westCoastTrailBCClick To Downloadcom
Photo Copyright 1999-2001 Sylvia Daniels & Christiane Saake West Coast Trail Photo Journal

West Coast Trail Rules, Guidebook and Map

West Coast Trail Photo Credit Christiane Saake & Sylvia DanielsAll information reprinted from Parks Canada materials with permission


All Persons Planning to hike the West Coast Trail must read and understand the material in this guide to prepare for their hike.

What to Expect
Who Should Hike
Planning Your Trip
Logistics and Itinerary
Start Point Considerations
Getting to the Trailheads
Trail Use Permits
On the Trail (Trail Etiquette)
Hiking and Camping Conditions
Injuries and Evacuations
Essential Equipment
Other Recommended Equipment
History of the West Coast Trail
Hiker Services Phone Number Contacts


Download an updated printable PDF version of this guide here (400kb)
Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded free
Adobe Acrobat Reader

What to Expect

West Coast Trail MapThe West Coast Trail (WCT) is a coastal wilderness component of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It has the reputation of being on of the most grueling treks in North America. It is isolated, strenuous, physically challenging and potentially hazardous. It is also extremely rewarding due to the spectacular scenery and unique setting.

Hiking the WCT demands stamina and expertise in hiking and backcountry camping skills. Only competent backpackers should attempt the entire route. You are required to cross deep gullies on fallen trees, negotiate very steep slopes and follow an irregular, slippery trail. This is a wilderness area and it may be many hours before help can be obtained should an accident occur. All hikers should carefully evaluate their individual and group abilities before attempting the route.

Normally, the time to hike the WCT is six days. A more leisurely journey requires eight days. Plan your trek so there is time to explore, enjoy the scenery and relax as well as to deal with unforeseen difficulties and delays.


The weather is characteristic of a marine temperate climate. It is very changeable with heavy rainfall possible even in July, August, September and likely in April, May, June. Rainfall averages 120cm per year; summer temperature average is 14 degrees Celsius (57 F). Heavy morning fog is very common, especially in July and August. A solid week of rain can make a WCT hike a very unpleasant experience and will almost certainly delay hikers at river crossings. Be flexible... have alternative plans and allow extra days for delays due to adverse weather.

The management and operation of the West Coast Trail is the responsibility of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a component of Canada's national park system. The Park is assisted in WCT operations through a partnership with QUU'AS West Coast Trail Group., a coalition of the Pacheenaht, Ditidaht, Huu-AY-Aht First Nations.

National Park personnel and QUU'AS staff patrol the WCT regularly between April and early October. They are responsible for hiker information and assistance, regulation enforcement, upkeep, public safety, rescue operations and protection of natural and cultural resources.

The WCT is open from May 1 to September 30. It is closed the remainder of the year. During the winter season, frequent and prolonged periods of heavy rain, strong winds and high tides are the norm. There are no shelters and no dry firewood. There are no hiker ferry services. Short days greatly reduce the safe traveling time. Anyone on the WCT requiring assistance during the closed season must be prepared to pay the full cost of rescue services, which may be several days away.

Who should hike

The WCT is recommended for intermediate to advanced backpackers only. This demanding trek should not be attempted by beginner or novice hikers or especially those with known or recurring knee, back, ankle type injuries. Do not make this your first-ever backpacking trip. Even and experienced group leader cannot compensate for a novice or injured hiker. Persons under the age of 12 should not consider hiking the WCT. Hiking with a partner or small group is preferable. Maximum group size is ten total.

Planning your trip

Hikers must spend some time pre-planning for a trek on the West Coast Trail by studying this Hiker Preparation Guide, the WCT Map and Tide Tables. (see reference section for availability.)

A number of guide books are available for the WCT. These are listed in the Reference Section and are useful for pre-planning and use of the trail.

Logistics and Itinerary

The entire, authentic West Coast Trail connects the Trailhead at Pacheena Bay in the north to the Trailhead at the mouth of the Gordon River in the south. The total distance is 75 km (47 miles). If you plan to hike the entire WCT you must start or finish from one of these two Trailheads. Some hikers do hike only part way and return to their starting Trailhead.

