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Hiking Clayoquot Sound with Hello Nature Adventure Tours

by Adam Doolittle
Hello Nature Adventure Tours Tofino Hiking

While the town of Tofino may be relatively small in size, the area surrounding it – Clayoquot Sound is quite large. With that size comes the ability to get out on many different adventures. From kayaking to wildlife watching to hiking, there’s a never ending list of things you can do when you visit Tofino.

Since arriving in Tofino in October, the one thing I wanted to do more than anything was to get out on the water and explore the various islands of Clayoquot Sound.

One afternoon, a friend tagged me in a Facebook post from Hello Nature Adventure Tours in nearby Ucluelet. The company was going to be doing a couple of hiking trips to Flores and Vargas Island and as a new business, they were inviting bloggers to join them.

When Kate’s sister and niece visited Tofino in March, they went on a hiking tour with Hello Nature and raved about their experience. Knowing this combined with my desire to explore more of Clayoquot Sound, I speedily fired off a message to Kevin at Hello Nature asking if I could join. Shortly after, he informed me that I could indeed join them on both trips that week.

Elated with the news, I immediately started packing my backpack for the upcoming adventures.

Trip 1: Wild Side Trail, Flores Island

With my backpack and hiking boots ready to go, I was excited to hike the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island. The trail is an 11-km traditional trading footpath of the Ahousaht First Nations. A trail that they had used for thousands of years to trade with nearby First Nation communities.

Meeting the Guides

I met Kevin along with the other Hello Nature guides and some guests down on the First Street Dock where we were to hop in a water taxi to make our way to Flores Island. After brief introductions and signing a waiver, we hopped into our water taxi, guided by Mike, a member of the Ahousaht First Nations. Because the Wild Side Trail is on First Nations territory, Hello Nature insists on using First Nations whenever possible to taxi guests out to Flores or Vargas Island. It’s great that they do this as it helps support the Ahousaht First Nations economy.

30 minutes after we first jumped into the boat with Mike, we had passed the various mountains and islands of Clayoquot Sound to arrive at the Ahousaht dock. We happily unloaded, ready for adventure.

Hello Nature Adventure Tours

Mike, our water taxi guide who took us to Ahousaht.

Picking Up Some Trail Companions

To warm up our legs for the hike, Kevin informed us that we would have to walk through both the old and new villages of Ahousaht before reaching the entry point for the Wild Side Trail.

Along the way, we picked up some more guests that would join us throughout our remaining time on Flores Island – three beautiful wolf dogs. Throughout our hike, the dogs would follow or lead us along the trail while periodically disappearing. When the dogs would reappear we would hear crashing through the thick rainforest shrubs. Had they not joined us at the beginning of the hike, we would have likely been convinced we were being tracked down by a small pack of wolves. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Wild Side Trail Hello Nature Adventure Tours

One of the wolf dogs that joined us throughout our hike on the Wild Side Trail

The Fascinating Banana Slug

Just before we hit the trailhead, we came across one of the more unique specimens of Clayoquot Sound – the banana slug. At first, the large slugs are impressive to the eye, simply based on their size alone. Previous to living in Tofino, I’d never seen slugs this size. Beyond their large dimensions, Kevin provided some further interesting details about the banana slug. The slime that the slugs excrete is so sticky that 3M is trying to figure out how to recreate it for practical use with their adhesive products. He demonstrated the sticky strength of the slug by placing it on his hand then turning his hand upside down, displaying the slugs strength as it remained in place.

There are other fascinating facts about banana slugs but you’ll have to join Kevin on a hike and hear the facts straight from him. You’ll be amazed at what these slugs do.

Start of the Wild Side

After about 2km of hiking through the old and new villages of Ahousaht, we had reached the trailhead for the Wild Side Trail.

Originally, when the trail was used by First Nations as a trading route, this trail would have been a lot more rugged than its current conditions. Today, the trail is well maintained and features a quality boardwalk which will eventually cover most of the trail.

