The West Coast Trail is a strenuous 75 km multi-day beach and forest hiking trail on the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. A large part of the trail is spent hiking on miles of extensive, white sandy beaches separated by spectacular indigenous forest. The reputation for being a tough hike is well deserved and the trail can be brutal when there is a lot of rain with slow progress over difficult terrain including pools of mud, ladders, bridges and cable cars.
In this article you will find all the information needed to plan a hike on the West Coast Trail, all about our hike; detailed itinerary, transport and packing list.
This is a moderate to strenuous hike in the Pacific Rim National Park along the south west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. My GPS gave me a bit more distance everyday, there is definitely variation depending how much you walk on the beach and in the forest.
I hiked the route in 6 days, 5 nights which is a common way to complete the entire trail, some people do opt for an extra night.
The trail stretches from the Gordon River trailhead, close to the town of Port Renfrew in the south, to Bamfield in the north. The trail is hiked by many people in both directions, logistics and whether you want to start or finish with the difficult part of the trail are the main considerations. The world famous West Coast trail meanders through a spectacular mix of solitary rainforest, long sandy and rocky beaches and biodiverse rock pools, offering panoramic views and an unreal variety of fauna and flora. Keep your eyes on the ocean and you might spot grey whales, killer whales, seals or sea lions, in the forest keep a look out for black bears and cougars and don’t skip the fantastic tidal pools inhabited by starfish, sea urchins, barnacles, blue mussels, anemones, sea cucumbers and plenty more interesting animals.
West Coast Trail Information
- Official Distance – 75 km/ 47 miles
- Measured Distance (Garmin Fenix5) – 88.15km/54miles according to my GPS
- Time required – 6 to 7 days (5 or 6 nights)
- Starting and End point – Gordon River to Bamfield
- Total ascent (in 6 days) – 1813 m
- Total descent (in 6 days) – 1878 m
- Trail Markings – Clear Yellow Signs, Orange Markings, Pink Ribbons
- Walking surface – a mix of sand and rocks on the beach, footpaths with surface varying between dirt and knee deep mud.
- Total cost – $CAD517 ($391)
- Accommodation – camping
- Food – carry food for the duration of the trail
How hard is the West Coast Trail?
For an experienced hiker I would say the trail is moderate to tough. Climbing more than 70 ladders, walking in the mud and kilometers on the beach carrying your tent and all your food and gear for a week is not easy. The weather plays a huge role and on dry days it was much easier than walking in the rain and mud. It is not impossible to do as a first multi-day backpacking trip, but is not recommended, the Juan de Fuca is more suitable.
The West Coast Trail Trailheads
The southern trailhead is at the mouth of the Gordon River at the Pacheedaht campground near the town of Port Renfrew on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. To get to the trailhead you walk from the Pacheedacht campground (5 min) and take a ferry crossing included in the registration fee.
The northern trailhead is at the Pachena Bay campground 5.5km from the town of Bamfield on the central west coast of Vancouver Island. You can walk or order a taxi, from the Pachena Bay campground the staff can phone a taxi for you to town.
How to do The West Coast Trail
Which direction to hike The West Coast Trail
The trail can be hiked either way; from south to north starting at the Gordon River Trailhead close to Port Renfrew and ending at Bamfield or the other way around.
Does it make a difference which direction you hike?
You can see from the statistics provided that ascend and descend is about the same, so the uphill and downhill will be the same irrespective of which direction you hike.
The Southern Part is tougher! the trail from Gordon River to Culite Cove is definitely much more challenging than the northern part from Culite Cove to Pachena Bay with many hills, ladders and other obstacles, also when it rains this part of the trail is very muddy, making for slow hiking. I chose to do the difficult part first. The northern part is flatter with less mud and ladders.
Logistics – If you drove with your own car and it is waiting in Port Renfrew it is great if you are hiking north to south, arriving at your car at a good time and driving to the ferry crossing.
Ferry crossing times at Gordon River: 8:45, 11:30 ( after morning orientation), 13:30, 14:30 and last ferry at 15:30
Time required to hike the West Coast Trail
Hiking the full West Coast Trail takes 5 to 7 days. I walked the trail from the Gordon River trailhead (Port Renfrew) in the south to the Pachena Bay trailhead (Bamfield) in the north in 6 days and 5 nights walking 3 to 7 hours per day. I walked most parts possible to walk on the beach. If you are fit it is possible to complete the trail in 5 days/4 nights, you will however need to walk 5 long days to do so and since many of the beach sections can only be walked at low tide, doing the trail in 5 days, you will probably miss many of the beach walks being forced by the tides to walk the forest paths, I will not recommend this.
