Misty History: Hiking the Wild Side Trail
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Rising up out of the cold Pacific waters that face the small surf town of Tofino is Flores Island. While the ancient trees that blanket this island have never been logged, the Nuu-chah-nulth people have called Flores home for centuries, if not millennia. Organized today into the Ahousaht Nation, the Nuu-Chah-nulth are the caretakers of the island and are the current creators and stewards of the “Wild Side Trail”. The Wild Side Trail begins in the small community of Ahousaht and snakes its way along the wild southern coast of the island, ending in a stunning stretch of sand and surf called Cow Bay.
While most hiking trails in British Columbia can guarantee their fair share of natural beauty, this trail is very special because it pairs that natural beauty with rich layers of Indigenous culture and history. In fact, long before it lured the occasional tourists away from the famous pubs and tacos of Tofino, this trail acted as a route between different Nuu-Chah-nulth sites on Flores Island. Walking along this trail, you might notice culturally modified trees, stripped of portions of their bark for ceremonial or practical use by previous generations. The Ahousaht Nation has also placed the occasional sign marker to indicate certain spiritual legends or history tied to the physical landscape. We spent a lot of time before this hike researching the traditions and current political resistance of the Ahousaht and would really recommend other hikers to do the same. The west coast of BC has a fascinating history and exploring even a bit of it will add a lot of depth to hikes like this.
To cross the Claqyoquot Sound and get to Flores Island, we paid a young Ahoushat man forty dollars to take our bulging backpacks and us on his small boat. We were the only passengers and the journey took less than thirty minutes; this is too bad because, unless you get stuck in sickeningly choppy water, the ride is pleasant and gives you a fantastic preview of the mountainous green archipelago that dots the Clayoquout Sound. After docking in the community of Ahousaht we paid our trail fee to the band caretakers and began our walk out of the reserve and onto the trail.
Two things you should expect when arriving: friendly, easy going chit chat and hellos from everyone you pass, and rez dogs. It seems that this reservation comes with its own supply of semi-domesticated dogs, who roam the land and who simultaneously belong to no one and everyone. These dogs were some of the friendliest we have ever encountered and behave more like your loyal companion than your average stray. We were accompanied on our hike by these dogs the entire way, despite our best efforts to persuade them to leave. It wasn’t that we didn’t appreciate their company; in fact, we fell in love with all of them. However, the Clayoquot Sound is inhabited by wolves. These wolves are unique in that they get the majority of their food from the ocean and small packs of them are known to prowl the beaches of Flores Island. As a result, having dogs with us might attract unwanted attention from jealous wolves.
Before setting up our tent at the end of the hike, we chased the dogs away, for their safety and for ours. However, when we woke up the next morning we found them all sleeping soundly just metres from our tent so we obviously were not too successful.
The Wild Side Trail has almost no elevation gain. Unlike the West Coast Trail, there are no ladders or slippery climbs up and over headwalls on this trail. The trail alternates between narrow paths in lush temperate rainforest and wide-open expanses of sand that, other than the mighty cedars and Pacific fog, might be mistaken for somewhere more tropical. In fact, despite being laden down with backpacks, we found this trail to be super pleasant. However, we still took the opportunity to rest and relax all along the way, if only to soak in the coastal vistas; what sort of masochist can just stride past a sunny beach?
Cow Bay, at the end of the formal trail, has a food locker to keep your snacks safe from bears and wolves. The bay offers sunset views, soft sand for your tent and serene camping. It is a long and wide beach, crisscrossed by driftwood smoothed down by waves. After popping up our accommodation for the night, we created a beach fire for the obligatory s’mores and watched a giant orange sun drip into the thick mist that hung just off shore. Since we were only a few yards from the ocean (at high tide mark of course) the night air soon became chilled and we retreated to our sleeping bags inside the tent, listening to the waves lap against the beach, feeling like the only people on the island.