Immerse yourself in untouched beach and wilderness hiking along this remote 23-mile trek on Nootka Island in British Columbia, Canada. Getting yourself to the island will prove to be your first adventure with access provided via boat or float plane but once arrived you won’t want to leave.
Quick Stats of The Nootka Trail
Distance: 23 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,646 Feet (Very Minimal)
Start / End: Gold River, Vancouver Island BC
Type: Thru Hike (Point to Point)
Average Time: 4-6 Days
Hiking Season: June through September
The Nootka Trail is a 23-mile trail along the coast of Nootka Island which is off of the northwest part of Vancouver Island.
The trail is on native land which requires a permit and fee arranged by your island transportation service.
The trail has a ratio of about 75% beach hiking and 25% coastal forest hiking with campsites located directly on the beach.
Although the trail is only 23 miles, the hiking is a slower pace due to its difficulty and the fact that people enjoy time on the beach and at swimming holes.
The trail ends at the Nootka Lighthouse in Friendly Cove, the place Captain James Cook landed and made first European contact with natives in British Columbia.
Access is provided primarily by chartered boat and float plane, Air Nootka operates out of Gold River and is the popular provider of float plane transportation services.
The largest float plane holds 6 passengers and costs about $1500 total round trip.
Check the latest at Air Nootka here.
Route & Conditions
The route can be hiked in either direction but if acquiring transportation via float plane, only a half capacity plane can fly out of the Louie Bay due to the shorter take off lane. This will require groups of 4 or more to start in Louie Bay and hike south towards Friendly Cove.
This was the direction my group hiked and I think we would all agree it would be our preference again.
I find it motivating to be hiking towards civilization and we were enticed with the possibility that there would be a place to get some burgers at the cove but they had just had a big group clear them out the day before.
Since most of the hiking is on the beach there won’t be many trail markers. What you’ll want to look out for is buoys tied up on trees that will signal the route coming in from the ocean.
Expect wet and extremely dense jungle conditions when hiking in the forest.
Where as there’s not much elevation change, there are large cliff sections that will have ropes to assist with climbing.
In general, there are plenty of fresh water sources that flow from inland out to the ocean. It is important to note that the section between Friendly Cove and near Calvin Falls is a dry section.
It’s only about a 5-mile stretch but that could be split into two days so preplanning is required. Your transportation provider will give you clear instructions on the way out as you go by and update you to current water conditions.
One additional item to take into account are the tides. There are a few stream crossings along the route and knowing the tides and planning around high tide will be beneficial.
Some of these we read about being impassible during high tide such as the one coming out of Calvin Falls. We were at Calvin Falls swimming during high tide and frequently crossing with no concern.
The one tide that is the most imperative to time is closest to Friendly Cove.
This inlet will be swimming depths during high tide and pose the greatest risk.
Ask your transportation provider on the way out for a current report because shifting beaches can create different hazards.
For example, we read about the inlet by Beano camp to be a crossing but when we were there a dune was built up so high that the inlet didn’t extend to the ocean any longer.
It’s hard to pick a favorite aspect of this trip but I think if to choose one, it would be the campsites.
They’re all right on the beach or just inland where the forest is touching the sand.
Food storage wasn’t too big of an issue. Many campsites had hangs already set up, or limbs that were well equipped for hangs. You definitely need your own bear line but finding quality hang locations was breeze.
We had some amazing clear nights of stargazing and fires might be banned but enforcement is limited out there and on the beach you can practice responsible fire management.
Food & Supplies
You will be off the grid this entire trip. Not even Friendly Cove has a resupply option. We had to beg a long stay fisherman family to let us buy chips and sodas off their supplies after finding out the woman who cooks burgers was out.
Plan to overpack on food because weight shouldn’t be a huge concern for this hike for a couple reasons.
The first being no elevation change. The second being the daily mileage totals are very low, all within single digits.
Even in slow beach and dense jungle conditions you won’t be doing a full day of hiking.
It’s better to overpack (within reason), then enjoy the food you might not typically carry on other backpacking trips.
I lead the group in liters of wine carried which made for some tougher hiking but incredible memories swimming, cooking, and watching the sunset with quality bagged wine.
For non-edible items to consider, a GPS like the Garmin inReach Mini is very handy and should be carried by at least one member of your group. You'll need some type of GPS to communicate with your transportation to confirm pick up. (There is the possibility for the lighthouse caretakers to make a call but you don't want to place the responsibility on someone else)
A water filter and having large water sacks will be needed and helpful for longer water carry sections.
A Run Through of My Itinerary:
Start: Gold River
End: Third Beach
We got a float plane heading out of Gold River at 2pm which put us at Third Beach camp around early evening. We had plenty of time to swim, relax, and cook before the sun went down.
We had Third Beach completely to ourselves which made for a wild experience. We spotted Orcas off the coast as well and thoroughly enjoyed this location.
Especially if starting at Louie Bay, I would highly recommend this campsite.
Third Beach as seen from our float plane coming in pictured below.
End: Calvin Falls
This was our favorite day and a very close favorite campsite as well. Calvin Falls is incredible and what you’ve probably seen pictures when looking up the trail online. It’s a great place to explore and walk upstream above the falls.
Of all campsites I think this is a must stop. Even if you show up first thing in the morning, just take the day and night here.
End: Beano Camp
Our weather became overcast the day we hiked to Beano and after the fun we had at Calvin Falls the day before this day seemed average in comparison than the others.
We had a great time relaxing at camp and playing games but I didn’t feel like we would have missed anything if we camped elsewhere.
Can't remember if we saw this whale carcass this day or the day before but it was super cool!
End: Friendly Cove
We had planned to stay at another campsite and walk in the Friendly Cove early the following morning but were lured by the possibility of burgers.
This day of hiking was incredible, we did what some groups would do in two days but it was filled with cliffside vistas and sea caves.
Save some time to explore around Friendly Cove, there is a lot of history and is important to read about the area before setting off.
End: Gold River
We woke up and flew back to Gold River in the morning to end our trip.
Orcas – We saw these from the shore at Third Beach camp
Bears – Actually not plural, we only saw one Black Bear but it was on the beach ahead of us while hiking
Otters – We saw these cute guys floating as our plane was landing in Louie Bay
Eagles – So many Eagles, never have I seen a higher concentration in my life
Deer – We spotted these from afar and thought we might have found Wolves. Unfortunately not.
Maps & Guides
I think it’s definitely worth getting a specific paper map for this trail because of the granular information it will have on the map like names of campsites and stream crossings.
This will make it easier to communicate and plan. A general map like Gaia or AllTrails is good and links to them below but they won’t have the level of detail most would want.
As mentioned one of your best sources of information will be your float plane pilot or ship captain taking you to the trailhead. It was hard to focus flying by and engine roaring but we spotted Calvin Falls and the stream before that we would need to fill up water.
We also got an aerial view of the water crossing approaching Friendly Cove.
This is a truly special hike so I hope this post gave some inspiration to get out there!
Also a big shout out to the group that invited me on this trip! It remains a strong favorite!
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