To give you an idea of what is possible, the record for running the trail is 9 hours and 32 minutes!
To complete the trail you should be fit and either be an experienced hiker/camper, or go with an experienced crew. It is possible to hike a shorter version of the West Coast Trail. A mid-point entrance at Nitinaht Narrows that is only accessible by water from Nitinaht Village, allows you to hike a shorter portion of the West Coast Trail. Travelling south the shorter trail extends from Nitinaht Narrows to Gordon River for a total of 42 km which can be comforably hiked in 5 days/4 nights. Travelling north from Nitinaht Narrows to Pachena Bay is the shortest option available to hike the West Coast Trail at 33 km in total.
Another shorter, cheaper and easier option is to hike the Juan de Fuca trail also starting outside Port Renfrew, I compare the trails later in the article.
West Coast Trail Transportation
Organizing transport is a bit of a mission since the trail is not circular, you need transport to the starting point and again from the end point. The trail can be reached by public transport or with your own vehicle. The West Coast Trail Express provides a shuttle bus service in season, May 1 to September 30, picking up and dropping off passengers at Victoria, Port Renfrew, Gordon River, Pachena Bay, Bamfield and Nanaimo.
The Shuttle Bus tickets are not cheap, at the time of writing the price is $CAD55 from Victoria to Port Renfrew/Gordon River and $CAD 110 from Bamfield/Pachena Bay to Victoria. If you do book the return shuttle there is a 20% discount that is $CAD 33 discount.
The shuttle is a good option if you do not have a car, it is important to note that if you take the shuttle back from either side Pachena Bay or Gordon River you will probably not make it back to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal in time to catch the last ferry back to Vancouver.
If you have a car, you can park at the Gordon River trailhead, there is parking at the Pacheedaht First Nations Reserve near the Gordon River trailhead. Parking is $5/day, pay at the Pacheedaht Campground office. Nobody parks on the northern side at the Pachena Bay trailhead since the gravel road to the trailhead is not good and difficult to navigate, the two most common options are:
- to walk south from Pachena Bay finishing the hike at your car at Gordon River, you take a shuttle bus Pachena Bay to Gordon River ($90) and start walking south, remember it is compulsory to attend the WCT orientation before you start your walk, these take place at 10:00 and 14:00 daily between May 1st and September 30th, following the orientation there is an included ferry crossing to the trailhead.
- To walk north from Gordon River and end at Pachena Bay, taking a shuttle bus with West Coast Trail Express back to your car at Gordon River.
You can also take a boat to Bamfield here is how; take a public ferry from Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island, from here an Island Link Bus to Port Alberni, The Lady Rose Marine Services runs a freight ship that transports some passengers a few days a week between Port Alberni and Bamfield. Go by taxi from Bamfield to Pachena Bay trailhead.
Best Time of the Year to Hike the West Coast Trail
The West Coast trail is open from May 1st to September 30th, only 30 people are allowed to start hiking the trail each day. The popular trail is fully booked for most of the season so there will be more or less the same number of people on the trail at all times.
In May and June there will likely be a lot of rain, so be prepared for wet weather. In June you have the longest daylight giving you nice long days. Mid July to early August is the driest period, it is just so much more fun to hike if it is dry, walking in wet shoes, pitching a tent in the rain and being in the rain and mud just gets miserable. The dry season is a great time to walk, this is the season with the most young people on the trail (summer holidays). I walked in September, it is a good time, but you can get some rain, also after the season the trail is a bit worn following the season (ladders, platforms and paths takes some strain).
Role of Tides on the West Coast Trail
It is amazing that large parts of the West Coast trail can be hiked on the beach, walking on the sand looking for animals in the ocean was one of my favorite parts. Many of the beaches may be underwater at high tide, there is however always an alternative trail in the forest. To not miss out on some spectacular parts of the trail plan your days with a tide table to walk on the beach. Sticking to the forest you are going to miss out on seeing orcas, whales, seals and more. The entrances from beach to forest trail are clearly marked with red buoys and there are signs that show at which tides certain beaches may not be accessible. A tide table from the Port Refrew and Bamfield area will show you when and how high tides will be. At the orientation you will receive a map and tide table.
