50-Mile Thru-Hikes: West Coast Trail, BC

Tackle Vancouver Island’s wild coast.
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Tackle Vancouver Island’s wild coast.

(48 miles, 5-7 days)

If the Navy SEALs got into trail building, they’d devise something like this. Every mile brings a gut check: dizzying cable car rides across rivers, ladders 20 stories tall, giant log hurdles, boot-sucking mud, and seaweed-slickened boulder courses. Overlay that with potentially atrocious weather and wildly surging tides, and you have a trail for the brave and the few (just 30 permits for the north and south trailheads each day).

But the scenic payoffs are well worth the physical tests. After watching a pod of gray whales breach, playing in the splash pool where Tsusiat Falls crashes 50 feet to the beach, and huddling by the warmth of a driftwood fire in the fading light of a pastel ocean sunset, you’ll be ready for another tour of duty. (250) 726-3500; pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/index.aspx

The way North trailhead: from Bamfield, three miles south on Bamfield Rd. South trailhead: at the Gordon River Information Center at the end of BC 14.

Shuttle West Coast Trail Express ($85, railbus.com)

Season August through mid-September for drier weather (read: better footing)

Guidebook and map Hiking The West Coast Trail, by Tim Leadem ($13, dmpibooks.com); CanMap’s West Coast Trail is free with your reservation.