Backpacking Vancouver Island

7-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary (Plus More Itinerary Options)

Flowers at the Pachena Bay trailhead of the West Coast Trail. Get your West Coast trail itinerary options in this post.

Due to the way the campgrounds are spaced out, and the placement of the difficult trail sections, most people take 6 or 7 days to complete the West Coast Trail. When I first hiked the trail in 2004, we just winged it. But when I was planning my 2019 trip I worked out tons of options. However, during my research I found out that the best West Coast Trail itinerary was the standard 7-day itinerary that most hikers use. In fact it was nearly identical to the itinerary I ended up with on my 2004 hike.

But lots more options are possible including slower trips for beginner walkers, faster trips for strong hikers, and trips that take in only part of the trail by starting at Nitinaht Narrows.

I’ve set out a few sample itineraries below so you can pick the one that works best for you. To help you decide, I’ve also included some factors you should consider when picking a West Coast Trail itinerary including which places you want to stop, which direction to hike, when to take the orientation session, the tides and the ferry schedule.

WANT MORE WEST COAST TRAIL INFO?  Check out these posts:

 

Choosing Your West Coast Trail Itinerary

When you are planning your West Coast Trail hike there are a few factors to consider when choosing how many days to take. First, consider your fitness. How many hours a day can you comfortably walk? How do you do on climbs? Read my section-by-section overview of the West Coast Trail to get an idea of what to expect along the way. Then read my guide to West Coast Trail campgrounds to decide which ones look nicest.

Next figure out your priorities. Do you want to spend lots of time exploring the beaches? Do you want to a rest day where you stay at the same camp for two nights? Is completing the trail in fast-and-light style more your thing? Just because the standard itinerary is 7-days doesn’t mean you need to stick to it.

Lastly, plan for the weather. West Coast Trail weather is notoriously fickle, even in the middle of summer. Keep in mind that any itinerary you choose needs to account for poor weather. On a tight itinerary, you will have to keep walking through heavy rain, which makes everything slippery and dangerous. But if you opt for a longer itinerary, you have the flexibility to wait out storms a little bit more. (But then of course you’ll have a heavier pack since you have to carry more food.)

 

Which Direction Should You Hike the West Coast Trail

There are three different places to start the West Coast Trail: In the North at Pachena Bay near Bamfield, in the south at Gordon River near Port Renfrew, and in the middle at Nitinaht Narrows. (If you start in the middle at Nitinaht you can hike either north or south from there, or double back and do both.) When you make your WCT reservation, you’ll need to pick one of these three starting points. (See the section on West Coast Trail reservations in my Guide to the West Coast Trail for more info on booking.)

In 2004 I hiked the trail south to north. In 2019 I hiked it north to south. Many people I’ve talked to have a clear preference for one direction over the other. Having done it both ways, I have a slight preference for south to north. But honestly, I don’t think it makes a big difference.

Which entrance point and direction you pick will depend on two things: personal preference and availability. The West Coast trail is really popular so you may not be able to book your first choice of start location. Here are the pros and cons of each option.

A hiker scrambles under a log on the south end of the West Coast Trail

The South end of the West Coast Trail is ROUGH!

 

South to North (Gordon River/Port Renfrew to Pachena Bay/Bamfield)

Pros: 

  • Get the harder sections out of the way first when you have fresh legs
  • Start by taking the ferry so you don’t have to worry about the ferry schedule when you finish
  • Easier to arrange transportation with the Trail Bus schedule

Cons:

  • Have to hike the hardest sections at the southern end with a heavy pack

 

North to South (Pachena Bay/Bamfield to Gordon River/Port Renfrew)

Pros: 

  • Do the easier sections first to warm up
  • Hike the harder southern end of the trail with a lighter pack

Cons:

  • Have to hike the hardest sections at the southern end when you’re tired. (And you might spend the entire first half of the trail worrying about how hard the second half will be.)
  • Arranging transportation with the Trail Bus is less convenient due to their schedule
  • You have to catch the ferry across the Gordon River to finish, which only runs a few times a day.
Flat and easy trail at the north end of the West Coast Trail

The north end of the West Coast Trail is pretty mellow compared to the south end.

