This is not a Vancouver Island hiking trail guide, but a guidebook to prepare you for getting ready to hike the trail. If you want information about what to expect on Vancovuer Island hiking trails, you can read the many trip reports and trail guides, or watch the many videos online. Or you can hire a guide (of course, that is what we would like you to do!). If you are not going to hire us or another company to guide you, we still want you to be prepared and safe on your hike in the wilderness. We give advice every day we are on the trail to less experienced hikers because we want everyone to have a great experience. Since we are not at every place on Vancouver and Vancouver Island hiking trails all the time, we put this book together to help you get ready.
Half West Coast Trail
In our hearts, we all live on the land. That is the real world. We take away the obstacles to experience what is real, to experience your bliss. We show you the way. That's Coastal Bliss Adventures.Your continued safety is important-we are still being cautious around Covid
We Take Care Of You
We do the planning, logistics, and support. You do the experience and the fun.
From pickup to return, we cover everything you need, except your personal items. We take you to and from the trip start, and feed you well along the way. We can't guarantee weight loss on our tours.
Our guides get out into our areas. They know the ins and outs of the trip and provide exceptional interpretation of flora, fauna and history. You'll know more after you leave.
We give you an entire packet of information on how to prepare, what to bring, how to pack, and a plan for training so you can fully enjoy the trip. Our care for you starts before you even arrive.
Vancouver Island BC Hiking
Half West Coast Trail
4-day Backpacking Tour
The Half West Coast Trail is the short version of the classic coastal hiking trip, the gem of Vancouver Island hiking. Travel through breathtaking coastal temperate rainforest, on sandstone sea shelf, and through woody trail. This Half West Coast Trail hike is about 33 km of backpacking along the stranded mariners' lifeline trail. Exploring the tide pools and hiking the beaches can make the trip unforgettable, but sighting the whales and other wildlife living in this area is the gravy on top. With the history and geography, this is a less strenuous way to experience the unforgettable trail. The West Coast Trail is full of wonderful surprises: from the crab shack in the middle, where we start, to the Canadian Coast Guard lighthouse right off the trail; you will be fed with experiences that leave you full and happy.
Book Your Tour Now
This is our typical itinerary for this tour. Because we are travelling in wilderness, itineraries can change. There are many factors that can affect how a tour actually runs. We confirm pickup times by phone, email or SMS at least 12 hours before.
This trip begins on Vancouver Island, in Nanaimo where we will arrange your pickup. The following itinerary is our ideal, and we most often manage it; however, sometimes we need to adjust the itinerary, due to weather, tides, trail conditions, group ability, and various other factors. We plan to take you to all the amazing, best places along the trail, but your safety is paramount, and sometimes we must alter the daily itinerary.
Travel Day: Pick up Departure Bay 08:15-08:30; downtown Nanaimo 0845 – 0900, Duke Point 09:30-09:55 (Your guide will confirm times the day prior to tour).
We drive to Carmannah-Walbran Provincial Park to see the big trees in the Coastal rainforest there. Carmanah Creek flows down to the trail and the valley if full of giant, old growth trees. After this visit, we drive into the Ditidaht village of Malachan to stay at a B & B there for the first night.
To Klanawa River (6 – 8 hrs) Rise by 6:00 pack up and enjoy breakfast, take the trail orientation around 7:45, then boat down Nitinaht Lake to the Narrows and a ferry ride across to our trailhead. We start there on the West Coast Trail, and will pass Tsusiaht Point, stop for lunch at Tsusiat Falls, and then carry on to the Klanawa River for the night, looking out over the open Pacific.
To Michigan Creek We get up early again (the best time to travel is early morning). From Klanawa, we move out onto beach and sandstone shelf, heading toward Tsocowis and the waterfall there. On the way, we will stop and read about the Valencia disaster that sparked the creation of the West Coast Lifesaving Road. We end up at Michigan Creek for the night, often by early or mid-afternoon. We may have lunch at Tsocowis or at Michigan Creek. This is a great place to see whales if they are in the area.
To the Pachena Bay trailhead, with potential stops at the lighthouse and Seal Rock, and return to Nanaimo (4 to 5 hrs)
Included Not Included Transportation from and to the departure location (pick up and drop off) Your transportation to the departure location (from your home) All park fees and camping fees National Park entry fees (may change as Parks alters their policies) Professional guides Hiking Boots (should be less than 5 years old) All meals (except on travel days) Some food (on travel days and special options) Tent (shared) Hiking Boots (should be less than 5 years old) A substantial preparation guide Backpack (available for rent) Gear rental options Sleeping bags or mats (available for rent) Gratuities are not included. Recognizing your guide for their hard work and care is always appreciated; $10-20/day per guide is recommended.
Getting There And
Where To Stay
If you are travelling into the Vancouver, Victoria, or Nanaimo area from afar, you should arrive at the departure location (in Nanaimo) for your trip the day/evening prior to the trip start date and plan to leave the day following trip return.
You can fly to Vancouver (airport code YVR) or Seattle (airport code SEA) then connect to Vancouver Island using ferry, bus, or air, or arrange flights directly to Vancouver Island.
