Somewhere along the way this year, backpacking went from being Dana’s hobby that I (un)willingly tagged along for, to a pastime that I also look forward to tremendously.
A few weeks before Dana and I left for our whirlwind 2017 BC road trip, I stumbled across a blog post with a round-up of under-the-radar hikes/backpacks (of course I can’t find the post to link to now). The Wild Side Trail on Flores Island was listed. Some quick googling educated me that Flores Island is accessible from Tofino by a 30-40 minute water taxi, and that the trail doesn’t require advance reservations.
Since we… enjoyed (I say with reluctance)… the West Coast Trail last summer, I figured another coastal island hike would be right up our alley. Although both trails have that in common, we vastly preferred the Wild Side Trail although the West Coast Trail is certainly a commendable adventure.
Due to a small missing toothpaste mishap at the Surf Junction Campground, Dana and I were nearly late catching the 10:30 water taxi to Ahousaht. Luckily we caught it by the skin of our teeth, and off we jetted for Flores Island. (Although we found out after that the 10:30/4:00 water taxi times shown on the Wild Side Trail website are just a rough guideline – there are usually taxis going back and forth all day.) We rode out with two day hikers who ended up keeping us company for the first couple of kms.
When you reach Ahousaht, you can buy Wild Side permits at a booth right at the dock. The young man working there warned the day hikers about a wolf attack on a dog the previous day, so we were very conscious of the wolves for our stay. To reach the trail head, you first walk about a mile through the reserve. The map was a bit unclear, but walk through the new development and go right to where the pavement runs out, then follow the rough road to the trail head.
We were treated to a gorgeous bluebird sky day and the kilometers went by relatively quickly, with the day hikers along to chat with. I worked up a sweat as it was a hot day out, with lots of beach walking.
Depending on the tide, you can hike in the trees more, but Dana and I stuck to the beach as much as we could. The sand was totally different from the West Coast Trail – in a good way! – and it made for easy hiking. We couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views.
There was one cool part of the trail, near the path for the emergency shelter, where you could cut through a cave to get to the other side. Depends on the tide – super cool though!
We ran in to just a couple people that entire day (again, very different than the West Coast Trail), and when we set up our camp on the beach, we were the only ones on Cow Bay. We set up our camp near the creek, with the protection of some trees to block the wind off the ocean. We did have one other party show up later in the day, but they camped on the tent pads near the bear locker, so we had the beach to ourselves!
Dana needed to fix our camp stove (handy husband that he is), but then we set off to explore the bay in our bare feet. The nearest outcrop was actually 2 km away but we had such a great time exploring and cooling off our feet in the water.
We found a few semi-warm pools of water the high tide had left behind and were excited to have a little bath, but didn’t realize there were little biting shrimp-os* lurking in the water. (*probably not actually shrimps, but we’re landlubbers) So much laughter was had as we jumped around looking for shrimps on each other. We kept referring to them as the Lachyrmos Leeches (from Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books).
By the time we got back to camp, we were more than ready for dinner. After filling our grumbling bellies, we passed the rest of the evening sitting on the rocks watching the ocean and relaxing. Such a beautiful place!
As is typical on backpacking trips, I had an annoyingly broken sleep that night, but we woke up to yet another gorgeous blue sky day with the sound of the waves crashing in the bay. It was hard to be grumpy waking up in paradise!
We had our breakfast and coffee then very slowly and reluctantly packed up camp. It was so hard to leave! If we didn’t have a hotel booked that night in Tofino, we definitely would have stayed another night on the bay.
I think we got rolling around 10:00 but we had a very relaxed pace as we soaked up the sun and the views and perused tide pools for marine life on the way back. Some other backpackers had warned us about crossing the creek at high tide, but we went a bit upstream to where the wolves had crossed, and we were fine. The cold water felt so refreshing with the heat of the day and our tired feet!
Eventually Dana herded us onwards down the beach. The forest exits off the beach were not always obvious though, plus we were enjoying the beach so much, that we did some rock scrambling and wading around rocks (with the tide in) so we could stay on the beach.
When we got back to Ahousaht, catching a water taxi back was no issue and I even made friends with a reserve dog. I thought he might come home with me, but I don’t know how Penny would feel about that…
In summary, we loved the Wild Side Trail and can’t recommend it highly enough. Plan for two nights at least! If you’re considering the West Coast Trail, try the Wild Side first just to see what a kinder, gentler version would be like. The West Coast Trail is gritty and hard, and because of its length, it can beat you down mentally and physically. The Wild Side is its shorter, more light-hearted cousin (and no ladders!).