Deciding when to go on a hiking adventure can involve a number of crucial factors. The factors may relate to how well prepared you are with fitness, equipment, or skill; or they may relate to the number of other people you will encounter; or the factors may relate to weather or other conditions. Choosing the time to go to some destinations is more difficult than just when you are off work, and can involve a fairly complex set of choices. For the West Coast Trail, all of these factors may influence the decision making process.
When is the park open?
The most obvious factor for choosing when to take your hiking trip to the West Coast Trail will be doing it when the park is open. Although there have been a few hardy hikers travel the trail in January, most people do not want to have to swim the channel at Nitinat Narrows and across the bay at Port Renfrew. The ferries for these crossings are open from about May 1 through September 30, which are the dates that the park is open. Within these five months there are other factors to consider.
How many other people are on the trail?
The peak season for hikers on the trail is between June 15 and September 15. During this time Parks Canada has a reservation and quota system in place. A maximum of 30 hikers are allowed to start from each end of the trail each day, with a maximum group size of 10. If you have a group of more than 10, you may have to split your group and start on different days.
Commercial tour operators are limited to a maximum number of places during the season for their hiking tours and can only begin hiking from Port Renfrew on odd numbered days, and from Bamfield on even numbered days. Of course, a commercial hiking trip has to fit its group within the 30 hiker maximum per day.
The busiest times are between July 1 and September 6, when there can easily be 350 people along the 75 km of trail, which may mean 60 to 100 people in a campsite. The practical shoulder seasons, May 1 to June 30 and September 7 to 30, see significantly less people on the trail, for some very good reasons.
If you want to go in the peak season, the reservations do book up, so you will want to reserve early in the year for your July to August backpacking hike.
Why should I go in the peak season?
The peak season for hiking in BC usually has drier weather. This can have a big rutas de senderismo impact on the difficulty of the trail. Later in the season usually means a drier trail. The drier weather allows the muddy areas of the trail to dry out somewhat. Earlier in the season, there is more mud, adding considerably more effort to each step, so someone who is just on the edge of being fit enough to make it through the trail under the best conditions will be overwhelmed on a muddy trail. The boardwalks, ladders, and exposed roots will also be considerably more slippery due to the 7 months of algae growth on the wood, so the footing is more dangerous.
The other factor to consider with the peak season is the length of day. Earlier in the peak season gives the longest daylight period. The length of the day begins to shorten rapidly in September. Shorter days mean being in camp earlier to get set up before dark, which in turn means a shorter hiking day. July 1 has sun between about 5:30 am and 9:30 pm, while August 31 has sun between 6:30 am and 8:00 pm. This may seem like a long time, but a group can easily arrive at a camp after 6:30 pm and still be setting up, cooking, and cleaning up after dark.