Flying to Victoria (Airport code YYJ)
Flying to Nanaimo (Airport code YCD)
Nanaimo Airporter shuttle service.
Servicing all of Vancouver Island from airports to ferrys to cruise ship terminals. Tel: 1 250 758-2133
BC Ferries 1-888-BC FERRY (1-888-223-3779)
We will let you know the ferry to take for travelling to Vancouver Island, but if you want to check out times, you can go the the BC Ferries website at:
Where to Stay
Naniamo Pick up & Hotels
Pick up: Departure Bay, Duke Point Ferry Terminal, or the following Accommodations:
Days Inn Harbour View Nanaimo
Address: 809 Island Hwy South, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, V9R 5K1
Phone (250) 754-8171
Best Western Dorchester Hotel
Address: 70 Church, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, V9R 5H4
Phone: (250) 754-6835
Painted Turtle Guesthouse
Address: 121 Bastion Street, Nanaimo, British Columbia CANADA, V9R 3A2
Toll Free: 1-866-309-4432
Phone: (250) 753-4432
Preparing For Your Trip
How you prepare for your adventure is important. Being well prepared will enhance the quality of your experience. Because we are travelling in wilderness, it is very important for you and for the rest of your adventure group that you are fit enough to handle the level of difficulty and demand with no problems. Our guides know how to minimize the impact of these demands as much as possible, but they cannot remove them. The depth of your experience can only increase if you have made sure that you have prepared well.
Your preparation will be different for different activities. Preparing for a kayak trip is different from preparing for a hiking trip. We have provided some basic information that can be downloaded through the following links to pdf documents.
Use the links below to download some of the preparation files for this hiking or kayaking tour. When you book your tour, we will send you a complete preparation packet to help you get ready.Please take this seriously. Most people are unaware of the demands of a coastal environment, particularly with keeping dry and warm. Your preparation will really help make your coastal hiking or kayaking tour a great experience.
We have gear available to rent if you don't want to buy a particular piece of equipment, or need to travel without it.
Look over the following list to help you decide whether you want to rent. If you decide to rent gear, you can tell us on the phone or book it online with your tour.
Item Price (per day) Backpack Rental $6.50 Sleeping Bag Rental $6.50 Thermarest Rental $2.25 Gaiter Rental $1.67 Hiking Pole Rental (one) $0.90
What Our Guests Say
Our Vancouver Island BC Hiking Tours
Georgia knows her stuff man... she has been guiding forever and you can certainly see that and she has perfected the art of guiding on the West Coast Trail. Coastal Bliss is the company I would recommend for sure...
We had a fabulous hike. Wow, the weather couldn't have co-operated any better. It made for an amazingly beautiful hike. Both Tom and I were very impressed with the food that was provided on the trip. We did not come off the trail hungry as expected. Thanks for an amazing experience! So glad we were able to do it. We are sharing photos and recommending to friends who are interested.
Hi Gary...thanks again for a fabulous trip - and for endlessly helping me over rocks and stumps. Really enjoyed it...
I just wanted to thank you for such a great trip. I had a fantastic time hiking and was so impressed with how well Coastal Bliss took care of us from start to finish. The meals were delicious and Kelsey and Phil were great.
Georgia, I speak for all of us when I say your kindness and experience made this West Coast Trail trip a memory of a lifetime. I truly believe I will do it again knowing there is a slight chance the weather would possibly be somewhat better. Now I’ve done it I am glad that I did experience the trail in true West Coast Weather.
Just wanted to write and reiterate what a great experience I had on the West Coast Trail trip that we went with Coastal Bliss. It was a trip that I won't soon forget. Thank you for the wonderful knowledge and service that you brought to the trip.
Just a quick note to thank you again for taking us to Duncan last night. Dad and I are home in Calgary now. We had an amazing time on the West Coast Trail and sincerely appreciate everything from you, Gary and James.
Georgia, thanks for a great week-the hike was better then our expectations. Your tireless duty to caring for us was appreciated along with the great gourmet meals. The place in Victoria turned out too be perfect great bed and washing facilities Thanks for organising our special trip and safe walking the trail again.
I just wanted to thank you for facilitating such a great trip last week! I had a really terrific time and am very grateful for all the hard work and energy you put in to ensuring we were safe, well fed and entertained! Thank you for the great meals, the warm fires and sharing your knowledge. I learnt a lot and especially enjoyed the West Coast Trail shipwreck stories...
I really enjoyed the West Coast Trail trip - definitely challenging terrain but the scenery was gorgeous & Phil & Mike were both wonderful guides.
What an amazing trip! Thank you so much Georgia and Tony for excellent guiding, great smiles and laughs, being ready with a helping hand and schlepping the heavy packs. Who would have known that camp food could be so delicious? Thank you, Gary, for the delicious lunch at Pachena Beach and driving us to the ferry.
I must pass on my thanks to Georgia and Tony. I had a wonderful time, (in fact, I would think about doing it again) I enjoyed every minute of it and I am sure that is because of your expertise. Both yourself and Tony were wonderful guides, friendly, knowledgeable, great cooks, and most importantly totally committed to our group and aware of our weaknesses and strengths. I know, personally, I couldn't have done that without either of you. Thank you both and hopefully we will see you again.
