Hiking all 48 miles of Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail takes a full week. Hikers with less time to spend can start at the northern end of the trail in Bamfield. From there it is a relatively easy two-day, 18-mile trip to Tsusiat Falls, where you can rest for a day or two before retracing your steps. This abridged version provides the essential flavor of the trail, while avoiding its more arduous southern segment.
The best time to hike the trail is during the summer months, especially in August, when the weather is sunniest. Keep in mind, however, that you will be traveling through a rain forest and take appropriate gear.
GETTING THERE: Vancouver Island is served by ferries from various points in Washington and British Columbia. From the island's ferry terminals, you must drive to either end of the trail. The ferries will accommodate vehicles, or you can rent a car in the city of Victoria, on the island.Whether you're heading for Bamfield, the trail's northern terminus, or Port Renfrew, the southern terminus, there is no avoiding the logging roads that lace the island. We found them to be well enough maintained; but, like any gravel road, they demand careful driving.
Once at Port Renfrew, we faced the problem of getting back to our car at the end of the hike. Hitchhiking more than 100 miles over logging roads was the likeliest solution, but an unappealing one. Luckily, a Scottish student who had just hiked the trail north to south wasto his motorbike in Bamfield. He drove our car north, gave the key to a warden, picked up his bike and went on his way. we found the car exactly where it should have been; inside was a note inviting us to Scotland.
FOOD: Some fresh food is available along the trail, notably salal berries, fish and crabs. We had hoped to harvest mussels to supplement our trail fare, but a red tide -- containing extremely poisonous organisms -- temporarily ruled them off limits. So we eyed with longing many thousands of these morsels attached to shelves at low tide, but we stuck to our ramen noodles and tinned sardines. The crabs -- if alive and vigorous when caught -- are always edible, however, and the Indians will sell them to hikers unable to catch their own.
WHAT TO TAKE: Although there are no restrictions on fire-building along the trail, take along a portable stove -- wood for fires is not always available. Also carry water-purification tablets. Some sections of the trail either lack fresh water altogether or contain water that may be contaminated (consult the wardens for particulars).
An indispensable aid to hiking the trail is a map, called West Coast Trail and published by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment at $1.75 Canadian. Using a letter-coded system, the map indicates all trouble spots on the route. The free brochure given out by Parks Canada does not clearly indicate surge channels that might be impassable and therefore is not nearly as useful.
It is also a good idea to carry a tide table, which can be obtained from park wardens at the stations on either end of the trail, for making informed choices between inland and beach routes.