Edge of ocean magic on Vancouver Island’s Wild Pacific Trail

A view from the Wild Pacific Trail is seen in this undated, handout photo.
A view from the Wild Pacific Trail is seen in this undated, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Barbara Schramm

UCLUELET, B.C. – Oyster Jim says walking Vancouver Island’s Wild Pacific Trail is a journey along the edge of the open Pacific Ocean, with its majesty, power and beauty in full view.

Many agree, as the eight-kilometre nature trail near Ucluelet, B.C., about 300 kilometres northwest of Victoria, has been ranked the top outdoor attraction in the province by TripAdvisor and among the travel ranking site’s top 10 in Canada.

Waves as high as houses crash against the rocks at the iconic Amphitrite Point lighthouse, once toppled by a massive wave. Migrating grey whales are spotted from easy-access trail-viewing areas, and huge cedar trees, hundreds of years old, reach for the sky.

“For wildlife viewing and for just spectacular views, even when it’s blowing and it’s going, it’s special,” said Jim Martin, known locally as Oyster Jim and widely regarded as the person whose search for shoreline fishing holes spawned the trail’s creation.

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“When it’s sunny and flat, it’s special. It’s a great experience every day,” he said. “I call it streaming postcards.”

Martin’s can-do quest to build a world-class trail became the focus of the 2009 documentary “Walking on the Edge,” narrated by Vancouver-born actor Jason Priestley.

Martin arrived in Ucluelet from Colorado in the late 1970s and his vision for an ocean-side trail eventually became a community endeavour, with the original 2.6-kilometre loop at the lighthouse opening in 1999. Martin can still be found today tweaking the trails and welcoming visitors.

“The thing that sets the Wild Pacific Trail apart is this is a totally unique section of shoreline unlike anywhere else,” he said. “It fronts onto the open Pacific Ocean. It’s not typical like a beach. This gives you all different kinds of vistas and everything is different and interesting. There might be tranquil pools. Then there will be a vertical cliff edge where the wave action is spectacular.”

Ucluelet, a one-time logging- and fishing-dependent village of about 1,600 people, has embraced the trail as its ticket to tourism opportunities. Ucluelet is about 40 kilometres south of Tofino and near Pacific Rim National Park, one of the West Coast’s most popular vacation spots.

“Ucluelet was never happy with tourists,” said Martin. “In fact, they told the hippies to stay away. The reputation kind of made everybody turn right at the (Tofino-Ucluelet) junction because the beaches were to the right and Tofino was to the right.”

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But serious industry downturns in the 1990s saw Ucluelet embrace its natural assets and the Wild Pacific Trail, now managed by a community board, has become a prime attraction.

“And now, even though we’re a small market, we’re battling with the big guns,” said Martin. “We’ve been TripAdvisor’s top attraction in B.C.”

Martin prides himself on the trail’s easy accessibility and its free admission.

“The trail is built for everyone, children, all the way to people with walkers and in wheelchairs,” he said, laughing. “It’s wheelchair accessible as long as you have a big guy pushing you.”

Martin said the gravel trail bed provides an accessible hiking surface and numerous entry and exit points allow people to hike over a period of days or do the full distance in one day.

“From Day 1, I told people this is a world treasure,” Martin said. “This is an eighth wonder of the world.”

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