One of North America’s classic walks, the West Coast Trail (WCT) starts 5km south of Bamfield and traverses exceptional coastal scenery for 75km to Port Renfrew. It’s no stroll, and though very popular it still requires experience of longer walks, proper equipment and a fair degree of fitness (and numbers are strictly limited). Still, many people do the first easy stage as a day-trip from Bamfield. Reckon on six to eight days for the full trip; carry all your own food and be prepared for rain, treacherous stretches, thick soaking forest and almost utter isolation.
Mariners long ago dubbed this area of coastline the “graveyard of the Pacific”, and when the SS Valencia went down with nearly all hands here (a few of the crew survived) in 1906 the government was persuaded that constructing a trail would at least give stranded sailors a chance to walk to safety along the coast. The path followed a basic telegraph route that linked Victoria with outlying towns and lighthouses, and was kept open by linesmen and lighthouse keepers until the 1960s, when it fell into disrepair. Early backpackers reblazed the old trail, which now passes through the land of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation around Bamfield, Ditidaht First Nation country in the trail’s middle section and ends in Pacheedaht First Nation land near Port Renfrew.
Weather is a key factor in planning any trip; the trail is only open May to September, July and August being the driest months; during that period it’s patrolled by wardens, and locals are on hand to ferry you (for a fee) across some of the wider rivers en route.