Hiking Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail: a Quick Guide

vancouver island west coast trail advice

There's always a new adventure to look forward to. Maybe you've already delved into the depths of the Blackwater Forest Trail in Ireland or explored Nepal's best treks, like the Manaslu Circuit Trek or world-famous Everest Base Camp Trek. However, Vancouver's West Coast Trail is something different.

Overview of the West Coast Trail

The trail's coastline is as treacherous as it is beautiful and has earned the name “Graveyard of the Pacific”. In this journey, you'll be fighting off sand and turf and tides while walking what was once the perilous rescue route for unlucky mariners. It'll test even the best of hikers. If you're up for the challenge, here's a quick guide on how to embark on the trip. The trail is 75km of rugged and gorgeous terrain. You'll want to visit during the summer months when it won't be quite as muddy. The journey takes about a week, starting at the Gordon River and ending in Bamfield. You'll face a topography of sand, mud, and stone and a foggy rainforest climate.

Requirements of the West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail has a few prerequisites you need to take care of. First, you need to make a reservation on Parks Canada's website. There are only 70 slots to begin hiking per day, and the trail is only open from May to September to help visitors avoid inclement weather. You'll also have to pay for various costs like a $160 (£126.69) trail permit, a $25.75 (£20.39) reservation fee, and a National Park entry fee of $10.50 (£8.31) per day.

west coast trail hiking guide

An orientation session and a pre-hike briefing are required. These take place at 10 am and 2 pm at Pachena Bay and Gordon River and at 8 am and 3:30 pm at the Nitinaht Visitor Centre. You're also allowed to attend an orientation the day before your hike.

What to Pack

When hiking on the West Coast Trail, be sure to bring the following items.


The West Coast Trail is a magnet for eye damage. You'll face UV radiation emanating from overhead and light glare from the sea—and without the right eyewear, you might get blinded by photokeratitis. To shield yourself, invest in a pair of sunglasses with special lenses that are designed with performance in mind. These will safeguard your eyes on your strenuous hikes using heavy-duty frame durability and superb lens technology. For this, you can try the Flak model from sports brand Oakley, which has impact-resistant frame material and polarised PRIZM lenses that grant detailed vision and UV and glare protection.


You'll want to be able to carry all your essentials with you on this week-long trip while keeping those supplies dry from the ever-present moisture and secure when you're climbing ladders or wading through rivers. That means your 30-45 litre backpack won't do—you'll want a larger 50-65 litre capacity. Simultaneously, your rucksack should have a stellar weight distribution system that can keep you upright even amid the infamously slick terrain of the trail. Consider trying ones like the spacious Granite Gear Crown 3 60, which is made out of lightweight, high-tenacity nylon and has a water-repellent finish.

Walter-purifying bottles

The West Coast Trail's creeks flow from prime logging territory, so it could contain human and animal wastes as well as microorganisms, pollutants, and dissolved ions. If you're drinking this water, you'll want a water purification system to filter everything out. Consider the Grayl Geopress Water Purifier, which has a sophisticated water cartridge that blocks particulates and blinds pathogens.

Hiking Tips

The West Coast Trail is arduous. Before you book your tickets, consider making an exercise plan to get to the fitness level required to undertake it. For example, you can build muscle to backpack longer. You can also customise your trip for your level, like stopping at the midway point at Nitinat Narrows.

west coast trail vancouver island

Keep in mind that this trail is especially damp, as well. Rain can slick your paths, and previous downpours may have rotted the boardwalk—so be careful. The tides will also dictate when you can hike on the beach or when you'll have to use the nearby woods.

Wrap Up: Hiking Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail

All in all, the West Coast Trail offers a chance to embark on an exciting and challenging adventure. Hopefully, this guide will help you experience an unforgettable journey.

What about you, have you ever hiked the West Coast Trail? Feel free to share any tips & advice below!

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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