West Coast Trail

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West Coast Trail
distance (km)
0 Pachena Bay
10 Pachena Lighthouse
Klanawa River
32 Nitinat Narrows
44 Carmanah Lighthouse
45 Chez Monique's
Carmanah Creek
Walbran Creek
Cullite Creek
Camper Creek
75 Gordon River
Hikers on the beach just south of the Carmanah Lighthouse

The West Coast Trail, originally called the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, is a 75 km (47 mi) backpacking trail following the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It was built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast, part of the treacherous Graveyard of the Pacific. It is now part of the Pacific Rim National Park and is often rated by hiking guides as one of the world's top hiking trails.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

The West Coast Trail is open from May 1 until September 30 by reservation only.


A view of the Pacific coast from the West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail passes through the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, who have inhabited the area for more than 4,000 years.[9] Native trails, used for trade and travel, existed in the area before European settlement.

In the 1800s, Europeans began to use the area to build and maintain a telegraph line between Victoria and Cape Beale. As well, more and more ships began to travel past the west coast of Vancouver Island, particularly between San Francisco and Alaska. The reefs and breakers off the coast posed a serious danger to navigation. One source cites almost 500 shipwrecks around Vancouver Island alone,[10] part of a series of Pacific Northwest wrecks that led the region to be nicknamed the Graveyard of the Pacific

At the start of the 20th century, very little lifesaving infrastructure existed on the sparsely populated island. Although some plans were already underway to improve the infrastructure, the public outcry that followed the wreck of the SS Valencia in January 1906 spurred the Canadian government to undertake a comprehensive plan for improvements.

The plan included:

  • The construction of a new lighthouse at Pachena Point (12 km or 7.5 mi south of Bamfield), near where the Valencia had run aground.
  • The introduction of wireless telegraphy on the BC coast through the construction of five wireless stations at Pachena Point, Estevan Point (where a lighthouse was added in 1910), Cape Lazo (near Comox, on the eastern coast of the island), Point Grey (in Vancouver), and Gonzales Hill (in Victoria). Among these, only Pachena Point is located on the Dominion Lifesaving Trail. Each station was initially expected to have a range of about 150 km (93 mi), hence their spacing.[11] The introduction of wireless service led to the rapid adoption of this technology by vessels plying the coastal trade.
  • The construction of shelters at 8 km (5.0 mi) intervals on the trail. Each shelter had a telegraph with instructions for use in several languages, survival provisions like blankets and rations, and directions on navigating the trail.[12]
  • Establishment of the Bamfield Lifeboat Station. In 1908, the station was equipped with a state-of-the-art 36-foot (10.97 m) motor lifeboat built to a United States Lifesaving Service specification by the Electric Launch Company (Elco) of Bayonne, New Jersey. it was the world's first purpose-built motor lifeboat , and over the next half-century hundreds of similar boats would be constructed for lifesaving stations in the US and Canada.[13]

The trail allowed shipwreck survivors and rescuers to travel the forest making use of the telegraph line and cabins. In 1973 the trail became part of Pacific Rim National Park and has been continuously upgraded.

The current trail passes through numerous Indigenous reserves (Pacheedaht: Gordon River #2 & Cullite #3; Ditidaht: Carmanah #6, Claoose #4, Wyah #3 & Tsuquanah #2; Huu-ay-aht: Masit #13). In the 1970s, a lack of regulation resulted in hikers trespassing on culturally important and environmentally sensitive First Nations archaeological sites, such as villages and refuges on Reserve lands. As a result of this trespass on the traditional territory and cultural property of First Nations living in the area, hikers are now required to remain on the trail when passing through any Reserve areas. To accommodate the growing interest in off-trail historical sites, the Ditidaht First Nation now offers guided adventure tours through their traditional lands.[14]

Canadian Coast Guard Station Bamfield is still in operation and now hosts the CCG's Rigid Hull Inflatable Operator Training School.


