The telegraph line was first carved through the virgin coastal
wilderness in 1890, to serve as a communication link to aid in the
rescue of vessels in distress off the southwest coast of Vancouver
This treacherous, fog-prone coastline has a remarkable history
of shipwrecks dating back to the earliest European records of the
1786 wreck of two British expedition vessels, and the loss of over
100 men. Winter storms continued to claim vessels throughout the
nineteenth century, with many survivors perishing from starvation
and exposure on the rugged coast of the island. After much deliberation
and delay, a lighthouse was finally built at Carmanah Point in 1891.
In January 1906, the Pacific Coast passenger ship Valencia sailed
out of San Francisco bound for Victoria. In thick fog and winter
storm conditions, the Valencia missed the entrance to the Strait
of Juan de Fuca and rammed the jagged coastline a few miles north
of the lighthouse at Carmanah Point. The tragic loss of 126 souls
under horrific conditions finally shocked the federal government
of Canada into responding to the countless calls for an effective
life saving trail.
Consequently, a second lighthouse was built at Pachena Point and
the overgrown and poorly maintained telegraph line was completely
upgraded to serve as a rescue route for unfortunate mariners shipwrecked
on this treacherous, stormy coast. Shipwreck survivors could now
follow the rough and arduous trail to civilization, finding shelter
in wooden cabins constructed at intervals along the route. Almost
70 ships have met their demise along this stretch of the "Graveyard
of the Pacific".
With the development of modern navigation and communication equipment,
and the subsequent decline in the number of marine casualties, the
importance of the Life Saving Trail began to diminish. Inadequate
maintenance and deterioration of the trail led to its eventual abandonment
by the federal government in 1954.
The next decade saw a rekindled interest in the trail for recreational
and historical purposes, as well as the start of a monumental battle
against the incredible greed and ignorance of the island's major
logging companies who were intent on stripping the land bare right
down to the shoreline. Intensive lobbying by The Sierra Club and
environmental groups finally succeeded in securing park protection
for the region in 1970. Improvements and rebuilding of the trail
during the 1970s culminated in completion of the upgrade program
River Trailhead and Registration Office (Port Renfrew Trailhead)
More accurately though, the trail passes through the traditional
territory of the Pacheedaht (Port Renfrew), the Ditidaht (Nitinat)
and the Huu-ay-aht (Bamfield) people.
These three bands of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation have been
custodians of the land for over 4000 years!
The land of the West Coast Trail unit is temperate coastal rainforest
dominated by old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar. Some of the tallest
and largest trees in Canada grow along the West Coast Trail and
in the adjacent Carmanah Walbran Provincial
Park. The topography of the region features natural wonders
like the Hole-in-the-Wall, a natural sandstone arch carved by relentless
wave action over time, the Tsusiat Falls at the mouth of the Tsusiat
River, the Nitinat Lakes and Narrows and countless caves, creeks,
coves, tidal pools and rocky headlands.
The merit and hardship of hiking the magnificent West Coast Trail
are known around the world. This challenging five to seven day trek
is both difficult and physically demanding - accidents and injury
are common and the potential for hypothermia exists if heavy fog
and constant wind prevail. If that doesn't scare you off, perhaps
the reality that you may encounter black bears or cougar along the
trail will do the trick. Described as the toughest trek in North
America, the West Coast Trail is certainly not for the novice, casual
or ill-prepared hiker.
The trail takes the hiker along the wild and remote west coast
of Vancouver Island, through cedar, hemlock and spruce forests,
along cliffs, beaches and sandstone ledges and over suspension bridges
spanning rivers and flowing streams. Strength and stamina are required
to power the cable trolleys across riverbeds, climb the hundreds
of cliff face steps, hike through fog and mud and camp in torrential
rain. Sound great? Eight thousand hikers per year think so!
Beach, the northern trailhead of the West Coast Trail
at the Trailheads: See Premier Listings below.
The WCT is
open from May 1st to September 30th. Prolonged periods of
heavy rain, strong winds, high tides, large waves and short days
necessitate closing the trail from October 1st to April 30th.
All overnight users of the West Coast Trail participate in an orientation
session. This purpose of the orientation it to reduce the number
of hiker injuries, reduce environmental impacts, provide information
about current issues and trail conditions, provide a history of
the West Coast Trail and its place in Canada's heritage and to issue
the WCT Overnight Use Permits and collect fees.
There is a
9.30 am and at 1.00 pm orientation session for hikers starting the
trail that same day, and a 3.30 pm orientation session for hikers
who arrive a day early and are hiking the trail the following day.
On average, orientation sessions last approximately 60 minutes.
trailhead, the Pachena Bay Trailhead and Registration Office is located
6 km south of Bamfield. Access by road from the east coast of Vancouver
Island is on paved road. Other methods of transport are also available:
Coast Trail Registration Office, Pachena Beach, Bamfield,
Pacific Rim National Park
By car or bus (West Coast Trail Express)
From Duncan and Nanaimo: By car on gravel logging roads
From Port Alberni: By car, bus (Western Bus Lines) or passenger
ferry (Alberni Marine Transport Ltd)
From Bamfield: Taxi
The southeastern trailhead, the Gordon River Trailhead and Registration
Office is located 4 km north of Port Renfrew.
