A Guide to Hiking the West Coast Trail

Hiking West Coast Trail: Main Routes

Just 60 people can start the West Coast Trail hike each day -- 30 from the north and 30 from the south.
Just 60 people can start the West Coast Trail hike each day -- 30 from the north and 30 from the south.

You can either begin the trail at Bamfield heading south or start at Port Renfrew on Port San Juan Bay and head north. The north end of the trail (toward Pachena Bay) is generally easier than the south end, so if you want to ease yourself into it, it might be wise to begin at Bamfield -- and remember, because you'll be carrying all your food, your pack will be heaviest at the beginning. Sometimes, though, permits for only one direction are available, making the decision much easier [source: Bannon].

To get to the trailhead, you can fly to Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia and the biggest city on Vancouver Island. From there, you can take a shuttle bus to the trailhead. If you choose to drive, you can park your car at one end and take a shuttle bus to the other trailhead so that it's waiting for you when you finish (and so you don't have to hurry or risk missing the shuttle bus)[source: Derworiz].

Water is a major feature of the WCT, and occasionally, heavy rains and floodwaters will make creek crossings impossible. If you encounter a surging creek or a beach that's flooded at high tide, Parks Canada advises you wait for water levels to become safe, and to undo the hip-belt on your pack so you can slip out of it more easily if you do fall.

The more enjoyable way to make a river crossing is by cable car -- if you like staying dry, that is. Cable cars ferry a maximum of two people across at a time; gravity will carry you to the middle of the river, and you must pull yourself the rest of the way.

Several portions of the WCT can be hiked along beaches instead of on muddy forest trails. But if you take the beach route, you'll have to cross beaches that are covered at high tide, so you will need to read tide tables -- which give the height of the water level in both meters and feet and a corresponding time -- in order to know when you can safely cross. You can obtain tide tables at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Web site, or in print from Volume 6 of "The Canadian Tide and Current Tables."

There are also two tide stations on the trail, one at Port Renfrew and one at Bamfield. When hiking in the summer, you will have to add one hour to the tide tables to account for Daylight Savings Time [source: Leadem].