West Coast Trail (bottom right photo : Alejandro Palavecino)
Whether you’re pining for a close encounter with some of the Pacific Coast’s majestic old-growth trees or hankering for a week of backcountry hiking, Vancouver Island’s got you covered. On the heels of our weekend piece about Ucluelet in the September edition of enRoute, we present you with five of our favourite trails.
West Coast Trail
What: 75K, a multi-day hike for people who don’t mind roughing it
Where: Between Bamfield and Port Renfrew, in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
The mother of all hiking trails in British Columbia – if not Canada – wends its way along the rugged southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Built to save shipwrecked sailors who’d had a mishap in waters nicknamed “the Graveyard of the Pacific,” the West Coast Trail (or the Wet Coast Trail, as we came to call it) is not for the faint of heart – or leg. Its quad-busting ladders, some reaching as high as a five-storey building, seem like they’re never going to end, especially when you’re carrying a backpack with your tent and a week’s worth of food. But the pain is easy to forget when the path brings you through mist-shrouded forest, past cooling waterfalls and over sun-splashed beaches; hiking the most legendary trail in the nation becomes the adventure of a lifetime. If you’re lucky, you might spot cougars, black bears and wolves. Although we didn’t see any on our hike, we knew they were watching us. The bears, for instance, had left their paw prints – “Winnie was here” – in the sand.
Wild Pacific Trail
What: About 15K, groomed path, suitable for all ages and abilities
The Wild Pacific Trail is way more docile than the name suggests. Hugging the black rocks that rise along the craggy shore, this path is divvied up into three sections, allowing you take in the crashing waves and the forest in five minutes or 50. The surface is level enough that you can take a wheelchair or baby stroller for a spin here. And if hunger strikes during your mid-morning walk, just grab a table at Fetch at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort; the trail passes right by the restaurant’s patio. There are also benches placed along the route so you can sit down and admire the sunset, or just take a breather. And you may need it – the views are breathtaking.
Paradise Meadows Loop Trail
What: 4.2K, easy path for all ages through sub-alpine meadows
Where: Strathcona Provincial Park, Courtenay
Yes, we tend to forget that Vancouver Island isn’t all about its connection to water. Venture inland and you’ll find paths that take you to higher ground. For a one-hour walk through sub-alpine meadows and forest, and opportunities to see deer, marmots, black bears and eagles, head to the Paradise Meadows trail in Strathcona, in the centre of the island. If you’re eager to keep going, tack on the 2.9-kilometre gently rolling Sawdust Trail (it’s built with wood chips), which leads you to picturesque Lake Helen Mackenzie on the Forbidden Plateau and more opportunities to take in the landscape from up high.
What: 10K, challenging surfside trail for fit hikers
Where: East Sooke Regional Park, Sooke
If you don’t have time to do the West Coast Trail but want to a taste of its rugged flavour, the Coast Trail has it all – and you can walk it in a day. One moment the rough trail takes you across pine-studded bluffs where you can watch cormorants in action or through forest dense with Douglas fir and Western hemlock. Then all of a sudden you’re skirting the shore, with Sitka spruce towering above you. Located in East Sooke Regional Park, the path offers long-range views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, as well as close-ups of mosses, ferns and petroglyphs.
Cathedral Grove Trail
What: Short, even paths suitable for tree huggers of all ages and abilities
Where: MacMillan Provincial Park, Parksville
It doesn’t get any easier than this to feel dwarfed by giant Douglas firs, which usually take up residence in remote areas only accessible by wildlife and loggers. A network of short footpaths crisscrosses the park, with a loop on the south side passing by the largest tree in Cathedral Grove: an 800-year-old Douglas fir standing 76 metres high and measuring three metres in diameter and more than nine metres in circumference. Opting for the loop trail on the north side will take you through stands of ancient Western red cedar to Cameron Lake.