Welcome to the second instalment of my West Coast Trail blog series. In this post I will focus on the Logistics and the West Coast Trail Preparation. Because really, the West Coast Trail is not easy to get to, to sign up for, to prepare for…it’s just generally kind of a tough nut! For general West Coast Trail guide (like…what and where is it??), check out The West Coast Trail Guide.
Registration for the 2018 West Coast Trail season opens on January 8 2018 at 8AM PST. The trail season is open between May 1 and September 30th.
I decided to do the West Coast Trail because I like a challenge, I wanted to see that part of Western Vancouver Island and flat out, I wanted to complete this impressive feat of strength. If you don’t want to do any of those things, don’t do the West Coast Trail hike. Do the Juan de Fuca, a shorter, less strenuous trail with similar scenery and far better access. Or any other hike really, most are easier than the WCT. Or do something more up your alley, like drinking whiskey or curling, no shame in different alleys!
The West Coast Trail difficulty is hugely mental. And if you go in with a crap attitude, pessimism towards the elements, or lack of belief in yourself, well then you’re done before you even start! This is not an easy trail; many times I caught myself comparing myself to Frodo. The 75km might kill you or at least try to.
Don’t do it because someone else wants you to (cough pushy boyfriend cough), do it for yourself. If you decide it’s for you, the West Coast Trail will make you stronger, as the old adage goes. So, it’s all up to you.
Ok, now that my naggy disclaimer is out of the way, here goes!
The first task in West Coast Trail preparation is that you must do is pick you dates and reserve your start day. The Trail is only open from May 1-Sept 30. You can reserve start dates as in January of each calendar year for the upcoming season. The specific date will be announced prior, so check Parks Canada in December so you’re right on time. There is limited entry, so if you are particular on dates or have a big group, then book early.
That being said, if you are hiking solo, or are easy with the calendar, there are stand-by spots for each day. I had a date reserved, got to the trail a day early, and started prematurely in a stand-by position. But I am also bonkers lucky and get free stuff from the universe pretty often (I won a lottery ticket to see Wicked!). So don’t bank on the standby, and please don’t try this and then curse me later if it doesn’t work out.
You can book your dates online or via the phone (both with credit card) , and you’ll pay for your permit and water taxi usage at this time.
How Much Does the West Coast Trail Cost?
Speaking of credit cards, hiking the West Coast Trail isn’t cheap. Every person must pay the Backcountry Use and Overnight Camping permit, regardless of how long you are on the trail for. Current West Coast Trail fees will take $127.50CDN per person. If you make a reservation, it costs $24.50CDN per person. Water taxis at Gordon River and Nitinat Narrows both cost $16 each (totalling$32), but you pay for this at the same time as your permit ahead of time. I can tell you that my bill was $184CDN for the permit, the water taxis, and the reservation.
If you don’t get a reservation and you show up standby at the trail, you can pay with credit cards/debit at the Parks Canada Info centres at Pachena Bay (north) or Gordon River (south). You have to attend trail orientation at these centres either the afternoon before you start or the morning of (orientations are daily at 10am and 2pm). You will get your permit and your waterproof West Coast Trail map, over which you will obsess for the next 7 days. We joked about this map costing $182. I was thinking they may say something about preparation at the orientation, but hey, your lack of preparation apparently isn’t Parks Canada’s problem, until they have to evacuate you due to hypothermia.
**These prices were in effect the season of 2016. Please confirm current pricing on the Parks Canada website.
West Coast Trail Transportation
Ok, once your Parks Canada paperwork is done, you have to figure out how to get to the West Coast Trail. Which can be a pain if you don’t have a car, trust me! There is the West Coast Trail Express bus that makes things convenient, taking hikers from Victoria and Nanaimo to either entry point, plus the midway entry, Nitinat Junction, daily.
It is not what most of us would call cheap and you need reservations for it. I wanted to avoid the bus, for three reasons: 1) I am a masochist who likes to make things more difficult; 2) reason number 1 is most often caused by my extreme frugality; and 3) I thought I could find something more exciting than sitting on a bus on a logging road.
I was coming from the Vancouver area, so I took BC Ferries across the Straight to Nanaimo, then caught a bus to Port Alberni. I stayed the night in Port Albrerni, and then the next day I boarded a boat with the Lady Rose Marine Service company to go the length of the Alberni Inlet to Bamfield.
More about this adventure in the next part of the series West Coast Trail Transportation- Bamfield Bound. After I completed the trail and ended up in the South, I hitch-hiked to Port Renfrew, then squeezed in a backseat with my hiking group to Sooke, where I took a public bus to Langford, where my friend picked me up, and then drove me to the ferry. This was fine by me, I’m sure the people sitting next to me didn’t love it (7 days is a lot of stench…).
