What Do You Do if You Fail the West Coast Trail? Head to Bamfield!

They say hikers who arrive to Bamfield are known to stay a while—and it’s true!

Credit: Alexandra Samur

Brady’s beach in Bamfield is among BC’s best kept secrets

Failing the West Coast Trail isn’t so bad if you head to Bamfield to console yourself

Torrential rainstorms, mudslides, waist-high bogs—strangely I couldn’t remember reading about these highlights in the guides.

And yet, less than 30 hours after beginning the West Coast Trail, my hiking companion and I found ourselves enacting what seemed like a scene from Survivor. But unlike the show, when we had to pack it in early there was no elaborate torch ceremony or Jeff Probst to accompany us off the trail. A day’s hike later we were back at the Pachena Bay trailhead—but with waterlogged packs that felt 20 pounds heavier than when we’d started.

With more than half of our holiday week left—and what we dubbed the “West Coast Fail” behind us—we headed to the village of Bamfield, just four kilometres away, for a different kind of adventure.

Getting to Bamfield

Unless you’re flying in, you’ve likely endured a long journey to arrive at this far-flung Vancouver Island destination. Getting to Bamfield is just part of the fun, and makes great fodder for interesting conversations with curious locals who’ll ask “how did you get here?”

Hikers like us arrive and depart from Bamfield daily on the West Coast Trail shuttle bus. However, if you’d prefer not to ride with a busload of smelly hikers, taking a car or the Pachena Bay Express shuttle may be preferable— though no less taxing.

Arriving overland to Bamfield requires many hours along the winding, gut-turning logging road—so why not try the water route. The scenic three-and-a-half-hour boat cruise to Bamfield on the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni boasts beautiful vistas and wildlife watching—without the pains of driving…or hiking (wish I had known!)  

East vs. West Bamfield

Like most tourists, we arrived to East Bamfield. Staying in our still soaked tent at the local campground was not an attractive option. Instead, we happened upon the Boots and Anchor B&B—a fortuitous find for a pair of wet hikers. Our friendly hosts Ed and Agatha pride themselves on being hiker-friendly and the only B&B to offer a fresh hot breakfast…plus a warm and inviting hot tub!

In addition to hot tubs and hospitality, Bamfield is known for many things—including fishing, communications, a state-of–the-art marine science station, and even a community-supported cat village.

Yet navigating its distinctive geography is what makes a visit to Bamfield truly memorable. Divided into two sections, East and West Bamfield are separated by Bamfield Inlet and until its citizens decide to build a bridge (unlikely) ferrying across the chasm is unavoidable.

We were relieved to find, however, there’s no need to ford the inlet to get across, though I was wearing my watershoes. Instead, zipping back and forth from East to West is easy enough with Paradise Water Taxi. Simply call the taxi operator, Mark, from the dock—he charges $5 a head for a lift, one-way. And, with just 250 Bamfield residents, most of whom have their own boats, you rarely have to wait (and even if you do, the view is stunning!)

Stay a Day…or for Life

It only took us a few hours to settle into Bamfield’s local scene (luckily, de rigeur outdoor fashions include rainpants, hiking boots and plaid). By the end of our second day in East Bamfield we had made friends at Hawk’s Nest (the local pub), investigated strange sea creatures in a touch tank at the Marine Science Station and had scoped out waterfront real estate along the boardwalk in West Bamfield, dreaming of our new lives as fisherfolk.

As for the infamous burgers at Chez Monique’s along the West Coast Trail: forget them! Instead, try the scrumptious salmon burger at Bamfield’s Boardwalk Bistro.

The boardwalk is the perfect place to soak in the sights and some of Bamfield’s quirky culture. Notable sights include the cat village—made up of colourful cat-sized buildings like the “catastrophe manor” inhabited by local strays; and the (human-sized) headquarters of Paradise Water Taxi—a bright-yellow stand and quaint cottage fronting Button Alley and Penny Lane—two pathways off the boardwalk made from—you guessed it—buttons and pennies!

They say hikers who arrive to Bamfield are known to stay a while—and it’s true. Take it from two hikers who learned the hard way—with all there is to see and do in Bamfield save yourself the hassle and skip the West Coast Trail…you won’t regret it!

Alex Samur is a Vancouver-based writer, managing editor of rabble.ca. Follow her on Twitter.