One of my all time favorite backpacking experiences is the West Coast Trail, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It helps that I live just a couple hours from one of the trail heads, but it’s also the only significantly long trail that I’ve done more than once, and one of the few trails that I know I want to do again someday.
The trail is 75 kilometers long, or 47 miles, and while you can rush through it in three days, there are more than enough rocks, roots, mud and beautiful scenery that most people slow down and take a few more days. A slower journey means more time to take in the many scenic views and less chance of ending up on your backside in a mud puddle.
While the scenery is one of the major draws of the West Coast Trail, one of the landmarks that everyone makes sure to take in is the burger stand called Chez Monique’s; roughly halfway through at about the 44 kilometer mark, that is run by some of the Native Americans that live in the area the trail passes through. But while the burgers are definitely good, there is something better just up the trail, assuming you’re hiking South to North.
At the Nitnat narrows ferry crossing, which is at kilometer 32, you can find fresh seafood on offering, along with a few side dishes and beer. Most people opt to have their seafood cooked up on the spot by the ferry operator, but if you take it to go and get to the next camp site in good time you can cook your seafood up for dinner your way. None of this food is cheap, of course, but at that point in the trip most people are happy to open their wallets.
One of the great things about the West Coast Trail is that open fires are allowed, even in the warm summer months. This is because even in those warm summer months there’s a good chance you’re going to get rained on. It’s a rain forest that puts the emphasis on rain. An open fire, of course, is perfect for fresh seafood, especially salmon. Here’s one of my favorite recipes for trail salmon, which is similar to one found on Camping Recipes.
The first thing to do is get your fire going. For this recipe you’ll want a large amount of hot coals, which can take awhile, so the sooner the fire is going the better.
Next, prep your fish. If you had to catch it yourself you’ll need to do some scaling and gutting, but for those lucky enough to buy it fresh the prep work is probably already done. Next, coat the salmon in whatever fat you have. I really like coconut oil, especially for taking backpacking, because it stays solid at room temperature and tastes great on fish. Olive oil and butter are also great options for salmon. Next, sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and your spices of choice. For salmon, dill is my personal favorite, but fennel, lemon pepper, thyme or some combination of the above also make excellent choices. Spices really are ideal for backpacking because they wont go bad on you and weigh next to nothing. And when you can pick up the main ingredient of the meal fresh, and just a few kilometers from your camp site, that’s even better.
One thing that you might want to try, and that I’ve personally done before, is add in a few cedar wood shavings. Cedar trees are abundant in the Pacific Northwest and cedar shavings make for a great campfire version of cedar plank salmon, which is a classic west coast dish.
Lastly, wrap everything up together in tin foil and you’re all set. Getting the whole package covered in coals is ideal, but flipping your fish halfway through is an option too. Cooking times will vary, depending on how hot your coals are and how thick your fish is, but you’re probably going to aim for something like 10 to 15 minutes.
After that you eat. Fresh seafood like this is a real treat halfway through a backpacking trip, and an ideal way to end the day. Just make sure to dispose of left overs properly, because bears like salmon too.