One man’s dream. One magical internationally-renowned legacy. That best sums up Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail – a spectacular network of easily accessible walking trails that stretches for a total of 10 kilometres (6.25 miles) along the awe-inspiring headlands of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe this beautiful-beyond-words trail. And there probably aren’t enough words in the English language to thank Oyster Jim Martin, the affable, low-key fellow who came up with the idea way back in 1980 and finally is seeing his dream come to fruition after 25 years.
The story of Oyster Jim and the Wild Pacific Trail evolved because Jim enjoyed fishing and hiking along the rough coastal headlands near the small fishing village of Ucluelet. He conceived of a walking trail that would allow folks of all ages, abilities and financial status to enjoy the sublime beauty of the wild coastline. His initial efforts to interest the community fell on deaf ears – fishing and logging were the mainstays of the local economy early on and there was little, if any, interest in developing the trail.
Things began going sideways with the traditional employment tracks in the late 1980s however, and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out of both sources of income for many local families. Oyster Jim, with his quiet persistence, convinced the community that a trail that offered stunning vistas might help boost tourism.
It all sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact the maneuvering that it took to acquire the co-operation of developers, First Nations, private property owners, federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments and logging companies is almost as mind-boggling as the finished product. Oyster Jim credits Charles S. Smith, former director of real estate for the now extinct MacMillan Bloedel forestry company, with much of the success of acquiring access to the headlands, but it is clear that without Oyster Jim’s perseverance nothing would have happened.
The first leg of the trail, a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) loop, wends its way through old growth rainforest, along craggy promontories, out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse and back to a well-marked parking lot. The loop trail opened in 1999 and has been a popular destination for locals and travelers alike. We got our first taste of it at sunset during a brief summer stopover and were so entranced that we made immediate plans to return, to see more and take in the stunning sweeping vistas, the wildlife, the forest – the enchantment of a truly wild, unspoiled and inspiring place.
The Lighthouse Loop is an easy walk, and pretty much anyone should be able to manage it with ease. There is even wheelchair access at the lighthouse; anyone in a wheelchair with a strong companion would probably be able to enjoy the entire loop with little trouble.
Further along the peninsula there is an additional 7 1/2 kilometres (4.6 miles) of trail that straggles along the coastline, providing more spectacular scenery looking out to the vast Pacific Ocean. Various sections of the trail are divided up with names such as Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs, Artist Loops, and Big Beach and Brown’s Beach. There is also an interpretive trail at Terrace Beach, very close to the lighthouse loop.
Depending on where you decide to start and finish your exploration (there are several access points) you will find picnic tables, a children’s interpretive area, viewing decks, beaches, surge channels, pounding surf – well, the list of delights is endless and always varied depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit. You can certainly rest assured that you will never be bored, and you will never see the same thing twice – the varied moods of the ocean and the bordering bluffs and forests guarantee that.
One of the best features of the trail is the fact that it allows visitors to marvel at the massive gray whales (upwards of 20,000 of them) that migrate through the area between March and May each year. There is plenty of other wildlife as well, including bald eagles, sea otters, occasional bear, deer, cougar and wolf.
While some visitors may feel a little nervous about the possibility of encounters with larger predators, Oyster Jim offers a succinct answer to their concerns: “If you act like bait, you get treated like bait.” There are tips on dealing with wildlife in the trail brochure, which is available at the access points to the various sections of the trail.
Virtually all of the trail is well-marked and very well maintained – Oyster Jim spends 48 days a year on the maintenance aspect alone. The actual meticulous building of the trail, viewing platforms, bridges and other features seems to take up most of the rest of his time, but despite the long slog to make his vision a reality he still exudes a quiet enthusiasm for all it offers.
Along the trails visitors will find benches (many of them in memory of Ucluelet pioneers), interpretive signs, brochures, donation boxes, maps, distance markers and bags for doggy excrement. The entire trail system is so well planned, laid-out and maintained that one is left marveling at the minds and hearts that have created it all. Donations from all quarters help to support the trail, and a dedicated 12-member volunteer board of directors steers the affairs of the non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society.
I have only one warning about the Wild Pacific Trail – if you expect to complete hiking the various sections in the suggested times on the brochures, forget it. We took more than twice as long on a couple of sections – not because of any difficulty with the trail, but because at every turn there was another breathtaking view that meant we paused, took hundreds of photos and reveled in the moment (which often stretched to several minutes). I am sure that Oyster Jim and his dedicated team will be pleased to hear that – it is what this wonderful trail is all about.
Further information on the Wild Pacific Trail can be obtained by going to the excellent website (be sure to watch the 22 minute video there) at:
GPS co-ordinates for the first leg of the trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, are:
Lat. 48.92369104633025 Long. -125.54015174761571
N 48 55.421 W 125 32.409