Half the WCT can be hiked by registering and starting at the mid-point Trailhead at Nitinat Lake Visitor Centre, taking a water taxi down Nitinat Lake and connecting with the WCT at Nitinat Narrows. Pacheena Bay, Gordon River and Nitinat are the only three recognized access Trailheads on and off the West coast Trail. There are no other entry-exit points. WCT access at Thrasher Cove is being reviewed and may be discontinued starting 1998.

These are the only three access points for the West Coast Trail. There are no other entry-exit points.

All hiking alternatives on the WCT require a mandatory Trail Use Permit for each hiker. Optional reservations for guaranteed hike start dates are available and can be made starting March 1 (see Trail Use Permit Section).

Start Point Considerations

Pacheena Bay Trailhead (north) is easier access as there is no hiker ferry schedule to deal with. The north half of the WCT is less arduous; packs will be lighter when you get to the rougher south half.

Gordon River Trailhead (south) requires a hiker ferry trip to the Official Gordon River Trailhead or Thrasher Cove. The ferries run on a regular schedules. The southern sections of the WCT are rugged and slower going; it takes a minimum of two days from the Gordon River Trailhead to Walbran Creek. On the other hand, once this rugged section is left behind, you are able to enjoy the rest of the hike at a more relaxed pace.

Mid-point entry-exit at Ditidaht First Nation Nitinat Lake Visitor Centre offers the alternatives of setting up a base-camp around Nitinat Narrows for a few days and returning back to the Visitor Centre or hiking only half of the WCT, north or south. This option may appeal to hikers with limited schedules or less experience but still affords a splendor of old-growth forests, beautiful beaches, tidepools and waterfalls. Hiking from Nitinat Narrows to Pacheena Bay or Gordon River requires three full days in either direction. Arrangements for water taxi service on Nitinat Lake will have to made with the Visitor Centre. Arrival at the Visitor Centre the day before the hike start date is required due to water-taxi schedules. Also, camping at the Ditidaht Cheewhat Backcountry Campsite near Nitinat Narrows is only available through reservations and payment made directly with the Visitor Centre. Cheewhat is well-located for a base-camp.

Shuttle bus service is available between all three Trailheads on a daily basis. Boat connections between Port Renfrew and Bamfield are also available. Hikers have a number of options of where to leave vehicles at or near the three Trailheads. There is also public transportation available to and from the Hiker Registration Offices.

There are two major water crossings on the WCT requiring hiker ferries to or from the Gordon River Trailhead and across Nitinat Narrows. All hikers have to pay for ferry services (about $15.00 cash) directly to private ferry operators. Water-taxi fees (about $25.00 each way) are also charged for travel on Nitinat Lake to and from Nitinat Narrows. Hikers without Trail Use Permits will not be provided service on the ferries.

Getting to the WCT Trailheads

Refer to these  phone numbers

To Vancouver Island... by car/passenger ferries or air.

To Pacheena Bay Trailhead near Bamfield... by driving on gravel logging roads from Port Alberni or Duncan, approximately 3 hours; or by West Coast Trail Express Bus email: wcte@pacificcoast.net from Victoria or Nanaimo; or by Alberni Marine Transport Ltd. passenger ferry from Port Alberni; or by Western Bus Lines Bus from Port Alberni. The WCT Hiker Registration Office located 4 km south of Bamfield.

To Gordon River Trailhead near Port Renfrew... by driving approximately 2 hours from Victoria via Highway 14; or by West Coast Trail Connector Bus from Victoria. Follow highway signs in Port Renfrew to the WCT Hiker Registration Office.

To Nitinat Lake-Visitor Centre Trailhead.... by paved and gravel roads from Duncan, or Port Alberni, about 2 hours; by West Coast Trail Express Bus (reservations). The WCT Hiker Registration Office is located at the General Store. A water-taxi is required to get down the lake to the actual WCT mid-point at Nitinat Narrows.

Between Port Renfrew, Nitinat Village and Bamfield... by Pacheenaht First Nation Bus Service about 3 hours; or by Trailhead Charters Boat Service (Port Renfrew - Bamfield) about 5 hours.

Air charter services may be available through Hanna Air. Hitchhiking is not recommended.

