This trail offers up long sandy beaches, sea caves, old-growth rainforest, great beachcombing and dazzling sunsets that fade into the Pacific.

Totem Pole Nookta Sound Trail
Credit: Tim Gage, Flickr

nootkamap_t270Unlike the West Coast Trail, the 40-kilometre Nootka Trail is almost empty. It also boasts spectacular surf breaks, frequent sea otter and whale sightings, significant First Nations artifacts, and a fascinating colonial history that stretches back to Captain James Cook's discovery of B.C. What more could you want?


The Lowdown:

The trail runs along the remote west coast of Nootka Island, and most people hike it from north to south, starting at Louie Bay and ending at Friendly Cove. The hiking is generally along the ocean on everything from rock shelves to white sand to boulders. Make sure you spend a night camped at Bajo Beach where Calvin Creek cascades onto the sand in a picture-postcard waterfall. Surf huts are hidden in the woods nearby. At Bajo Point, duck through the salal into a stand of huge Sitka spruce and you can see where longhouses of the Muchalaht nation once stood.

Forest Nootka TrailTim Gage, Flickr

Beano Creek is the only spot where you're likely to see other humans-the surf break here has attracted cottagers. The trail gets more rugged as you continue south, with cliffs and headlands forcing the route overland. Caves and coves are frequent and several make great campsites. Watch for sea otters and grey whales from Maquinna Point. And then it's a long gravel beach leading to the white church and lighthouse at Friendly Cove. This is where Captain Cook first came ashore in B.C. in 1792. It's also where the British and Spanish almost went to war over the sea otter fur trade.


When to go

cove nootka soundTim Gage, Flickr

The best weather is from May through September. Heavy rains and high surf the rest of the year make the trail very muddy and much harder. May, June and September are particularly quiet.


Time needed Gage, Flickr

Five days should be plenty to cover the 40 kilometres, but this is a trail worth savouring. So add an extra day or two.

Experience required

The Nootka Trail is a rugged and remote route that is maintained by volunteers somewhat sporadically. It should not be taken lightly. Hazards include: creek crossings, wildlife, rough terrain, difficult footing and ocean waves. Being able to read tide tables is essential.


What to take

camping tent nootka trail campsite spot beachTim Gage, Flickr

Solid hiking boots will save your ankles on rocky beaches. Pack sandals or water shoes for crossing the numerous creeks and rivers. The route is well-signed, but don't go without topo maps for the area, in addition to a tide table and charts. Cell phones don't work here, so you may want to bring a satellite phone, PLB or even a VHF radio, in case of emergency. And some kind of water purification is a good idea.


Coastal Hikes, by Philip Stone, is a guidebook to 10 coastal hikes in B.C. and Washington State. The Nootka Trail: A Backpacker's Guide, by Pal Horvath, is an authoritative 12-page guide to the trail.


Strathcona Park Lodge offers eight-day, all-inclusive Nootka Trail trips, which include two nights at the lodge ($2,040 per person; Island Alpine Guides does six-day, all-inclusive hikes, from Gold River ($1,170 per person;


Getting there

Sea Plane Nootka IslandTim Gage, Flickr

The trip to Nootka Island is part of the adventure. It's located about 40 kilometres by boat or plane from the nearest town of Gold River, a former logging village. To get to Gold River, first fly to either Campbell River (with service from Vancouver) or Comox (with flights from Calgary and Edmonton). Rent a car-there is no public transport to Gold River-and then drive 90 kilometres west of Campbell River on Highway 28. From Gold River either fly in a floatplane with Air Nootka (from $435; or take a water taxi (Maxi's Water Taxi, to the north end of the trail. From Friendly Cove, return by water taxi, floatplane or the M.V. Uchuck III, a minesweeper turned supply ship, which stops in Friendly Cove on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer ($40, reservations required;


Stay in Gold River the night before hitting the trail at one of the hotels and campgrounds ( Primitive beach campsites are available at regular intervals on the trail and there are rustic cabins for rent at Friendly Cove (1-800-238-2933). There are no camping fees on the trail but there is a $45 trail fee charged by the Muchalaht Indian band, payable at Friendly Cove (


Additional reading

White Slave of the Nootka, by John Rogers Jewitt, is a first-person account of how two British fur traders ended up enslaved by the Muchalaht people.


Trail Bests:

Calvin Falls Nookta Trail BCTim Gage, Flickr

Best swimming hole:

Just above Calvin Creek Falls at Bajo Beach is the perfect spot to wash away two days of trail grime.

Best view:

The oceanside cliff at Maquinna Point provides a 270-degree vista of rocky coastline, endless Pacific and Vancouver Island's west coast.

Best artifact:

A toppled totem pole that is slowly disappearing back into the rainforest lies next to an old house foundation in Friendly Cove.

Have you hiked the Nootka Trail? 
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