Thank you so much for a brilliant holiday, walking the West Coast Trail. I really enjoyed my days on the trail. Great company and friendship. Beth, Kelly and Gary made it a memorable trip. They were very very professional and I felt very safe in terrain which is different from North Yorkshire. They produced meals from those rucksacks which my husband thought I was pulling his leg. We did see some envious looks from fellow hikers too."
Hi Georgia-Thank you for the awesome experience on the West Coast Trail. I loved every minute of it, you are a wonderful guide. Thanks to Tony as well. Hope to join you in the future for some more adventures.
I had a fablous time and I really appreciated all that the two of you did to ensure we all had a great experience. I still am amazed at the stamina you both have.... to keep us all organised, safe, get fires going, prepare meals plus hike the same 70km we do is amazing..... I also very much appreciated both your help (and patience!). It was definitely an incredible trip on the North Coast Trail and one I won't ever forget.
My experience on the trail was fantastic. James and Tony were outstanding guides. They handled EVERYTHING throughout the West Coast Trail hike in a most professional manner. It was amazing in every way.
I have enjoyed all the aspects of this trip (except for the wet few days we had). James and Toni work so well together and they kept us safe and on time.
It was such a great experience treking the West Coast Trail with you. Thank you to everyone for making it a memorable experience. Hope to connect with you again.
The West Coast Trail experience was amazing! Thanks to each of you for making it awesome. I was really hungry for experiencing the West coast again as I had so much wonder and enjoyment from exploring the coast in my earlier life. The WCT was far more exciting and exhilarating than I expected. My exit from the trail was perfect for me, although I did miss greeting you all at the end.
We had a wonderful time hiking on the West Coast Trail and it was great to meet you guys. I hope all is well.
My thanks to you and our Coastal Bliss guides, James and Shiming, for a fantastic hike on the West Coast Trail. This was a trip of a lifetime. James and Shiming were so well organized, patient and thoughtful. They managed our diverse group through the challenging terrain with a keen focus on both our safety and enjoyment. I was very impressed. Again, many thanks for this very special opportunity to experience the rain forest and west coast of Canada.
I wanted to thank you, and more so, our hike leaders, James & Olivia for a great hike on the West Coast Trail. The scenery, ocean, mountains & wildlife (which included bear, seals & great bald eagles) were all I could possibly have wanted, including the great 'hiking' weather.
Thank you so much for such a well organised, exciting and challenging West Coast Trail hike this week. And thanks for the great final lunch when we'd finished! James & Shiming were amazing throughout & I always felt safe under their guidance as well as learning a lot from their knowledge of the trail! A truly superb trip.
We would like to thank you so much for the unique & wonderful outdoor experience on the West Coast Trail hike we took with Coastal Bliss in July, 2017. The preparation by the experienced guides, James & Shiming at Port Renfrew really got the hike off on the right foot. Their recommendations on packing light, and getting us set up at camp, set the positive tone for the whole trip.
While each day was a highlight reel, there a few that standout are, Sandstone Creek, the ladders at Logan Ck, the beach camp at Tsuquadra, (without James & Shiming’s knowledge, we would have missed it), Tsusiat Falls, etc.
Having guides to lead the way, especially in their knowledge of how & when to be on and off the “beaches”, knowing where the good drinking water holes are, keeping spirits up, etc, was awesome. Please give James and Shimming a “hats off!” for making the hike a memorable experience!
What a great trip I had with Georgia and Carolyn hiking through the South Chilcotins this summer. You were right - what gorgeous country! The wildflowers were magnificent, the scenery breathtaking - and very few other folks in the area! For me personally - all the ingredients for a perfect trip!!
Hi Gary-Thanks a lot for your mail. That's cool that you finished the Juan de Fuca Trail without problems. Yes of course it is pity that I could not finished it, but it's better for my knee. Maybe next time!!!! Thanks again for your support in general and of course it was a great time in this two days. See you soon and take care
Thanks again for all advice and hard work on the West Coast Trail!
I hope you and Gary are doing great! As I am sure you know, I loved our trip and totally fell in love with the West Coast Trail.
Hi Georgia and Beth, Thank you both for your tireless energy and enthusiasm throughout this hiking trip. I couldn’t believe how tasty and filling the meals you prepared were, and I think I actually gained weight on the hike. The views, and pocket beaches we camped on were spectacular, swimming at the falls was a real treat after the days hike. The crowning of this trip however was sitting in the sun at Friendly Cove, watching the humpback whales feeding off shore. The Nootka Trail was certainly a trip of a lifetime. Thank you.
I'm back home since yesterday, physically but not with my mind. I just wanted to let you know, that I enjoyed the West Coast Trail hiking trip very well, everything was nice. It was the first time in my life, that I did an outdoor trip like this. Thank’s for your always good company. For sure I'll come back next year.
Finish the West Coast Trail with Gary from Coastal Bliss Adventure is my best decision I made, I really enjoy the whole trip, not only the amazing views but also the delicious food. Gary is very professional and knowledge, he will show you the best view in West Coast Trail.