Leaving from the North End
Staying in Port Alberni before you start hiking the trail makes sense. It’s half way between Nanaimo and the northern trail head and where, if you’re taking the boat to Bamfield, you get on that boat. Port Alberni accommodation is mixed and ample, so there are a few hotels to choose from. If you’re taking the Lady Rose boat to get to Bamfield, I would choose somewhere close so you can walk to the dock in the morning.
The Swept Away Inn is the closest accommodation to the dock, sitting right on the waterfront itself and is moderately priced. Cheaper options in town include the Redford Motel and the Best Western Plus.
Honestly, most of the hotels/motels in Port Alberni are fairly non-descript, so get a room that is comfortable and convenient, since you will experience neither of those two things for the next week of your life.
Book a Comfy Room in Port Alberni Now!
If you don’t camp at Pachena Bay the night before you start the trail, or if you go a bit early to enjoy the village, a night or two in Bamfield would be lovely. A cute marine/fishing village, Bamfield’s all about the sea. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is a major research centre on the West Coast of BC. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public for tours or anything, so enjoy the Bamfield ocean in nature, the way it was intended.
That said, there is no cheap place to stay in Bamfield, but everything is of excellent quality. And from what I can tell, there are only two real formal kinds of accommodation in Bamfield anyways, the Bamfield Motel and the Kingfisher Lodge and Marina. Both get decent reviews, but the Kingfisher has the view of the ocean and is probably the more cutesy of the two.
Stay a Night in Bamfield and Book a Room Now!
Starting at the South End
Sooke is an hour or so west of Victoria, so a closer base if you want to get an early start on the trail. It’s also super cute and where a lot of movies have been filmed! The Sooke Harbour House is the most famous place to stay in Sooke, it is ocean front and beautiful. The Harbour House is the heritage option and definitely bears that price tag, but hey, you’re worth it! Plus it’s the only place that has a sauna, and if you’re coming off the trail, the word ‘sauna’ is music to your very sore and tired ears.
Sooke is growing with bigger accommodation options in the last few years, after people realized Victoria is getting really expensive. The Moonlit Bed and Breakfast is a great, and less expensive option, while the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in massive and will contain every amenity you can imagine, because it’s basically a small city.
Go For Luxury and Stay in Sooke! Find a Room Now!
One of my favourite cities in Canada, Victoria has a million and one places to stay and tons of things to do before or after you are on the West Coast Trail. You can check out some of these things to do in Victoria here!
Victoria definitely has the most range in places to stay near the South end of the West Coast Trail, so really it’s up to you how much you want to spend and where you want to do it. You can get anything you want, so I would definitely look for something with a hot tub/sauna and make sure your room has a bathtub. Can you tell I’m subtly trying to say your body will be very sore?
There are so many places to stay in Victoria I actually won’t make recommendations, though I can say staying near the Inner Harbour or in James Bay is the most central and convenient.
Find a place in Esquimalt and you will pay less for an ocean view or grab a room at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for some quaint marina life. I also love Swans Hotel and Brewpub, only because of it’s awesome downtown location and as it sits on top of an excellent brewpub. Obviously. No hot tub though, so tough call.
Take Your Pick of a Great Room in Victoria! Find Latest Deals Now!
Other than planning to get to the trail, most people’s preparation for the West Coast Trail includes two other components: 1) Getting in physical shape so you don’t die and 2) Preparing your gear. I’ll focus on the latter, since I am neither a personal trainer nor did I do a great job with that component.
West Coast Trail- What to Bring?
First and foremost, everything that you need for the West Coast Trail, you need to bring with you. There is nowhere to buy food or gear, save for the two eateries you pass along the trail. But that’s not enough. Additionally, the trail is a pack in, pack out trail, so there are no trash containers and burning garbage is a major faux-pas.
And most importantly, you are carrying everything you need. Let that sink in. EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR 7 DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS IS ON YOUR BACK. Everything. This is one reason that I, a solid advocate of solo travel and adventure, do recommend going with another person, simply to share part of the load!
Buy the best, lightweight camping and outdoors gear you can afford. I don’t have much money, so I took what I had, none of which was lightweight, and I felt it. If you can get a lightweight tent, sleep mat, sleeping bag, or stove, you’re laughing! I started the trail with a 50lb pack.
Most experienced hikers, as well as Parks Canada, will tell you that men should carry no more than 1/3 of their body weight while women should not carry more than a ¼ of theirs. My pack was 8lbs over the recommended maximum. You may now do the math and determine my body weight. Girl got curves!!! And muscles thankfully, hence finishing the trail with that pack.
