Best Hikes and Treks on Vancouver Island
Impressions of Vancouver Island often revolve around whale-watching, Butchart Gardens, beaches, the 3 surf and the very British city of Victoria. The Island also boasts some fabulous hiking and trekking, though, and their increasing popularity is beginning to change its image, at least among active travellers. Here are five major hiking and trekking attractions of Vancouver Island.
Because words are used differently around the world, let’s first clarify. By hiking, we mean walks, whether casual or more strenuous, that are contained within a few hours or, at most, a day, and require only a day-pack and comfortable walking footwear. By trekking, we mean hikes that are multi-day, require overnight stays along the way, perhaps in basic campsite facilities, and usually require carrying a larger back-pack and tougher hiking boots.
1. West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail, a five- to seven-day trek, is the most renowned Vancouver Island option. The challenging, 75-km trail follows the rugged southwest coast of the Island, twisting and turning, rising and falling, through ancient rainforests, crossing numerous wild creeks and rivers, and traversing sandstone ledges and lonely beaches that stretch for miles along the wild coast. Numerous wooden ladders (with up to 200 rungs), river crossings by cable-car, and suspension bridges, add to the diversity of the trek. It’s considered by some, the most challenging trekking in North America.
Forget your cell phone: it likely won’t do you any good, anyways, but you probably won’t want it, other than to take photos. This is true wilderness. The majesty of the coast will compel you to forget the regular grind of life. Instead you’ll be treated with magical ocean and rocky shoreline vistas, waterfalls, eroded sea caves and tidal pools brimming with life, and perhaps whales blowing spray. Pack lightly, though, as you’ll be carrying a pack with all your supplies for the duration of the trek.
The trail can be accessed from either end, Bamfield or Port Renfrew; the toughest section being near the Bamfield end. Permits are required and restricted to maximum numbers per day. The trail is open May 1 to September 30.
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2. Juan de Fuca Trail
The Juan de Fuca Trail is a shorter version of the West Coast Trail. It starts near Sooke, west of Victoria, and ends at Port Renfrew where the West Coast Trail starts. The 48-km trail can be trekked in three to five days. But this junior version of its more famous cousin is by no means tame. In several places, because of the tides, you’ll have the option to stay low along the beach or hike higher through headlands and forests; watch your tidal tables so that you don’t get stranded on a beach! You’ll see the same sights you would on the West Coast Trail, with the addition of a sea lion rookery.
One difference, though, is that there are several access points along the way; so there are more options for emergencies, or to turn parts of the trail into day hikes, and thus avoid carrying all your supplies with you. Your reward at the end will be the magical Botanical Gardens at Port Renfrew, show-casing the geologic effects of water erosion and teeming with sea life.
No special permits are needed for the Juan de Fuca Trail.
3. The Cape Scott Trail
By contrast, the Cape Scott hiking trail is a beginner/intermediate hike/trek on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It’s a return route of 24 km (each way) to the Cape Scott Lighthouse, with several splendid camping sites on ocean beaches about two-thirds of the way (5.5 – 7 hrs’ hike). So, typically, hikers will spend a long summer’s weekend to complete the trip. Many suggest, though, that you really need more days to fully explore the area’s rich coastal scenery, the history and remnants of its 19th century Danish settlements, and to allow for the uncertainties of the coastal weather that can brew up storms in a hurry.
You’ll hike through old-growth Sitka spruce forests, past rocky headlands, marshlands, and across wide stretches of sweeping, abandoned beaches. You’ll see a tremendous variety of sea-birds, as well as seals, sea lions and sea otters. It’s remote; you have to travel logging roads from Port Hardy to get here. But that’s a small price to pay to experience wilderness paradise; Lonely Planet declares: “If you really want to experience the raw, ravishing beauty of BC . . . this should be your number one destination.”
4. Tofino-Ucluelet Trails
The Tofino-Ucluelet stretch of the wild west coast of the Island boasts more than a dozen different hiking trails. Most are relatively easy, and range in length from 0.2 to 3 kms. They’ll take you on boardwalks through massive forests and over bio-diverse wetlands, past surging Pacific surf and vast stretches of beach, and up to splendid views of Claquaot Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
Topping the list, though, is the “Wild Pacific Trail” at Ucluelet, considered by some to be the most beautiful hike in the world. This is still an easy hike, but a little longer, about 8 km. The three loops of the hike take you through gnarled old growth forest with moss-covered trees, then open onto rocky shoreline ledges with stunning coastal vistas overlooking Barclay Sound and the Broken Islands group, and stretching on over the Pacific Ocean. The mesmerizing views could keep you here for hours; you may have to be pulled back by your companions.
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5. Strathcona Provincial Park trails
Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest in British Columbia, offers a complete contrast to the trails along the Pacific coast. This rugged wilderness area encompasses pristine glaciers, ice-burg encrusted lakes, snowfields, alpine tarns, and multitudes of river valleys and rugged mountain peaks. The myriad trails in the Park, not surprisingly, is just as diverse, with short, easy loops to challenging, multi-day treks and technical climbs. The Park is filled with numerous waterfalls, including (arguably) Canada’s highest, Della Falls, and many trails lead to the various waterfalls.
Regardless of your hiking or trekking style and interest you could spend days, even weeks, here, and never tire of the options. One of the best hikes is to the summit of Mount Albert Edward. This is a gruelling 15.5 km hike with 890 m. of elevation gain (one way), and only the fittest will want to do the return trip within the day. But, the rewards of the accomplishment will be worth the effort.
West Adventures includes a day hike along the Juan de Fuca Trail on the <a href=”https://westadventures.com/tours/vancouver-island-explorer/”>Vancouver Island Explorer</a>, the <a href=”https://westadventures.com/tours/southwest-sampler/”>Southwest Sampler</a> and the <a href=”https://westadventures.com/tours/pacific-coast-to-rocky-crest/”>Pacific Coast to Rocky Crest</a> trips, trekking the full Juan de Fuca Trail on its <a href=”https://westadventures.com/tours/vancouver-island-explorer-trek/”>Vancouver Island Explorer with Trek</a> trip, and Tofino-Ucluelet hiking options on all these trips.
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