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The West Coast Trail
Backpacking in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

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The The West Coast Trail (WCT) in British Columbia offers challenge, rugged beauty and adventure. Part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada, the WCT it is a spectacular 77 kilometers of deserted beaches and lush coastal rainforest. A portion of the trail was originally a telegraph route from the 1890s and around the turn of the century the WCT was instrumental in the rescue of shipwrecked mariners. The waters off the trail have been dubbed the "Graveyard of the Pacific", with more than 240 shipwrecks.

Considered to be an extremely challenging trail, the 25,640 hectare strip stretches southeast of Barkley Sound between Port Renfrew and Bramfield, along the coast of Vancouver Island. The trail also passes through land that has been maintained by First Nations for 4000 years. The Quu'as West Trail Group includes wardens from native Indian tribes specifically Pacheedaht, Huu-ay-aht and Ditidaht First Nations. Quu'as works with the wardens of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to patrol the region. In 1970 lobbying, by groups such as the Sierra Club, brought about park protection and trail improvements which were continued throughout that decade.

The journey will take from 5 to 8 days to complete. Because bad weather could cause delays it is recommended that you carry extra supplies. A very damp area, the WCT has an average annual rainfall of 300 centimetres. The most precipitation is during May and June but frequent rain is not unusual throughout the summer. Excessive rain can cause flooding and delays at swollen river crossings. Cable cars and ladders are in place at the numerous river crossings and crevasses. Camping close to rivers and estuaries should be avoided due to the dangers of flooding. Because of the dampness you may encounter heavy morning fog. Fog is more frequent in July and August.

The West Coast Trail contains some of the largest old growth trees in Canada, such as the Hemlock, Spruce and Western Red Cedar, which are towering and ancient trees. The rainforest floor is covered with thick undergrowth and fallen trees can become treacherously slippery after heavy rains, which sometimes may last a week. The coastal rainforest is another world explored on this trek, but there is a potential for danger. Bears and cougars inhabit this area so great care must be taken.

The beach sections of the trail have rugged coastline and sea stacks. There is also a "Hole in the Wall" which is a sandstone arch that has been formed by the eroding action of the waves. Waterfalls and tidal pools add to the beauty of this area, but be aware of the tide times as the high tides can pose a real danger if you are at a tidal pool or river estuary. An unwary hiker can easily be washed from the coastal rocks into the sea, with the beach sections from the Gordon River access being particularly hazardous. Tidal schedules are available from the park. You can expect to see wildlife such as sea lions, birds and tidal pools teeming with aquatic life.

This arduous journey is rewarded by the variety of breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife and the satisfaction that comes from completion of the trek.

Notes: The WCT is open from May 1st to September 30th. Reservations for the trail are recommended between June 15th and September 15th. Without a reservation you may have to wait a few days on a waiting list. During the shoulder season reservations are not necessary.

The cost for a single permit is $127.50 plus a $24.50 reservation fee and there are quotas. Your fee pays directly for protecting and managing the trail. There are also two ferry fees. One is for the Nitinat Narrows and the other for the Gordon River. You must state whether you will begin your hike at the Gordon River or Pachena Bay and each hiker must complete a 30 minute orientation outlining the trail's challenges. A waterproof tent with a fly is a must and sleeping bags should have synthetic fill due to the dampness of the area. Waterproof/breathable rainwear is also a necessity.

For more information visit the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada website.

Written by Bradley Wipperman
Photos courtesy of

masthead photo courtesy




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