Impressions of the West Coast Trail … Part I


All photos by the intrepid Cedric Schell.

I recently returned from hiking the infamous West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island with Cedric and two of our friends, Julian and Phil.


It was everything everyone said it would be – and then some.

Prior to the trip, I read just about every trip report written in the past decade. Now that it’s time to write my own, I don’t really know where to start.

I was curious about other people’s experiences planning food, gear, and overall logistics, so I’m going to write separate posts about those topics. This post is purely about some of the fun we had on the trail.

Day Minus One

Let us begin with the mandatory orientation. Cedric and I did one of these at a National Park last summer and it consisted of a bored parking attendant running through a laminated PowerPoint printout for 15 minutes or so. I was far more impressed with the presentation for the West Coast Trail at the trailhead in Port Renfrew. The session lasted an hour or so and covered things like what to do if there is a tsunami (yikes), who to call if things go awry (hint: not 911), and why we should be on the lookout for bears at the Thrasher Cove campsite (because a bear ate some food out of a camper’s backpack there).

We spent the night fueling up at the Renfrew Pub and camping at Pacheedaht Campground. The campground is located right by the Parks Canada office. They charge $25 a tent and we had a lovely waterfront campsite. There was firewood in abundance – a trend that would not continue in the days to follow.

Day One

After a quick breakfast at Tomi’s in Port Renfrew, we parked our car in the parking lot across from the Parks Canada office. The owners of this site charge $35 to park your car there for a week (if you can find a space – it was pretty full even at the end of the season).

We then caught the West Coast Trail Express, the shuttle that would take us from Port Renfrew up to Bamfield. I heard the ride up was bumpy, and it was (case in point: I spilled chocolate milk on myself, marking the first of many stains on my white t-shirt) – but not so bumpy that Phil, Julian, and I couldn’t catch a little shuteye along the way. Cedric was not so lucky. The shuttle makes a stop in Youbou, where you can pick up a few last minute items at the general store (including the aforementioned chocolate milk).

By the time we got to the trailhead just outside of Bamfield and sorted through all the odds and ends, it was already past 1 PM.


Fresh legged and ready to conquer the WCT.

The trail begins either along the beach or in the forest, where there are a series of ladders. We would have liked to start on the beach, but the tide had other plans, so ladders it was. I believe that this is one of the only sections of the trail where we had to choose forest over beach. To be honest, the ladders were kind of fun (though surprisingly hard on my calves with 45 pounds of stuff on my back). I thought I’d eventually get sick of them, and while they did lose some novelty over time, I never really grew to hate them.


Photo by Cedric Schell

The first day on the trail was mostly spent marveling at everything. The size of the trees. The piles of sea lions before us at the sea lion rocks viewpoint. The Pachena Bay lighthouse (and the idea that two families live there year-round).


Oh, to be a sea lion. Photo by Cedric Schell.

I had heard that this end of the trail was easy, but it was less easy than I expected. Having full packs on made everything a little tricky, and we encountered some pretty muddy sections towards the end of the day. But we encountered enough cool stuff to more than make up for it.


Photo by Cedric Schell

In general, I thought the so-called “easy” sections of the trail were harder than described, and the “difficult” sections were easier than described. This probably has a lot to do with which end you start at and how the weather treats you.


Photo by Cedric Schell


We passed through Michigan Creek and made our way to Darling River, which was not too much further along the beach. Since we did the trail so late in the season, the sun set between 19:15 and 19:30. We did our best to set up our tents quickly (positioned to capture some epic oceanfront views, might I add), gathered some firewood for a small fire on the beach, and started tucking into our dinner. Day one: success.


Whoa – a photo of Cedric Schell? That never happens!

Day Two

Looking back on the hike, I would say that there were no easy days, and there were no dreadfully hard days. Every day had some form of challenge, though no two challenges were exactly alike. The challenge of Day 2 was merely that it was long. The hike was not overly strenuous, but we logged a lot of miles on our boots and after so many hours, it wears on you. Mostly, the bag on your pack starts to wear on you (and your poor, tender collarbones).


Photo by Cedric Schell

But that didn’t happen until the end of the day. The first 95% of the day was pure delight. The day started with a long walk on the beach, and I can confirm that the rumours are true: beach walking is the best! It was back into the forest for a little while, then we popped out back at the beach until we got to the Klanawa River.


Bull kelp: cool to look at, cool to step on. Photo by Cedric Schell.

The Klanawa River is where we encountered our first of five cable cars. I heard that the first cable car is novel, but that they get old, fast. Myth busting time: cable cars are awesome, ALWAYS. The trick is to travel in a group of four. Many hands make both for light work and awesome cable car riding.


WHEEEEEEEE! Photo Credit: Cedric Schell

The stretch from the cable car to our campsite at Tsusiat Falls is where the day started to feel a little long for me (and there was a bit of mud to navigate, too – good training for later, as I’d eventually find out).


Watch your step. Photo by Cedric Schell.

The trail wound through several open ridges, which made for excellent sightseeing – if you can handle the heights.


Ladders on ladders on ladders.

We got to our campsite nice and early and had plenty of time to swim by the waterfall. We scrounged up some firewood, set up our tents in front of another ocean vista, and settled in for a restful night. We needed plenty of beauty sleep for Day 3, which I anticipated would be the toughest day of all…


Photo by Cedric Schell. Doesn’t it look like there is a human trying to escape from my bag?

Click here for Part II

9 thoughts on “Impressions of the West Coast Trail … Part I

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