The following beaches can only be passed when the tides are are lower than indicated below. We found the tide info on the table below on the official BC trails map.
Maximum tide height for walking on the beach
|Passable at tide height |
|Thrasher Cove to |
|Beach from Owen Point||2||2.5||1.8m/6ft|
|Walbran Creek to |
|Kalder Creek to |
|Farting Beach |
|Klanawa River to Trestle Creek||5||2.0||2.7m/9ft|
|Tscowis Creek to Darling River||5||2.5||2.7m/9ft|
Campsites on the West Coast Trail
The 13 official campgrounds on the West Coast Trail are all located on the coast. Campsites do not have to be reserved. You can camp anywhere along the trail; you don’ t have to camp in a designated campsite, campsites work on a first come, first serve basis. The official campsites all have certain facilities; toilets, a bear proof ‘bear cash’ for food and rubbish storage and access to fresh water from a little creek. At most campsites it is possible to camp on the beach, just make very sure you are above the high tide mark! Some of the campsites are in the forest, close to the beach. When it was raining I prefered pitching my tent in the forest over camping on the beach, getting less wet sand into my tent!
We made a big fire on the beach every night! Campfires are allowed on the West Coast Trail, but only on the beach. There is plenty of wood to make a fire, if you go during the rainy season some firelighters might make life easier. On the rainy days drying all my stuff next to the fire was awesome, trying to get that smoke smell out of some of my clothes after the hike was not easy!
My favorite campsite on the trail was Tsusiat Falls where we had a big waterfall making for a great bathing spot, we saw some whales and orcas from where we were camping on the beach. Our first campsite on the south side, Thrasher Cove, offer a great sunrise.
There are two different paid campsites on First Nations Reserves; Ditidaht Comfort Camping near Tsuquadra Point and cabins and tents at Nitinaht Narrows.
If you do the shorter itinerary you can start or end your trip with a little more comfort by booking the Ditidaht First Nation’s Comfort Tents at Tsuquadra Point. You will stay in canvas wall tents with a wood burning stove with firewood, cots, a table and chairs, and an outdoor deck with great views of the Pacific Ocean. The Ditidaht First Nation maintain these facilities. If you start or end at Pachena Bay you can book a night at Huu-ay-aht First Nation’s Pachena Bay Campground, owned and operated by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation.
Toilets on the West Coast Trail
There are toilets at each of the 13 official campsites. Toilets are sustainable, long drop, compost toilets on a platform with a ladder. After using you throw in some wood chips that keep the smell down and helps in the composting. Don’t throw anything besides body fluids and your toilet paper in the toilets. The facilities were well maintained, but not as fancy as the long drop toilets in the neighbouring Juan de Fuca trail, this trail was free to do. We were very impressed by hiking the Juan de Fuca the toilets had hand sanitizer and toilet paper. There is no toilet paper on the West Coast Trail,remember to pack your own.
Bears on the West Coast Trail
The West Coast trail is in bear country, it is mainly black bears that live in this area. Bears hibernate in winter and from mid March through summer they leave their dens to find food. There is a lot of pair scat on the trail and you have a good chance of seeing them, for most tourists this is an exciting prospect! I only ran into one black bear on the trail, it was on the beach and I had to wait about 20 minutes for the bear to go back into the forest. I have often heard that a mom with cubs is dangerous, statistics however proves this theory passed as fact wrong, solitary males are responsible for the biggest portion of the few of bear attacks that take place. Off course these animals can be dangerous, but there has only been a handful of bear attacks in BC over the last 20 years. You have a much bigger chance of getting killed in a car accident on the way to the hike. Put your food and garbage in a bear proof container (bear cache) at the campsite. Don’t leave your garbage there, you are suppose to carry it with you.
What to do if you see a bear (regional parks) – stay calm, speak to the bear in a calm voice, back away slowly, don’t run – the bear is faster than you, take out bear spray and know how to use it, if attacked use bear spray and fight back!
Food on the trail
Packing food for this trail was a pleasure since we had access to hiking store selling awesome dehydrated camping meals in Vancouver, a bit more pricey, but light, filling and delicious! everything you want from camping food.
- Breakfast – 2 packs of instant oats, coffee
- Lunch – a protein bar (68 grams)
- Dinner – Dehydrated meals x4 – A dehydrated meal (2 servings) each is a good meal for one person after a long day of hiking. X1 noodles and tuna.
I am a serious coffee junkie and made awesome coffee twice a day with my trusty aeropress.
