The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a different trail than what a lot of backpackers are used to. It has it’s rainforest interior, beach walks, tides, and island weather. There are some tips and tricks for dealing with the unique aspects of the WCT. Below, I go over 5 tips and tricks I think are the most useful when hiking the trail. I left out anything related to gear and preparation as those are often the most talked about and there is a lot of information out there (and here) for preparing for the trail and choosing proper gear. I focus on tips and tricks for when you’re actually on the trail and hiking it. Here we go!
Take the beach whenever you can
The forest is beautiful and I think part of the magic of the WCT is that every day is different, if not every hour. That being said, the beach has more to offer and I highly recommend taking the beach whenever you can. You will received a tide chart from Parks Canada at the beginning of the trip. While it is good to pay attention to the tide chart, don’t be afraid to give it some wiggle room. Particularly at Owen Point (km 67) and Tsusiat Point (km 27), you can get by close to the impassable tide height. If you’re willing to get your feet wet, you can get by when tides are above the impassable level.
I don’t recommend ignoring the tide charts and make sure to hike within your own limits! But I encountered numerous groups who stayed predominantly in the woods because they were scared of maybe potentially getting “caught by the tides”. Play it smart but, for the most part, the worst case scenario (unless you don’t play it smart), is that you need to hike back to the nearest forest access.
Embrace the challenge of the forest
The forest can take its toll on the psyche. It’s muddy, dark, there are ladders, and stepping over 1,000,000 roots and fallen logs an hour can be a grind. My group and I looked at the obstacles and mud as a challenge and made a game of trying to get through the tough sections fast like ninjas. Embracing the challenge of the forest brought a different dynamic to hiking those zones and was a ton of fun!
Also, make sure to stop, watch, and maybe film your friends go through the muddy sections. You may get to witness a fun slip in the mud!
Debris is a good indicator of tide height
Don’t be the person waking up in the middle of the night to sloshing water against your tent and have to move further up the beach. This happened at a few of the campsites to other groups! When choosing a place to set up your tent, look at the patterns and debris on the sand. You’ll notice subtle differences in the sand between where the high tide reaches and areas that stay dry. Use these clues to make sure you’re above of high tide.
Take your time when hiking the trail for the first time
A lot of people will tell you to take your time hiking the trail so that you can take it all in and not be rushed. I want to reiterate this, as it cannot be said enough. Particularly if you’re not an experienced backpacker or not in your best shape, taking 7+ days to hike the trail will make the trip feel like the getaway vacation it is supposed to be. Taking your time also allows you to do some side adventures and exploring. You will get into camp earlier in the day when it is hotter too, which may inspire you to get into the waterfalls or go for a swim!
Put rocks on top of your stakes to keep them in the sand
Putting rocks on your stakes does two things for you:
- Keeps the stakes in the sand, which can be tough depending on your tent or if it’s windy.
- Keeps you from stepping on the stakes if they are buried. If you’re barefoot, this hurts a lot!