The Wild Pacific Trail
The west coast of Vancouver Island is arguably one of the most famous areas of this region. It’s home to the Pacific Rim National Park (and the West Coast Trail within), is a world-renowned surfing paradise, and is the location of the History Network’s first seasons of their show Alone (featuring macho American men being completely afraid of possibly, maybe seeing a black bear).
The west coast is rugged, wild and wet. It instils the awe-inspiring feeling of being right on the edge of the pacific ocean. From the shores of the Island, there’s nothing out there until Asia, which is why ocean debris washing up on the beach is common (especially after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan).
It’s this natural landscape that inspires the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. The community-led, eight-kilometre trail is craved into the rough Ucluelet coastline. The brainchild of Oyster Jim Martin, the trail aims to build a connection to nature while promoting and protecting this coastal ecosystem. Its creation is unique as it passes through federal, provincial, private, district, park, and First Nations land. Although the idea was years in the making, the Wild Pacific Trail became real in 1999 with the construction of the Lighthouse Loop. Since then it has been expanded to include six more kilometres of coastal trail, and the Wild Pacific Trail Society is not done yet — they dream of connecting the path all the way to Long Beach in the National Park.
Today the trail can be hiked in two sections: the Lighthouse Loop (2.6k), and from Big Beach to the Rocky Bluffs (5k one way) plus the Ancient Cedars Grove (0.9k loop). This not only allows people access to the incredible coastline, but it also protects that area from development, keeping the coastal section both accessible and wild.
The trail satisfies both the need to be completely immersed in nature and the inclusivity of an accessible pathway. It’s rare to find a trail that feels so wild and remote that you can bring the whole family on, strollers and everything.
As part of its design, the trail provides ample viewing platforms, benches, and lookouts, allowing hikers ample opportunity to stop and soak in the views. The Artist Loops section weaves in and out of the forest, offering visitors the option to stick to the coast or explore the rainforest — a sort of choose your own adventure style of hike. With manyinteresting and interpretive features, the Wild Pacific Trail Society has ensured that visitors will leave with more knowledge of the area.
3 MUST SEE FEATURES (beyond the stunning coastline)
The Amphitrite Lighthouse was originally built in 1906. It was constructed after the four-masted steel bark SV Pass of Melfort was driven into the rocks during a storm the night after Christmas in 1905. All 35 crew members on board were lost, and the need for a lighthouse was clearly established.
The first lighthouse was built out of timber on the craggy rocks of Amphitrite Point. As the coast is hit by violent storms that are dangerous enough to sink ships, little wooden lighthouses perched on rocks are also not immune to their power. The lighthouse was destroyed by a storm in 1914 (surviving less than ten years).
In 1915 the current lighthouse was constructed. Its squat form was built to withstand the west coast storm season and has now been in operation for over 100 years. Originally the lighthouse was lit by a kerosene lamp that needed to be hand-cranked every eight hours. Lighthouse keepers had to light the lamp at dusk, crank it at midnight and extinguish it at dawn. This labour intensive system continued until the lighthouse was electrified in 1961, and in 1988 the lighthouse went to full automation.
BIG BEACH MYSTERY SHIPWRECK
The mystery shipwreck is right on the point at Big Beach, however, when first arriving to the beach the wreck is hard to spot. Once you get a bit closer, you’ll find the saturated timbers and the tall iron pegs still lunging off the beach.
The ship’s name and origin remain unknown, but the wreck was reported on the beach as early as 1896. It becomes harder to recognize each year as it grows over and erodes away. What we do know about this wreck is the Douglas fir timbers, wooden peg and iron “drift-pin” construction style indicate the ship was probably built in the mid to late 1800s somewhere along the Northwest coast of North America. It would have measured approximately 46 metres long.
Finding a shipwreck here is far from unusual. The area is known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” and has taken hundreds of ships to their watery ends. For example, the notorious Pass of Melfort shipwreck.
The wreck remains on the point at Big Beach, however it is being reclaimed by the ocean and the shoreline vegetation.
The Ancient Cedars Loop is a more recent addition to the Wild Pacific Trail. This 0.9-kilometre section is home to two ancient red cedars that are estimated to be over 800 years old — making them the oldest trees on the Ucluelet peninsula. The loop also showcases the green temperate rainforest and old-growth Sitka spruce trees.
The western red cedar has massive cultural significance as it was (and still is) used by the local First Nations. Because the wood is naturally durable and lightweight, while also being rot and insect resistant, it is an ideal construction material. The Wild Pacific Trail is built on the traditional territory of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nations, and red cedars are known to have built everything from dugout canoes to house planks, to bentwood boxes, to clothing and rope and baskets and medicine and more. The importance of these trees, both environmentally and culturally, cannot be understated (and I am not doing it justice here). The Terrace Beach interpretive trail (near the lighthouse) is the site of an ancient canoe beach and midden at least 5,000 years old.
For a popular trail that encourages visitors from around the world, it is impressive how little garbage and debris has been left out there. When visiting, be kind to the trail, make sure you follow the leave no trace principals to not impact the environment. Keep your dogs on leash, not just for the sake of other walkers but also because the area is home to large mammals who would love to snack on a well-fed doggo.
The construction, maintenance and interpretive programs of the Wild Pacific Trail are funded 100% by donation. There’s a donation box at the Amphitrite Lighthouse, however, you can also leave a buck right here.
My dog, Dino, and I spent two days in Ucluelet exploring the trail. During those days, we experienced drastically different weather systems. One gave us a day of storm watching as the waves rolled into the rocks and the next brought bluebird skies. I can only imagine the thousands of different days this trail provides in different weather, in different seasons, in different directions. We went all the way to Ucluelet just for this hike, and it was worth every moment.
Other Vancouver Island Hikes