By car on Highway 14 (2 hours) or bus (PBM Transport West Coast
Trail Connector Bus).
From Duncan: By gravel logging roads via Lake Cowichan.
From Port Renfrew: By water taxi to the trailhead.
Lake Visitor Centre
The Nitinat Lake Visitor Centre is situated on the northern end
of Nitinat Lake, with the trail Registration Office located at the
General Store. From the centre you will need a water taxi down Nitinat
Lake to the trail at Nitinat Narrows. The ferry usually makes a
trip at 5:00 pm from the Narrows to Nitinat Village.
A 2-1/2 hour drive via Duncan.
From Duncan: A 1-1/2 hour drive via Lake Cowichan (Highway 18, paved)
and the Nitinat Main logging road (gravel).
From Port Alberni: A 1-1/2 hour drive on the Bamfield Road, Franklin
Main and Nitinat Main logging roads (gravel).
are no longer necessary in the "shoulder season".
Reservations are available in the peak season; June 15th to September
15th, and a quota system is in place. 30 people maximum can hike
daily out of Pachena Bay and Gordon River. Out of the 30, 25 spots
are usually taken up by hikers who have reserved in advance; and
the remaining 5 are First Come First Serve spots available each
Know the regional layout of southern Vancouver Island. Plan how
to get to your starting trailhead (Bamfield or Port Renfrew).
of starting dates and place must be determined in advance. Take
the time to research the hike.
hikers must understand that hiking the West Coast Trail is not without
personal risk: it is difficult and physically challenging. Accidents
and injuries are common. This trail is for experienced hikers in
good physical condition who are prepared to have a wilderness experience.
The trail is not a training or practice area for novices.
size is ten.
the ecological integrity of the area, there is a quota system.
Canadian Tide and Current Tables are available from the Canadian
Hydrographic Service, Box 6000, 9860 West Saanich Road, Sidney,
BC V8L 4B2, or online at the Canadian
Hydrographic Service website. Navigate until you find the tides
for the Pacific Region, then select Bamfield or Port Renfrew.
Hikers will contribute directly to protecting and managing the West
Coast Trail through a Mandatory Trail User Fee. For current Trail
Use Fees please visit: www.pc.gc.ca/pacificrim
The Trail - there are three ways of accessing the trail:
- Obtain access via the reservation system
- Obtain access via the waitlist system
- Join a commercial or education group.
1) To obtain
access via the reservation system:
Reservations are taken March 1 to September 30 and may be made 7
days a week between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (PST/PDT). They cost
$25.00 per hiker. Reservations are available only for the current
year hiking season (May 1 to September 30) and can only be changed
if spaces are available. Reservations are recommended but optional.
to ensure a space within the quota system for the hiking season
can now choose from a full month of possible starting dates for
their hike. Now, beginning on the first day of each month, for three
months out, they can request any start date. If someone calls in
March, they now have the opportunity to book the start of their
hike for any day during the month of May. Reservations for the entire
month of June open on April 1st, for July on May 1st, and so on.
To make a reservation
call the Super Natural British Columbia Reservation Service at:
Greater Vancouver: 1 (604) 435-5622
Within Canada & USA: 1-800-435-5622
Outside Canada & USA: 1 (250) 387-1642
reservation fee gives each hiker:
- a guaranteed start date for their hike
- a weather proof map of the trail
- a hiker preparation guide.
call, you must have the following information ready:
- intended start date and two alternate start dates
- which Trailhead you plan to start your hike from Pachena Bay or
- number of hikers in your group (maximum 10)
- a mailing address (the information package will be sent to this
- valid credit card (VISA or MasterCard) to pay for your Reservations:
$25.00 per hiker.
- Invalid or expired credit cards will result in cancelled reservations.
your reservation or your start date may only be made through the
Super Natural British Columbia Reservation Service, and provided
that space is available on your new intended start date.
2) To obtain
access via the waitlist system:
From June 15th until September 15th a quota system is in place.
30 people maximum can hike daily out of Pachena Bay and Gordon River.
Out of the 30, 25 spots are usually taken up by hikers who have
reserved in advance; and the remaining 5 are First Come First Serve
spots available each day.
and Educational Groups
Special provision is made to allow education and commercial groups
to book access to the trail in advance. Only one group is allowed
on the trail per day. Educational groups may have up to eighteen
(18) members; all other groups are limited to ten (10) persons.
these groups begins in September and runs to December 31 of the
year preceding the hiking season to be booked. Copies of the Commercial
and School And Non-Profit Educational Groups Policies and Booking
Sheets can be obtained by e-mailing Pacific Rim NPR at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by telephoning 250-726-7721.