North Coast Trail

The West Coast Vancouver Island North BC Marine Trail section:

the North Island by foot

March 4, 2011 1 Comment by John Kimantas Spring 2011issue

For decades Vancouver Island’s most famous hike has been the West Coast Trail, a rugged multi-day route between Bamfield and Port Renfrew near the south end of the island. But it has become a victim of its own success, popular to the point reservations are now necessary.

A new rival for any hiker’s “must-do” list is the North Coast Trail, which opened in 2008. It adds 35 kilometers to the Cape Scott Trail for a total hike of 48 kilometers – less than the West Coat Trail’s 78 km, but no less imposing for all the challenges hikers will endure.

It is easy to consider the North Coast Trail the equivalent of the West Coast Trail 20 years ago before it was discovered: undeveloped, rough and tumble and the wild challenge one would hope to experience in so remote a location. Don’t expect the myriad of trail aids that many believe have spoiled the West Coast Trail.

Travel is difficult from the outset. The trailhead at Shushartie Bay requires boat access, usually a water taxi from Port Hardy. From there it’s a difficult hike overland to Skinner Creek, and from there the trail gets even more difficult, with the toughest area surrounding Cape Sutil.

Once near Shuttleworth Bight the trail levels and becomes mostly an idyllic beach hike westward. Trials along the way will include self-propelled cable cars (bring gloves), routes blocked at certain tide levels (bring patience) and the almost inevitable black bear encounter (bring spray). Add one last inevitable feature – rain – and your North Coast Trail adventure will be complete (bring a rain jacket).

Hikers should allow six days to complete the trail, though it can be done more quickly. An extra day spent reaching the lighthouse at Cape Scott is worthwhile. For more information, a detailed article can be viewed in the Spring 2008 issue of Wild Coast Magazine (find a copy at Coast&Kayak’s online magazine carousel). You can also purchase a detailed North Coast Trail route map, available at outdoor stores or online at


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