Wild Side Trail Hello Nature Adventure Tours

The trailhead of the Wild Side Trail

Learning About The Ecosystem

While we were hiking through the thick temperate rainforest, Kevin would occasionally stop us to tell us about some of the unique features of the rich ecosystem that surrounded us. From the giant ancient red cedars, Sitka spruce & hemlock to the various berry bushes and shrubs, Kevin displayed an immense amount of knowledge of everything that surrounded us making the hike rewarding both physically and mentally. As someone who is naturally curious, I fired a plethora of questions towards Kevin throughout the day, all of which he easily answered.

One of the more interesting things that we spotted in the rainforest was a collection of culturally modified trees. These are ancient red cedars that have had pieces of bark stripped from them by First Nations. The strips will then be used in a variety of ways such as to make clothing, thread, crafts, etc… By only taking a small strip from the tree it allows the tree to continue growing as well.

Wild Side Trail Hello Nature Adventure Tours.

A culturally modified red cedar.

Lunch & Whales

As the sun beat down us we continued to alternate between winding through the rainforest and walking along stretches of beach which cooled us down with the cool breeze of the Pacific.

A couple hours after first hitting the trailhead, we arrived at the end of a long beach near a creek where we stopped for lunch. Kevin informed us that we were about 7km into the trail at this point and that we wouldn’t be going any further today. During a booked tour, guests would continue another 4-km to arrive at Cow Bay before getting picked up by a water taxi and heading back to Tofino.

While this would be as far as we were going, our small group was content to stop for lunch and explore a bit. I quickly found a dried up sea star near our lunch spot. While it was quite dry, based on the stench it was emitting it was clear that it was still decomposing.

Sea Star Wild Side Trail Hello Nature Adventure Tours

A dried up sea star laying on the beach near where we had lunch.

Soon after, our group enjoyed a wonderful lunch that Hello Nature provides for its guests on these hikes. They had wonderful bread and meats and cheese to make sandwiches along with some fruit and veggies and my favourite – white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. It took everything within me not to grab the box of cookies and sneak off and keep them to myself. White chocolate macadamia nut cookies are an addiction for me.

As we sat in the sun and enjoyed our lunch, in the distance we could see some of the local whale watching boats from Tofino in the area. Soon after seeing them we started to see spouts of whales blow up from the water. So, as we continued eating lunch we had the pleasure of watching grey whales also feed and sporadically appear. Peering through some binoculars, a German guest, Katie, was smiling ear-to-ear as this was her first chance to see whales in person.

While we had come for a fun and adventurous hike, spotting wildlife wasn’t a guarantee. However, Clayoquot Sound is a wild area and stumbling on wildlife anywhere you go isn’t uncommon. Not only did we see whales that day, we spotted a seal at one point, too. We also saw probably 15-20 bald eagles throughout the hike, which always puts a smile on my face.

Once we had finished lunch, we packed up our gear and over the next couple of hours made our way back to the dock in Ahousaht while occasionally stopping to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

More photos of the Wild Side Trail (Click to enlarge)…

If you want to enjoy a relatively easy hike, but also enjoy a more remote hike with little to no other human contact, you should join Hello Nature to hike the Wild Side Trail. However, if you’re looking for a more rugged and wild hike, you may enjoy…

Trip 2: Vargas Island

Unlike the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island, hiking Vargas Island would prove to be a tad more adventurous than I had expected. A couple of days after hiking the Wild Side Trail, I met up with Kevin and a couple other guides from Hello Nature at Jamie’s Whaling Station. It was here that we would grab a boat out to Vargas Island. As previously mentioned, Hello Nature will employ the Ahousaht First Nations to transport groups to the various islands, however, when they’re unavailable, Hello Nature will use Jamie’s.

A Zodiac Adventure

For this adventure, rather than take your typical boat, we were going to be flying through the water in a Zodiac. This meant that we had to get suited up in survival suits that would provide both warmth during the trip out as well as our floatation devices.

Vargas Island Hello Nature Adventure Tours

All suited up and ready to take the Zodiac to Vargas Island

Down at the dock, we met up with Sarah who would be taking us out to Vargas Island. Like the trip to Flores Island, the trip to Vargas Island was about 25-30 minutes. However, when we approached the island it quickly became apparent that our landing wasn’t going to be like one we had in Ahousaht a couple of days before.

