How Hiking/Camping the West Coast Trail in the Off Season Landed us in Court
It seemed like an innocent enough idea. The plan: to surf the waves off of the West Coast Trail in late March. Some planning … looking at the logging roads, reviewing satellite maps, getting the gear together ... then hiking in and setting up camp on the beach along a portion of the world-famous West Coast Trail. It was not, as it turned out, a good idea.
The trip proceeded as planned – until Parks Canada staff approached us on the beach and requested that we break camp and leave the area. We were also charged with unlawfully entering an area of the Pacific National Park Reserve of Canada during a period that it is closed to public use – a charge that required each of us to appear in court to answer the charges. This is an offence which Parks Canada takes very seriously. Each member of our group was assessed a $225 fine, were banned from the Park for 6 months and were required to assist the public in not making the same mistake by writing this article. This is in addition to the major inconvenience of numerous trips to our lawyer’s office, and taking time off work to travel and attend court on two occasions.
Parks Canada closes the West Coast Trail during the winter season (October 1st to April 30th between the Gordon River at Port Renfrew and the Nitinat Narrows) due to unpredictable and dangerous weather and sea conditions which prevent trail maintenance (including bridges, cable car crossings, ladders and boardwalks). Search and Rescue is also difficult at this time of year in the event that something goes wrong. Finally, while very popular, the West Coast Trail is a very fragile ecosystem. As such, Parks Canada allows the area to regenerate during the winter months.
So let this be a cautionary tale. The entire West Coast Trail portion of the Pacific Rim National Park is only open to foot traffic from May 1 to Sep 30th each year. Any violators caught accessing the trail by land during the months when it is closed will be held accountable, as we were.
Brent Cann, Robert McDowell, David McDowell, Jean-Francois Savard, Ian Villanueva