Running the West Coast Trail in One Day

Attachment past the bottom of this post is my article in the February 2006  North West Runner.  It may be useful for anybody planning a run or a speed-hike on the West Coast Trail, in one day or otherwise.



Our team of adventurers has just returned from a glorious one-day run of the WCT, myself for a second time. A few more thoughts on the run to add to the article below.

How to cross the Gordon River?

1. Pay Butch Jack, who has a Parks Canada-annointed monopoly over the river crossing, a(n expensive) premium for a special late pick-up. You will have a very difficult time persuading anyone else in Port Renfrew to stir up local trouble by agreeing to ferry you across, or rent you a boat, especially in advance via telephone.

2. Swim across. The water is a little cold, and there may be some minor boat traffic. Google images of Gordon River to get a sense of the 150 metre-odd distance.  We crossed at low tide in August, when the river was low and calm, with no problem.  If the tides or weather or currents are not as perfect, you will have to use your judgment. Photos of the crossing here and here, and an account of some swimmers here.

Swimming hints:

  • empty out your hydrapack running bladder. Then inflate the bladder through the hose. Instant flotation assistance!
  • Bladder also doubles as a wet-bag to keep items dry (although I'd recommend getting a dedicated wet-bag for high-risk items like your camera and smart phone).

3. Have a non-running friend ferry you across in a two-man kayak or canoe.

4. Bring a non-running friend along. The day before your run, take the last Butch Jack ferry across the Gordon River. Hike in and camp overnight at Thrasher Cove or on the trail above it. In the morning, you run the trail north to Bamfield, and the friend takes the camping supplies and the ferry back to Port Renfrew. A group of female runners did this recently.

5. Best and simplest method, which we thought of too late:

a. run south (Port Renfrew)  to north (Bamfield).
b. buy and bring a cheap $30-$99 2- or 3- man inflatable boat. 
c. cross Gordon River at 5AM-ish (access via the trailer park beach)
d. leave boat at south trailhead with a sign marked "free". Some happy hiker who misses the last Butch Jack ferry of the day will appreciate it.
e. running S to N has the added advantage that the last 12K (Michigan Creek to Bamfield) is the easiest, and least scenic portion of the trail, so better to do in the night if you need to.


Parks Canada confirms that the orientation powerpoint presentation is now mandatory: it used to be optional for anyone who had hiked the trail before. This rule is annoying and inconvenient, as the orientation is only offered at certain hours (e.g. 3:30 pm), and as anyone who is learning for the first time in the orientation session the information provided (e.g. do not feed bear cubs) should not be on the trail in the first place.

That being said, runners should not endanger the ability of future others to run the trail by making a fuss: just catch an earlier ferry.

Permits and reservations

Day-runners are required to buy the $127 "overnight pass" even though they are not overnighting.

The good news: runners do not need an advance reservation.

Again, do not argue or make a fuss: the fees are in theory for a good cause (trail maintenance) and you don't want to deprive future runners of the ability to run the trail by being a jerk.

You also need to buy passes for the ferry boats ($16 each). For those tempted to roll the dice, the ferryman DOES check the passes and you would be most bitter to be turned back halfway through, at Nitinat Narrows. Swimming is not an option at Nitinat Narrows, where crazy currents drown men and scuttle boats.


1. instead of the West Coast Express Bus (which is otherwise a perfectly fine service), take Brian Gisborne's water taxi back from the end of the hike to the beginning. He took us to see much wildlife: about 30 killer whales; 5 grey whales; 2 humpback whales; hundreds of sea lions; jumping porpoises, etc. Stunning. $135: only $40 or so more than the bus. 

2. Contrary to what you read elsewhere, do the Owen Point ocean route if tides at all permit: caves, sea lion island, rock climbing, waterfalls, sea stacks, surge channels, sandstone shelves from Mars: one of the most gorgeous stretches of this gorgeous trail.




Ean Jackson's picture

Wish I was there...

Sounds like an amazing time was had by all.  Congrats!

mudrunner's picture

Congrats David!

btw...nice shirt!

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