For two years in a row we have used Coastal Bliss to guide us through the Wild West Coast Trail. This year we also added a 1/2 day kayaking. Using Coastal Bliss ensured we get to see the best there is to see. A further advantage is that you will learn about the fascinating fauna, flora, history and geology on the coast. People do hike up on their own, but apart from the risk they take by going at it alone, they also rob themselves of a superior experience. While we were setting up camp they were cooking incredibly delicious snacks and meals. Who knew dehydrated foods could taste so good.
I just returned home from my second West Coast Trail hike and I truly believe hiking with Coastal Bliss gives me a much, much bigger experience than I could get on my own. Their understanding of what there is to experience on and off the trail, how to manage the tides to get there and an emphasis on safety that adds confidence to the picture. Did I mention the food, wow, the mac and cheese with brie and white wine was my favourite! I also hiked with some truly amazing people from all walks of life that makes campfires a lot more interesting. Most of all our guides Gary & Travis looked after every need with a smile. There will be a third trek and it will be with Coastal Bliss!
If you're up for the West Coast Trail, the guides at Coastal Bliss Adventures are a great choice. Gary and Travis took care of all the details so the camping experience was easy. They also showed us routes that few hikers know and introduced us to the environmental diversity that makes this trail so interesting.
Having researched ways of doing the west coast trail I decided to go with Coastal Bliss.This decision was the very best. Our trail guides from Coastal Bliss highlighted amazing parts of the trail which were missed by other hikers who opted not to have a guide...the food was excellent , nutritious and varied with a "Surprise" addition to one of the dinners mid week which was thoroughly enjoyed by all! If you want to maximise your experience of hiking the west coast trail and and get the very best it has to offer I would highly recommend the team at Coastal Bliss. Thank you Gary and Shiming.
My sister & I just returned from the West Coast Trail trip with Coastal Bliss. I miss falling asleep to the sounds of the waves, nightly campfires, shipwreck stories and delicious meals prepared by our guides, James & Travis. The terrain was interesting and absolutely beautiful. Thank you for making my "bucket" list trip memorable.
In May 2018 I hiked the West Coast Trail (WCT) with Coastal Bliss. The 9 day hike was well organized, the guides were very knowledgeable and highly motivated to allow for the best possible experience for the participants. Even the point "hear about shipwreck stories in the evening at camp fire" as promoted on the homepage was fulfilled :-) If you want to hike the WCT in a group and you're looking for people to do it with - Coastal Bliss is the way to go.
We had a wonderful guided hike on the West Coast Trail in September and things couldn't have gone better. From pre-trip planning (equipment and clothing suggestions, physical preparation, food, environmental consideration, Parks Canada requirements) to pick up/drop off to excellent food on the trip, the communication certainly fulfilled expectations. Our guides were wonderful - experienced, knowledgeable, patient and with a sense of humour, they made a week+ strenuous adventure safe while fun. We had a fantastic group to meet up and travel with and will consider going again on another tour with this company.
WCT Preparation Guide
Introduction to this Guide
Why Use A Tour Guide On The West Coast Trail?
1. You miss so much if you don't! While hiking, our guides stop and point out most things that people miss on the trail. We are excellent at interpreting what's there.
2. You get to places and features not on maps or in books. Our guides know a lot of special, extra places and features because we live on the Vancouver Island hiking trails (literally, all summer).
3. You get looked after on the trail. Our guides help you when you need help and back off when you don't. If you need help hiking past an obstacle, or help with your tent, or whatever, we are there.
4. You tend to be safer than on your own. Our guides have an excellent safety record. In fact, all the companies operating on Vancouver Island hiking trails do, so if you can't go with us, you are still in better hands with another guiding company.
5. You get better food than on your own. Our guides make GREAT food. We cater to special diets and know how to balance the calorie intake with the stess need to have some comfort food.
6. You don't have the headache of organizing the logistics of the hike. We do that for you, you just have to get to our departure location. We do the rest.
7. You get a comprehensive preparation guide with packing lists, equipment and gear lists and explanations, what to expect, and how to train for the upcoming coastal hike.
8. You get looked after from booking to dropoff at the end of your journey.
Introduction to the West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is one of the most challenging hikes you could do, especially considering there is no significant elevation gain or loss. It is a rugged, coastal trail, carved out of dense coastal rain forest, and the quintessential Vancouver Island hiking trail.
The West Coast Trail's 75 km length carries you through a number of different ecosystems, providing a new experience almost every day. Along with the beauty of the forest, the coastline along the trail is stunning. Looking out over the open Pacific for most of the trail, you can begin to feel the vastness of this great ocean.
You can get your West Coast Trail permits on the government website setup for making reservations. https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/ Park Canada opens up the reservation system for the West Coast Trail in January.
From Parks Canada:
The West Coast Trail is OPEN May 1 to September 30.
