75km, 6 nights
Distance from Vancouver : 5hrs
Essentials : Waterproof hiking boots and gear, poles, gaitors, and your best smile and attitude!
Since I moved on the West Coast I thought about doing this trail. Finally made it happen this summer with a friend, and we had an amazing time. I would definitely suggest doing this trail, but make sure you are ready for it. The weather on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is really unpredictable and can turn without notice. You have to be ready for any weather, cold, warm, rain, dry, mud, slippery conditions, etc. We decided to hike in 7 days and 6 nights, from South to North. From the discussions I had with people and from my own experience on the trail, I would definitely recommend starting from the South end. It will be much more enjoyable once you hit the end of the trail (the South end is the hardest).
I used two different books to prepare for the trail ; Bliss and Blisters, and Hiking the West Coast Trail (Leadem). The second one is the one I carried with me and I liked the way the author divided the trail in sections with the different campsites. We followed mostly his itinerary from South to North.
Getting to the WCT trailhead can be a challenge. Either you drive, and leave your car at one end, take the bus to the trailhead and hike towards your car, or you take the bus back or the Juan da Fuca taxi back to your vehicle, etc… You will need to take the ferry either to Nanaimo or Victoria, which adds a bit of a cost to the total trip.
You can visit the official WCT – Park Canada website for more details on the cost of the trail (national park permit, ferry crossings, etc.).
Day 0 : We drove to Port Renfrew and attended the 3:30pm orientation session at the trailhead. Got all our info and then we stayed at the Trailhead resort Hiker Huts in Port Renfrew. Cheap, clean, comfy, perfect before a week of hiking, and located just seconds away from the hikers parking lot. Ask for Evann and where you can park your car the day of the hike.
Day 1 : Gordon River to Thrasher Cove, 6km, 4hrs, difficult
We took the 8:20am ferry from Gordon River to cross to the trailhead. The operator is really friendly and can give you good info on the surrounding areas. Tip : Put your gaitors on right away. We hit our first mud pool within the first 2 minutes of the trail. At this part of the trail you will be going at about 1km/hour because of the terrain, the elevation gain and the mud. This section was all inland. Once you go down all the way to Thrasher Cove, you will find a lovely little campground with bear caches and 2 outhouses.
On the WCT you will have some beach route and inland routes. For most of the beach routes you need to follow the tide tables to make sure that the level of the water is low enough to allow you to cross rock sections and some sketchy headlands. We knew from our tide table that we couldn’t walk from Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay on the beach on our second day, as the tides were too high to cross Owen Point. From Thrasher Cove, as we arrived early in the day, we set up our camp and decided to go explore the boulders field between the campsite and Owen Point. We didn’t go all the way but it definitely is a difficult terrain to do with a heavy backpack.
Day 2 : Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay, 9km, 6h30, difficult
The hike out from Thrasher Cove back to the inland route will make you sweaty early in the morning. Get ready to meet with your cardiovascular system once more! The inland route between Thrasher Cove and the Beach access B is muddy, and slippery logs keep following slippery logs. The rain forest is beautiful. As we couldn’t pass Owen Point, we went down to the beach by the Beach Access B, dropped our packs after a snack and hike back South to Owen Point (added a little more km to the trip). The rocks and sandshell is beautiful and really nice to walk on when dry. Some surge channels need to be passed (either by jumping over them or going around through some small inland sketchy routes). Owen Point is beautiful and some people camped around there. There is also a rock with seals and sea lions nearby. We couldn’t go down to the sea caves but we still had a little view of them. We backtracked to our packs and hiked from Beach Access B to A on the beach. This is an amazing beach route and I strongly recommend it. Some friends on the trail took the inland route but I believe it to be once of the muddiest sections of the trail. At beach access A you will get back inland for some more mud-logs fun, ending the way with the first cable car down to Camper Bay. It is a really nice campground with a creek to bathe. We also saw a deer walking right in the campsite when everyone was having dinner!
Day 3 : Camper Bay to Walbran Creek, 9km, 6hrs, difficult
Get ready for some work! This was a hard and long day. Ladders (LOTS), mud, mud mud mud mud mud and MUD AGAIN! You will cross many creeks. The inland route is the usual route for this section of the trail. For a general idea, for each creek you will have to cross, you will need to go down ladders, get a cable car, a suspension bridge, and then go back up with ladders to the trail higher in the forest. It’s also the muddiest section of the trail. Tip : Just embrace it. If you have good boots and gaitors like you should have on this trail, you can trust them and just walk right into the mud. Use your poles to find a log or a rock under the mud/water and use them to place your feet. You will save time and energy this way, instead of always trying to find your way around the mud pools. Walbran Creek was a really beautiful campsite, except for the amount of seagulls around. When we arrived there was hundreds of them in the creek (our drinking and bathing water). I would recommend going upstream from the cable car to get your water. The cable car was also broken that evening and people had to cross the creek even if the water level was quite high. Park Canada came the same evening to fix the cable car. We had an amazing sunset that night and were able to look at grey whales in the distance splashing their water out while breathing!
