Anna Atleo works within the bustling atmosphere of the Lone Cone Tofino Office. (Marcie Callewaert / Photo)

Aboriginal tourism growing in Ahousaht

Local Ahousaht guides are available for both trails and can share local knowledge and stories along the route.

MARCIE CALLEWAERT

Special to the Westerly

In recent years, Clayoquot Sound has become a destination hiking hotspot and is gaining publicity for two trails in particular, Lone Cone Trail on Meares Island and Walk the Wildside Trail on Flores Island.

Both trails are managed by the Maaqtusiis Hahouthlee Stewardship Society, an economic development group overseen by the Ahousaht Hereditary Chiefs. Aboriginal tourism is on the rise in BC with visitors looking for First Nation guides, detailed histories and different perspectives of the lands they are visiting.

Anna Atleo, the Lone Cone Tofino office manager explained that tourism is a “tool for our people to be recognized” and is a “great opportunity to expose [our culture] to people all over the world.”

These “must-see” trails allow hikers to travel back into history with culturally modified cedar trees, dugout canoes resting in the forest and ancient stories connected to the land.

Lone Cone Trail is a 3.4 kilometre trail up Lone Cone Mountain. The view at the top rivals any other of the region, including the Cox Point look out. A variety of companies offer water taxi services to the island, but the best all inclusive service is the Lone Cone office themselves, located in the lower Shore Building on Main Street.

The Lone Cone office recommends planning for a five-hour return trip. No camping is allowed on the trail but the Lone Cone Hostel and Campground at the base offers a relaxing option, with a hot tub, sand volleyball court and kayak and paddleboard rentals off a white sand beach.

Bookings are made through the Lone Cone office. Trail fees and the water taxi are included in your overnight stay.

The 11-kilometre-long (22-kilometre roundtrip) Walk the Wildside Trail is also only accessible by water taxi. Taxis can be arranged through the Lone Cone office, or hikers can contact the Ahous Fuel Bar in Ahousaht. Most water taxis to Ahousaht board at the First Street Dock in Tofino.

The boat ride is a 35-minute scenic ride through Clayoquot Sound with sights of Meares, Vargas and Flores Island, as well as Catface Mountain. Some hikers opt to charter a boat to the Cow Bay trailhead and complete a one-way hike back to the village.

Hikers can register for the trail at the Ahous Fuel Bar. From there they will follow the signs through the village to the trailhead at First Beach. The trail is maintained by the Ahousaht Guardians who clear windfalls and upgrade the boardwalk system as needed. About half of the trail is on remote sandy beaches that rival those of Hawaii, some hikers have remarked.

There is a good chance you will be able to enjoy empty beaches all to yourself while you are on the trail. Hikers are allowed to camp overnight along the trail. Bear caches and outhouses are located at specific beaches. Due to recent wolf encounters, dogs are not permitted on the Walk the Wildside Trail. They are still allowed on Lone Cone though and can stay with you at the campground for a small fee.

Local Ahousaht guides are available for both trails and can share local knowledge and stories along the route. For those looking for a more intimate connection to the land, this is a great option.

Though MHSS has not kept official visitor numbers to date for either trail, they say visits are definitely increasing year to year and they expect them to continue to rise.

When it comes to which trail is the favourite, many have a difficult time deciding. Atleo reminisced about the whales you can sometimes watch at Cow Bay on the Walk the Wildside Trail before deciding the “beautiful view and huge culturally modified trees” on Lone Cone Trail made it her favourite.

Christian Swan of Ahousaht, particularly enjoyed reading the entries in the guestbook in the emergency shelter cabin along the Walk the Wildside Trail.

Tourists are “yearning” for Aboriginal content and engagement and for more authentic travel experiences, according to Atleo.

The Ahousaht Nation has opened their arms to share their stories and history with visitors to their territory.

No matter which trail you hike, Atleo promised it’s the “best medicine to be out there, amongst the cedar trees.”

Those wishing to book a water taxi or guide, or inquire about trail fees and reservations can contact the Lone Cone Tofino office at 250-725-2169 or Ahous Fuel Bar at 250-670-6803.

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