There are basic tourism services at or near, all three Trailheads including accommodations, campgrounds, phones, fuel, some groceries, tours and food services but no banking or cash advance facilities; change is not available at Trailheads. Pacific Rim National Park does not operate, control or license any commercial businesses serving the WCT, including ferry services. Hikers must make all their own arrangements for services required.

Trail Use Permits

Every person using and hiking the West Coast Trail requires a Trail Use Permit regardless of the number of nights on the Trail. This includes landing anywhere on the Trail by boat or kayak and day-hiking. All WCT users must have a Trail Use Permit in their possession. Hikers without a permit will not be permitted to complete their hike and will not be provided ferry services. Users without Permits are subject to enforcement.

To reduce resource impacts and visitor pressures a quota system for Trail Use Permits is in place. This system provides user's with a more satisfying experience. Each day between May 1 and September 30, 26 overnight hikers can start the WCT at Pacheena Bay (north) and at Gordon River/Thrasher Cove (south) and 8 at Nitinat Visitor Centre (mid-point Trailhead for hiking half the WCT). These are the only three access points on and off the West Coast Trail, no exceptions. There are no trails or access to the WCT via Carmanah Pacific or Walbran Provincial Parks or the Klanawa River. Access to the WCT from Tsusiat Lake requires special permission.


There are two ways to obtain a Trail Use Permit:

1. To obtain guaranteed hiking dates, hikers may reserve ahead starting april 1, by calling Hello B.C. Reservation Services at the following phone numbers:
1-800-495-5688(within Canada and USA)
250- 387-1642 (outside North America)

Reservations may be made Monday to Saturday between 9:00 am and 5:00 PM (PST). The fee to make a reservation is $24.50 CDN. per person and is non-refundable. Reservations are optional but recommended to guarantee a start date.

2. The other way to obtain a Trail Use Permit is on a first-come first-serve basis. Any un-used quota space and no-show reservations at the three WCT Registration Offices each day will be assigned to hikers by a wait-list. Hikers must place their names on the wait-list in person. Wait-list spaces will be allocated at 1:00 PM each day. During July and August, hikers may wait an average of 1-3 days to obtain a Trail Use Permit on a wait-list basis.

All hikers (reserved and wait-list) must register and be oriented at one of the WCT Registration Offices, which takes about one hour, before they are issued Trail Use Permits.

A mandatory Trail Use Permit Fee is in place to assist with partial cost-recovery of trail maintenance, repair, information and facilities. The fee is mandatory, non-refundable and payable at the three WCT Registration Offices only, on the day the hike commences, and is in addition to the optional Reservation Fee. Payment can be made by cash, traveler's Checks (exact amount only), VISA or MasterCard. 1997 West Coast Trail Use Fees, May 1 - September 30 the fee is $70.00 per person and are non-refundable.

All hikers have to pay for hiker ferry services for access to or from the Gordon River Trailhead and across Nitinat Narrows. The cost is about $15.00 per person and is payable directly to private ferry operators. For starting or finishing at Nitinat Lake, to or from Nitinat Visitor Center, water-taxi fees are also charged.

It is necessary to Register-Off the hike. Return one copy of the Trail Use Permit at the WCT Registration Offices when your hike is complete. Drop Boxes are available if the Office is closed. An official West Coast Trail Certificate will be issued to all hikers upon return of the Permits. To assist with customer service, comment forms can also be completed at the end of your hike.

On the Trail

Trail Etiquette

The issuing of a Trail Use Permit obligates you to be a responsible steward of National Park and First Nations heritage resources and to practice low-impact, no trace camping. All hikers must be prepared to adhere to proper backcountry etiquette, specifically:

Pack it in and OUT! There are no garbage cans on the WCT. Do not bring glass, plastic and cans on your hike. EVERYTHING YOU BRING ON YOUR HIKE, YOU MUST TAKE BACK OUT. Do not bury or deposit garbage in outhouses.

Cooking should be done on a lightweight stove. Do not rely on campfires for cooking, staying warm or drying out. FIRES ARE PERMITTED ON THE BEACH ONLY, NEVER IN FORESTED AREAS. If you must have a fire, keep it small, use only driftwood (do not cut any trees or other vegetation) and keep fires away from logs. Use previously established fire rings. Clean up all fire debris and unburned garbage after the fire is out so that no trace is left. Try for a campfire-free hike!