To boil water for coffee and prepare meals I carried a little gas stove and one 450 gram propane canister.
Drinking Water on the West Coast Trail
There are many water sources along the way and carrying one water bottle per person should be sufficient. Every camp had a river or at least little creek with running water close to the camping area. It is recommended by the official government website that drinking water is boiled, treated or filtered before drinking, do this if you want to be safe. I carried a Lifestraw filter bottle, good alternatives is an MSR filtration pump, I used this on some hikes and found it a lot of work to filter water. The gravitation filter bags is a good option taking a bit of time, but it is easy and light and small to pack. Chlorine tablets is an easy option, this is cheaper but tastes terrible. My opinion is that the water is good quality, running water with slight discoloration due to tannins from foliage. The official site says sterilize the water, so to be safe this is probably the way to go. Don’t get drinking water directly downstream of a busy campsite.
There are plenty of accommodation options to suit your budget in Port Renfrew and Victoria.
- HI-Victoria Hostel – budget dormitory hostel, good rating central location
- Ocean Island Inn – good price, in the city center, good rating
- The Bedford Regency Hotel – bit more luxury, in the city center, good rating
- On a Budget – You can camp at Port Renfrew if you are on a budget.
- Trailhead Resort (economy cabins)
- Wild Coast Chalets (good rating, 400m from town center)
- Remote Renfrew Riverside Retreat (pet friendly cabins)
West Coast Trail Cost
The West Coast Trail is not a cheap venture costing me a total of $CAD517 ($391) for the 6 day/5 night hike.
- Registration – $CAD184 (payable upon registration)
- Break up West Coast Trail Overnight Use Fee: $127.50 and two ferry crossing fees, Gordon River: $16 and Nitinat Narrow: $16, reservation fee is $24.50
- Pacific Rim Park Permit – $CAD 39 payable at the orientation
- Food – $CAD17 per day pp – $102
- Transport – $CAD55 + $CAD110 = 165 – 20% discount = $CAD132
- Bear spray – $CAD50
- Stove Gas – $CAD10
West Coast Trail Itinerary
Maps and elevation profiles were generated with a Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch
Day Zero – Vancouver to Victoria
Take a ferry from Vancouver (Tsawwassen Ferry terminal) to Victoria (Swartz Bay Ferry terminal). Take a public bus from Swartz Bay to Victoria. Overnight in Victoria.
Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay
Port Renfrew, Gordon River Access, Thrasher Cove
- Starting point – Gordon River Trailhead
- Finishing point – Thrasher Cove
- Trail Marker 75km to 70km
- GPS Distance – 6.8 km
- Forrest walk
- Total Time – 2 h 55 min
- Moving Time – 2h
- Total ascent – 405 m
- Total descent – 416 m
Highlights of the Day
- Starting the trail and climbing that first ladder.
- Arriving at the beach at Thraser Cove and going for a swim (yip it is chilly).
At about 9am I arrived at the West Coast Trail Information Center with the
West Coast Trail Express from Victoria. The information center is located at the Pacheedaht Campground 5km after passing through the town Port Renfrew. If you are driving from Victoria it is easy to find, just follow the highway signs to Sooke and/or Port Renfrew, from there are clear signs marking West Coast Trail.
Important – orientations are held at 10:00 and 14:00 daily and you are not allowed to start without attending this one hour orientation. It was helpful, with lots of handy info. Following the orientation make your way over to the ferry that leaves at 8:45, 11:30 (to tie in with morning orientation), 13:30, 14:30 and last ferry at 15:30. I almost missed the 11:30 ferry doing who knows what, after the orientation walk to the ferry! 🙂
The trail kicks off with a ladder followed by a forested section with no ocean views until you get to Thrasher Cove. It is a good warm up and you will get an idea of what the next three days is going to be like. This part was not too muddy. The last km to the camp was a steep downhill. Thrasher Cove is a nice campsite on the beach, first day to get some sand in my tent. The site was busy with campers heading north and south, it was nice talking to hikers on their last day! The campsite was a bit packed, but I managed to squeeze my tent in. It is a short day to Thrasher Cove, but the next 9km to Camper Bay is quite tough and slow. Continuing on the forest path is possible, but you are going to miss out on the caves on the beach at Owen Point. The sea caves can only be walked at low tide. If you are going to skip walking to Owen Point on the beach and continue to Camper Bay in the forest, I think walking this 15km on day one is not to hard.
Thrasher Cove to Cullite Cove
Thrasher Cove, Owen Point, Camper Bay, Cullite Cove
- Starting point – Thrasher Cove
- Finishing point – Cullite Cove
- Trail Marker 70km to 57km
- GPS Distance – 16.90km
- Beach walk – 7km
- Total Time – 7 h 30 min
- Moving Time – 4h 38m
- Total ascent – 323 m
- Total descent – 324 m
Highlights of the Day
- The sea caves at Owen Point
- Orcas very close to the rocks
- Longest stretch of ladders up and down with Cullite in the middle!
Thrasher Cove to Cullite Cove (16.9 km). This was the toughest day for me, the first 4 km to Owen Point and the sea caves took 4 hours. It is slippery and challenging climbing over big boulders, logs and walking over rocks covered in seaweed, barnacles and mussels. After leaving the sea caves there was a nice flat stretch next to the ocean on the rocks. I saw a pod of orcas here, they were very close to the rocks I could clearly see their faces and even hear the water exciting their blowholes! Unfortunately getting my camera out took a bit long! The remaining 9 km or so to Cullite Cove was also slow in thick mud walking on a rainy day with a couple of ladders. I must admit in the last 5km up to Cullite Cove I did think once or twice ‘I wish I stopped at Camper Creek’. There is a handful of ladders that takes a while to climb down to Cullite. This was a small campsite and my least favorite. Thrasher to Cullite was a long day taking 7 hours, there were a couple more hikers doing this same stage so it is very doable. I arrived a bit late at Cullite and did not find a nice spot to pitch my tent, the small site was packed, the beach here is covered in big rocks, not great for camping, it was just very full. If you arrive early enough to pick a spot there are some spots with nice views. I would recommend that you take the beach way, not the forest to Owen Point, the sea caves and orcas I saw on this route was a definite highlight on the West Coast Trail!
Cullite Cove to Cribs Creek
Cullite Cove, Walbran Creek, Bonilla Point, Cribs Creek
- Starting point – Cullite Cove
- Finishing point – Cribs Creek
- Trail Marker 57km to 42km
- GPS Distance – 19.6km
- Beach walk – 10km
- Total Time – 6 h 37 min
- Moving Time – 4h 57m
- Total ascent – 351 m
- Total descent – 266 m
Highlights of the Day
- Long beach walk
- Nice waterfall at Bonilla Point
- First cable car crossing
It was a long day that started tough and messy, but with a lot of beach walking, the sun coming out and some great views turned into a great day! Getting out of Cullite Cove campsite kicked off with a steep climb, 6 ladders. There is a cable car at the start of the day, but I did not use it, the water was shallow and I managed to jump from rock to rock across. It was a rainy day for me and another tough first six kilometers with pools of mud, from Walbran Creek on I was a very happy, the sun came out and about 10km most of it walking on the beach to Cribs Creek. About 5km from Walbran Creek at Bonilla Point there was a very nice waterfall, this is a good campsite and was a great place to stop for lunch.
I used my first cable car at Carmanha Creek, I ran into a lady that crossed with me and we had some help from other hikers, the cable cars are fun when they are flying down to the middle, from there it is hard work to pull yourself across and much easier if you have help from another team! When you leave Carmanha Creek there is a spot called Chez Moniques around km44 that sells burgers and beer, it was unfortunately closed when we passed here. I had to do a little bit more through the forest and passed the Canadian Coast Guard Lightstation Carmanah Point. Cribs Creek is not a very well rated campsite, but I liked it with soft sand, lots of space and it is the last campsite before the ferry crossing and the crab shack.
Cribs Creek to Tsusiat Falls
Cribs Creek, Dare Point, Nitinaht Narrows (ferry crossing),Tsusiat Falls
- Starting point – Cribs Creek
- Finishing point – Tsusiat Falls
- Trail Marker 42km to 25km
- GPS Distance – 19.9km
- Beach walk – 11km
- Total Time – 5 h 51 min
- Moving Time – 4h 51m
- Total ascent – 318 m
- Total descent – 336 m
Highlights of the Day
- Long walk on nice, firm sand
- Best Beach campsite
- Great Waterfall for swimming
My longest day, but great hike! I walked for 11km on nice firm sand and the 8km in the forest was not too muddy. Today’s walk was really beautiful on the rocks and the sand, we spotted a couple of whales and saw 5 sea otters from very close. At Nitinaht narrows I stopped at the crab shack for a beer and lunch. The ferry service is from 09:30 to 16:30 and is included in the registration fee. Lunch and a beer is not and it is pricey! A crab goes for $CAD25, a beer $CAD8 and a melted cheese for $CAD8, I did not care to much. The campsite at Tsusiat Falls is a favorite for good reason, there is a lot of space on the beach and the waterfall is amazing, the water was not freezing and made for the best swim on the trail! Tsusiat Point is only pasable at tides below 2.7m, make sure about this on the beach walk, we almost missed the cut-off and were scrambling over the rocks with a rising tide!
Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek
Tsusiat Falls, Tsocowis Creek, Darling River, Michigan Creek
- Starting point – Tsusiat Falls
- Finishing point – Michigan Creek
- Trail Marker 25km to 12km
- GPS Distance – 13.3km
- Beach walk – 8km
- Total Time – 3 h 50 min
- Moving Time – 3h 20m
- Total ascent – 160 m
- Total descent – 190 m
Highlights of the Day
- Black Bear on the beach
- Humpback Whale
- Long cable car ride
- Walked most of the day on the beach
This was a short day and a really nice one. 8km of the 13km was on the beach and I saw a variety of animals. A black bear made me wait for about 20 minutes on the beach while it was scavenging, it was a great chance to sit and watch it. I thought Michigan is a great campsite, you can camp on the beach or in the forest, but still with a nice beach view.
I had a long cable car ride that was fun, see the video below. I camped in the forest, since I tried to get the minimum sand in my tent on the last night. The view from our camp was great and we saw orcas and whales. We made a massive bonfire on the beach. I got to Michigan early, it became busy later since it is the last campsite before the Pachena Bay trailhead.
The cable cars were interesting, you have a fun ride across the river until about half way when you come to a stop pull yourself across. This is hard if you are alone. If you are two teams helping each other to pull the cable car across makes it much easier! There are 4 cable cars on the trail, I only used two, the water level was low enough to skip across the river on rocks with the other two rivers
Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay
Michigan Creek, Pachena Bay
- Starting point – Michigan Creek
- Finishing point – Pachena Bay
- Trail Marker 12km to km zero
- GPS Distance – 11.76km
- Total Time – 2 h 40 min
- Moving Time – 2h 30m
- Total ascent -356 m
- Total descent – 346 m
Highlights of the Day
- Getting a taxi to Bamfield
- Hamburger and a cold beer
Some mud and obstacles, but overall easy day, everybody was now just walking to finish. Pachena Beach is a beautiful place to end, 5km from the town Bamfield. You can walk or ask at the parks office that they call a taxi to take you to Bamfield. The Trailbus stops at both Pachena Bay and Bamfield, but I finished more than 3 hours before the bus came and it was great to sit and wait in a restaurant!
West Coast trail or Juan de Fuca Trail?
The West Coast trail and Juan de Fuca trail are two multi day coastal hiking trails starting very close to one another outside the town of Port Renfrew and running in opposite directions on the west coast of Vancouver island, British Columbia, Canada. Since the two trails are so close to each other on the same coast I thought they would be almost identical, they are not.
The two trails both has one end close to the town of Port Renfrew, but do not share a trailhead. The West Coast trail starts at the Gordon River trailhead outside Port Renfrew on it’s southern end stretching north for 75km to the town of Bamfield. The Juan de Fuca trail starts at the Botanical Beach trailhead outside Port Renfrew making its way south for 47km next to the coast to the China Beach trailhead.
I hiked the two trails a week apart, both offered spectacular scenery.
- A longer trail with plenty of obstacles the West Coast trail was much more challenging than the Juan de Fuca. Make sure you are physically in good shape and mentally prepared for a week of mud and rain, it is very possible.
- The West Coast trail offers a lot more walking on the beach than the Juan de Fuca. The Juan de Fuca we walked 5.2 km on the beach 11% of the trail, compared to the West Coast trail with 48% walking on the beach, 38km out of 75km total.
- More animals on the West Coast trail than Juan de Fuca, I saw black bears, orcas, whales, sea otters and deer on the West Coast, we did not see any of these on the Juan de Fuca, it is however possible to see them on both trails.
- Juan de Fuca is a mix of forest and beach campsites, the West Coast trail you can camp on the beach every night.
- The Juan de Fuca is much cheaper at a total cost of $CAD150 compared to the West Coast trail at $CAD517
- The Juan de Fuca trail is open all year, while the West Coast trail is only open in season.
