Welcome back to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we aim to inspire you to get out there and experience first-hand the best trails North America has to offer.
This week we're exploring the Nootka Trail, located off the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.
Featured Photo: Calvin Falls (photo by Michael Gabelmann)
Why this Hike?
If you're looking for a hike similar to the West Coast Trail, but much more secluded, you have found it. From the picturesque view of Calvin Falls cascading onto the sands of Bajo Beach to Maquinna Point's breath-taking 270-degree vantage point of the Pacific Ocean and Nootka Island coast to artifacts of the local Muchalacht people, the highlights of this trail more than make up for the challenges it presents. Speaking of which, don't let the shortness of this trail trick you, either. It will give you a run for your money!
- 34-kilometers point-to-point
- 4-days, 3-nights recommended
- 1,700 feet of elevation gain
- Rated as difficult and for experienced hikers only
- The trail is open year-round, but the best time to go is May through September
- Comparable to the West Coast Trail
- The vast majority of the trail traverses the beach
- You can find secluded sea caves, sandy beaches, old-growth rainforest, waterfalls, and more
- Low traffic due to its difficulty, both the trail itself and getting there
- Great wildlife viewing opportunities, including bears, wolves, sea otters, and whales
- Many established campsites along the beach
- The trail is full of history and First Nation artifacts can be found along the way
Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You will need to take a small plane, cargo ship (the MV Uchuck III), or water taxi to get to the island.
- You will need to be aware of tides for creek and bay crossings.
- The terrain in the woods can be difficult, including steep slopes, areas with ropes to help you up the precipitous hillsides, blowdowns, and more. Don't let “beach hiking” trick you into thinking you'll be walking along nice soft sands the entire time either. There are plenty of boulders and driftwood to maneuver around and gravelly shoreline.
How do I get there?
Victoria International Airport is the closest major airport to Gold River, BC, your jumping-off point for traveling by boat or small plane to Nootka Island. From the airport, take Willingdon Rd (which turns into Canora Rd shortly). At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto the BC-17 ramp to Victoria/British Columbia 17 S. Continue for 17.9 km. Take exit 7 for McKenzie Avenue W toward Nanaimo/Sooke. After a short 1.8km, use the right lane to merge onto Rte 1 N/Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 N. Continue for 100km. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto BC-19 N via the ramp to Parksville/Campbell River. Continue for 160 km more. Turn left onto Island Hwy/BC-19A N and continue onto Campbell River Rd/Gold River Hwy/BC-28 W for 47.3 km. Turn right to stay on Gold River Hwy/BC-28 W and continue for 39.6 km.
The following map outlines our recommended route. For more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, we recommend opening the map in CalTopo.
We recommend a 4-day, 3-night trip to enjoy all that the area has to offer.
- Day 1: Skuna Bay (8.5km)
- Day 2: Calvin Falls (3 km)
- Day 3: Beano Creek (10.4 km)
- Day 4: Yuquot aka Friendly Cove (11.6 km)
If you are being dropped off by a floatplane, you'll begin your journey in Louie Bay (aka Starfish Bay). Make sure you have your water shoes on in advance as you will have to wade through the water some, even more so at high tide times. Set off on your short, but rugged, jaunt 1km through old-growth forest to First Beach. You'll be doing a bit of scrambling over rocks, roots, and blowdown in this area. Many hikers choose to camp at First Beach for their first night, which is also a great spot, but Skuna Bay is only about 5km further and offers more seclusion.
With that being said, the next section to Skuna Bay starts up a steep incline, including a roped area to help you up the sharp and obstacle-ridden terrain. (It should also be noted that most, if not all, of the sections of trail that head up into the forest are marked by buoys. Keep in mind a lot of these “side trails” are dependent on tide too. You might also be able to take the easier route along the beach here.) You'll eventually make your way out of the trees after a few kilometers. Depending on the tide, you can make your camp before or after the bay.
It is a short walk (about 3km) along the beach to one of the biggest attractions along the Nootka Trail and your campsite for the second night: Calvin Falls. The creek provides some freshwater to fill up on and the view of the falls flowing seemingly out of nowhere, onto the rocks and sandy beach below is surreal.
Heading southeast towards Bajo Point on your third day, you'll soon encounter your first set of obstacles along the beach: Large, slippery, cannonball-sized rocks. However, the point itself is a great area to look for sea otters and various species of whales. Even if you don't find any, there is plenty of sea life to be found, such as starfish, anemones, and sea snails, on the limestone shelf as you make your way around Bajo Point. If you're lucky and arrive at low tide, you'll also be able to see the reef just offshore as well as the sea stack. Continue along pea gravel beaches on your way to Beano Creek, your home for the evening. There are several shacks in this area worth checking out.
Your final day on the trail will be the most challenging. Start by heading up the high tide trail into the forest. Although difficult (perhaps an understatement) with some sections of ropes, it is worth it passing through the pocket coves and caves (some of which make awesome campsites), traversing rocky headlands, and, of course, the awe-inspiring view from Maquinna Point, another favorite spot for hikers along the trail. Eventually, you'll make your way back down to the gravel beach for good before entering the village of Yuquot.
What will I need?
With all of the extra gear you will need to pack for a trip of this type (extra shoes, clothing, food, etc.), a durable, lightweight tent will save you on pack weight without skimping on adequate shelter. A free-standing tent is key, since staking in sandy areas can be challenging.
The mild, temperate climate here averages low temperatures between 42 and 48°F between May and September. A versatile down quilt rated for 30°F should be more than sufficient to keep you warm at night. An ultralight, 3-season sleeping pad will help keep comfortable at night as well.
Trekking poles are becoming increasingly popular and for good reason. Especially along this trail, they can be lifesavers when it comes to navigating the slippery rocks along the shore and steep uphill climbs back into the woods.
Hiking boots with good ankle support are highly recommended for this hike to navigate the rocky, slippery terrain of some of the beaches and scrambling up steep, root and log-covered hillsides. It goes without saying that soles with a good grip are a must too.
Water shoes come highly recommended for the numerous creek crossings. Again, something with adequate tread will serve you well.
Being in the Pacific Northwest vicinity, the Nootka Trail receives quite a few rainy days. To ensure a more enjoyable, less soggy hike, you might want to invest in some lightweight, breathable rain gear.
If you don't own one already, titanium cooking pots are a worthwhile investment. They're extremely lightweight and last much longer than regular camping cookware.
Titanium cooking pots are great for backpacking. They're ultralight, but extremely durable.
You might also seriously consider bringing a satellite phone in case of an emergency as you will be unable to get a cell phone signal. It's better to have one and not need it than the other way around. Don't forget to bring a bear bag or canister for your food as well!
For a comprehensive list of what to pack for your trip, be sure to check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I need a permit?
No permits are required, but there is a fee for passing through First Nation territory, which is currently $50. This fee includes complimentary camping and use of their facilities during your stay at Yuquot at the end of your trek.
While much more challenging than you might expect for a relatively short backpacking trip along the coast, the Nootka Trail's scenery and seclusion are definitely worth it!
Have you hiked the Nootka Trail? We'd love to hear about your experience or any other suggestions for great hikes around the U.S. and Canada!