Hiking the scenic trails on the west coast of Vancouver Island can be relaxing, revitalizing and uplifting (all at the same time), which makes it easy to forget about the very real dangers of being in the wilderness. That's why it's extremely important to be properly prepared before hiking any trail, regardless of how short or easy it may be.
Below, you'll find some useful information for preparing and orienting yourself with the local conditions, terrain and hazards. Being prepared and well-informed will help minimize your risk while enjoying some of Vancouver Island's most beautiful hikes.
Respect the ocean and know the tides
Before setting out on a hike, be sure to check the tide tables to ensure you don't become stranded on any local beach areas due to rising tides. Waves on Vancouver Island's west coast can be unexpectedly dangerous, and rogue waves have been known to wash up towards the tree line and beyond. Remember to never turn your back to the ocean, and stay particularly alert during storms.
Check the tide tables of the Canadian Hydrographic Service.
Rip currents are a common phenomena in the waters off Vancouver Island. These currents are caused when the waves carry the ocean water onto the beach, and this water then forces its way back into the ocean in the form of a strong current. If you become stuck in one of these ocean currents, do not try to swim against it. Instead, swim to the side at a 90 degree angle, then exit the rip current before turning and swimming towards shore.
Stay on designated trails
While it may be tempting to leave the trail for further sightseeing/photo opportunities, this is strictly prohibited. In fact, there have been many documented cases of hikers who have been swept off the rocks and killed by the strong waves lashing against the rocks. Be sure to always stay on the marked trails, and enjoy the ocean views from the designated viewpoints and viewing platforms.
Check the weather conditions
Be sure to monitor the weather conditions on the days leading up to your planned hike. Although it is possible to hike all of the trails in the rain, the wooden boardwalks and stairs become very slippery when wet - and stormy weather often means more unpredictable waves along the beach areas. Stormy wind is one of the key attractions of Tofino, but it can also pose a great danger. Check the wind warnings, and be very careful near steep cliffs.
Check the West Vancouver Island Weather Warnings of Environment Canada.
Bring water and snacks
Make sure to bring water and snacks on your hike. Even though the hikes listed on this site are relatively short, they can include steep uphill climbs and, on a hot day, that may mean your body becomes quickly dehydrated. Never drink water from the streams or rivers in the Tofino and Ucluelet area, as they are a breeding ground for various bacteria and can make you very sick.
Make sure to also pack some snacks for the day, which will help to keep your mind alert and maintain your energy level.
Ensure good physical conditioning
Due to the number of steps, some of the trails listed on this website can be very physically demanding. Therefore, it's important that you are physically conditioned and know your physical limitations before attempting any of these hikes.
Tell someone where you are going
Always tell someone which trail you will be hiking, where that trail is, and when you expect to be back in case you become injured. This way, rescuers will know where to begin their search.
Most wilderness and remote areas of British Columbia do not have cell phone access - including forest and mountain areas that may only be a few kilometres from urban and populated areas. That's why it's important not to rely on your cell phone in emergency situations.
Vancouver Island is home to a number of black bears, which means it's possible to come across them while on your hike. More sightings of grizzly bears have also been reported on the island, and both species can pose a real danger if they feel threatened. Be sure to make noise while hiking in order to alert the bears of your presence. If you should come across a bear, calmly turn in the other direction and slowly walk away.
Some self-defence products are available to help protect yourself from bears, including special bear mace/spray, which can be purchased at most outdoor sports stores in British Columbia.
For more information about bear safety, refer to the Get Bear Smart Society
Cougars and wolves also inhabit some of the areas in and around Tofino and Ucluelet - and while they are rarely spotted, it's important to be careful in the event of a chance encounter with one of these animals.
For safety information and tips on cougars/wolves, visit the Ministry of Environment or Bow Valley WildSmart.
Wear good, comfortable shoes
As some of the trails can be very rugged, rocky, muddy and/or slippery, it's important to have the appropriate footwear. Comfortable, sturdy shoes that can endure various elements and terrain are best.
Bring a change of clothes
BC weather is notorious for rain and sudden, unpredictable climate changes (despite the best-intentioned weather forecasters). For your hike, you may find it useful to pack a set of clothes to change into after you've finished the trail.
Other helpful things to bring along:
- Map of the area
- Backpack to carry your belongings
Make sure to always stay alert, in case you come across any unexpected conditions along the trail.
Watch for signs or markers along the trail, and monitor the time to ensure you are able to complete your hike before dark falls. It's also important to be aware and careful of potential dangers - such as unsafe terrain and sudden shifts in the weather.
For more information, refer to the following websites: