Vancouver Island/West Coast Trail

From Pachena Bay to Gordon River hike up to 50 miles with up to 10,000 feet of elevation gain on the west coast of Canada's Vancouver Island. This iconic trip is challenging with around 100 ladders to ascend and descend headlands, rocky beaches to hike, and creeks to ford. Experience tide pools, rock formations, old growth forest, birds, wildlife, and a waterfall that drops right down to the beach.

Getting There

Access trailheads are  Pachena Bay at the trail's north end, Gordon River at the trail's south end, and Nitinaht Village at the trail's mid-point. Camping options exist at Gordon River and Pachena Bay, as well as a couple of hotels. It is about a three hour drive between the Gordon River trailhead and the Pachena Bay trailhead. West Coast Trail Express offers bus service between Pachena Bay and Gordon River, and bus service from Victoria to all three trailheads.

On the Trail

The West Coast Trail is one of the iconic coastal routes, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Some sections of the trail are on sandy beaches. Other sections are on rocky beaches, around headlands. Overland sections of the trail may experience deep mud, as well as slippery boardwalk. There are lots of ladders to ascend or descend. Some ladder sections have several ladders separated by platforms. Instead switchbacks down to a creek, there may be a series of ladders. Some of the ladders feel like they are near vertical. There are many bridges, including very long swinging bridges. Some creeks or rivers that must be forded and others crossed on cable cars.

The trail has a rich history, including ship wrecks and two lighthouses along the way. And the scenery wildlife is spectacular. Look for whales, sea lions, seals, otters, as well as bears, cougars, and wolves. Tsusiat Falls is iconic, falling directly onto the beach. Depending on the year, it may drop right into the surf, or into the sand. The shoreline cliffs, rocks, and sand also present many photo opportunities. Unlike most other northwest trails, the First Nations people offer a seafood restaurant and a hamburger shack in the middle sections of the trail. Be sure to take some extra Canadian cash.

Suggested Itinerary

Trips are typically four to eight days. The following is the itinerary which most seem to follow. This also means that these campsites have a lot of people. Each of these campsites have a toilet, as well as a metal food lockers to store food. There are other campsites that are less crowded.

  • Day 1: Hike 7.2 miles from Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek.
  • Day 2: Hike 7.7 miles to Tsusiat Falls.
  • Day 3: Hike 10.6 miles to Cribs Creek. 
  • Day 4: Hike 7.12 miles to Walbran Creek. 
  • Day 5: Hike 5.79 miles to Camper Bay.
  • Day 6: Hike 4.66 miles to Thrashers Cove. 
  • Day 7: Hike 3.32 miles to Gordon River.


  • The trip requires reservations through the Parks Canada Reservation System. Reservations are typicality allowed from May through September. Reservations per person are expensive. In additional to the fees paid at reservation time for the permit and ferries, each participant needs a National Park Entry pass, Pacific Rim Annual Pass, or National Discovery Pass.
  • There is a mandatory orientation session at the start of  a trip, where they stress safety, environmental impact, provide current trail info, and provide some history of the trail.
  • Learn more and get up-to-date info on Parks Canada's West Coast Trail web page.
  • The reservation process is complex. Be sure to mark your calendar for the day reservations open and be prepared by learning the process and setting up an account ahead of time. And look for trip reports that have tips and tricks for successfully navigating the reservation process.


  • The trail is in the territories of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations.
  • This trail may not be a good choice for a new backpacker or one who does not have coastal backpacking experience. The difficulty level is similar to the Washington Coast, except twice as long, ladders instead of ropes. According to Parks Canada, 80 to 100 seriously injured hikers are evacuated from the trail every season, and approximately 200 hikers per year sustain minor injuries, and manage to limp off the trail.
  • It is imperative to understand tides. Sections of the beach may not be passable when the tide comes in, and it is possible to get trapped by incoming tides. The mandatory preparation video and orientation summarizes the information needed.
  • Parks Canada strongly recommended taking three days to hike between Gordon River and Campers Bay, because there is a fair amount of rock hopping on the beach and lots of roots on the inland trail. Very experienced backpackers with coastal backpacking experience may find this to be too long.

Information for Leaders

  • Suitable Activities: Backpacking
  • Seasons: May, June, July, August, September
  • Weather: View weather forecast
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 50.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 10,000 ft
  • 450 ft
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