Vancouver Island Hiking Trails

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Best Vancouver Island Hikes

Aside from the well-known Juan de Fuca Trail and the West Coast Trail, these epic multi-day Vancouver Island hiking trails are amazing ones to explore if you’re up for a challenge. Hardcore hikes with stunning vistas are just another great thing about living and playing on Vancouver Island.

Having the proper gear for your Vancouver Island hiking adventures is the most important part. At Capital Iron, you’ll find the ideal backpackwaterproof tent and flylightweight and portable cookstovehiking polesrain coverssleeping bag and everything else you could ever possibly need, whether you’re going for one night or one month.

Capital Iron - Best Hiking Trails to Try on Vancouver Island
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Cape Scott Provincial Park

Level – Beginner
Length – 18 km (1-2 days)

Cape Scott is a quintessential hike along the rugged northern tip of Vancouver Island. You’ll experience rugged coastline, see old settlements, enjoy the unique sandy shores of San Josef Bay, camp at Eric Lake or Nels Bight and search for sea otters at Guise Bay. This hike is a mix of boardwalk, forest floor and coastline, so you get to see everything that the north coast of Vancouver Island has to offer. Cape Scott Provincial Park reaches from Shushartie, around Cape Scott and then south to San Josef Bay.

It’s rated as a beginner hike, but it still takes at least a full day to complete and it’s important to pack the necessary gear to protect yourself from high winds and rain squalls. There are coastline routes marked by buoys, which should only be used during low tide. Always be aware that rogue waves can sweep into the coastal bays. 

Elkhorn Mountain

Level – Intermediate hikers
Length – 29.7 km (3 days)

If you enjoy a mix of hiking and rope work, you’ll love Elkhorn Mountain. With three challenging ropework sections and a big climb to the peak, it’s a grind. However, it’s also quiet and much less heavily trafficked than other trails in the Strathcona area. Be prepared for snow and ice as you reach higher elevations because this is the second highest peak on Vancouver Island, next to Golden Hinde. You’ll be surrounded by absolutely incredible views of King’s Peak, Volcano Peak, Puzzle Mountain, Mount Colonel Foster, Landslide Lake and more. You’ll also wake up in your tent to a stunning sunrise. If you want to get away from civilization and are up for a hard climb, this is an ideal trail. To reach the peak (the full 29.7 km) you’ll need climbing gear, mountaineering boots and an ice axe.

Mount Albert Edward

Level – Intermediate hikers
Length – 35 km (1-3 days)

Part of Strathcona Provincial Park, Mt Albert Edward can be seen from the Comox Valley because of its distinctive shark fin-shaped peak. 16 km from the Paradise Meadows trailhead, this hike can be done in 1 day, but is most enjoyable as a 1-3 day excursion where you can take everything in. Once you pass Circlet Lake, the trail turns from novice level to a more intermediate level challenge with steep inclines. It’s important to note that while the trail starts off pretty relaxed, it gets tough quickly and is a grind to the summit along an unmaintained route. In 2020, more signposts were added to guide hikers back to Circlet Lake, but because it’s so easy to become lost in reduced visibility, all hikers who explore any portion of this trail should come fully prepared for all conditions.

Phillips Ridge Trail

Level – Intermediate hikers
Length – 15 km (1-2 days)

Phillips Ridge is nestled in Strathcona Provincial Park and leads to a great campsite at Arnica Lake, around the Phillips Ridge “horseshoe” and connects to Golden Hinde (if you choose to continue). The trailhead is at the end of Buttle Lake Road at the Westmin Mine site. This is a working mine, so drive through with caution. At the start, you can set up camp at Buttle Lake or Ralph River, two beautiful front country campgrounds. It’s a convenient trail with water fill stations along obvious switchbacks up to Phillips Ridge and subalpine meadows that open up and provide stunning panoramic vistas once you reach 1400 m. There is some scrambling and some slushy snow, so pack both hot weather and snow gear to stay cool/warm and dry.

Golden Hinde Mountain

Level – Experienced hikers
Length -58 km (4-7 days)

The highest peak on Vancouver Island, this trail is accessible at Western Mine Road. It’s a challenging route that can be quite quiet, with the exception of long weekends, when avid backcountry hikers come out to play. You will need climbing gear (a helmet is so important) and rappelling gear, as there is quite a bit of rock scrambling and loose rock towards the summit. There are no amenities along the route and no signage beyond Arnica Lake. You can camp at Carter Lake and fill up your water at a flowing creek by Arnica Lake. After that, the terrain is extremely challenging and your next water stop before the summit will be Hidden Lake. There will still be snow and snow melt in the summer months, right into August, so you’ll need to be prepared for all weather and all terrain. Absolutely incredible views from the summit make it worth it to take your time and soak it all in with a few nights of camping, rather than racing to the top.

North Coast Trail

Level – Experienced hikers
Length – 58 km (4-8 days)

The North Coast trail has all different kinds of terrain, from old-growth rainforest to bogs, to white sand beaches, making it an ideal adventure for a week-long hike along the coast. It’s a lot less trafficked than the West Coast trail but still offers seven campsites to rest up before tackling the next leg of the hike the following day. Each site has sources of drinking water, pit toilets and food caches and you can always have a beach fire for a true west coast camping experience. You’ll hike through Cape Scott Provincial Park, see sunsets on Shuttleworth Bight, see humpback whales, grey whales and bears and see historical relics from failed settlements, a World War II base and of course, the First Nations peoples who have lived on this land for thousands of years. To get back to Port Hardy, you can take the new Cape Scott Water Taxi from Fishermen Bay and save yourself a 15 km hike back and 1.5 hour drive back on logging roads. As a bonus, you’ll get to experience a north coast water safari.

Vancouver Island Trail

Level – Experienced hikers
Length -770 km (2-3 months)

Want to conquer Vancouver Island? Start at Anderson Hill Park in Oak Bay and end at Cape Scott to complete the entire trail. Still in progress, connections are being made all the time, but at this point in time, it’s possible to hike from the south end of Vancouver Island to the north end of Vancouver Island in 2-3 months. 

The Vancouver Island Trail is quite the adventure as it gives you a first-hand look at everything that our incredible island has to offer, from the Kinsol Trestle in the Cowichan Valley to the mountains of Strathcona to the rocky, rugged coastline of Port McNeill and Woss.  Add to that an additional trek to San Josef Bay, a secluded, sandy shore with impressive sea stacks.

The trail can also be hiked in sections as day hikes or multi-day hikes, depending on the areas you choose and the amount of time you have to dedicate to exploring. Because this is such an immense area (it will be 800 km and one of the longest trails in BC, when it’s complete), it’s best to check section by section to make sure there are no active mining or logging operations in the areas you plan to bike, hike, or ride. The trail is being built and maintained by the non-profit group, the Vancouver Island Trail Association (VITA) with fundraising and volunteering making this huge adventure possible. 

Ask our outdoor adventure experts at Capital Iron and we’ll be more than happy to help you pick out the best camping gear and weatherproof clothing for your next big trek. Visit our Victoria or Westshore locations today. We’re open 7 days a week, including holidays.

 

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