 

Starting at Nitinaht Narrows

There are two reasons you may want to start at Nitinaht Narrows: you only have the time or fitness to hike a portion of the trail OR the other entrances are booked up for your dates. However, keep in mind that the only way to reach the Nitinaht Narrows starting point is via water taxi, which makes it more expensive than any of the other starting options. If you start from Nitinaht you can go south, north or both. Here’s the breakdown on each of those options:

Nitinaht Narrows north to Pachena Bay/Bamfield: The shortest and easiest option on the West Coast Trail. Best for less experienced backpackers. Typically takes 3 days to hike the 33km-long section.

Nitinaht Narrows south to Gordon River/Port Renfrew: Includes all the tough sections at the southern end of the trail, plus some of the beautiful beach sections in the middle. Best for experienced backpackers who don’t have the time to complete the whole trail. Typically takes 4-5 days to hike the 43km-long section.

Nitinaht Narrows to one trailhead, then to the other: The only way to complete the whole trail when starting at Nitinaht. You can have two options: The first is to start at Nitinaht, hike to one trailhead, then hike the entire trail back through Nitinaht to the other trailhead. The other is to start at Nitinaht, hike to one trailhead, take the shuttle and water taxi back to Nitinaht Narrows, then hike to the other trailhead. The first option requires more days on the trail while the second requires a lot more money spent on transportation.

 

Factoring in the Mandatory West Coast Trail Orientation Session

Every person hiking the West Coast Trail must attend an orientation session. You’ll need to factor the orientation session into your West Coast Trail itinerary. You can attend either orientation on the day you start the trail. Or, you can attend the 2 pm or 3:30 pm orientation the day before you start. (You can’t take the orientation any earlier.) You can also attend an orientation at any location. However, it makes the most sense to do the orientation at the trailhead you start from since the ranger will outline the trail in that direction of travel. The orientations take about 1 hour. Orientations are offered as follows:

Pachena Bay: 10 am and 2 pm

Gordon River: 10 am and 2 pm

Nitinaht Village: 8 am and 3:30 pm

If you are using the West Coast Express trail bus, their schedule may dictate which orientation you can do. In general, I think it’s best to do your orientation the day before you start or the morning that you start. If you do the afternoon orientation, you won’t have very much time for hiking before it gets dark. This is especially true if you are starting from Gordon River and need to tackle the difficult section with heavy packs.

 

Factoring in the Tides

Another consideration is the tides. If you have flexibility in your schedule, consult the Tofino tide tables. Try to find dates where the low tide is in the middle of the day so you can maximize the time you spend walking on the beach, rather than in the forest. If you want to take the Owen Point coastal route between Camper Bay and Thrasher Cove, make sure you look at the tide tables for the day you plan to hike that section. 

Walking past sea stacks at low tide on the West Coast Trail

Walking past sea stacks at low tide.

 

Factoring in the Ferry and Water Taxi Schedules

There are two ferries on the West Coast Trail. The first is across Nitinaht Narrows near KM32. The second is across the Gordon River at the southern trailhead. These ferries have limited schedules so you need keep them in mind when planning your itinerary.

Nitinaht Ferry Schedule: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm on an as needed basis (Yell across to the operator if you are coming from the north side.)

Gordon River Ferry Schedule: 8:30 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm and 3:30 pm. (If you are coming from the north, raise the buoy next to the ladder so the operator knows you want a pickup.)

If you are starting or finishing the trail at Nitinaht Narrows, you’ll need to take a water taxi from the narrows to Nitinaht Village. There is only one trip per day in each direction.

Nitinaht Lake Water Taxi Schedule: 9 am from Nitinaht Village to Nitinaht Narrows. 5 pm: from Nitinaht Narrows to Nitinaht Village.

