Nearly 3 years ago to the day, I did my first ever backpacking trip. It was the start of a beautiful love affair with the simplicity of carrying everything on your back and exploring new places. It is now something I crave. I get itchy feet to pack everything I need and take off. The simplicity of having maybe two choices of clothes, no cell service, no mirror, no electronics. It is refreshing and grounds you to what really matters in life.
My first backpacking trip was The West Coast Trail. It is located on Vancouver Island in Pacific Rim National Park. It is a 75 km long trail through forests, beaches, and over bridges, cable cars, and up many ladders. Originally, it was established as a life-saving trail for surviving victims of the many shipwrecks that occurred in the area. Now, it is used for avid backpackers to hike and witness the beauty that the coast has to offer. It is known for its terrible weather, and jaw-dropping beauty.
The trail is beautiful, challenging, and extremely rewarding. On average, the trail is hiked in 5-7 days. It doesn’t necessarily mean long days of hiking, but trust me, you will want time to enjoy the beautiful campsites and soak it all in. We did the trek in 6 days (a compromise as I wanted to do 5, and the girls wanted to do 7). Personally, if I did it again I would want to do it in 5, but I was very happy for the extra time to not just hike but relax and meet new people and enjoy the beauty of being outside.
Anyone wishing to do this trek must book their permits through Parks Canada and organize transportation to/from the trailhead. You can hike the trail in either direction. We decided to hike North to South. Most people seem to hike it the other direction. We required transportation to the trailhead, as we would have our car at the end. I know people often get to the trailhead by boat, however, the year we did it the boat service was not available so we booked a bus. It was a very bumpy, slow ride. If you are prone to car sickness, heads up on this!
We were on the trail from June 17th-22nd. Here is a recap of my adventure with four other amazing women!
Day 1: Travel Day. We left Banff early in the morning and drove to Vancouver. From there, we caught a ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver Island and stayed at a hostel for the night. We used the parking lot to make sure all last minute things were packed and ready to go.
Day 2: Travel Day again. We drove from Nanaimo to Port Renfrew. This is the south end of the trail and is where we would end after six days. We parked our car at this end. From here, we took a bus to Bamfield, which is the north end of the trail. We had an orientation at the Parks Canada building, (you MUST take an orientation prior to using the trail), and then we had reserved a campsite at the Pachena Bay Campground. We would start our hike the next morning so we spent the night at the trailhead. Within ten minutes of arriving at our campsite, we saw two whales! Needless to say it was a beautiful start to an amazing week.
Day 3: Trail day 1. This day was our first day on the trail! We studied the tide tables at the start of our day, and since it was low tide when we started we began our trek on the beach for the first kilometre. We hiked 14 km this day from Pachena Bay to Darling River. It was a relatively easy hike on this day. I highly recommend the Darling River campsite. It is 2km past the more common site Michigan Creek, and is quieter and has a beautiful waterfall. We saw lots of whales, a bald eagle, and of course, SLUGS!
Day 4: Trail day 2. This day we hiked from Darling River to Tsusiat Falls. This section was 11km and we encountered our first cable car and lots of ladders. We saw sea lions, whales, bald eagles, and lots of sea urchins and anemones in the tidal pools. This day was harder than the first day, however, it was a nice short day and we arrived with time to set up a beautiful campsite tucked in the rocks and got to enjoy another waterfall! This was the only day we had any sort of rain (read: mist) which is incredibly lucky given the trails reputation for terrible weather.
Day 5: Trail day 3. This day we hiked from Tsusiat Falls to Carmanah Creek and it was a very long day. I would recommend staying at the campsite before this one instead. Although our campsite was quieter and had a beautiful stream, after a long day the extra push to our campsite was tiring. It might be worth it to stop at the previous one. This day was 21 km and took us roughly 10 hours. This day had a little bit of everything! We had cable cars, ladders, tons of wildlife and ever-changing scenery. We stopped at Carmanah Lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper was kind enough to let us use his telescope to see sea lions out on a rock. Earlier in the day, we stopped at Nitinat Narrows. Here we purchased some fresh salmon from the locals, which we carried with us and cooked over our fire at night. It was the best salmon I have ever had! At the end of this day my feet were so sore, but my heart was so full.
Day 6: Trail day 4. This day we hiked from Carmanah Creek to Camper Creek which was a 16 km long section, yet took us nearly as long as the previous day! It was a much more technical day and we even encountered our biggest set of ladders; 7 flights and 227 rungs to the top! What a leg burner! I had a good stumble in a mud pit in which I sank up past my knee in mud. It’s safe to say we had a good laugh about that. We had some beautiful beach walks, broken boardwalks, and lots of roots and high steps. The last 4 km of this day was the toughest part of the whole trail in my opinion. It was gnarly and completely amazing! What a challenge! This trail got harder by the day, and each day I fell more in love with it.
Day 7: Trail day 5. This day we hiked 8 km from Camper Creek to Thrasher Cove. We woke up early to make sure we could make the low tides to see Owen Point. This area is a must see! The trail has two access points down to the beach from the forest. Take access A. This access point is safer. From here you start the hike to Owen Point. There are some really neat surge channels and sea caves, and Owen Point made the perfect spot for lunch. The trail continues through a sea cave and leads you to a section of hiking over massive boulders. I mean massive! Some of the boulders were the size of small cars. Since we left early and it was a shorter day, we arrived at Thrasher Cove and set up camp in the early afternoon. It was a hot sunny day and we spent the day relaxing on the beach. I was not ready for the next day to be our last day. I was not ready to leave this magical trail and head back to reality.
Day 8: Trail day 6. This was our last day on the trail. We hiked 5km from Thrasher Cove to the Gordon River Trailhead. Our day started off right away up lots of ladders. It is on this section that you also reach the highest point on the trail. The last 5 km has lots of ups and downs, and is through the forest the entire way. At the end, you come to a your last km marker of the trail. What a feeling! I have never been so proud of myself or felt so happy to accomplish something. I felt so at peace and so full of life. Once we completed the trail, we raised a ball in a tree to catch attention for the boat to come pick us up and bring us across the river. Since we parked our car there, we drove to Victoria from there. We concluded our adventure with a night at the Fairmont Empress and a (much needed) pedicure. What a way to end the trip!
Day 9: Time to head home. We spent the morning exploring Victoria and enjoying delicious food and beautiful parks. By the time the afternoon rolled around, the airport shuttle was waiting outside the hotel to give us our ride. We then waited at the airport and boarded our quick flight back home to Calgary. I was sad for this adventure to be over, but ready to get back home and start planning the next one.
The West Coast Trail is a challenging, hard, physically demanding trail. Although 75 km in length, there is a reason it takes people 5-7 days to complete. However, do not let that steer you away. This trail is beautiful in every way possible. It has incredible beaches and ocean views, amazing forests that almost seem enchanted, tons of wildlife to see, and endless ways to push yourself mentally and physically. It says a lot that many of the people we encountered on the trail had already done the trail previously. The West Coast Trail captured my heart and it is a place that the minute I left, I already knew I would return to one day.