Part One: Wilderness Hiking On Vancouver Island

From north to south, from east to west, Vancouver Island is crisscrossed with trail systems that challenge the skilled, entertain the novice, and thrill all nature lovers, regardless of expertise. As an introduction to the world of wilderness hiking on Vancouver Island here is an abridged snapshot of just some of the Island’s better known hiking adventures.

Juan de Fuca Marine Trail: Starting in the deep south of the Island, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail began life as part of a telegraph line that had been built during the 1890s to link Cape Beale near Bamfield with Victoria. Not part of the so-called Lifesaving Trail (the West Coast Trail) the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is located within Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and has been developed as a three to four day wilderness hiking adventure. The Trail itself snakes along a 47 kilometer stretch of the western shore of Southern Vancouver Island from China Beach (west of Jordan River) to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. The trail offers scenic beauty, spectacular hiking, wildlife viewing and roaring surf along the Pacific coastline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Galloping Goose Trail: The Galloping Goose Regional Trail began as a railway line and meanders through a wide range of terrain and surroundings, from urban landscapes to pristine wilderness scenes. The 55 kilometer connector links the City of Victoria to nearby Sooke. The trail system has been developed to accommodate all forms of non mechanical travel, whether that journey is on foot, on a bike or even by horseback on the route’s more rural sections. The trail was opened in 1987 and passes through the communities of Sooke, Metchosin, Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Saanich and Victoria.

The Coast Trail: Located within East Sooke Regional Park, the Coast Trail is known as one of the country’s finest day hikes. Only a short drive from Victoria the Trail offers exceptional West Coast vistas, pounding surf, pristine forested landscapes and a challenging 10 kilometer hike. The Trail itself is considered rough and challenging, so block off sufficient time to experience the route fully. Expect to take last six hours or more to complete the journey, depending on experience and skill level. Regardless of the workout, the sheer beauty of the forests and ocean scenery make any effort a worthwhile investment.

The West Coast Trail: One of the premier hikes in the country, the West Coast Trail has assumed an westcoastrailalmost mythic standing among serious outdoor enthusiasts. The 75 kilometer route was formerly established as the West Coast Trail Unit of the Pacific Rim National Park in 1973. This 25,640 hectare strip of the Pacific Rim encompasses the section of coast southeast of Barkley Sound, between the villages of Bamfield and Port Renfrew. The West Coast Trail, or Life Saving Trail as it is otherwise known, retraces an old telegraph route that once connected Victoria with Cape Beale near Bamfield. The original telegraph line was first carved through the virgin coastal wilderness in 1890, to serve as a communication link to aid in the rescue of vessels in distress off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The West Coast Trail has assumed an almost mythic standing among serious outdoor enthusiasts

The Trail can be hiked in either direction. Hikers can register either at the Gordon River Info Centre in Port Renfrew or at the Pachena Bay Info Centre in Bamfield before hitting the trail. The route’s southern section is considered the most challenging. Not for the faint of heart or day-hiker, careful planning and a truthful appraisal of personal strengths and experience must be undertaken before accepting the once in a lifetime challenges of this legendary hike.

Helliwell Bluffs: Located on Hornby Island (just south of the City of Courtenay), the Helliwell Bluffs is considered one of the nicest day hikes on the coast. Meandering through old growth stands of Douglas fir the trail tracks along a beautiful cliffside that offers breathtaking views of the Georgia Strait. Hornby Island is accessed via two ferry rides, first from Vancouver Island to Denman Island, then a drive across that portion of the Northern Gulf Islands to a second ferry that links Denman with nearby Hornby. The trail itself is part of Helliwell Provincial Park and features a low impact five kilometer route that shows off Island’s coastline to perfect effect.

Our cross section sampling of some of Vancouver Island’s best known hiking trails will continue in our next blog entry.