Aside from camping essentials, your clothing is very important. You will get wet, so quick dry clothing is advantageous, just tell me on night 3 after a day of rain, lying in my tent with a drying line of dirty hiking clothing hanging seven inches from my face.
Solid hiking boots are a must. Do not try to do it in running shoes or even hiking shoes. The roots and mud will destroy your ankles. In tandem with boots, good high socks, I like wool, and gaiters. Now, I didn’t have gaiters. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Buy gaiters. Wear your gaiters. Love your gaiters. The reason for the gaiters and the socks is to keep all that trail OUT of your boots.
Hiking poles are also a must. You could have the balance of one of those tiny Olympic gymnasts, but heavy packs, rain, roots, and mud all have a way of making you feel pretty clumsy. I only fell down twice. Others in my group fell down more, like 6 times. One fell off a cliff. Take hiking poles. Might not help with the cliff, but hey, couldn’t hurt.
Food is clearly essential. As stated previously, I don’t like spending much money, plus I have a pretty sensitive digestive tract, so I was against those expensive, vacuum packed dehydrated meals you can get at any outdoors store. Everybody else I hiked with had them and generally seemed fine (save for one…). Unlike those fine folk, I have no money and eating that much salt and preservative for a week probably would have made my bowels seize like Mt. Vesuvius.
I borrowed a food dehydrator, and spent a week of preparation drying anything that made sense: bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, quinoa, pasta, lentils, chicken and even some lemon for my morning tea. I’m classy that way.
My main mistake was not seasoning anything, but the fruit was awesome and the dinners gave me fuel and protein, so really, it was all good. And it cost me next to nothing. I did oatmeal for breakfasts and then did on the go lunches of protein bars, trail mix, and dried fruit.
Dinners were the pasta or quinoa, with either lentils or chicken, along with a reward of a Snickers bar every day. I also had chick peas to gobble whenever needed, cinnamon sugar to flavour the oatmeal, and cocoa and green tea for warm camp site drinks. The guys I was with had scotch for Canada Day and a girl we met had a ton of marijuana. Pack to your own needs and wants. Preparation is all on you, but food? Very important!
Things I wish I had on the trail included (or that I borrowed off other people and therefore learned a good lesson): gaiters, Vaseline, and cheese. I wished all of my major pieces of gear weighed less. I did not need the quantity of fuel that I took for my stove, so I wish I had a smaller canister. I did not take enough rope to properly hang my food if there was no bear bin. I also did not take any deodorant. This I am fine with, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyways! #sweatybeast
Something to reiterate: This is the West Coast, you will get wet, and despite it being summer, it does cool off at night. So bring many pairs of socks, a touque, gloves, and warm leggings and fleece zip-ups to relax in camp in. I had my heavy sleeping bag, bought in Nepal, and was glad I had it. Regardless of the forecast, preparation for the elements is key.
I took a book, yes a real life paper book. Most people wouldn’t bear the weight, but I did since I thought I would be on my own. I hooked in with a group, so I read a lot less than I thought, but still, glad I had the reads for the downtime, plus then I used the read pages for toilet paper! Wrap the book in a ziplock bag to keep those fragile paper pages dry.
Actually, wrap everything in a ZipLock bag.
Pack Preparation for the West Coast Trail
One thing I did do physically before the trail, besides being a fabulous physiological specimen generally speaking, is that I packed up my backpack a couple of times with the gear I would be taking and making up for missing food weight with heavy books, and going for walks in the park.
This can’t actually prepare you for the experience of climbing over roots and through mud with your pack on, but it can at least help you identify any sizing issues, any hot spots of skin chafing, and get you used to the weight on your body. I would recommend this, as a bare minimum.
I made my mom go walk 6 km in the park with me so that I didn’t look homeless. But yeah, physical preparation would be a really good thing to do! Do it. And maybe climb a shit ton of ladders, that could help too.
West Coast Trail Preparation Advice this Bald Eagle ^^^ Would Give You If She Could:
You will have zero cell phone coverage on the trail, so make sure you clear up any pressing business before you go.
If you can borrow, rent, or steal a satellite phone, do it. Zero cell phone coverage and an injury makes everybody wish they had a sat phone. Or the superpower of flight.
Leave your plans and itinerary with a trusted person back home. Have an approximate day that you will get off the trail and get in contact with them.
Write out your emergency contact numbers and have them in a water-safe bag in your bag, just in case!
Along the trail, you can burn the pages of your book that you have already read. Or use them as toilet paper. Sorry Ayn Rand.
Take toilet paper. Just sayin’.
****This post is Part 2 of my 6-part West Coast Trail blog series.****
Are you thinking about hiking the West Coast Trail ??? Would love to hear from you!
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