Be water wise. Drinking water is available from rivers and creeks, best collected upstream. To be safe, it is recommended to treat, boil or filter all water collected.

Insure safe water and health conditions. Use the outhouses and beach privies located at major campsites along the WCT, or bury human waste in the inter-tidal zone at the ocean's edge, not in the high tide drift log areas or in the forest. Dispose all toilet paper in toilets or burn it or pack it out; do not bury toilet paper. Wash yourself, your clothes and dishes in the ocean or at creek mouths. Dispose all dirty water at least 30 m away from drinking water sources. Please pay special attention to public health requirements.

Consider food carefully. Bring and adequate supply and keep it simple, high-energy and lightweight and pack enough for emergencies and extra days. The WCT is closed to harvesting and consumption or all bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters) due to regular occurrences of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) which can result in illness or death.

Patrol Cabins along the WCT are available for public use. There are no shelters or accommodation for hiker use.

First Nation Indian Reserves located along WCT are all private property. Please respect these lands and the structures and materials on them. First Nations and QUU'AS Guardians regularly patrol the reserves and cultural resources areas. Stay on the main Trail and obey all signs when on Reserve lands. Violators will be prosecuted.

It is an offense under the National Parks Act to collect or remove any object or heritage resource within National Park boundaries. This means that destroying or damaging natural or cultural resources, cutting trees for firewood or makeshift shelters and collecting or removing marine life, fossils, artifacts, plants, etc. IS PROHIBITED. Please leave Pacific Rim National Park in as good or better condition than you found it.

Maximum group size permitted on the WCT is ten total. Do not split the group up. Respect the capabilities of the slowest group members; regroup at regular stops.

Camp on the beach above the high-tide line whenever possible. This will help reduce impacts and soil compaction in vegetated areas.

Leave pets and firearms at home. They are not permitted on the WCT.


Hiking and Camping Conditions

Take your time; enjoy your experience. Avoid unreasonable deadlines when planning and executing your hike. Seven days is a reasonable length of time to hike the entire WCT. Many accidents and injuries occur when hikers are rushing, not paying attention to terrain or conditions or pushing on in the dark. Take adequate rest breaks.

Assume all walking surfaces are slippery at all times, and especially during rainy, damp periods., especially very early or late in the season and during rainy periods. Pay special attention to boardwalks, logs crossings, log rounds on the trail, bridges, roots, algae-covered rocks on the beach and steep trail sections. Be prepared to wait out a storm or high-water on river and creek crossings. Some bridges, ladders or cable cars may not be in service at all times. Watch for missing rungs on ladders. Follow trail crew instructions and warnings in areas where repair and maintenance is progress.

Cable cars require close attention. Keep your fingers and hands away from pulleys. Be careful when getting in and out of the cars; remove packs and stay seated. Only two persons in a car at one time. Platforms can be very slippery. When entering, pull car towards yourself and have someone stabilize it as you enter and then load in the packs. Once in, let it go and gravity will move the car to the center; pull the rope until you reach the far side. Hold the rope so the car stays in place flush with the platform and carefully unload. Do not bounce or sway in the car. Never tie the cable cars up to the platforms.

It may be necessary to cross some creeks, rivers by wading. Wait for safe water levels and low tides; undo your pack hip-belt; wear running shoes or other foot protection. Do not attempt to cross Adrenaline Surge Channel. Stay on the trail proper between Logan Creek and Walbran Creek.

Think of your feet. Waterproof boots with good ankle and arch support are required. Rubber soles provide better traction on slippery surfaces than hard Vibram soles. Do not break in new boots on this hike. Sandals and running shoes are good for around camp and for river crossings only. Be able to treat blisters adequately.

High tides can make beach walking very difficult or impossible. Follow the Tide Tables and Map very carefully to avoid being trapped or cut-off. Watch also for large ocean waves and swells.

Hang your food and toiletries out of reach of animals and away from your tent. Do not cook in or near your tent. Maintain a clean, garbage-free campsite. Do not bury garbage or deposit it in outhouses.

