The West Coast Trail is one of the most challenging and lengthy trails across the globe. It is one of the best places to gain some valuable hiking experience. This column of words is an attempt to make the very challenging trail a little bit easier at the very least.
Accessible only in the summer months of May through September via reservation, the West Coast Trail is a 75-kilometer long stretch. It is located on the edge of the Vancouver Islands. A part of the province of British Columbia, it is frequently visited by hikers from across the country, if not the world.
The trail is not open during the winter due to the extremely violent nature of the storms that occur. This is the main reason why felled driftwood trees can be found scattered all across the beaches of the West Coast Trail. It was formerly known as the Dominion Life Saving Trail.
The trail is littered with shipwrecks and points towards one of the main reasons why the trail was constructed in the first place. Shipwrecks were extremely common around the area, being very close to the Graveyard of the Pacific. Now, under Parks Canada, it is a part of the Pacific Rim National Park since 1970.
There are two ways to go about hiking the West Coast Trail. You can either start in the south and head up north, or you can start in the north and head down south. In either case, we’ve got you covered. So without further delay, let’s cut to the chase.
The West Coast Trail: A Perfect Guide to the 13 Campsites
Starting North and Going South
In the north, you’ll have to start at the Pachena Trailhead near Bamfield near Barkley Sound. If you’re interested, you can check out the Pachena Bay. It’s not exactly on the West Coast Trail but is about ten minutes away from the trailhead. You’ll have to first take care of some formalities at the registration building.
We’ll address the formalities later. But now, let’s start with hiking! The first campsite on the West Coast Trail is the Michigan Creek. It is a very flat, pleasant 12-kilometer hike from the Pachena Trailhead. This stretch is probably the easiest in all of the trail.
You can travel to the Michigan Creek from the Pachena Trailhead at an average pace, and it would take you about 4 hours. The beach is pretty rocky and isn’t the most scenic of stretches. However, that’s just the unique thing about the northern campsites.
About a mile away from the Michigan Creek, you’ll come across the Darling River and the Darling Falls. This is where you’ll set up your first tents on the trail. About 13 miles is pretty good for the first day, and you’d be wise to rest up and prepare for the next day.
During the second day of your hike, you’ll start from the Darling Falls and head as far down as Tsusiat Falls. Have a shower in the emerald waters of the Darling Falls to freshen yourself up for another intense and challenging day of hiking. This is where the difficulty starts picking up.
You’ll be crossing three other campsites on your way to the Tsusiat Falls. They are Orange Juice Creek, Tsocowis Creek, and the Kanawa River. The Klanawa River is a really underrated campsite and is one of the most peaceful places on the trail.
If I were you, I’d consider setting up a tent here instead of the rather overcrowded Tsusiat Falls. The Klanawa River is one of the sweetest spots for lighting up a campfire on the trail. About three more miles down south, you’ll come to the Tsusiat Falls.
The Tsusiat Falls is the star of the West Coast Trail. A waterfall that overlooks the sea, and is surrounded by one of the widest beaches on the trail. You can even try whale watching while you’re at the Tsusiat Falls.
The third day is quite a bit of a challenge. That’s because Cribs Creek is a staggering 17 kilometers away from Tsusiat Falls. The best thing about this long hike is Chez Monique’s. What’s Chez Monique’s, you ask? It’s the legend of the West Coast Trail.
They have a reputation for serving one of the best burgers in all of planet Earth. Chez Monique’s also sells the essentials so that you can pull yourself back from the verge of being a total savage.
After catching a break at the 44-kilometer mark, you can proceed down to the Carmanah Creek which is located at the 46-kilometer mark. You can also check out the Crab House if you’d like great crab-fest for dinner.
You’ll be hiking past beaches for the most part, so it promises to be a pleasant stretch for at least a bit. Be sure to check out the Carmanah Lighthouse and the Hole in the Wall, if you’re up for some really cool views and rock formations.
It is natural to assume that you’ll be a bit tired from the long 17k stretch that you covered the day before. So, the next day should be a bit lighter for recovery.
The stretch from Carmanah to Walbran is exactly that. The 7 kilometers between Carmanah to Walbran are some of the most scenic in the West Coast Trail.
You’ll pass by Bonilla Creek on the way, and it is easily missed due to its uninviting nature. However, if you’re up for some fun then you should try out the obstacle course at Bonilla Creek.
Once you reach Walbran Creek, you should really consider swimming. The waters are deep enough and the cable car ride across Walbran leaves this region pretty unexplored. It’s highly recommended that you spend the night here, to rest and recharge for another challenging day.
