Whether you are visiting Tofino or Ucluelet, one of the musts on your list of things to do should be the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. From close-ups of the ever-changing majesty of nature; education on the culture and community surrounding the wilds; and maybe that ever-elusive moment of artistic inspiration or crystalizing romance? This trail has it all.
The Wild Pacific Trail wraps its way around the dizzying and storm-beaten rim of the Ucluelet Peninsula on the western side of Vancouver Island. The Wild Pacific Trail offers a journey through a scenic trail full of amazing twisted trees drenched in moss on a bed of ferns as it meanders along the rugged and dramatic coastline. Many viewpoints with beautiful benches are best for cuddling up to someone special while you hope for a glimpse of a whale, or to be with the sun as it descends for the day.
Welcome to the Wild Pacific Trail
Various loops, each with unique treats in store, interlock over around 10km of total trail, complete with painter’s perches, shipwrecks, interpretative points, and much more. The small amount of elevation change even means that all this natural splendor only receives an easy-to-moderate difficulty rating overall!
With so much on offer, it is easy to miss something along your travels and even easier to spoil the moment for yourself by worrying that you might have missed something. Steve and I have put together the following full breakdown on how to ensure that you don’t miss a single thing.
Wild Pacific Trail: A How-to of Community Engagement with Nature
Before we go in-depth into the various natural wonders and hidden gems to be found along the Wild Pacific Trail, we need to give a shoutout to the amazing ‘Oyster Jim’ of neighboring Ucluelet. The whole trail is an inspiring example of what happens when a community reaches out embraces the nature that surrounds them.
The whole of the Wild Pacific Trail was envisioned by the initiative and savvy imagination of Oyster Jim. Not only that, but it was entirely funded by donations given to the Wild Pacific Trail Society charity. When you see the amount of thought and attention to detail along the trail, you really feel the labor of love that has gone into creating this space.
Finally, the most exciting thing, it isn’t even finished yet! The final goal of the Wild Pacific Trail Society’s project is to extend and connect the trail up with the Pacific Rim National Park, one of Vancouver Island’s other treasures. It won’t be an easy task, as it requires negotiations both with the powerful forces of nature at work here, and the owners of the land. But, if anyone can do it, it’s Oyster Jim!
How to Get to The Wild Pacific Trail
Vancouver Island is such a wild part of British Columbia precisely because it takes a decent amount of effort to reach – including a ferry trip from the mainland! All in all, it should take you around 5 hours (assuming everything goes to plan) to reach the Ucluelet Peninsula from Victoria.
BC Ferries will be able to provide all the sea travel you need. You can get to Vancouver Island from the ports at either Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay. Alternatively, Swartz Bay, Departure Bay, and Duke Point offer other opportunities depending on which way you’re coming from.
The Wild Pacific Trail is well signposted from Ucluelet and can be accessed simply by parking your car in (or walking to) one of many parking lots along the trail.
Each of the car parking lots are named after the various aquatic animals that can be found here. For best access to the Artist Loops trail, start at the Sea Star Parking Lot or the Frog Parking Lot. If you would prefer to begin with the Lighthouse Loop, get yourself to the Whale Parking Lot. And don’t worry, we will cover both hikes in detail!
If you want to get a good idea of the options on offer here, take a look at this excellent map of the Wild Pacific Trail. Also, if you want to witness the dedication and passion that went into the trail, explore the rest of the website!
Hiking the Lighthouse Loop
Lighthouse Loop is one of the easier and more accessible parts of the Wild Pacific Trail, spanning 2.6km in total. It is named after the beauty and vital importance of the Amphitrite Lighthouse which stands watch over the southern tip of the peninsula.
Following this trail, you will wind your way around the craggy coastline. Peer down at the stunning views of Pacific Rim National Park’s Broken Group Islands and Barkley Sound and you will not be disappointed.
As well as this, you can find two different amazing interpretive trails which split off from the main trail. They are called Bog Trail and Terrace Beach Interpretive Trail and offer plenty of education opportunities and wisdom for you or your children!
It is worth mentioning that all caution should be taken to stay on the well-designed trail here. Especially during the stormy months, the towering surf and strong winds make for unpredictable and dangerous off-trail territory.
Hiking the Artist Loops
We mentioned artistic inspiration in our introduction, and there is no better place to find it than the aptly named Artist Loops.
