West Coast Trail, & Hiking Speed/Times, Compared to US Long Distance Trails

A friend, my daughter and I just completed the West Coast Trail and the experience was as incredible as advertised. In fact this was the best hike/backpacking trip all three of us had ever been on.  I have read many guidebooks on the trail and forums, and just about everyone said that if you are in great shape and bust ass, you could do it in 4 nights and 5 days. I could not find anyone comparing hiking times/speeds of the WCT to some the PCT, CDT, CT, or AT. This stressed me a out a little bit since we did the hike with my 15 year old daughter, and though she isn’t new to hard backpacking trips, she can bonk at times. Eric, our super-fit trip partner, wanted to try to attempt to do the trip in 3 days and 4 nights. We have a pretty good baseline for long distance hiking speeds in the US, from the Colorado Trail, and parts of the PCT, CDT, and AT. On those hikes we average about 2.5 MPH on a trip, and through difficult sustained climbs, might slow down to about 2 MPH or a little less.  When we checked into the Parks Canada office, the ranger scoffed at the three of us for requesting passes for 4 nights. This became a theme for our trip. We would meet new people or camp with a group of people, exchange itineraries and beta since we were often heading in separate directions, and be told that we would not be able to reach whatever destination we were attempting to get to. On the second to the last night we were told more than once in no uncertain terms, that we would not finish in time. So how hard is the West Coast Trail compared to US long distance trails? Below is a breakdown of our speeds and distances per day:

  • Day1 – Began hiking at 12:18, finished at 19:09, 30-45 minutes spent between Pachena Lighthouse and sea lion watching, camping at Darling River campsite.
    • 14 KM/8.69 Miles (2.04 KM/H | 1.3 MPH), average moving speed (eliminating stops above, pictures, and other breaks) closer to 2.86 KM/H 1.75 MPH
  • Day2 – Began hiking at 07:15, finished at 17:00, 90 minutes spent between wandering around beach near hole-in-the-wall, Tsusiat Falls, and waiting for ferry, camping at cabin at Nitinat Narrows.
    • 18.25 KM/11.34 Miles (1.87 KM/H | 1.16 MPH), average moving speed (eliminating stops above, pictures, and other breaks) closer to 2.57 KM/H 1.6 MPH
  • Day3 – Began hiking at 07:15, finished at 15:00, mostly beach hiking, go caught scrambling/slipping with class3/4 moves early on beach to get ahead of rising tide. Spent about 30 minutes at Carmenah Lighthouse, camping at Walbran Creek
    • 20.75KM/12.89 Miles (2.67 KM/H | 1.66 MPH), average moving speed (eliminating stops above, pictures, and other breaks) closer to 2.86 KM/H 1.75 MPH
  • Day4 – Began hiking at 7:30, finished at 17:15, quick stretches of hiking on boardwalks, followed by several bogs, 90 minutes spent napping/eating at Camper Creek, camping at Thrasher Cove
    • 18 KM/11.18 Miles (1.84 KM/H | 1.15 MPH), average moving speed (eliminating stops above, pictures, and other breaks) closer to 2.25 KM/H 1.4 MPH
  • Day5 – Began hiking at 7:30, finished at 10:10, quick stretch, good path, lots of short ups and downs, finishing at the Gordon River Ferry
    • 6 KM/3.72 Miles (2.26 KM/H | 1.4 MPH), average moving speed (eliminating stops above, pictures, and other breaks) closer to 2.4 KM/H 1.5 MPH

So the takeaways?  The first thing I need to mention is that we had fantastic weather. It did rain about 2-3 inches the night before we began (while we camped at the Gordon River Area), so the trail was a bit boggy. Other than that we could not ask for better weather with no precipitation whatsoever, clear skies and little wind. Another thing I need to mention is that we were kind of forced to hit the trail early 2-3 mornings to get ahead of the tide and past a coastal section where there were no inland alternatives. This lead to us getting the bulk of our hiking done by lunch each day.

The trail is obviously harder/slower on average than the big 3 in the US, as evident by the average moving speeds. The reasons being the need to constantly balance on slick stuff, avoid (if possible) deep boggy areas by carefully stepping on rocks/sticks/whatever, trying not to break your leg when stepping between ridiculous amounts of root networks, utilizing cable cars, and climbing up and down ladders. I thing one of the things that slowed us down most is simply stopping to take in all of the amazing views/places, and taking photos. The West Coast Trail has an insane amount of beauty-per-mile, so that in itself slows you down. We made sure to stay on the beach the third day, as long as we could, past Chez Monique’s. This stretch of beach is insanely beautiful, and quite easy to hike provided you are ahead of the tide. We also made it a point to avoid the beach on the last two days since it gets pretty gnarly, and we already got to experience that a bit early on the third day.

We could have finished the hike in 3 nights/4 days, if we would have pushed a couple of hours longer on the second or third day. We chose not to mainly because we didn’t really have much of a reason to rush (see 15:00 stop time on day 3), and because we were wary of pushing hard only to miss the Gordon River Ferry cut-off time of 15:30.  Eric mentioned that he and I could probably come back and knock it out in 3 days/ 2 nights, which seems like a reasonable goal. Both of us have hiked a handful/half dozen days or so over 32.19 KM/ 20 Miles while my daughter’s longest day to date is about 27.36 KM / 17 M.

Some people suggested that even if we could finish in 5 days/4 nights, we would miss so much due to being in a hurry. I do not think that was the case at all. We stopped at literally everything that interested us, took naps on the beach, stayed at the narrow and hung out, ate crab, spent time at both lighthouses, and visited all of the waterfalls. I feel like we saw just about everything we wanted to see other than somehow missing what I assume is an Orca skeleton at the Carmanah Lighthouse. If Chez Monique’s was open we would have spent an hour or so there, which would not have effected out schedule much since we finished hiking at 15:00 that day. That being said the risk for injury will go way up if we push hard for speed, since there are so many damn places to hurt ones self. I think some of our recent class 3 scrambling trips in the mountains of Colorado helped us with balance and moving quick on uneven surfaces.

Below are our galleries for the trip:

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