Day 4 : Walbran Creek to Cribs Creek, 11km, 6hrs, moderate
Beach day! Look for the tides levels, but it is worth taking the beach route all the way here. We left camp early in the morning to cross Walbran creek at low tides. Take the time to put your sandals on and cross slowly. The beach between Walbran and Bonilla Point have a lot of fine sand and rocks and you will discover new muscles in your legs and butt! After Bonilla point, the sand gets harder. We used the cable car to cross over Carmanah creek as we didn’t feel like booting off and on again. From there you can enjoy a beautiful sandy beach and make a stop at Chez Monique, to enjoy a good burger. It is unique to the West Coast Trail and is run by locals. You can always get some more snacks and there is a hiker’s box for leftover, extra foods you want to leave behind, etc.. It is open for everybody to pick and share!
You can do a quick stop at the Carmanah Lighthouse and look at the sea lions rock in the distance. The beach route after Carmanah Point was quite enjoyable but we were happy to arrived to Cribs Creek Campsite for the night. It is a really nice campsite (although the washroom was far from us) and there is some deeper sections in the creek where you can bathe easily.
Day 5 : Cribs Creek to Tsusiat Falls, 16km, 7hrs, moderate
This was my hardest day of the trip. At this point, started to get tired and quite sore. This section involves a lot of beach route where you will sink in the rocks and fine sand, which was really hard although the view and the sound of the waves makes it totally worth it. In the morning we left Cribs Creek and walked on the rocks where we saw a grey whale a few hundreds meters away only. Quite impressive! When the tide is low enough you can walk on the hard sandshell ; it makes it a lot easier and enjoyable. At this point, going North, you know the hardest part of the hiking is behind you, which makes a big difference. There is a lot of boardwalks in the forest and we stopped at Nitinat Narrows shack for lunch. I had the salmon and a giant baked potato (25$). The ferry crossing is quite quick and you get back right in the forest for more old and slippery sketchy boardwalks until you get to the beach access. The beach route is not hard but the sand is fine so it gets quite a bit hard by the end of the day. When tide is low you can cross the famous Hole-in-the-wall at Tsusiat Point. Tsusiat Falls campsite is my favorite on this trail. The falls are beautiful and we were able to swim under them to take a shower and bathe. There is one new outhouse at the south end of the campsite and a lot of spots available for your tent. We didn’t have enough room in the bear cache that night so we ended up hanging our food on the cliff. Careful for the little mice, they tend to be all over the place and it is better not to leave your food unattended or opened.
Day 6 : Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek, 16km, 5hrs, moderate to easy
The way out Tsusiat Falls is a good wake up call : high ladders. But then you’re ready to go for the day! You will go across many boardwalks, mud section, beach sections and cross the longest and hardest (in my opinion) cable car on the trail. Luckily the boys arrived at the same time to help us out. We would have make it accross by getting one at the time in the cable car and helping each other out to cross, but it’s a really good arm workout! We decided to take the beach route between Tsoconis Creek all the way to Michigan Creek. The tide was high so we had to walk on fine sand and rocks all the way – which was not the best idea. However it was our last beach route of the trail and we really wanted to enjoy it. It was a hard stretch but the campground was lovely and we had an amazing time there. Darling River and Michigan Creek crossing were quite easy when we crossed, but I believe it really depends on the amount of rain and the tides.
Day 7 : Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay, 12km, 3h30, easy
Our last day on the trail! We were not sure how long it would take, but we figured that an early start was better. The first section after the campground is steep and muddy. Once you reach the Pachena Point Lighthouse, then the trail gets larger. It is sometimes called ‘ the highway ‘, as is it a nice walk in the park after all you’ve went through on the trail. The last half km can be done on the beach if the tide is low. We heard that the highest ladder of the trail was on that last stretch so decided to take the inland route… you know… do or do not! We left early and arrived at the trailhead at 10h30. We dropped our permits at the trailhead info center and went for a swim, waiting for the bus to pick us up at 1pm. They drove us back to our car in Port Renfrew for 5pm and we had time to head back to Victoria and catch the last ferry that night for Vancouver.
Spending a week in the wilderness is amazing when you are well prepared. I think you need to chose your trip partner wisely (I had the chance to be with a really likely-minded friend of mine) and make sure you go out there and practice with your pack prior to hit the trail. It is not for everybody. Gaitors are not luxury ; I would call them mandatory for your own comfort. If you head on the trail with the right attitude you will for sure enjoy your trip!