A Nootka Air floatplane delivered us smack dab in the wild side of Vancouver Island, its industrial-size volume churning the misty sky. We descend with luscious trees on one side and blue, brackish water below. A grove of giant greenery welcomed us to the Nootka Island Trail, starting point for multiple wild British Columbia coastal backpacking adventures. We took on the well-known West Coast Trail, located in Pacific Rim National Park, as well as the lesser-known North Coast Trail in Cape Scott Provincial Park.
I gripped my hand on a slimy log, trying to stabilize my slippery stance in the mud before dropping into the soupy mix and ground-up pebbles, billions of earthy flakes attaching to my boots, holding my leg. It forced me to take pause, recognize cedars surrounding me above and the ferns to my side—the city sounds no more. This is Mother Earth’s welcome, a true West Coast Trail greeting, cautioning me not to rush. Each step matters here. Staying upright is good, but what’s more magical is the deeper connection with the natural elements that define these coastal hikes.
Trail chatter with our newly acquainted BCA Tours crew quickly bonds us. First camp comes quickly with a big surf greeting our sandy camp at Third Beach. It’s a beauty, a deep playground the length of a football field with a grassy, tree-topped haystack rock formation. Beyond the beach an ocean view expanding into the horizon demands our focus and appreciation. Chalk us up for a sweet sunset beach fire. Camp food is taken to nutritious highs with BCA Tours, and we savor each bite.
We move early. With the mantra of keeping the ocean to our right, we race the tide tables and follow black bear tracks—rush hour traffic here is simply us and the animals. We stop only for yummy high-energy homemade snacks and to stay hydrated along the way. To our right, the cinematic ocean sounds sing us Emmy-winning tunes. Among the life-rich tidal flats, reflection pools and five-star surf, our left side is packed with skyscraper-sized trees standing guard and making great homes for eagles and ospreys. Nearly 12 kilometers in, we round a point to a gusher of a waterfall known as Calvin Falls, a spectacular backdrop for another perfect beach camp. We enjoy a rest before our final obstacle of the day, a river crossing. At our base for night two, we’re greeted by large driftwood and stacked logs nearby for wind guar—another wonderful evening of campfire chats and stargazing.
We’re early risers. Today we need to make it around some rocky fortresses, so camp coffee assists us as we get up to tide-race pace. Stepping into the forested jungle slows us; the greenery shrouds your feet; vision ahead is limited by leaves in your face. Sticks prod you and sometimes footing slips away. All of these elements provide a more profound appreciation for the easy, sandy sections. Climbing up in the muddy, deep, thick trees makes a beach hike that much more special.
Times like these resemble badges of honour for our crew, assisting each other through steep rope climbs, crawling under 700-year-old fallen giants and through rocky terrain. Then comes the rain and wind, and it’s time we find refuge. Camp is near and we have another 11 kilometers complete. Beano Creek, juts out into raging waters right at our feet. The foam surges forth, the sea belches and churns, slapping down with a crushing surf. Our fire flickers and an early bed is calling as Mother Nature rages on through the night.
We wake up in early morning chill to cross the river before the tides engulfs us. This morning’s coffee happens on the far shore. Ahead is a long day, but one that’s deeply cherished. In between the cliff climbs, there’s a march through vast forest with panoramic ocean views awaiting on the other side along pocket beaches. Punctuated by waterfalls from hanging cliffs, this is approximately 13 kilometers of primo nature time.
We’re bound for Yuquot Beach, with plenty of side trips, from spectacular view points like Maquinna Point—named after the famous Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations leader, Chief Maquinna, who met Captain Cook in the area in 1778—to hidden seaside caves and even a fresh water lake for a joyful swim. Again, tides don’t wait, so we race to cross the rapidly filling creek. Water chest-high, a true backpack soaker, as our feet slip seaward. We give it all to reach the other pebble-filled shoreline. Friendly Cove frames our view.
Sun kisses the tent for our last day of adventure. We wander into an incredible history lesson, visiting Yuquot, the residence of the Nuu-chah-nult First Nations for over 9,000 years. This place was given the name Friendly Cove by the Europeans, when Captain Cook and crew arrived here. Stepping into the old village church, walls adorned with stories and images of the past, we’re quickly enthralled reading about the resourceful, strong and proud First Nations people who had such a rich past here. This is a hands-down must-do during the visit. Ask if the Master Carver of Northwest Coast Native Art, Sandford Williams, is around. With any luck, you’ll get a coveted tour of his beachside studio and a view of his masks, totem poles, paddles and more, all created with handmade tools and decorated with hand-picked beach materials.
The Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island Details:
West Coast Trail
This 75-km beach trail was built in 1907 to access the rugged coastline and assist in rescuing shipwrecks. The trail became a journey for us all to enjoy historic lighthouses, long sandy beaches, hulking rock headwalls, ladders and forested jungles. A permit is required from the National Park Service.
North Coast Trail
A relatively unknown gem, this 44-km route in Cape Scott Provincial Park is a rough and tumble route. It’s carved from the wild northern tip of Vancouver Island. Be prepared to be on your own here, with potential glimpses of wolves and black bears along the way.
Gear I used:
Gregory Pack Baltoro 75 L
MSR Hubba NX Solo tents
MSR Dynalock Ascent Carbon Backcountry poles
Superalp GTX Gore-Tex Hiking Boots by AKU
Check out BCA Tours for passionate guides, incredible food and gear. They will even handle all the transportation logistics and permits for you.