Flowers in front of the Gordon river ferry dock at the south end of the West Coast Trail

The view from Butch’s ferry dock in Gordon River

 

Standard 7-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

This is the itinerary that most people who hike the West Coast Trail do. It doesn’t matter which direction you start your trip from, most hikers complete the West Coast Trail in 7 days and stay at these campsites:

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek or Darling River; 12-14km; 4-6 hours.

Day 2: Michigan Creek OR Darling River to Tsusiat Falls; 11-13km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek; 16.5km; 7-9 hours.

Day 4: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek; 11km; 4-6 hours.

Day 5: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay; 9.2km; 4-6 hours.

Day 6: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove; 8.8km; 4-5 hours.

Day 7: Thrasher Cover to Gordon River; 6km; 4-5 hours.

 

Standard 6-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

Strong hikers can shave a day off their hike by skipping a night at Thrasher Cove. If you don’t have the tides to go around Owen Point, you can skip the 1km side trail into Thrasher Cove entirely. That will save you time, and save your knees! Keep in mind that the sections between Camper Bay and Gordon River is very tough. Only very fit and experienced hikers will want to tackle it all in one day. On my first West Coast Trail trip in 2004, we started our trip by doing that section all at once. It was REALLY HARD. I cried. That being said, now that I have more fitness and experience, I would consider tackling it. (See my section-by-section overview for more info on this part of the trail.)

If you plan to use this itinerary, you’ll need to keep the ferry schedule and orientation session schedule in mind. If you are starting the trail at Gordon River you should do your orientation the night before and then get on the first ferry of the day at 8:30 am. When I did it, we did the 10 am orientation so we weren’t on the trail until 11:30 am. We staggered into Camper Bay as it was starting to get dark! If you are finishing in Gordon River, keep in mind that the last ferry of the day is at 3:30 pm.

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek or Darling River; 12-14km; 4-6 hours.

Day 2: Michigan Creek OR Darling River to Tsusiat Falls; 11-13km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek; 16.5km; 7-9 hours.

Day 4: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek; 11km; 4-6 hours.

Day 5: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay; 9.2km; 4-6 hours.

Day 6: Camper Bay to Gordon River; 13km; 7-10 hours.

 

Off-Beaten-Path 6-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

This itinerary maximizes the use of less popular campsites so you get more solitude on the trail. However, it does include staying a night at Nitinaht Narrows, which will add to your budget. As well, it includes a stay at Orange Juice Creek, which doesn’t have a toilet or food cache. If you feel more comfortable with those amenities, adjust the itinerary to stay at Tscowis Creek (KM17) or Darling River (KM14)

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Orange Juice Creek; 15km 5-6 hours

Day 2: Orange Juice Creek to Nitnaht Narrows (paid cabins or camping); 17km; 5-7 hours

Day 3: Nitinaht Narrows to Bonilla Point: 16km; 6-8 hours

Day 4: Bonilla Point to Cullite Creek: 10km; 4-5 hours

Day 5: Cullite Creek to Thrasher Cove: 13km; 6-8 hours

Day 6: Thrasher Cove to Gordon River: 6km; 4-5 hours

 

Fast 5-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

This itinerary lets you do the trail in 4 nights and 5 days, perfect for fit and experienced hikers who want to carry less food. It includes some long days on the trail. It also includes the notorious Camper Bay to Gordon River section all at once, so the same cautions I mentioned in the Standard 6-Day itinerary above apply here.

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Klanawa River; 23km; 7-9 hours

Day 2: Klanawa River to Cribs Creek; 18.5km; 8-10 hours

Day 3: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek; 11km; 4-6 hours.

Day 4: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay; 9.2km; 4-6 hours.

Day 5: Camper Bay to Gordon River; 13km; 7-10 hours.

 

Super-Fast 4-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

This 4-day itinerary features some really long days on the trail, but it wouldn’t be too painful for hikers in good shape. Honestly, I think an itinerary like this is a bit fast since you won’t get to savour the West Coast Trail scenery. But I know some people would rather complete the trail in less time.

