Where to start on the West Coast Trail

The overwhelming process of planning.

How to start planning for the West Coast Trail. Whether you have hiked before or are relatively new, please read below for some first had knowledge on how to plan your trip for the West Coast Trail.

  • Picking a date and what direction to start
  • Gear Selections (and my gear list)
  • How to get to the trail head
  • The night before (and the pre-trail briefing)
  • The day of!
  • The conclusion
Darling campround @14km

First off, you’ll need to get a permit. The booking system opens up in January with only 50 permits a day becoming available and each year the permits sell out very very quickly. My advice? go south bound. Starting in Pachena Bay instead of Gordon River. When we logged on to get our permits (exactly the second they became available) the North bound permits were nearly gone. 

One thing that is handy with the reservation process is, as the organizer of the trip you can create a single booking for the entire party. That means you can add all the members of your party and pay all at once. No need to create multiple bookings for each person. Once the permits are paid for, you can go back afterwards and update the emergency contact information for each hiker and even extend or decrease your trip length!

The two main trail heads are from Pachena Bay in the North and Gordon River in the South. Roughly in the middle you have a third starting point at Nitinat Narrows. Choosing either 3 of these starting points offers their own set of pros and cons, we will go over them in detail here.

Tsusiat Falls @ 25km

Pachena Bay:

Pros: You start at the more beautiful side of the trail. You literally start hiking on the beach the first day (at low tide only) and continue through 75% of the trail with the most magnificent of coastline views. The trail is also much less crowded as most folks are starting from the opposite end. The trail on this side is also much easier to hike, this is very important at the beginning as your pack will be the heaviest.

Cons: You finish the trail in the least scenic part. You will be in the forest on the last day and there are considerable rocks, mud, roots and steep climbs that kick your butt one last time.

Gordon River:

Pros: You get the ugly done quickly. Then you have the rest of the trail to enjoy. You also start with more people and that adds to the social aspect of the trail, if you are still not too comfortable hiking alone.

Cons: You start the toughest section of the trail with the heaviest your pack will be. The first major campsite at Thrasher bay is about an hour detour from the trail  and you’ll have to navigate an insane amount of ladders to get there.

Nitinat Narrows:

Pros: Your hike is shorter, as you will only be traversing about half the trail in either direction. You get to start your hike with a nice fresh crab for lunch.

Cons: Getting there can be difficult and you may start your hike somewhere in the middle of the day. You’ll also miss out on half the trail.

We were quite happy to start our trail in Pachena Bay. We stayed overnight in Bamfield which had some cool places to explore. Whatever direction you decide, your best strategy is to be flexible. If one direction is booked up, try the other. I promise you will not be disappointed. 

Happy face

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