- The West Coast trail has to be booked long in advance with limited spaces, the Juan de Fuca no booking is necessary.
- Unlike the West Coast trail which has a fixed distance and trailheads, there are many starting and ending options for the Juan de Fuca, planning a trail that suites you.
Packing List for the West Coast Trail
Garmin Fenix 5 GPS Watch for navigation and generating maps.
Hiking boots/shoes – make sure your shoes are;
- have good grip – sometimes you walk on muddy or rocky terrain
- fit good – you have some space to wiggle your toes
- good quality
Should you hike in boots or shoes? this is a very common debate, the need for ankle support is a personal preference, but with all the mud on the trail I will strongly recommend that you wear boots and close them up with some gaiters. Wearing merino wool socks in waterproof hiking shoes is the way to go and I will definitely add gaiters if it is rainy.
I used waterproof shoes since I just came from hiking in Spain and this is what I had with me, it was ok but my feet would have been dry longer in boots – Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof or Salomon X Ultra Prime are good option for low cut shoes; durable, waterproof, comfortable, have good grip. For boot cut – KEEN Targhee II Waterproof or more budget option – Columbia Granite Ridge.are good shoes.
For ladies – Alya prefers a more ‘girly’ option to leather boots – shoes like KEEN Targhee II, Salomon Ellipse 2 or Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof. She has walked about 3000km in her Merrel Moab2’s ! If you’re looking for something cheaper Columbia Dakota Drifter is a good option. For ladies that prefer a boot cut Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Hiking Boot, is an excellent choice.
Trekking pants – One or two pairs of light fast dry hiking pants, for women I’d suggest to pack trekking pants and yoga pants. Alya always take both and prefer wearing yoga pants – they stretch easy and are more comfortable.
Hiking shirt – Do not pack cotton, if you sweat under your jacket you will be wet and cold underneath. Alya prefers hiking in breathable, moisture wicking, quik dry T-shirts, packing a long sleeve shirt and one short sleeve T-shirt. I love hiking in Columbia shirts, they do not absorb water so dry quickly and protects me from the sun if I take my jacket off. Quick dry if I get importunity to hand wash on the way.
Sport bras – they are great for hiking and outdoors, Alya says that she prefers sport bras over normal bras.
Underwear – take two-three pairs with depending on a hike duration.
Merino wool socks – a must have especially for long hikes. In the past we didn’t pay much attention to socks – bought any random cheap socks and used to have blisters. We’ve heard a lot from other hikers about merino wool socks and finally decided to give it a go. They do work great, now we always wear them for hiking. Some advantages of merino wool socks; don’t absorb odors, protect your feet, dry quick and very durable. For even more comfortable walk check Darn Tough hiking socks they’re famous for great foot support and blister protection. Alya likes their ladies’ models; colorful and funky.
Sunglasses – bring sunglasses for hiking in the mountains with high UV protection and polarized lenses.
Pack a BUFF Multifunctional Headwear – protects your neck and face from sun burn, wind and weather. Get a funky one, mine is a South African flag, awesome for photos!
Gaiters – Waterproof Windproof Warm Shoes Cover. On this hike gaitors are very important to keep mud out of your shoes!
Trekking Poles – very helpful in the mud, if you don’t have a pair get a stick early on, helped us a lot. TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks, TrailBuddy Hiking Sticks very well rated, good value for money, aluminium trekking poles. Aluminium is strong and a bit heavier than carbon, my advice is save some money, go for these guys! Top of the line Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Pole, 68-140cm.
Microfibre towels take almost no space, are light and dry easy so that they won’t get moldy and start smelling. Active Roots Microfiber Travel Towel
Travel wet wipes are very handy to replace a shower, we have been sitting in our tent ‘washing’ with these on countless hikes.
Hand cleaner easier than finding a tap and soap to wash your hands if you want to eat.
First Aid Kit
- pain killers paracetemol/aspirin/ibuprofen
- imodium for an upset stomach
- rehydrate (isotonic drink) for when you are dehydrated and helps with cramping
- Plasters – make sure you have enough you might get blisters Tip! If you have spots on your feet where you usually get blisters try to prevent them by first putting some vaseline on it and then plaster. If you already have blister you can use Compeed – a special plaster that you can put on blisters, it reduces the pain and protects against rubbing. There are special blister prevention patches for shoes as well. We’ve never used them but the reviews are quite good.