The magnificent West Coast Trail meanders 75 kilometers (47 miles) along Vancouver Island ’s untamed western shoreline, through Pacific Rim National Park . It’s one of the world’s great hikes — exhilaratingly challenging, incredibly beautiful, and very satisfying. The very quickest hikers can complete the trail in four days, but by allowing six, seven, or eight days you’ll have time to fully enjoy the adventure.
The trail extends from the mouth of the Gordon River near Port Renfrew to Pachena Bay, near the remote fishing village of Bamfield  on Barkley Sound. Along the way you’ll wander along beaches, steep cliff tops, and slippery banks; cross rivers by rope, suspension bridge, or ferry; climb down sandstone cliffs by ladder; tread slippery boardwalks, muddy slopes, bogs, and deep gullies; and balance on fallen logs.
But for all your efforts you’re rewarded with panoramic views of sand and sea, dense lush rainforest, waterfalls cascading into deep pools, all kinds of wildlife — gray whales, eagles, sea lions, seals, and seabirds — and the constant roar and hiss of the Pacific surf pummeling the sand.
The trail can be hiked from either direction — Port Renfrew is the preferred start, as the more demanding terrain is covered first, but you have a better chance of scoring a spot in the daily quota at the other end.
The trail is open mid-May–mid-October. For May–September travel, reservations (250/387-1642 or 800/435-5622, $25) are necessary. Ten spots are released each day at 1 p.m. at the registration offices at either end of the trail (expect a 1–2 day wait for your turn to come up). All hikers must obtain a Park Use Permit ($127.50) and take a quick orientation session before heading out. The only other cost is $30 for two river crossings en route; this is collected at the time of your booking.
West Coast Trail Express (250/477-8700 or 888/999-2288, www.trailbus.com ) departs Victoria  daily for both ends of the trail ($50–70), and also links the two trailheads ($70), the latter perfect for those who drive to either Port Renfrew or Bamfield . The company also rents camping and hiking gear.
The best source of trail information is the Parks Canada website (www.pc.gc.ca ), which includes an overview of what to expect, instructions on trail-use fees, a list of equipment you should take, and a list of relevant literature. Seasonal park information/registration centers are in Port Renfrew (250/647-5434) and Pachena Bay (250/728-3234).