Back in December when I was reading some hiking blogs, I was reminded that reservations for the West Coast Trail opened up shortly. I asked my friend Alison if she was down to do the trial, and it was an immediate Yes!
The West Coast Trail is a world-famous trail along the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Often nicknamed the Wet Coast Trail, this trail winds its way through the rainforest in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and encountering never-ending rain, deep mud pits and slippery roots are par for the course. Instead, we got very lucky for our hike and over the 7 days - we got a total of 0mm of rain! To hammer home just how lucky we got with weather, one of the first people we encountered on the trail (making their way out) told us it rained every single day for them except the previous night!
Getting to the Trail
As we both live in nearby Vancouver, getting to the West Coast of Vancouver Island was relatively straightforward. However, something to plan around is the mandatory pre-hike orientation which must be taken day-of or the day before at 2pm (apparently you cannot do the 10am orientation the day before your hike).
As we had already decided to hike North-to-South and leave our car parked at the south end in Gordon River, we decided to take an early ferry across to the island and head directly to Port Renfrew/Gordon River and take the 2pm orientation. We had booked a hikers cabin at the Trailhead Resort in Port Renfrew, so the rest of our afternoon was final prep and relaxation.
A quick snack from Tomi’s (great date bars!) and a dinner at Bridgemans (great spot on the water, but I was disappointed in the food) plus a good rest on proper beds left us set up for the upcoming week of camping!
Day 1 : Pachena Bay to Darling River @ 13.7k
A quick hop over to Coastal Kitchen Cafe right at 8am when they opened (which happened to literally be across the street from our accommodation) allowed us to fill our bellies with a very tasty and filling breakfast. The staff are well acquainted with hiker and bus schedules, and the food came out fresh and fast. Because we had taken the orientation already, we were able to hop on the 8:15am bus pickup and start the trail upon arrival in Pachena Bay, rather than waiting for the 2pm orientation there and starting the hike even later. The bus ride took about 4.5 hours, arriving at Pachena Bay (the north end of the trail) right around 12:45pm. About half of the bus ride is through active forest service roads and can be very bumpy and slow-going.
One interesting thing at the Pachena Bay Information Centre that I didn’t see at the Gordon River one (south end) was a scale! I decided to hang my pack and instantly felt a sense of regret - my bag weighed 49lbs! I later learned this was the heaviest pack weight of anyone I had ran into along the trail. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud or ashamed of…
Starting just before 2pm, we began the trail with our packs at their heaviest. Due to tide, we were unable to take the coastal route and so we were introduced to the labyrinth of ladders pretty quickly - a sign of what was sure to come! The walk was relatively straightforward apart from the initial climb over the headland, and we decided to push past the first campsite at Michigan Creek to Darling River for a more spacious and beautiful campsite.
We found this day to be the least eventful of the whole trip, but was a good way to start with our heavy packs and get some kilometers under our belt.
Day 2 : Darling River to Tsusiat Falls @ 25.4k
A mostly inland trail, we were able to duck out to the beach a couple of times. There were a few points where the inland trail crossed near the edge of cliffs providing great expansive views out over the beach and ocean.
This section of the trail had some more ladders to endure as well as some more weathered boardwalks and bridges, including one that completely deteriorated! Not to worry though, there is a safe pathway under and to the side of the bridge.
Finally descending the ladders down to the Tsusiat Falls campground, we could hear the sound of the waterfall but not see it just yet. A little short exploring down the beach and it’s full beauty was quickly apparent.
The sun came out later in the day and we used the opportunity before more people arrived to rinse some clothes and go for a quick dip under the falls. The water was freezing and the falling water was strong, but it was a great experience and this campsite remained one of my favorites on the trail.
Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Carmanah Creek @ 46.1k
This was our biggest day at over 20km. Due to Indian Reserve land and an area with high wildlife activity, there is no camping for a large part of this section (overnight camping on the Indian Reserve is available at additional cost).
After taking the ferry across Nitinat Narrows, we arrived at the family-owned restaurant. What a captive audience they have! Alison got the (huge!) crab ($30) and a cider ($10) while I had pan-fried halibut ($35) and the same cider ($10). It was a little pricey, but the food was delicious and the cider was oh-so-refreshing! The crab took forever for Alison to finish eating, and we ended up at the crab shack for about 2 hours - a big extension to an already-long day!
Most people hiking South will finish their day at Cribs Creek just before the 42km mark. Due to how busy the campsite was and that we made good timing, we decided to push another 5km to Carmanah - and that was maybe our best decision of the trip. This campsite was far less busy and situated on the corner over a beautiful beach with a large volume of fresh water flowing through the creek.
Day 4 : Carmanah Creek to Walbran Creek @ 53.2k
In our initial planning, we thought 7 days would end up being too long but decided to budget it in to account for more relaxing days or to handle poor weather that would slow us down. Instead we had nothing but great weather thus far, so we decided to have a short hike day completely along the coast, stopping at Walbran. This day was maybe 3 hours of easy beach walking, and we arrived at the campsite right around lunch. As a result, we had plenty of time to set up a nice campsite, a great shelter from the hot sun with our tarp, and get a nice camp fire set up for later.
Day 5: Walbrahn to Camper Bay @ 62.1k
In our pre-hike orientation, we had heard that due to winter storms Cullite Cove was difficult to access. Combined with good travel times, we pushed forward to Camper Bay. The bay was simple enough, but not the nicest campsite. Here we were pushed back furthest from the ocean so it was more of a distant sound. The sandy beach was patchy and moreso rocky. While we had arrived quite early with only one group already there, it filled up rather quickly through the rest of the day and became our most-crowded campsite.
Day 6: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove @ 70.1k
It’s always interesting talking to people you pass along the trail or at camp, and we had heard this last section of the trail was the most difficult. We heard horror stories from people about the mud, the ladders, and how slow-going it was. Thankfully our packs were near their lightest, but we decided to leave just after 8am to give us time and to allow us to walk along the coastal route at low tide. While not particularly difficult, the (very large, and long!) boulder field crossing just before arriving at Thrasher Cove definitely slowed us down as we tried to navigate through the large slippery rocks.
When we arrived at Thrasher Cove, the tide was still quite low and we debated campsite location. Much of the beach seemed damp and it was difficult to pinpoint the high tide line. We worried there was a chance that the ocean would reach a few of the spots we liked quite a bit, and after a lot of debate we decided to camp off the beach back in the forest. The area we selected was large and clear, and while we had a bit of separation, there were 3 other tents that eventually set up in the same area. This was our first time the entire trip that we didn’t camp right on the beach!
Day 7: Walk out to Gordin River @ 75k
Only 5km separated us from the final ferry out to finish our hike, and just like before we had heard this section was quite difficult and slow-going. We decided to leave early again, but instead it was mainly to catch an earlier ferry and arrive back in Port Renfrew in time to gorge out on lunch at the Renfrew Pub.
The climb out of Thrasher Cove starts immediately with a series of steep ladders followed by some steeper terrain as you climb even higher. Eventually you join up with the main trail (Thrasher Cove is a bit of a detour!) and indeed this ended up being the most varied terrain with the fewest boardwalks and the most elevation change along the trail. Perhaps due to our good spirits from the week (and our light packs!), we quite enjoyed the section of the trail as it felt more natural and rugged. As much as the boardwalks make getting through some tricky sections easier and lessen the impact on the landscape, it was nice to have a bit more of a challenge getting through the final stretch.