2020 Reservation launch: January 6, 2020 at 8 am PST, reservations for the West Coast Trail can be made for any date between May 1 and September 30 through the Parks Canada Reservation Service. Spaces fill quickly, so consider setting up an account prior to January 1. https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/Home.aspx
When making a reservation, have the following ready:
+preferred start dates - first choice and alternate dates;
+the number of hikers in your group;
+the names and emergency contacts for hikers;
+means of payment: Visa, MasterCard or American Express
(see our Fees page for information on West Coast Trail fees);
+the access point you plan to start from - Pachena Bay, Gordon River or Nitinat; and
+an email address to send confirmation and orientation information.
Reservation Service Information
Parks Canada Reservation Service
30 Victoria, (PC-02-E)
Gatineau, QC J8X 0B3 Canada
Customer Service: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783)
519-826-5391 (Outside North America)
This reservation service allows you to reserve Frontcountry Campsites; Parks Canada Accommodations such as oTENTiks, Yurts, Rustic Cabins, and Equipped Camping; Backcountry Campsites/Hikes and Day Use events such as Guided Hikes or Bus trips knowing your reservation is guaranteed. Please note that reservations are made in real-time and all sites and accommodations are site specific. You will need a Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit card to complete a reservation and your card will be charged at the moment of your reservation.
A non-refundable reservation fee of $11.50 ($13.50 through the call centre) is charged per reservation in addition to your camping or activity fees. See full details on Parks Canada fees and refund policies.
The West Coast Trail fees
Per Trip, per person $ 130.31 Reservation, per person $ 24.50 National Park Entry Fee-
Annual Adult Pass, per person
Additional ferry fees are collected on behalf of the Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations.
In 2018, the ferry fees were $16.50 each.
Additional fee from 2018!
Parks Canada is now requiring a National Park Entry Pass to enter Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, including the West Coast Trail. You will be paying the backcountry fee, the reservation fee, the ferry fees, and now the entry pass fee. The entry pass can be a Discovery Pass, good at all national parks, or a specific park pass for this park. Parks seems to still be working out the details on this fee, so take everything about it with a grain of salt until you actually purchase it. More details: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/admission
Planning Your Hike-The Big Picture
Before you go, you need to get some things together. You need to decide when you want to go, how you are getting there and back, what gear will help you, and what you are eating.
Time off-Can you get it? Does it match what is available? Plan WELL AHEAD! You need to be on the Parks website ON JANUARY 6TH AT 8 AM TO GET YOUR RESERVATION!!
Tides-Most multiday Vancouver Island hiking usually means dealing with tide dependencies. High tides during mornings or during afternoons can affect your hike. If you are a morning person and don't mind getting up early, plan for morning LOW tides and leave early. People who sleep in may have better luck with afternoon tides. Some sections become much more difficult at mid to higher tides. Look over the map early! You can check your tides at the following link with both a list and a graph: http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/6488.html
Weather-Don't EVER leave your rain gear in the car or at home. Even if it has been clear and the forecast is for sun for the next five days, the fog can be very drippy and like rain. The weather systems on the coast are also unpredictable. This is the WET coast, so Vancouver Island hiking trails are almost always wet and muddy. The West Coast Trail is well known for rain and mud. Plan accordingly. Environment Canada has the most accurate forecast of any published forecasts. You can check weather at Environment Canada's site: https://weather.gc.ca/marine/forecast_e.html?mapID=03&siteID=16200
People-who you go with matters. They need to be capable of navigating the terrain and conditions, but also need to be able to plan with you and have the commitment. If your hiking partners seem semi-serious, think twice. You can always come with us and have a great group and guides surround you, cheering you along.
Drive and hitchhike-most hitchhikers on Vancouver Island are successful, particularly if they are patient and can wait a day sometimes. But not all. It's a risk. And it is illegal to pick up hitchhikers, although that does not stop many drivers.
Drive and WCT Express-If you are taking your car to Port Renfrew, park there, hike the trail from south to north, then take the WCT Express back to Port Renfrew. The logging roads to Bamfield tend to be really bad on vehicles. Avoid it if you can. You can also park in Port Renfrew, do the orientation in the afternoon, catch the WCT Express to Bamfield and hike from north to south to your car in Port Renfrew. Evann has parking directly across the road from the Park office in Port Renfrew (this may change for 2019). There is also parking at the Pacheedaht Campground, right at the WCT Office in Port Renfrew.
WCT Express-the Express has a stellar reputation for service. You should not fear taking them, but they do not wait for passengers. You must be on time. If you have a group of five or more, Coastal Bliss can transport you on a "drop off tour." We do more than just transport you to and from the trail. We can set up a food drop for you, assist you with packing and backpack fitting, and give you an augmented orientation with more detail than Parks' orientation. We can do this with most Vancouver Island hiking trails. Call us to inquire about this service at 1-800-896-9525 or email email@example.com .
The days before you start-how to get to Vancouver Island, where to stay-Doing the mandatory orientation before you start, and getting your actual permit, is a big deal in your timing. Each office has two orientations a day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The time you do your orientation and start hiking may affect whether you make it to a camp that day or end up sleeping on the trail somewhere. Plan this out well. Don't necessarily plan on arriving, orienting, and starting your hike on the same day.
Similar options-If you have a car, you see the return options above. If you don't you are dependent on the WCT Express or a custom option with Coastal Bliss. Make sure you have reservations for either one, if you want to use them.