Bears and Cougars. Hikers may encounter bears and cougars on the WCT. They are wild, potentially dangerous and demand your respect. Strong and agile bears will defend themselves, their young and their territory if they feel threatened. Cougars are predators - at the top of the food chain - and their actions are often unpredictable. Knowledge and alertness and a clean campsite can help avoid a dangerous encounter with a bear or cougar. Do not bury garbage.... pack it out! If you encounter a bear or cougar do not run or do anything to trigger an attack. Try to calmly escape to a secure place. As a last resort if attacked, try to shield yourself with an object, pack, etc. Up to date wildlife information is available at the WCT Hiker Registration Offices and from personnel on the Trail.

Injuries and Evacuations

Are you a fit and experienced backpacker? A considerable number of injuries on the WCT involve hikers with little or no backpacking experience and to hikers that are rushing and not paying attention to adverse trail conditions.

Slips, trips and falls occur due to a variety of reasons. Slippery conditions on muddy trails, logs, boardwalks, ladders, bridges and rocky shorelines are a major hazard. Hiking too fast, improperly balanced packs and inadequate footwear all contribute to injuries and accidents.

During wet, rainy periods occurrences of physical injury and hypothermia increase significantly. Even in summer, with fairly mild temperatures, the potential for hypothermia exists due to thick sea fog and constant wind coupled with hiker fatigue.

Each hiking party is responsible for assisting injured members of your party. If you are not seriously injured and are near the Trailhead, then attempt to get off the Trail with the assistance of your party or other hikers. Do not continue on in the hopes your condition will improve.

National Park Wardens are responsible for patrolling the WCT and assisting injured hikers. The majority of evacuations are done by boat. If complex search and rescue situations arise, a number of co-operating agencies assist with the evacuations. Park Wardens will evacuate injured hikers to the nearest trail access or the nearest ambulance or medical facility. This will not necessarily be the best or most convenient location for the injured hiker. All injured hikers need to be prepared to pay for unexpected transportation and accommodation costs in the event of an accident. In the future, Parks Canada may be recovering all search, rescue and evacuation costs in all national parks and on the West Coast Trail.

If you have a legitimate injury or require assistance and are not able to exit the Trail on your own, wait for assistance in a visible location at one of the preferred evacuation sites:

* Thrasher Cove
* Camper Bay
* Cullite Cove * Logan Creek
* Carmanah Lighthouse
* Nitinat Narrows
* Tsocowis Creek
* Pacheena Lighthouse

Watch for Park Wardens patrolling offshore in red or gray inflatable boats. If you are seriously injured and are unable to travel to a preferred site, be prepared to signal your location with a brightly colored tent, jacket, etc. Be prepared to wait up to 24 hours; rough seas, high winds and low visibility may restrict rescue operations. Some locations or conditions may not permit boat landings and personnel may have to land some distance away and hike back. If you can't get to one of the preferred sites, remain where you are if safe and send a message for help listing your name, age, exact location, time and description of accident and injuries, related medical problems and whether first aid is being administered. A Safety Information Form will be issued to all hikers when they register. Have this message form delivered to one of the following relay points by a member of your party or another hiker willing to assist:

* Carmanah or Pacheena Lighthouse
* Park or QUU'AS personnel on the Trail
* Nitinat Narrows Ferry Operator
* Port Renfrew Ferry Operators
* WCT Hiker Registration Offices
* or contact Park Warden Office:250-647-5444 or 250-726-7165

Injured hikers should not be abandoned to wait for assistance on their own.

If you are seriously injured and can't be boated out, it may be necessary to evacuate using a helicopter. (Note: red and white Coast Guard Helicopters often seen along the coast are NOT patrolling the WCT. They are deployed for lighthouse supply and vessel assistance).



Your main goal on the WCT is to stay warm and dry. Bring proper clothing: have the capability to quickly prepare hot meals and drinks. Aim for quality and lightweight equipment. Reassess your pack contents if it is too heavy. Be realistic.

Essential Equipment

Sturdy Boots. Most important are ankle support, well broken-in and waterproof. Rubber soles provide better traction than hard Vibram on slippery boardwalks and wet roots and rocks. Running shoes and sandals are not adequate for hiking.

