Pacific Rim National Park: The Nuu-chah-nulth Trail
by Sean McCarroll, Tofino
The Nuu-chah-nulth trail (formerly the Wickaninnish) is an interpretive trail that links Florencia Bay to Long Beach. Starting at the Wickaninnish Centre, about 28 km south of Tofino, it is an easy 2.5 km hike that follows the remnants of an early path used by the Nuu-chah-nulth traveling between what are now Tofino and Ucluelet.
When white settlers arrived the trail was upgraded with logs laid side-by-side across the path. Because of its resemblance to the contoured fabric, it became known as a "corduroy trail," and served as an early highway for Model T's.
The trail has since grown over and most of it has been replaced by a sturdy wooden boardwalk, but there are still sections along the path where you can see and walk over the original trail. It serves as a visible reminder of the rich history of the land and the people who called it home long before paved highways and National Parks made the area accessible to anyone willing to make the trip.
To access the trail you can either begin at the southern end of Long Beach at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre or at the end of the trail at the parking lot at Florencia Bay.
Starting from Long Beach, follow the South Beach trail until you reach a fork in the road at the crest of the first hill. This is the beginning of the Nuu-chah-nulth trail. It ascends from the wind-swept coast into an old-growth forest dominated by large Sitka Spruce. The sounds of the waves rumbling onto Long Beach, Lismer Beach, and South Beach are gradually muffled by the thick forest on either side of the wooden boardwalk that continues for most of the trail. Soon the only sounds you can hear are birds chirping, the wind blowing through the trees and the sounds of your own feet.
After about 15 minutes through the forest, the trail descends into a bog where you can walk over original sections of the early trail. On either side of the "corduroy trail" stunted, gnarly shore pine and the sound of trickling water provide an interesting contrast to the surrounding old-growth forest through which you just walked.
In the bog, and at various other sections of the trail, there are strategically placed interpretive signs that explain how the Nuu-chah-nulth flourished in these rugged surroundings. Visitors are encouraged to spot the Labrador Tea plant that was dried, crushed and used to make tea; identify the tracks of the various animals, such as the cougar, deer, wolf, and black bear with whom the Nuu-chah-nulth shared the land; and learn how clothing and baskets were made from the soft inner bark of cedar trees.
From the bog, which can become quite muddy, the trail emerges into a forest that was logged near the turn of the century. If you stop at the top of the boardwalk leading from the bog into the forest you can begin to hear faint traces of the surf crashing on the beach at Florencia Bay. The forest here is much thinner than the old-growth forest at the beginning of the trail. Sunlight passes more easily through the trees and birds and squirrels can be seen in the branches. After about five minutes of walking you reach the end of the wooden boardwalk but the trail can still easily be followed along the forest floor.
As you continue to walk the sounds of the surf become louder and more and more sunlight passes through the trees. After about five minutes you will reach the Florencia Bay parking lot. Turn right and follow the trail down the stairs to the beach.
The beach was named after the Peruvian brig, Florencia that broke up and sunk in the bay early in the 20th century. From the 1870's onward the bay has also been known as Wreck Bay.
The beach is about 3.5 km in length and is characterized by its curved c shape and its white sand. In the late 1960's the beach was the site of a small "squatter" settlement. It is now a great spot to come for a picnic or to beach-comb among the large driftwood logs that line the shore.
The whole hike takes about 40 minutes to complete. It is fairly easy going most of the way but the wooden boardwalk can be quite slippery and there are often muddy sections along the trail.
Sean McCarroll is an outdoor and travel writer from Nova Scotia.
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