Return to Port Alberni or Duncan-If you bail from the trail at Nitinat, you are either going through Lake Cowichan, or Port Alberni. This is similar for Bamfield. The roads are bad either way, but the ferry times from Departure Bay, Duke Point, from Nanaimo, or the ferry from Swartz Bay near Victoria may not fit well with one route or the other. Typically, Port Alberni is faster to the Nanaimo ferry terminals, Lake Cowichan to Duncan is faster to Swartz Bay. If you have to get back to Port Renfrew, you are going to Lake Cowichan and then to Port Renfrew. It can all be looked up on Google Maps.
Leaving the trail at Nitinaht Narrows will cost you $62.50 per person (2018 price). You will most likely be sitting at the narrows until the end of the day, about 5:30 pm, before you take the hour-long boat ride up the lake to the village. Getting into Nanaimo, Port Renfrew or Victoria can be a challenge. You might be able to contract a driver from the Ditidaht Band for about $200 to Port Renfrew.
Boots-This is your on-trail transportation, along with your feet. You can't mess with these puppies. Your boots need to be in good condition. Vancouver Island hiking trails have a reputaion for destroying boots. If the sole is starting to separate from the boot, even in the slightest, take them in to a cobbler and have then thoroughly repaired, or replace them. We have had boots sent into the trail (because we have access to a way to do it) for three people on our tours over the past few years. We have seen many more sole-less boots on the trail. The glues used in shoe and boot-making only last for 5 to 7 years, so if your boots are that old or older, replace them before leaving. THIS IS A SERIOUS WARNING-WE SEE MANY BOOTS FALLING APART.
Backpack-You need a good backpack with a comfortable waist belt and a good fit. If you don't know how to fit a backpack, your local outdoor store MIGHT be able to help, although we have seen some very poor advice from some big name stores. Can you use an external frame pack? Well, it is not ideal, nor is it ideal to have ANYTHING attached to the outside of your pack. Vancouver Island hiking trails require a lot of latral movement, meaning anything hanging off will throw your balance off, increasing your risk of injury. And the trail is just rough with roots, branches, and mini climbing gyms. We pick up lots of gear all summer that has been pulled off of packs. Put it all inside an internal frame pack.
Filtration-You have several options for potable drinking water. You can boil (takes lots of fuel and is inconvenient), you can use tablets (often have to wait for 5 to 30 minutes and can taste bad), you can filter (hand pumps can be fast for one or two people, a combo of pump and gravity filter can be good for a large group), you can use a straw or water bottle filter (great when you can stop and mess with it, but hard while hiking), or you can use a UV light sterilizer (can be a problem if batteries run out or it breaks). Always take a backup method. Why clean your water? Well, there is giardia around, but there might also be carcasses left near water sources from the predators in the areas, rotting into your drinking water. Vancouver Island hiking trails are first home to many animals,so keep it safe.
Dry stuff-You need to keep a SACRED SET OF DRY CLOTHES. Do not EVER put them on outside your tent unless you are at the trailhead. They need to stay dry to prevent hypothermia in case you get wet and it is windy and cold. You should bag everything in ziplock or light garbage bags for protection. If you don't and it rains, your stuff WILL BE WET.
Your Meal Planning
Light food-Take as much dried food as you can for main meals. Balance it a bit with one piece of fresh vegetable or fruit per day, say a mini-cucumber, or a carrot. You don't need to buy those expensive backpacker meals. The world has enough dry pasta, rice, oats, couscous, hummus, etc. to feed you, along with powdered sauces. It is not very hard to dry meat and vegetables in your oven. You just need to do a little research.
Need carbs and protein-You need both carbs and proteins. Raw sugars are not very good for hiking. Keep the candy to a minimum. Candy should be a small treat, not a major part of your energy plan. Whole grains, rather than white or processed rice and grains are better hiking foods. Lentils and beans are good, or dried meats. Try to avoid cans!
Plan for the meals-Chez Monique? Carl's Crab Shack? If you plan on having a meal at Chez Monique, you don't have to carry that food! Same with a meal at the ferry dock, Carl's Crab Shack at Nitinat Narrows. Plan smart for a lighter backpack. It will cost you about $60 to $80 for the two, but when you are on the trail after dried foods, you don't think about the money. Both Monique and Peter died in 2018, and their daughter, Sandy, has held the place as best she could for 2018, until mid-August. She plans to be open again for 2019. You should check with them before you leave. Find Sandy on facebook at Friends of Chez Monique: https://www.facebook.com/groups/105347032833070/
Planning Your Hike-The Details
There are two places to not mess up. One happens if it has been raining rather hard for a few hours, the other has to do with the tides.
Owen Point-you need to hit a tide height of about 5.5 feet at Owen Point to not have to climb a 3 meter vertical cliff to get over the point. Doable, but not fun, and access to the climb over cuts off, too. South to north, leave Thrasher Cove when the tide is low and no higher than about 3 feet. If travelling south, from Owen Point, you need to have reached Thrasher Cove before the tide reaches about 8 feet or you have to wait for several hours two coves away.
