West Coast Trail: Safety
A safe and enjoyable trip
Did you know that 80 to 100 seriously injured hikers are evacuated from the West Coast Trail (WCT) every season? Approximately 200 hikers per year sustain minor injuries, and manage to limp off the trail.
Travel in the backcountry requires special attention to safety. A considerable number of injuries on the WCT involve unprepared and inexperienced hikers:
- Many accidents and injuries occur when hikers are rushing, not paying attention to terrain, tired, or hiking too late in the day. Respect the capabilities of the slowest group member. Take adequate rest breaks, and keep the group together.
- During wet, rainy weather, occurrences of physical injury and hypothermia increase significantly. Ensure your party is warm, dry and well fed.
- Slippery conditions on muddy trails, wooden surfaces, boulders and rocky shorelines are a major hazard. Assume all walking surfaces are slippery at all times, especially during damp or rainy periods.
A few words of advice
Bridges and ladders
- Special care should be taken on any built structure.
- No more than two persons should be on a ladder or bridge at one time.
- Large groups should allow extra time to progress past ladder sections.
- Keep your fingers, hands and hair away from the pulleys.
- Only two people (and their gear) per cable car.
- Platforms can be very slippery; use caution.
- Do not bounce or sway the car. Never bring it on, or tie it to, the platform.
Creeks and rivers
- Be prepared to wait for flood waters to subside; this may take one or more days. Wait for safe water levels and low tides, undo your pack hip-belt (if you fall, you can slip out of your pack more easily) and wear running shoes or sandals.
- Avoid crossing surge channels.
- Drinking water is available from most rivers and creeks. Collect water upstream, then purify, boil or filter it.
High tides and storms
- High tides and storms can make beach walking very difficult and sometimes impossible. Carefully follow both the tide tables (Tofino) and WCT map (PDF, 5.39 MB) to avoid being trapped or cut off.
- Watch also for large ocean waves and swells. Consider the overnight high tide when pitching your tent on the beach.
- From May to October, the WCT is closed to harvesting and consumption of all bivalve shellfish (clams, mussels, & oysters) due to regular occurrences of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). PSP can result in serious illness or death.
- Tsunamis, dangerous as they are, do not happen very often. If the ground shakes under your feet, or you see the waterline quickly recede from the shore, a tsunami may be coming. Move to higher ground. Follow tsunami evacuation routes.
- Black bears, wolves and cougars use the beaches and trails. To avoid a dangerous encounter with wildlife, follow the recommendations in the You are in Black Bear Country and You are in Wolf and Cougar Country brochures.
In an emergency
- Help can be obtained by contacting lighthouse keepers, First Nation trail guardians, ferry operators or Parks Canada staff.
- Some cell phones work at some locations along the trail and beaches. Check with your carrier to see if you have coverage in this area. VHF radios do work.
- Devices such as “SPOT”, “InReach” and satellite phones are often the only devices that will work on the WCT. Be familiar with your device and understand between the SOS/Emergency and messaging function. Your hike is not the place to learn how to use your device. Have pre-entered messages and let your contact person know how to contact Parks Canada Emergency Response in case of an emergency.
- Each hiking party is responsible for assisting injured members of their party.
If you are injured...
- but can hike and don’t need medical attention, try to get off the trail at the nearest exit with assistance of your party or other hikers; you should not continue hiking in the hope that your condition will improve.
- and cannot hike to the nearest exit or you need medical attention, follow the instructions in the West Coast Trail Safety Information sheet that is issued to all parties with the park permit. Parks Canada staff are responsible for patrolling the WCT and assisting injured hikers. The majority of evacuations are done by park public safety specialists by boat, though a serious or complex evacuation may require assistance from other agencies. Parks Canada staff will evacuate injured hikers to the nearest exit point, ambulance or medical facility. This is not necessarily the most convenient location for the injured hiker. Minor complaints such as blisters, sore feet, fatigue and lack of food do not warrant evacuation.