Tsusiat Falls, a major campground on the trail

The trail starts at Bamfield near Barkley Sound and runs south to Port Renfrew on Port San Juan Bay. In 1902, Bamfield became the North America terminus of the All Red Line's Pacific submarine cable, which spanned the globe linking the British Empire. A trail was constructed to carry the line south to Victoria (and thence across Canada to link up with the Transatlantic telegraph cable at Heart's Content, Newfoundland), as well as providing telegraph service to the lighthouses at Cape Beale (on Barkley Sound) and Carmanah Point (27 km or 17 mi north of Port Renfrew, at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca).

Hikers can choose to begin the trail in Port Renfrew and travel north, or in Bamfield and travel south. The southern parts of the trail are far more challenging than the flatter area in the north. Overnight hikers must buy a permit, as only a set number of people are allowed to be on the trail at any one time. However, individuals are permitted to visit during the day at no expense.

Colourful intertidal rock formations at Owen Point

The trail itself winds through forests, bogs, slippery moss-covered ladders, climbing, rappelling and beach treks. Hikers have a choice in parts of the trail to stay in the highlands, which is much boggier, or try to make progress on the beach, which is slow, but easier on the feet. The trail passes old growth trees, waterfalls, streams and thick patches of deep mud. Along the coast, the trail includes sand and pebble beaches, headlands, and exposed shelf and boulders at low tide. The trail often diverts inland to avoid dangerous surge channels and impassable headlands, where cliffs descend straight into the sea even at low tide. Portions of the beach sections can be made impassable by high tides. Tide tables and maps are issued by Parks Canada staff to all hikers prior to starting the trek. In some inland areas the trail consists of a boardwalk, which can be in disrepair and covered with moss and mud.

One of many ladder series on the trail

The main designated campgrounds along the way feature bear boxes for safe storage of food, an outhouse, and a view of the Pacific Ocean and Olympic Peninsula when the sea fog is not present. This fog offers a unique perspective as the beach and sky are clear, while the view just off shore is blocked. There are also numerous smaller campsites along the trail, with varying amenities, which can offer a quieter experience away from the often crowded main campsites. As 30 people may start the trail from each direction each day, it is not unusual to find many groups of hikers spending the night at any given main campsite.

Waterfall on the Darling River

The trail is still extremely rugged and requires a high level of fitness, knowledge, and skill to complete, although in the last 10 to 15 years it has been upgraded to facilitate easier hiking and safety for those with less experience. This has changed the nature and challenge of the trail somewhat but has made it easier for hikers to explore the coast. It has been recommended that hikers travel in groups as a measure of safety, but some also hike the trail solo. To cross the larger rivers and streams hikers must ride cable car suspensions, while smaller or slower waterways are bridged only by fallen logs or may even require wading. There are two waterways that require a boat to cross: the Gordon River, at the southern trailhead, and the Nitinat Narrows, near the midpoint of the trail. A ferry service is operated by the local First Nation. The trail includes some three dozen ladder structures, some of them 30 feet (9.1 m) high, that hikers must ascend or descend. Hikers usually take an average of 7 days to complete the trip, allowing visitors to stop at some point for a day, although it has been run in a single day.[15][16] Approximately 6000 backpackers complete the trail every year, with 1–2% requiring emergency evacuation due to injury, illness, or hypothermia.[17]

There are two locations on the trail where food can be bought: 1) the ferry operator, Doug, at Nitinat Narrows at km 32 (mile 20) has fresh seafood, a choice between salmon and crabs, baked potatoes and corn; 2) Chez Monique's on the beach, just south of the Carmanah Lighthouse, sells a variety of burgers (beef, salmon, cod, halibut and egg+veggie). Both locations also sell soft drinks. Other than these two locations, hikers must be entirely self-sufficient and prepared for the back country conditions of the trail. Hiking the West Coast Trail is a major attraction for adventure seekers coming to British Columbia to experience the Pacific Northwest's scenery, wildlife, culture, and weather. The West Coast Trail remains one of the most famous trails in Canada. (UPDATE: Chez Monique's has been closed for several years as of June 2021. Additional edits to follow.)

Transportation services are available at both ends of the trail via Trail Bus[18] or float plane. Hikers who do not wish to complete the trail can also take a water taxi at Nitinat Narrows to the other end of Nitinat Lake, but this is a time-consuming process as the taxi will normally only transport hikers who wish to leave the trail after 5:00 pm as it is used before then to allow hikers to cross from north to south or the reverse and land travel is slow and tedious.

