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Meares Island Boat Dock

Hiking Meares Island, Tofino, British Columbia

By Carol Stathers

The Covid pandemic may be keeping us at home right now but we all need to start making plans for summer travel in British Columbia. Meares Island Is a great hike if you are planning a trip to the Pacific Rim.

When we decided to take a day trip to Meares Island, a short distance from Tofino on the Pacific Rim, what stood out in my mind was the environmental protests back in the 1980s. Little did I realize, Meares Island has more rich history I was about to learn about along with the great hiking and possibly some mud!  

A quick Google search reminded me that Meares Island was once the site of protests between environmentalists and the First Nation’s people against a large logging company. The BC government had given permission to clear cut up to 90% of the trees on the island; what went down in the history books were protests called the “War in the Woods” resulting in environmentalists, First Nations and residents of nearby Tofino facing off against the timber giant MacMillan Bloedel. The final outcome was a halt to the logging and the creation of the Wanachus/Hilthuu’is (Meares Island) Tribal Park. This protected park is maintained by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and open to the public.

Welcome to Meares Island | Photo: C. Stathers

What I didn’t know was that Meares Island was also home to the Christie (Kakawis) Indian Residential School which operated until 1983. Christie was one of five residential schools on Vancouver Island and the last one to operate in BC. Apparently students, who were known for escaping from other residential schools, were often sent to Christie due to its remote location. Not long after it closed, the school burnt to the ground and since 2005 has been the site of the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground owned by the Ahousaht First Nations.

Taxi to Meares Island | Photo: C. Stathers

To get to Meares Island, we took a 10-15 minute water taxi across the bay from the harbour in Tofino, at a round-trip cost of about $40. It felt like a donation when I learned that a portion of the cost of the water taxi goes to maintaining the beautiful trails.

Giant Trees Proliferate on Meares Island | Photo: C. Stathers

Known for its huge trees, some of these giants on Meares Island are thought to be between 800-1300 years old. The trail we took is called the “Big Tree Trail” passing through old growth and the “Hanging Garden Tree” which is a Western Red Cedar more than 1000 years old! Throughout the park, we were in awe of the size of the cedar trees, known as the “Trees of Life”. These trees have long been considered sacred to the indigenous way of life, providing shelter, canoes and even the inner bark being used for clothing.

Cedar Tree of Life | Photo: C. Stathers

For us, the hike took about 2 hours plus extra time at the beach for our picnic lunch.

The first section takes you across hand-spliced cedar plank boardwalks for about 20-30 minutes. The middle section starts at the end of the boardwalk through the boot-sucking mud to the beach for about an hour (the trail is marked by pink flagging tape) and then the last section, from the beach to the dock, meanders through and up and over fallen trees and takes about 30 minutes.

We definitely took our time and took lots of photos along the way. I would recommend taking a walking pole or stick and keeping one hand free to hold onto railings or trees/branches especially in the middle section. As I mentioned it can be muddy, we successfully avoided the mud by walking along the side of the trail. There are lots of fallen trees to climb over or duck under. Make sure you wear good rain gear and waterproof hiking boots to help as you navigate the mud and sometimes – slippery boardwalks.

Following the Trail | Photo: C. Stathers

For those who desire the less-adventurous route, you can turn around at the end of the first section where the boardwalk ends and then return to the dock.

In the middle section, you will see a series of old pipes. We wondered what these were and when we returned, we learned that Meares Island is the main water source for Tofino and the pipes we saw were for the waterline and power line which ran a pump which is no longer operating. Today water is collected from four streams on Meares Island and transported back to the mainland through an underwater pipeline across the bay.

View from Meares Island | Photo: C. Stathers

I would describe this trail as fairly challenging if you complete the full loop due to the mud and climbing over or under the fallen trees.  I would say that the first section is pretty easy with the exception of how slippery the boardwalks can be. For those more adventurous or who have more time, there is another trail called the Lone Cone Hike. For us, the Big Tree Trail was the perfect mix of adventure through the old growth forest and beautiful ocean views.  

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Published: April 8, 2021

About the Author

Carol loves being in the outdoors whether it is hiking, camping, kayaking or enjoying time at the lake. With a health background in nursing, she has written for many health-related journals and is also writing a historical non-fiction book about the Peach Valley area of Summerland where she lives. Along with writing, she and her family love camping. She grew up camping on Vancouver Island and has explored many parts of BC with her husband, three kids and their golden retriever. She and her newly-retired husband just upgraded to a newer trailer and are looking forward to more camping adventures throughout British Columbia.

Camping Lodging

The Super Camping / Select Lodging Guide

First Published in 1989