The full wildness and power of nature are so on view here, and the opportunities for inspiration are so plentiful, that the design of the trail incorporates several wooden stands called painter’s perches. These are the perfect place to set up an easel to capture the moment, or just to use your eyes to soak it all in if you’re not all too savvy with a brush or pen!
The entirety of the Artist Loops Trail covers 5km and is an out and back trail. You have the choice of beginning from either Sea Star Parking Lot or Frog Parking Lot, but we would advise you to opt for the frog for a few bonus surprises!
From Frog Parking Lot, you will want to begin your day by taking some time to explore Big Beach. If you have children, there is an excellent interpretive trail here designed with them in mind. If you have managed to time your visit with low tide, you can even spot an ancient shipwreck poking out of the surf.
Pro tip: you can check the tides in these parts ahead of time by using this handy website. Also, you can even impress those accompanying you with the knowledge that these waters used to be known as The Graveyard of the Pacific, due to how many unfortunate ships have been lost to the merciless tides here.
The Artist Loops may begin under the green glow of a forested canopy, but it will quickly pivot to awe-inspiring open coastline and wind-carved cliffs. Honestly, the whole trail gets wilder (and therefore, in our opinion, better) the further you go along.
Keep your eyes on the waves, as you can catch glimpses of many kinds of marine life that share this slice of untamed paradise with you. Sealion hunting parties are a common sight, as are the powerful breaches of grey whale pods.
Eventually, you will reach a marker and a junction for the Ancient Cedars Loop. This small detour will take you through a 1km loop that winds through the toes of ancient giants: cedar trees that have been growing here for over 800 years! If you needed any more convincing, there are convenient mid-hike restrooms located here.
Once you have completed the Ancient Cedars Loop (or skipped it, we don’t judge – promise!) continue along the Artist Loops Trail for a while until you get to the Rocky Bluffs. This delightful endpoint of the trail is well worth the effort to reach, and you can cut through the various ‘stroller routes’ along your return path to skip the more winding parts of the trail, if you are so inclined.
Everything Else You Need to Know Before Hiking the Wild Pacific Trail
Since this slice of Vancouver Island’s coastline is so open to the raw and unmerciful beating of the Pacific Ocean, not to mention other elements, it is important to know exactly what you are getting yourself in for and come equipped.
For example, if you come in the stormy months be sure to come equipped with good hiking shoes as the spray from the surf (or the rain) can make many of the surfaces slippery. We have already mentioned how important it is to avoid the danger of straying off-trail – but it is worth mentioning again!
You should also bear in mind that this trail was specifically designed for walkers, and as such no bikes, horses, or motorized vehicles of any kind are permitted on the trail.
Similarly, dogs are permitted on the trail, but make sure you pick up after them and keep them on their leashes, as they can interfere with the wildlife here.
Speaking of wildlife, it is not uncommon for potentially dangerous animals like bears to be encountered on the Wild Pacific Trail. If you are using the trail in the morning, consider packing bear spray. As always, if you do somehow come face-to-face with a bear, do not run – speak firmly to the bear and back away slowly. If the bear is in the distance, make non-threatening noises like singing or humming to make it aware of your presence and avoid surprising it.
There are plenty of garbage cans and portable toilets at the various trailhead parking lots, so please pack out what you pack in. Not only does garbage spoil the nature for others, but it can also kill the wildlife.
Finally, if you looking to park your RV somewhere, there are large spaces at the Lighthouse Loop near Coast Guard Road. Smaller units will fit in the Brown’s Beach Parking Lot, but do not bring big vehicles here as you will struggle to turn around. You can find a small number of additional spaces at Ucluelet Community Center, close to Big Beach. However, please note that you are not permitted to camp overnight in your vehicle in any of the parking lots here.
A Word on the First Nations People That Call This Place Their Home
While it is incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment of your trip, it really pays to bear in mind the history of the lands and their peoples that you are enjoying. That way you can enjoy the full benefit of embracing the natural balance and spirituality that have been nurtured here for millennia.
This particular part of Vancouver Island is the territory of the Ucluelet First Nation, who operate under the governance of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government. Their territory runs from the area to the north of Barkley Sound, through to what is the modern-day district of Ucluelet.
The community here is called Hitacu and is home to approximately 200 residents.
Throughout the ages, the majority of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ people sustained themselves with fishing and whaling. Salmon were the most common quarry, but a large range of fish and mammals were hunted and most commonly preserved by a smoking or drying process.