The West Coast Trail (WCT) is an iconic backpacking trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The trail will take you on beautiful coastlines, up and down dozens of ladders in temperate forests, and across mountain-fed rivers via cable cars and ferries.
Historically the WCT area was used by first nations as paddling routes for trade and travel. It later became frequently sailed by ships; in time, the coastline became known as “the Graveyard of the Pacific” because of the number of shipwrecks along the coast.
The WCT is open from May 1 to September 30. The trail is closed from October 1 to April 30 due to extended periods of heavy rain, strong winds, high tides, large waves and short days.
In May and June, the chance of rain is higher, so be prepared for wet weather. July and August are great months to hike the trail, as the weather is drier and you’ll have the longest daylight.
The WCT is located on Vancouver Island, just off the coast of southern British Columbia, Canada.
The WCT can be hiked in either direction, starting at either Pachena Bay Trailhead or Gordon River Trailhead. If you’re starting from Pachena Bay, park your car at Gordon River Trailhead and take the West Coast Trail Express shuttle (reservations strongly recommended) to Pachena Bay.
To get to Gordon River Trailhead, you can drive from Victoria via Highway 14 (2 hrs). The closest airport to Victoria is Vancouver International Airport (3 hrs by car). Look for signs that direct you to Gordon River Trailhead as you enter Port Renfrew. If you don’t have a car, you can take the bus from Victoria (2 hrs) with West Coast Trail Express (again, reservations recommended).
A permit is required to hike the WCT. Due to the popularity of the trail, reservations should be made as early as possible, ideally in early January of the same year of your start date. Reservations can be made online starting on January 6 at 8:00 am PT. To make a reservation, see the official trail website for more info.
All hikers of the WCT must participate in an hour orientation session. The purpose of this orientation is to address common safety issues, provide information about the trail’s current conditions, and issue permits. Orientation is mandatory and must be done less than 1 day before your intended start date, as trail conditions are constantly changing.
Orientation sessions are offered at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm at the Pachena Bay Information Centre and Gordon River Information Centre. Be sure to bring your WCT Overnight Use Permit Reservation confirmation to the orientation.
There are 13 official campsites on the WCT, all located on the coast. No reservations are needed. Camping is permitted anywhere along the trail; you don’t have to camp in the designated campsites. All official campsites have toilets and bear proof food lockers.
As the WCT is in a temperate rainforest climate, be prepared for rain. Rainfall averages 130 inches per year with heavy rainfall possible at any time, especially in May and June. Be prepared for slippery conditions on muddy trails, wooden boardwalks, boulders, and rocky shorelines.
The tide will frequently dictate whether you can take the (often easier) coastal route or not. You’ll receive a tide table at orientation to help you plan your route.
The WCT is in bear country. Always use the provided food storage lockers at each campsite, and never store food or any wildlife attractant in your tent.
The trail starts next to the ranger station at Pachena Bay. Right from the start, you’ll have a choice between the beach route and the forest route. The beach route is the easier path, but it can only be hiked if the tide is below 8 ft.
The rest of the day will be spent hiking in the forest. Expect to make your way up a few short ladders and climb in and over lots of gullies. At the 6 mi mark you’ll reach Pachena Lighthouse, which is a good spot to look for whales below the bluff.
From Michigan Creek, walk 1 mi along the beach until you reach Darling River campground. There’s no bridge at Darling River, so you’ll have to ford it. As long as the tide is below 8 ft, you can take the beach route all the way to Tscowis Creek.
After Tscowis Creek, the trail heads inland and immediately goes up a few sets of ladders and across a short suspension bridge. Stop at Valencia Bluff for one of the best viewpoints. After passing Trestle Creek, you’ll be back on the beach for another 2 mi until you reach Klanawa River, which you’ll cross by cable car.
If you take the beach route after the Tsusiat Falls campsite, you can walk through the “hole in the wall” natural arch at Tsusiat Point, assuming the tide is below 7 ft. You’ll then head inland; pass Tsuquadra Point and head towards Nitinaht Narrows. Once you reach the dock, yell across the Narrows for the ferry operator to transport you across the river. The ferry runs between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm.
If you’re feeling hungry, grab a bite to eat at the Crab Shack by the dock once you get off the ferry. The trail is mostly boardwalk from here until the Cheewhat River bridge. After crossing the river on a wide suspension bridge, the trail is mostly along the beach until you reach Cribs Creek.
It’s more beach walking after Cribs Creek, assuming the tide is below 7 ft. Be sure to stop at Carmanah Point Lighthouse for some great views. Past Chez Monique’s, the sand gets deeper so the walking gets tougher. If the tide is below 9 ft and you don’t mind wading a creek, you can continue on the beach route all the way to Walbran Creek.
Some people find the section between Walbran Creek and Camper Bay to be the hardest section of the trail due to all the ladders. After about 2 mi you’ll reach Logan Creek, where you’ll drop down into the gorge on a series of ladders. Cross using the narrow suspension bridge and climb another series of ladders up the other side.
Hike another 1 mi through mud, tree roots, and damaged boardwalks until you reach Cullite Creek. This is where you’ll find the most amount of ladders on the entire trail: 7 on one side of the gorge, 11 on the other. After crossing Cullite creek (by cable car or wading), it’s more boardwalks and tree roots until you reach Camper Bay.
To leave the Camper Bay campground you’ll need to take the cable car or ford the creek. After hiking 2 mi in the forest, you’ll come to a fork where you need to make a choice: coastal route or forest route. The coastal route is reportedly the easier route, but requires a tide below 6 ft. If you opt for the forest route, expect lots of mud, slippery tree roots and narrow log crossings over the next 3 mi.
The final section of the trail to Gordon River is rough and technical. The trail ascends steeply via ladders and switchbacks and crosses two creeks. It’s a steep climb to the highest point of the trail at 699 ft. You’ll then descend slowly towards the ocean, finally climbing down to the beach on a very steep ladder. The Gordon River ferry departs at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. Signal that you want to be picked up by the ferry operator by raising the buoy next to the ladder.