Hiking staff or collapsible ski pole(s). Some hikers find a walking staff useful on uneven and slippery terrain. Bring your own; do not cut live material! Waterproof rain suit. Good quality jacket and pants coupled with a layering system is most effective.

Lightweight backpacking and stove fuel. You cannot rely on camp fires during stormy, wet weather. Try for a campfire-free hike!

High energy, lightweight food. Minimize packaging before you leave to reduce garbage and weight.

Backpack. Lined with plastic bags and with a hip-belt. Your pack should weigh 30-35% of your body weight, maximum.

Tent with waterproof fly is absolutely necessary.

Sleeping bag. Synthetic fills are preferable. Pack sleeping bags in waterproof bags and carry inside your pack.

Closed cell foam sleeping pad.

Lighter or waterproof matches and candles.

Garbage bags to pack out your refuse.

Watch. Absolutely necessary for Tide Table use.

Waterproof West Coast Trail Map. Tide Tables.
See References for availability.

First Aid Kit. Include moleskin and insect sting protection.

Emergency signaling device. Cash for unexpected emergencies. Warm hat. Gloves. Water bottle. Water purification equipment.

Other Recommended Equipment

Gaiters. Used to keep mud and sand out of boots.

15 m of synthetic rope per group.

Sunscreen, Sunglasses. Toiletries. Hat. Flashlight. Garbage bags. Repair kits for equipment. Knife. Lightweight shoes for camp.

Cellular phones do work at many areas on the WCT. Please do not use cellular phones indiscriminately to summon un-necessary assistance.



The West Coast of Vancouver Island was populated by Aboriginal Peoples of the Nuu-chah-nulth group, long before European explorers and settlers arrived in the 1700's. The first inhabitants developed a rich culture and heritage based on the dynamic environments of the sea, rainforest and inter-tidal zone. Large villages, sophisticated art and culture and expert seafaring capabilities are hallmarks of Pacific Coast First Peoples. Captain James Cook arrived on the West Coast in 1778 and years of exploitation through trade in sea otter and other pelts ensued. Missionaries and settlers followed and with increased Trans-Pacific and coastal sea trade the infamous weather and tidal conditions of the West Coast took their toll in a series of calamitous shipwrecks. The area soon became known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific". Any stranded survivors soon perished if they made it to the rugged shoreline prompting the government to construct a rough trail and telegraph line to assist shipwrecked survivors. The route became the West Coast Trail and was included in the newly established Pacific Rim National Park in the late 1960's.


West Coast Trail Map
Maps B.C. Available for sale at the Trailheads, bookstores, or from Crown Publications by phone orders 250-386-4636.

Canadian Tide and Current Tables - Volume 6 (use Tofino Tide Tables)
Canadian Hydrographic Service
Available from marine and sporting or book stores.

Official Guidebook to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve,
Blackbird Naturgraphics Inc.

The West Coast Trail and Nitinat Lakes, by the Sierra Club.
Available from the Sierra Club of Western Canada (Douglas and McIntyre).

Blisters and Bliss, by David Foster and Wayne Aitken
(B & B Publishing - Victoria and Cloudcap Press - Seattle)
Box 27344
Seattle, Wa 98125

Pacific Rim Explorer, by Bruce Obee
Whitecap Books
1086 West 3rd
North Vancouver, BC V7P 3J6

Hiking on the Edge, by Ian Gill and David Nunuk
(Raincoast Books - Vancouver)

Timeless Shore, by George Allen
(Bayeux Publishing).

For Further Information:

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Box 280
Ucluelet, B.C. V0R 3A0
250- 726-4212
email: pacriminfo@pch.gc.ca

Pacheena Bay WCT Registration Office (north end near Bamfield )
Phone/Fax 250- 728-3234
Open daily May 1 to September 30.

Gordon River WCT Registration Office (south end near Port Renfrew)
phone/fax 250- 647-5434
Open daily May 1 to September 30.

Nitinat Visitor Centre/WCT Registration Office (located at the Ditidaht Nations General Store at Nitinat Lake)
Phone/Fax 250- 745-8124
open daily 2-5pm, May 1 to Oct.1


Hiker Services Phone Number Contacts




Lodgings for starting your exploration of the South Vancouver Island trails


Is your web site lost on a trail? Let North Studio SEO your site to the head of the trail