West Coast Trail Access
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Getting to/from the West Coast Trail Trailhead

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The West Coast Trail is located on the west side of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It draws international visitors and hikers to the area for its beauty, BUT its secluded location also makes it challenging to get to.

The West Coast Trail (WCT) spans a total of 75 kilometers and has three access points: Pachena Bay/Bamfield (North), Nitinaht Village (Mid-point), and Gordon River/Port Renfrew (South). See map below for detail.

The logistics of getting to the trailhead can be a bit of a headache. The three main challenges we found were [1] physically getting ourselves to the trailhead, [2] timing our arrival with the orientation sessions and [3] timing ferry service times.

Getting To/ From The West Coast Trail

The three trailheads of WCT can be accessed by car or bus. Even though all of the trailheads can be reached by car with parking available, it is important to keep in mind that Nitinat and Pachena Bay can only be accessed via gravel logging roads.

These logging roads are not car friendly. Even though the roads are maintained in early summer for logging activities, many pot holes still remain – road conditions only get worse after the logging season. We have been told that buses tend to run late later in the season due to poor road conditions.

If you do not have a vehicle, or would like to preserve the shocks in your car, it may be best to take the West Coast Trail Express bus (though this is a pricey option).

Many people hiking in groups opt to drive. Depending on where they plan to start and end their hike, they would drive one car to the destination and leave one car at the trailhead to pick up after the trek.

For example, a group of 4 hikers can drive 2 cars. Both cars drive to the final destination, say Pachena Bay – and one car is left here. The 4 hikers then pile into car #2 and drive to the trailhead (Nitinat or Gordon River) and start the hike. This method is more economical, but only if the cars don’t sustain any damage along the way…

How we got to Nitinat Village

For our West Coast Trail hike (Nitinaht to Pachena Bay), Chris and I got a ride from his parents (in their Subaru Forester) from Nanaimo to Nitinat Village.

This drive took about 2 hours, with at least 45 minutes (33 kilometers) of gravel logging road. Thankfully the road condition wasn’t terrible, though there were many instances where pot holes weren’t avoidable. After a long bumpy ride, we got to Nitinat Village in one piece.

How we got back to civilization after WCT

We finished our trek in Pachena Bay and took the West Coast Trail Express bus back to Nanaimo. The price of this ride was $125 a person (2019 pricing)! It is quite expensive if you ask me, but apparently with the price of the ticket, the company just makes enough to cover their maintenance and operating costs with a little bit of profit. Guess at the end of the day, the condition of the logging road does take quite a toll on the vehicles.

There aren’t many other transportation options available. We could’ve asked Chris’ parents for pick up – but we didn’t want to bother them. We also saw chartered vehicles that offered pick up services, but these would likely have been expensive as well. For hikers heading to Port Alberni area, you are able to consider the ferry services from Lady Rose Marine. For $42.50/person, you are able to get from Bamfield to Port Alberni.

The express bus – a yellow school bus – arrived at Pachena Bay on time (1:45PM) and picked us up. The bus had decent capacity and was about 60% full leaving Pachena Bay. The ride was bumpy and loud. Really bumpy and loud. I would advise future riders to consider ear plugs for hearing protection and medication for motion sickness (I might have felt a little sick).

We were dropped off by Lake Cowichan for a transfer to Nanaimo. The West Coast Trail Express works with another company to provide shuttle service between Nanaimo and Lake Cowichan. Thankfully the road is fully paved from lake Cowichan to Nanaimo, the shuttle service drove us in a comfortable van and dropped us off at the BC Ferries terminal at about 5PM.

Orientation Session

Attending an orientation session is mandatory for all over-night users of WCT. The sessions are held at all of the trail access locations at specific times. The orientation covers current trail conditions, important safety information, evacuation protocols, tide awareness and back country etiquette.

It is important to plan your hike with these session times in mind, as this may require you to stay a night by the trail access area prior to starting the WCT.

What we did…

For us, the orientation sessions at Nitinat Village were only offered two times a day: 8AM in the morning or 3:30PM in the afternoon. In order for us to save on cost, we had hoped to get a ride to the trail head early in the morning and avoid having to stay overnight in Nitinat Village.

Thankfully, Chris’ parents thought this was ridiculous and booked a night at the Nitinat Village Motel (at $120/night with two beds) for 4 of us. The early drive on the logging road to the trail head would’ve been long and painful. It would not have been a great start to our WCT journey.

Alternatively, for $20, you can camp overnight by Nitinat Lake – but I don’t think Chris’ parents were very interested in this option. With the night booked at the motel, we got to Nitinat Village in the evening, got a good nights sleep and attended the 8AM orientation the morning.

Ferry/Water-taxi Service

Timing your arrival at the trailhead with Ferry/Water-taxi service is also something to be mindful of if you are starting in Nitinat Village or Gordon River. Both these trail access points require ferry service.

What we did…

To get to the WCT from Nitinat Village, a water taxi ride is required. The water taxi costs $62.50 and takes you from the dock from Nitinat Lake to Nitinat Narrows. The ride is about 45 minutes long. Only one ferry service is offered a day from the village and it departs at 9AM.

It is almost impossible not to stay a night in Nitinat Village before the WCT, unless you are willing to attempt an early bumpy ride to the trail head.

As mentioned above, we drove to Nitinat Village the evening before and stayed at the Nitinat Lake Motel. This allowed us to catch the 8AM orientation session and the 9AM water taxi service to WCT. If you also want a warm breakfast before you start the hike, the general store that sells the water taxi tickets also makes breakfast sandwiches and wraps.


Posts about West Coast Trail

Table of Contents


The Lions
The Iconic Peaks of Vancouver
Wedgemount Lake
Hike to a Glacier-Fed Lake
West Coast Trail
Day 3 - Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay
West Coast Trail
Day 2 - Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek
West Coast Trail
Day 1 - Nitinat Village to Tsusiat Falls
West Coast Trail Packing List
WCT Essential Food & Equipment
West Coast Trail Booking
WCT Trip Planning
Panorama Ridge
Overnight Hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Lower Myra Falls
A Must-See Waterfall in Strathcona
Elfin Lakes & Opal Cone
Overnight hike in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Mt. Harvey
One of the Best (Difficult) Hikes in Vancouver
Ladner Creek Trestle
Picturesque Train Bridge in Hope
Mount Gardner
Day Hike on Bowen Island
Qualicum Beach Trestle
A Local Favourite Attraction
St. Mark's Summit
One of Vancouver's Best (Moderate) Hikes