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Klanawa River: 23km; 7-9 hours

Day 2: Klanawa River to Carmanah Creek: 23km; 7-9 hours

Day 3: Carmanah Creek to Camper Bay: 16km; 6-8 hours

Day 4: Camper Bay to Gordon River; 13km; 7-10 hours.

 

Relaxed 8-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

If the long day in the middle of the standard itinerary scares you, plan for 8 days on the trail instead. You can pay to stay in a cabin or camp at Nitinaht Narrows. Another option for an 8-day itinerary would be to use the standard 7-day itinerary, then take a rest day somewhere. Tsusiat Falls is a popular spot to do that.

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek or Darling River; 12-14km; 4-6 hours.

Day 2: Michigan Creek OR Darling River to Tsusiat Falls; 11-13km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Nitinaht Narrows (paid): 7km; 3-4 hours

Day 4: Nitinaht Narrows to Cribs Creek: 11km; 4-5 hours

Day 5: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek; 11km; 4-6 hours.

Day 6: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay; 9.2km; 4-6 hours.

Day 7: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove; 8.8km; 4-5 hours.

Day 8: Thrasher Cover to Gordon River; 6km; 4-5 hours.

A hiker takes a selfie while swimming at Tsusiat Falls

Swimming at Tsusiat Falls. It’s a popular place to take a rest day.

 

Beginner-Friendly 10-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary

This beginner friendly itinerary has lots of short days to avoid fatigue. However, it is a 10-day itinerary, which means your pack might get heavy with all the extra food. Plan to eat lunch and dinner at The Crab Shack at Nitinaht Narrows on day 3, then breakfast there on day 4 to save food weight.

Day 1: Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek or Darling River; 12-14km; 4-6 hours.

Day 2: Michigan Creek OR Darling River to Tsusiat Falls; 11-13km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Tsusiat Falls to Nitinaht Narrows (paid): 7km; 3-4 hours

Day 4: Nitinaht Narrows to Cribs Creek: 11km; 4-5 hours

Day 5: Cribs Creek to Bonilla Point: 6.5km; 2-3 hours

Day 6: Bonilla Point to Walbran Creek: 5km; 2-3 hours

Day 7: Walbran Creek to Cullite Creek: 5km; 2-3 hours

Day 8: Cullite Creek to Camper Bay: 4km; 2-3 hours

Day 9: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove; 8.8km; 4-5 hours.

Day 10: Thrasher Cover to Gordon River; 6km; 4-5 hours.

 

Easy 3-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary Starting at Nitinaht Narrows

If you choose to start the trail at Nitinaht Narrows and want an easy and scenic hike, head north from the Narrows. You’ll enjoy some beautiful beach hiking and gorgeous Tsusiat Falls on your first two days. Your last day is an easy-ish walk through the forest.

Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Tsusiat Falls: 7km; 3-4 hours

Day 2: Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek OR Darling River: 11-13km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Michigan Creek or Darling River to Pachena Bay: 12-14km; 4-6 hours.

 

5-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary Starting at Nitnaht Narrows

If you’re looking for a harder option starting from Nitinaht Narrows, head south. The first two days are gorgeous beach walking. The last three days are more challenging with lots of inland trail and ladders.

Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Cribs Creek: 11km; 4-5 hours

Day 2: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek; 11km; 4-6 hours.

Day 3: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay; 9.2km; 4-6 hours.

Day 4: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove; 8.8km; 4-5 hours.

Day 5: Thrasher Cover to Gordon River; 6km; 4-5 hours.

 

So now you should have all the info you need to choose your West Coast Trail itinerary. Don’t forget to take into account the West Coast Trail Express shuttle bus schedule and the pre-trip orientation session when you plan your trip. For your first time, I recommend the standard 7-Day West Coast Trail Itinerary, but if you want something a bit different, I’d pick the Off-the-Beaten-Path itinerary to stay at some of the less popular campsites.

 

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