Hiking the West Coast Trail, Canada
We started our West Coast Trail experience with a teeth rattling drive along the logging roads from Port Alberni to Pachena Bay. We were worried all the roofing panels were going to fall off from the inside of the freshly completed van before we got there but thankfully the workmanship held up!
We had decided to hike the trail from the south to the north but we wanted to finish the trail with our van ready and waiting for us so we dropped it off there first, before completing our trail induction (mainly - if you see a bear/cougar/wolf or other man-eating creature don’t freak out) and jumping on the shuttle for another few hours of joyous logging roads to get to the southern entry.
The shuttle got us in late on Saturday so we stayed at the local campgrounds and were ready for the first boat across the river to the trail head at 8:45 the next morning. Buck, the boat driver is known for his punctuality so we had to do a quick scramble down the road to get there in time but managed to jump on with a tour group and one other young couple.
The boat lets you off in a tiny sand cove and the first thing you see is a massive ladder, going straight up. We looked back but speedy Buck was already leaving so the only way forward was up. The tour group was getting some intensive ladder instruction but that seemed like cheating so we moved forward and started climbing. After the suspension bridges in Torres Del Paine I was a little worried that the ladders would freak me out but somehow having the rungs and the cliff right in front of my face made things better and we got to the top with no trouble.
The southern end of the trail is notoriously more difficult than the northern part and day one was proving this to be true. Lots of people choose to hike north to south and save this part of the trek for the last few days when packs are lighter and legs stronger but agreed with those who think it’s better to get the hard part done first while you’re full of fresh trail optimism.
So it was with full packs that we ducked, climbed, crawled and pulled ourselves through the first day. It’s only 5km to the first camp but it took us just under 1 hour for each kilometre. We heard from some guys later that they took over 7 hours, so it’s no Sunday stroll. Our reward for heading over on the first boat was that we arrived at the camp first and had the beach to ourselves for an hour or so before the other groups started rolling in.
Day two gives you the option of heading back up the ladders to the forest trail or if the tides are right you can follow the beach and rock hop your way to Owen Point where the low tide gives you access to massive sea caves. The route to get there can be tricky and lots of people were struggling. We found it was almost always easier to take the higher route up amongst the driftwood and were soon making good time as we balanced along the driftwood beams.
We reached the next camp (Camper’s Cove) a lot earlier than planned and decided to have lunch and then keep going to the next stop, Cullite Cove. As we ate we had a front row seat to a helicopter landing about 20 metres away to drop off a work team. It turns out that they were doing boardwalk work in the next section and during the afternoon we were stopped a few times as helicopters winched down huge pallets of lumber from above us to the trail. We then had to climb over the top of those pallets; the only place to put them is right on the track! This ended up being our favourite day with the right mix of challenging terrain and fun log bridges to help make the kilometres fly past.
Day three had us convinced that this whole trail was a game show obstacle course. We came around a corner to find a mud field with two crossing options. One had deep, gooey mud and small, treacherous stepping stones. The other was more straight forward, a wide plank keeping you safely out of the mud. It was also the shorter option. The only catch was there was a massive tree fallen across it and the only way through was to crawl under. Great. We separated and tried both. I ended up army crawling through under the tree on my stomach and long legged Steve made the other way look like the obvious choice…
From here on the trail got easier. There were some thick sand beaches thrown in just to remind you that your legs were still dead tired from the first few days but in general, things were a little more tame. What wasn’t tame was the wildlife. We saw a humpback whale playing off shore, sea lions were stinking up one stretch of beach, sea otters were running up and down the beach and eagles became commonplace. Best of all, despite all my awfully loud singing, we saw three black bears.Those guys are so cute. I didn’t sleep well after seeing the first one less than 100m from where we were pitching our tent but still, they just look super playful.
We rolled in to Pachena Bay on a high after seeing a mumma bear and cub on the final headland. We were on an even bigger high to find our van waiting faithfully for us, with the promise of clean clothes and chocolate. We jumped in the van and headed to Pachena Bay campground two minutes down the road. We were ready to pay top dollar to use their showers even though we weren’t planning to stay there. The lady laughed and in true Canadian spirit told us we were welcome to use the showers, they were coin operated and that a “loonie” would get us four minutes. So for just two loonies ($2) each we were in hiker heaven.
We were lucky, with our home on wheels we were showered and back in civilisation buying fresh avocados and hummus within hours. I would definitely recommend organising your trip to end the hike at your vehicle. We didn’t envy our fellow hikers who had rushed through the morning to make sure they finished in time for their shuttle and then had to wait with no food or water until it arrived.
We loved the WCT. It was different to other hikes we’ve done because it was more about the trail experience rather than specific views or a destination. Plus we feel like we really got to know the coast and a bit more of Vancouver Island along the way.
If you’re planning to do the WCT and would like some more specifics you can read my WCT tips blog here.