Tips for planning your West Coast Trail Hike

The West Coast Trail was a bundle of surprises. It was rugged and beautiful, isolated yet accessible, challenging but relaxing. We spent 7 days and nights hiking and are in awe of this beautiful coastline. 

Located on Vancouver Island in British Colombia, Canada the West Coast Trail is part of the Pacific Rim National Park and runs for 75km along the coast line. It started out as route for ship wrecked sailors to find their way back to safety after coming to grief with the jagged rocks that hug the shore. Now it is one of the bucket list hikes for hikers from all over the world. Read on if you’re keen to see how we tackled the trail and maybe help plan your own adventure!

Pick a Direction

You can hike the full trail either way - from the north (Pachena Bay) to the south (Gordon River) or south to the north. You can even start in the middle (Nitinat Narrows) for a shorter and easier option. The southern end is notoriously more difficult and you have to decide whether you want to start or end on that. 

Things to consider when picking your hiking direction:

  • Parking is free at Pachena Bay Trailhead. You have to pay at the Gordon River end.
  • The Gordon River trail head is on the other side of a river - if you finish your hike there you need to reach the trail end before 3:30 to catch the last boat transfer. If you are late you will have to camp the night on the tiny beach with no fresh water source.
  • The southern end of the trail is harder. You can choose to do it with fresh legs and a heavy pack (south to north) or tired legs and a lighter pack (north to south).
  • The roads to Pachena Bay are all gravel logging roads. They are filled with corrugations. If you drive your car there you do end up driving the road three times - in, out and once with the shuttle. If you just take the shuttle at the end you only have to do it once.

Make a booking

Once you have decided your entry and exit points you need to make a booking. Head to the Parks Canada website and book as far in advance as you can. Spaces fill up and unless your flexible you might not get the date/entry point that you want.

Trail head and finish logistics

Once you are booked you need to think logistics. If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone available to drop you off and pick you up there is a shuttle service you can book to get you from one end to the other. It’s not cheap and the logging roads nearly rattled my head off but it is the best way for a small group. The shuttle can also take you all the way to Victoria at both ends of your trip if you don’t have a vehicle at all. Again, book in advance.

We decided that we wanted to hike the trail from the south to the north. We also decided we wanted to be able to get straight into our car at the end of the trail so we parked our car at Pachena Bay and booked the West Coast Shuttle to take us to Gordon River. 

Before you start the hike you have to do an induction. If you time it right you can do your induction the day before at the northern trail head (10am), catch the shuttle south (leave Pachena at 1:45pm), camp the night at the local campground ($20 per site), and catch the first boat over Gordon River at 8:45am on the day of your trail booking. 

Then when you finish your hike your car is waiting and ready. We were keen for a shower before we headed back down the island so we went to the nearby Pachena Bay Campground. We asked at the office if we could pay to just use the showers and they said no problem, the showers are coin operated. Take some $1 coins. When we went it was 4 mins/$1 and you can add extra in at the start for a longer shower!

Also, leave some extra food and water in your car. The Pachena Bay end in particular has no potable water source so it will be a great treat to come back and find fresh water and food in the car.

General trail tips

  • Hang your pack - mice and other little critters can be a bit of a problem. Even though you shouldn’t have anything with a fragrance left in your pack because of the bears you might still find that the mice are visiting simply to chew on your toilet paper or your pack itself! On top of that, they will keep you awake at night. Best option is to tie your pack up outside with a rain cover on. It doesn’t have to be very high up and you will sleep better.
  • Collect water upstream, swim/wash downstream - we saw so many people collecting water and then jumping in for a swim or doing dishes in the same spot. Gross. Also, not very nice for anyone else. Collect your water as far upstream as possible and move to the ocean to bathe or wash dishes. Nobody wants to get ill on a hike!
  • Take toilet paper and hand sanitiser - the latrines are tolerable at best. Some were pretty awful. There is no toilet paper or running water.
  • Take your time - We had a a week of perfect weather and took 7 days to finish the trail. This was the perfect amount of time and let us enjoy some lazy afternoons on the beach after each day’s hike. If it was raining and muddy though things could have been a lot slower. Consider booking an extra night than what you think you might need just in case you want a rest day. That way if the weather is perfect you could hang out at Tsusiat Falls for the day and if it’s awful you have some extra time up your sleeve.
  • Take a talkative trail buddy - we usually like to hike in relative quiet and enjoy the serenity. That’s not such a great idea in bear country. If you have a friend who could talk underwater take them, it might just save your life!

You can read more about my time on the trail here.

Have you hiked the WCT and got some tips you want to share? Let me know below!