The second place not to mess up is Michigan Creek and Darling River after a rainfall. You have no choice but to ford them and they can be VERY dangerous. If they are flooded, be safe and wait until they are below knee depth to ford. This happen a few times a summer and lasts usually for 8 to 10 hours after the rain stops. Be cautious. If you are a hiker, or want to be, you should know that nealy all BC hiking trails have a high risk of flooding and impassable streams and rivers during and after heavy rains. So some research on fording swift-water streams.
Know how to read the tide tables, or get tides from the internet. http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/6488.html You can get good tide information from this site, either in a table or a graph. With the published tide tables, you have to add an hour during daylight savings time, but no need from this site.
Package your food into a strong bag that can be easily identified and placed into the food cache or hung. DON'T PLAN ON PUTTING YOUR BACKPACK IN THE FOOD CACHE. Some camps have many people there and the food caches fill up. Be respectful of others' needs. Make sure you have about one and a half to two pounds of mostly dried food per day. If you are an exceptionally big eater, plan for a little more.
Plan your route out before you go. For the southern end, plan on about one to one and a half km per hour for the last (or first) 6 km. From Walbran to Thrasher Cove, plan on about two km per hour. If you get to camp faster, great, but don't make any bets on it. Dry conditions may mean faster, wet will definitely mean slower travel. On Vancouver Island hiking trails, you are better camping outside the forest because if it rains, you are wet no matter. If it is foggy, it is raining from fog drip IN THE FOREST, but dry outside of it. You are closer to the smell of the outhouse and closer to the wonderfully, bear-attractive food cache in the forest as well. Are we making a strong enough case for camping on the beach? You also SHOULD NEVER HAVE A FIRE IN THE FOREST. So, better to be out at the beach, anyway. Bring a lightweight tarp for wet conditions. Put it up several times and several ways at home before you leave. Don't camp under cliffs! Things fall off of them! Like, whole trees! We've seen it! (Camper Bay is dangerous under the cliff.)
Dos and Don'ts
This is where we get to tell you off before you go. As professional guides, the trail is not just our place of business, it is really like home, and there are some things we would ask you not to do when you are visiting our business or home.
As professional guides, we see a lot of things that we just shake our heads at on the West Coast Trail and other Vancouver Island hiking trails. Many people are not prepared and many just don't know anything about spending time responsibly in the wilderness. This first section of quick pro tips lists some things that really should be absolute DON'TS on any coastal trail, and on most trails, period. So, fasten your seat belts and read on–prepare to feel some shame, because you have likely done one or two of these…
DON'T LEAVE TP FLOWERS ALL OVER THE TRAIL. Ladies, don't drop your toilet paper on or near the trail when you go pee. At least, BURY IT. Better, for Leave No Trace principles, take a ziplock bag and carry it out, or to your next campfire.
DON'T MAKE FIRES UNDER THE TREES. You are told this in the orientation. Fires in the trees harm the roots and branches of the trees. The right place for a fire is outside the forest, on the beach, at least below the highest high tide line, if not the current high tide line. The trees in our coastal rain forests, like the West Coast Trail and most other Vancouver Island hiking trails, have very shallow roots. Your fire, even on the top of the soil, damages the roots. The heat above the fire damages the branches. This is our workplace all summer. If we come into your workplace and make a fire, would you be upset? Most likely. Get the point. Take a look at the British Columbia campfire rules. Thrasher Cove (closest camp to Port Renfrew on the trail) is typically outside the "fog zone" where campfires are usually permitted, even when there is a province-wide fire ban. Most of the summer of 2018 there were no fires at Thrasher Cove. Additionally, the summers seem to be getting drier, and it is probably only a matter of time before the entire trail is under a fire ban for most or all of the summer. As guides, we have been very worried the last three years (2016-2018) at the dryness on the trail. It's getting scary out their with irresponsible campfires.
DON'T LEAVE YOUR FIRE BURNING. Winds pick up very quickly on the coast. The wind can blow embers into the forest, and if it is dry enough, can cause a forest fire. The embers can also harm tents and gear left out. People often go barefooted in the camps (stupidly), and if they walk on your hot embers in the middle of the night, when out for a pee (and properly disposing of TP), they can damage their locomotion (their feet!). DOWSE YOUR FIRE WITH WATER BEFORE YOU GO TO BED. Don't just throw sand over it-USE WATER.
DON'T RING FIRES WITH ROCKS. Come on, seriously? Rocks don't burn. You might need something for a wind break to get your campfire going and keep it in control, in which case, rocks (or logs) may be appropriate. But don't bother ringing your fire with rocks. It is absolutely unnecessary. Many of the rocks explode when they get hot enough (projectiles in camp! Run!). If you see a fire ring of rocks, dismantle it, especially if it is a big one already well above the normal ground.
DON'T GO AROUND THE STRUCTURES. The crews and trail guardians of the West Coast Trail spend a lot of time and money maintaining the structures (ladders and bridges). When you go around them, you undermine their foundations and stability. If there is a clear, well-worn trail around it, stop and consider-it might be okay. But if you are just trying to show off for yourself or someone else, just don't. (We think the trail runners are especially guilty of this. Come on, you trail runners.)