As the Zodiac closed in on the island my eyes searched for a dock. I remarked to Kevin, “there’s no dock is there?” He confirmed my suspicion as we closed in on the island towards a group of black rock where we would indeed be landing the Zodiac.

As we got closer, in my head I was constantly thinking about disembarking the Zodiac onto the wet & slippery rocks. I was hoping I wouldn’t make a scene of any kind. My long, unathletic body leads me to be rather clumsy at times and all I could constantly picture was myself tripping as I made my way off the boat stumbling onto the rocks or into the freezing water. Thankfully, I remained composed and landed on the island without any sort of embarrassing incident.

Vargas Island Hello Nature Adventure Tours

Offloading from the Zodiac onto the black rock of Vargas Island

Time to Hike

Once on the island, it was time to start hiking. After a quick walk on a stony beach, we reached the trailhead of the unnamed trail. It quickly became clear that this hike was going to be a bit more rugged than the Wild Side Trail.

Unlike the Wild Side Trail, this trail on Vargas Island had no boardwalks. Nor was it wide open in most sections. Rather, the trail was a mix of muddy, closed in trails with some sections requiring me to do a walking squat to prevent my head from getting scratched by the low hanging trees and shrubs.

Vargas Island Hello Nature Adventure Tours

The tall trees of Vargas Island

While it sounds a little more daunting, the ruggedness of this trail was incredible to me. I loved the fact how untouched the trail mostly was. Aside from the three resident wolves on Vargas Island, not many use the path we hiked that day. Throughout the entirety of our time on the island we didn’t spot another soul.

During the busier summer months, it’s possible you might stumble on some surfers who reach the island to surf a small beach called Little Baja. Dotted throughout some of the beaches were surfer shacks made from driftwood alongside the remnants of previous campfires.

Vargas Island Hello Nature Adventure Tours

A surfer shack made from driftwood on Vargas Island

Whale Watching

After hiking for a few hours, we sat on a beach in a small cove, where like our previous hike, we spotted grey whales spout in the distance. It was in this cove that we would soon be picked up in the Zodiac by Sarah. Again, there was no dock to easily hop into the boat. This meant going from the slippery rocks into the Zodiac. This sparked up my thoughts of embarrassingly falling or slipping but I remained steady and boarded the Zodiac without issue.

As Sarah backed the Zodiac off the rocks, we decided that we were going to see if we could spot the whales we were seeing from the cove. For 15-20 minutes, we quietly sat on the water watching for grey whales. Much to our delight, we consistently saw 2-3 grey whales. More amazingly was the fact we got to see one of the grey whales breach its tail which is more uncommon compared to other whales in the area like the humpback whales.

Vargas Island Hello Nature Adventure Tours Grey Whale

A grey whale breaching its tail for us

With some unexpected whale watching under our belt, we made our way to the open ocean where the Zodiac was hitting big swells causing a bucking bronco feeling as we made our way back to town. I got to say, riding in Zodiacs are so much more fun than normal boats. No doubt I had a childish grin on my face as we hit big waves throughout the ride home.

More photos of  Vargas Island (Click to enlarge)…

Book Your Hike With Hello Nature Adventure Tours

With two amazing hiking adventures with Hello Nature Adventure Tours behind me, I can say without any doubt that if you come to Tofino that you MUST hike either Vargas Island or the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island with them. Not only are you going to hike trails that most tourists don’t get to hike but you’re also going to get top-notch interpretation as you hike through the beautiful rainforest and beaches that make up these hikes.

Hello Nature Adventure Tours also specialize in kayaking expeditions, primarily in the Ucluelet area. They have one of the most unique kayaking experiences you could ever imagine doing – a nighttime kayak trip where you kayak through bioluminescent waters which grace our area during the late summer.

Regardless of what type of wild experience you seek, Hello Nature Adventure Tours will take you on a memorable adventure when you visit Clayoquot and Barkley Sound.

 

Book Your Adventure Now: HelloNature.ca

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