The distance of the trail, whilst officially listed at 75 km, has not been changed or updated by Parks Canada for many years after being re-routed numerous times. Trail distance also changes depending on beach or forest travel, and some distance markers repeat themselves. GPS tracks from various hikers have put the true distance between 80 km and 92 km.[19][20][21][22]


Wildlife that can be encountered include cougars, black bears, wolves, hummingbirds, orcas, gray whales, seals, sea lions, and eagles. There are also abundant tidal pools on the beach portions, where hikers can see a variety of molluscs, sea anemones, and fish. Hikers are told how to react to possible encounters with dangerous animals (cougars, bears, and wolves) at the mandatory orientation session prior to starting the trail.

During certain times of the year, there is the possibility of encountering seal pups on the beach. The pups should not be approached, as the mother may then abandon the pup. All wildlife on the trail should only be viewed from a safe distance.

Winter 2006/2007 damage[edit]

In January 2007, it was revealed that intense storms during the previous weeks had severely damaged the trail. The full extent of the damage was not initially known, but an estimated 3,000 trees had been downed, a bridge and cable car were destroyed, and a serious landslide at kilometre 12 (mile 7) was discovered.[23] In March, C$500,000 in extra funding from the federal government was announced to assist with the cleanup.[24][25] The trail now features many rebuilt walkways, ladders, and bridges replacing those that were destroyed by the storm. However, as structures deteriorate quickly in the wet coastal conditions, fallen trees and slippery boardwalk are still commonly encountered.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The best hike in the world is the West Coast Trail". BestHike. June 28, 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  2. ^ Kevin Revolinski. "Top Ten Hikes In the World". Reader's Digest. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  3. ^ "12 of the World's Top Trekking Destinations". Hike Bike Travel. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Best Treks/ Hikes of the World". WikiExplora. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  5. ^ Arkisaeo (13 Apr 2010). "The Top 10 Hiking Trails Around the World". GreenFudge. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  6. ^ "The 10 Best Hikes In The World!". Guide Loop. 11 November 2011. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  7. ^ "Top 10 Best Hiking Trails in the World". eHotels. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  8. ^ "The Five Best Hikes in the World". Best Hikes and Treks. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  9. ^ Wright, Clark (Dec 5, 2012). "Parks & Trails".
  10. ^ Rogers, Fred (1992). More Shipwrecks of British Columbia. Heritage House—Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-55054-020-3. Archived from the original on 2007-06-26. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
  11. ^ Stratham, Frank, West Coast Maritime Coast Station Centenary Canadian Coast Guard Association Newsletter, Winter 2008
  12. ^ "Graveyard of the Pacific: The Shipwrecks of Vancouver Island". Virtual Museum of Canada. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  13. ^ "Bamfield Lifeboat Centenary: Celebrating 100 years of lifesaving at sea". Bamfield Lifeboat Centenary Organizing Committee. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  14. ^ "Hike the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park". Ditidaht First Nation. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  15. ^ "Prairie Inn Harriers Club Accomplishments". www.pih.bc.ca. Archived from the original on 2000-08-16.
  16. ^ "Running the West Coast Trail in One Day | Club Fat Ass". Archived from the original on 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  17. ^ "Trail evacuees reach record numbers".
  18. ^ "Home". West Coast Trail Express.
  19. ^ "Follow R on Strava to see this activity. Join for free".
  20. ^ "West Coast Trail".
  21. ^ "Your Guide to the West Coast Trail in British Columbia". 28 August 2019.
  22. ^ https://www.facebook.com/groups/231026500765453/permalink/538173680050732/[user-generated source]
  23. ^ "West Coast Trail littered with trees". CBC News. 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2007-01-17.
  24. ^ "Extra money for Pacific Rim National Park cleanup". CBC News. 2007-03-05. Retrieved 2007-03-15.
  25. ^ "Damage cleared; West Coast Trail opens to hikers". Victoria Times Colonist. 2007-05-14. Retrieved 2007-05-23.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°39′52″N 124°50′15″W / 48.664475°N 124.837621°W / 48.664475; -124.837621