DON'T WASH OR BATHE UPSTREAM. Nobody wants to drink your sweat, soap, or poop from your not-well-wiped bottom. Wash DOWNSTREAM. And, to be better still, when you wash, take a bottle or pot and rinse everything on soil, rocks or sand, not directly in the stream or pond. When you need drinking water, go upstream, staying above the outhouses and other regularly used areas.
DON'T DUMP LEFTOVER FOOD IN STREAMS AND PONDS (or outhouses). Dump leftovers into the ocean. They will get eaten there. You can dump leftovers close to the tide line and the tide will wash it away later. (Although it may be better in the water on a receding tide.) There is some debate about how to deal with extra food, however, and it might be better to bury it on other Vancouver Island hiking trails. Trails on the east side of Vancouver island are on waters that don't change much, unlike the waters on the west side. Definitely better to bury it on an east side trail. If it is well scraped out, then go to the lower end of the stream or pond near you to wash it out.
DON'T CAMP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL. Some of you just can't do the paradigm shift to set your camp up on the beach, or in the open. At Walbran Creek, Cullite Cove, Thrasher Cove, Cribs Creek, Klanawa River, and Michigan Creek, people just can't seem to help themselves from setting up their camps right in the middle of the trails to the food caches and outhouses. This also leads to….fires in the forests!
DON'T SHARE FOOD FROM BAGS. We recently had a conversation with a man who had worked around the West Coast Trail for many years. He is convinced that many people are leaving the trail (half the evacuations, he said) from food poisoning at first nations' food suppliers on the trail, that they are not sanitary. Our guide colleagues from other companies and us have taken around 2,500 people on the trail over the last decade. We always eat at these places. We have had no illnesses with any of our clients after eating at them. Statistically, if hygiene problems were a problem at these places, then we would have had some sickness. We have not. We ARE, however, very good at keeping sanitary conditions for our guests, but many hikers are not. The conclusion to draw here is that most people are very poor at camp hygiene and make themselves sick from E. coli bacteria intake. Sanitize hands after every pee and poop, sanitize hands before eating anything, sanitize hands before handling ANY food. Don't put hands into bags of food (pour out into hands).
DON'T TAKE UNNECESSARY RISKS. Remember, you are NOT 30 minutes from an ambulance when you are on the West Coast Trail. If you are doing something, like somersaults, because you can do them and do them often at home, stop and think about what would happen if you miss one and severely twist your ankle, or worse. This stops your trip and usually anyone else going with you.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it covers most of the things we see as guides that we shake our heads at.
If you have systems that you have used, then you can begin to drop the use of checklists because the systems become second nature. But if you are only just developing those systems or have changed a system, chances are you will get caught out. In case you are in either state, here's a quick checklist of what you need to do to hike the West Coast Trail.
+December-decide you are going! And with whom! Decide whether you are going self-guided or by having a guided tour.
+December-have a good idea of the days you can go and look at the tide predictions/tour companies (the tour companies will usually have dates with the best tides already).
+Early January (BEFORE the 7th)-familiarize yourself with the booking site online and the deadlines.
+January-be on the site as early as possible to get the dates you want.
+February-start training with weight in a backpack.
+March-start gathering and checking your gear
+60 days before you go: Start breaking in new boots, making sure your older boots are good (have a cobbler check them out for you-you don't want to lose a sole on the trail).
+50 days before you go: if self-guided, start meal planning and getting your food together (dehydrating?)
+30 days before you: check through all your gear, make sure you have all you need, reconsider alternatives or not bringing things that add weight. Pack and weigh your pack in it (including water).
+10 days before you go: Confirm all your arrangements and the travel details.
This is a basic list of what you need to be doing.
What About Those Campfire Rules?
Campfire Rules for BC
Before building a campfire in British Columbia, there are certain provincial rules that campers need to follow. Failure to comply with these rules could result in a $345 fine. An additional $345 fine would be levied for campfires being lit during a ban.
Campfires are prohibited in an area which has fire restrictions or bans. It is the campers' responsibility to find out what areas have campfire prohibitions and restrictions.
Campfires require a fireguard, this means scraping down the dirt one metre high around the fire and removing flammable items, such as twigs, leaves, needles etc… [Note: nobody is doing this in the forest, that we have seen,…and the beach is a natural fireguard, so no stones necessary.]
Campers must have at least 8 litres of water and/or a shovel to properly extinguish the fire.
Fires are not to be larger than 0.5 metres by 0.5 metres or approximately 19 inches by 19 inches.
Campfires are never to be left unattended.
When leaving the campfire, it must be properly extinguished so ashes are cool to touch.
We hope this was all helpful. Of course, if you want to be really well prepared to fully enjoy our magnificent Vancouver Island hiking trails, then come on one of our guided tours. We think it is invaluable for many people who don't hike and backpack all the time, and even if you do, we take care of the logistics and take you to some different places on the trail. Our hope with this guide resource is that it will have saved you at least five to six hours of time just trying to get enough information to make a decision, and to have ultimately saved you some money or hassle. Thanks for reading!
The Coastal Bliss Team