This leads us to the most challenging, and the most scenic stretch of the West Coast Trail. Although the distance from Walbran Creek to Cullite Cove is a mere 4.6 kilometers, it is the most testing stretch of the trail.
College Cove is hands down, the most beautiful campsite in all of the trail. With beautiful views from every angle, ample firewood, and space for tents, it is a must to spend the night here. That’s because the early morning at the Cullite Cove is something truly special.
There are a few sea caves on the way to Cullite, which are well worth exploring. Cullite Cove is also looked past a lot. Which is why it is not very crowded when most hikers come across the cove.
This is where the difficulty reaches its peak. People who have been on the trail say that even the fittest people find navigating through the forest a pretty difficult task. The ladders and the bridges through the forest make for some of the most exciting stretches in all of the West Coast Trail.
The distance from Cullite Cove to Camper Bay is about 4.3 kilometers, but the difficulty of the route is what takes a toll on the hikers. You’ll pass by people coming from the south looking fresh and energetic, which can be taken both ways, to be fair.
You’ll have to walk on the trunks of felled trees, crossing chasms and all sorts of other crazy things. You won’t have a lot of views of the ocean on the sixth day, because this stretch leading to Camper Bay is the one surrounded by trees.
Camper’s Bay is one of the most crowded places in the West Coast Trail. Although there’s a fresh supply of water here, camping is a problem because of the crowd and the constant passing boats. Most of which drop cargo by the trail every time they pass.
And at last, we come to the home stretch. The stretch from Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove can be traveled in two different ways.
You can hike inland from Camper Bay or you can take the route by the sea, having a view of the Pacific. This route will eventually lead you to Thrasher Cove.
You start your day with a cable car ride at Camper Bay and reach the beach route at the 65-kilometer mark. The scenic beach route is full of amazing places to check out.
The first of the few is the Rock Shelf. There’s marine life that you can spot in the tidal pools, and it makes for some of the most inconsistent yet serene stretches. You can also check out the flowers at the 150 Yard Creek and spend the afternoon there.
It isn’t too crowded so you can have a rest without facing the newbie hikers, who at this point will simply come of as annoying. You can also check out the moss-covered and eroded cliffs along the water.
The waves get pretty nasty during the high tide, so it is advisable that you only hike the beach route during the middle of the low tide to ensure safety. Once you cross the path overlooking the ocean, you’ll reach the end of the West Coast Trail, at the Thrasher Cove.
The actual ending point of the West Coast Trail is Port Renfrew, on Port San Juan.
From South to North
There isn’t much more to add about the campsites, since they aren’t changing no matter where you come at them from. The thing about traveling through the West Coast Trail from south to north is that you’ll come across the difficult and the most scenic stretches at the very beginning.
Hiking from south to north really leaves you drained and weary by the middle of the trip. That’s because it isn’t very pretty up north and the only two decent campsites by the end of the trip would be the Klanawa River and the Tsusiat Falls.
It would be better to start the hike on a calmer note, and gradually increase the difficulty as you go from north to south. Instead of draining yourself with the most thrilling stretches behind you.
You’ll come across a decent amount of wildlife during your week-long hike along the West Coast Trail. Some of the most prominent species that you’ll come across on the land are eagles, black bears, hummingbirds, and wolves.
Dealing with dangerous animals like bears, cougars, and wolves is a fundamental part of the orientation program that all hikers have to participate in before they hike along the West Coast Trail.
There’s also a fair amount of whale watching that you can do here. Orcas, grey whales, sea lions, and seals are some of the more prominent marine animals that you will come across.
Additional Information About the Campsites
Almost every campsite is relatively close to at least one shipwreck site, which is one of the most distinguishing features of the West Coast Trail. You can even camp off the official campsites, but it is much harder to do so without the basic amenities.
What makes the campsites ideal for spending the night is the availability of toilets, bear-proof food lockers, and access to fresh water. Most of the campsites have a lifeguard of sorts as well because the number of hikers that have to be evacuated off the West Coast Trail due to medical emergencies is more than you would imagine.
You should stack up on food for the totality of the trip, as the sources of food fit for consumption is served at Chez Monique’s and the crab shack.
It takes about $320 per head for a hike through the West Coast Trail. With bus rides through and from the starting points charging extra. You can also drive to the Pachena Trailhead or the Thrasher Cove and leave your car there, for a nominal parking fee.
People have to register with Parks Canada before the trip because the West Coast Trail is only accessible via reservation. It is mandatory to attend the orientation provided by the authorities before hiking on the West Coast Trail.
The reason being that it is one of the toughest trails in the world, and things can become risky if you’re not careful. This is the board’s way of making sure that you’re up for the hike.
Read more about the amazing things you can do in the province of British Columbia right here.