommended to guarantee a start date.
2. The other way to obtain a Trail Use Permit is on a first-come first-serve basis. Any un-used quota space and no-show reservations at the three WCT Registration Offices each day will be assigned to hikers by a wait-list. Hikers must place their names on the wait-list in person. Wait-list spaces will be allocated at 1:00 PM each day. During July and August, hikers may wait an average of 1-3 days to obtain a Trail Use Permit on a wait-list basis.