Keep the Pacific on your right—five days on BC’s less-travelled coastal trek.
If the adventurous spirit wasn’t engaged before landing on Louie Lagoon—it was now. The flight to Nootka Island from Gold River, while short, had been a bumpy one and the landing even more so with a strong westerly blowing off the Pacific and erratic local zephyrs playing on the lagoon. After touching down on the choppy water, the pilot nudged the plane onto the small beach. We unloaded our kit from the pontoon storage and jumped to shore, the pebble beach crunching and sinking softly under boot.
We watched the plane prepare for takeoff and then we turned to gather up our gear. As the sound of the mid-century de Havilland Beaver died away behind the trees, we were left to sling our packs on our backs, pick up our poles and enter the forest.
Short Hike to Third Beach
A strong wind had delayed our flight out of Gold River, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, and as it was getting late in the day, we were happy that our first day’s hike was a short one—about an hour to Third Beach. Trekking from north to south, those first couple of kilometres gave us a sense of what was to come.
It was challenging, technical, at times wet with stream crossings and muddy sections of trail. Towering moss-covered cedars and a forest floor of ferns and salal lined our path, which climbed and fell, over logs and under, before expelling us onto an expanse of white sand. This was our first night’s camp. We had the beach to ourselves so we spread out, the five of us each in a single-person tent, and arranged some driftwood for our camp kitchen.
Third Beach to Calvin Falls (12 km)
My alarm was set for 7:00 a.m., but Danny, our guide, was up preparing breakfast much earlier so when I heard him boiling water I climbed out of my tent, eager for a cup of coffee and a bowl of warm oatmeal. The first section of today’s hike took us back into the forest where roots, mud and scrambles made the going difficult before we exited onto the beach for the remainder of the six-hour hike. We saw our first evidence of bears: fresh tracks on the beach. In many places along the shore there was bear scat every few metres, some quite fresh.
Our resident whale-spotter made his first sighting in the early afternoon as a humpback breached in the distance. Our camp for this night was at the base of Calvin Falls. Here, a makeshift driftwood compound had been built, providing some shelter from the wind. Using ropes and old fishing nets that had been tied together and lashed to a tree at the top of the waterfall, we were able to climb to the top of the falls and refill our water bottles in the river above.
Calvin Falls to Beano Creek (11 km)
While not the longest hike, today was the most challenging from a mental perspective as we traversed a boulder-strewn shoreline, the rocks slick with algae; some difficult forest sections involving fixed-rope assistance; and kilometres of pea gravel, much of which was covered in a thick layer of dried sea grass—like walking on a half-deflated air mattress. While there was still much of interest, including expansive tide pools and discarded fishing floats and other flotsam hanging from trees, it was a head down, keep the Pacific on your right and stay walking type of day.
Our reward for our determined pace? A rain-soaked camp at Beano Creek. We set up camp just short of the creek as the water level was high with storm surge—too high to cross. I set up my tent in the forest, hoping the trees would provide some protection from the rain. In the evening, we huddled close to the fire until one-by-one we abandoned the beach for the shelter of our tents.
Beano Creek to Yuquot Beach (12 km)
While the literature describes this day as the most difficult, it is also the most varied, the most technical and the most spectacular. After a rainy night, the sun was out for our last full day of hiking and it was a welcome sight as we packed up our camp and crossed the creek, which was thigh-high at this point, but impassable at higher tides or in stormier weather (as it had been the day before).
Day four provided the highest vantage points as we entered and exited the forest, relying on fixed ropes and makeshift ladders to climb out of the pocket beaches we encountered along the way. Each day brought different challenges, but the tide was always a factor. This day was no exception and we arrived late at our last crossing. By the time we reached the tidal lake, just west of Yuquot, the mouth where it meets the ocean was armpit-level so there was nothing to do but throw our packs over our heads and wade cautiously across. (Only one sandal was lost.)
We arrived at Yuquot Beach in the early evening and made camp at the mouth of a small stream. A sea stack just off the beach provided that quintessential West Coast view—an ideal place for our last camp.
Short Hike, Yuquot Beach to Friendly Cove & Flight to Gold River
The hike into Friendly Cove was leisurely and we took in the surroundings, knowing this was our last day on the trail. Once in the village, we explored the old church, toured the elaborate lighthouse station and visited with Master Carver Sanford Williams in his workshop. Ambling around the village is a nice way to unwind after days on the trail. Done exploring, and with sore feet from five days of hiking, we sat on the beach waiting for our pickup to arrive.
We heard the plane coming before we saw it; and we clambered aboard for the 20-minute flight back to Gold River, where our shuttle waited to return us home after five memorable days on the wild west coast.
If You Go
Gold River is a 4.25-hour drive north from Victoria, BC. From Gold River, you have two easy options for getting to Nootka Island.
The MV Uchuck leaves Gold River for Friendly Cove twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Alternatively, Air Nootka can be chartered to and from Louie Lagoon and Friendly Cove depending on which direction you choose to hike.
Air Nootka: Airnootka.com
MV Uchuck: Getwest.ca
BCA Tours: bcatours.com
Trail Map: johnbaldwin.ca/nootka-island.asp