Cape Scott Provincial Park is a rugged coastal wilderness area located 563 kilometers (350
miles) from Victoria that features 115 kilometres ( 70 miles) of scenic oceanfront and 30
kilometres ( 18 miles) of sandy beaches. Transportation to Cape Scott Provincial Park by boat
or road is available in Port Hardy. Guided tours are also available but must be booked in
Preparation - Supplies
Visitors should be well equipped for wet and adverse weather conditions. Expect the trails to be
The following equipment should be worn or used during the hike:
A well worn pair of waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support.
Breathable and quick drying clothing, cotton is not recommended as it absorbs water instead of
wicking it away from your body.
A quality pack designed for you back type. A good pack should feel like an extension of your
A walking stick to help keep your footing and to probe the quagmires and mud.
Bear bells are good to have, since you never want to sneak up and a bear.
The following items are in addition to the above and should be carried with you for your hike.
This is just a general list:
- A well stocked first aid kit
- High topped, waterproof leather or rubber boots
- Moleskin to prevent blisters
- Water sealer for your boots
- A good, sturdy, waterproof tent with a fly. The tent should be designed for extreme weather conditions.
- A tarp or plastic sheeting is useful to set up for cover during rains.
- String is handy to tie up the tarp (but it is almost guaranteed that you can find some washed up rope on the beaches)
- Full rain gear, preferably a breathable type such as Gortex.
- A waterproof pack cover or a poncho that is large enough to cover your pack while hiking.
- A small gas stove with fuel is recommended, because starting a fire in the rain can be difficult, and some places have limited firewood.
- Sleeping pad, preferably an open cell type such as thermorest.
- Sleeping bag
- Aluminum pot with lid for cooking
- Water bottle and adequate fresh drinking water
- Swiss army type knife or a leatherman pliers/knife multi tool
- Flashlight (the head mounted ones are useful)
- Adequate clothing (including a coat, shorts, pants, shirt and especially socks)
- Food (dehydrated is best, power bars and trail mix are good snacks while hiking)
- Fire lighting supplies (Half of a candle, burnt at both ends works great as a fire starter. Just lay the candle in some tinder and light the wicks)
- Bathroom supplies (incl. toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, washcloth, etc.)
- Dish soap
- Pepper spray is good to have in case of an encounter with bears
You should always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back, and
tell them what to do if your are not back by a certain time. Give yourself plenty of time for
hiking to your destination. Under no circumstances should you hike in the dark. The trails are
muddy and the boardwalks can be extremely slippery when wet. Even in daylight it can be hard
to find good footing on this trail. Drink plenty of water while hiking and don't overexert yourself.
Rest often and stop for the night at the emergency shelter if you are too tired to continue. Stay on
the trails and use the handrails when crossing creeks or using stairs.
Getting to the Trailhead
To get to the Cape Scott parking lot and trailhead, you head towards Port Hardy on Northern
Vancouver Island, highway 19 north. Just before you actually enter Port Hardy, follow the signs
and turn left towards Holberg. From here it is 46 km (28 miles ) by logging road to the
settlement of Holberg, where you turn right and continue on to the end of the road to San Josef
Maps of the trails are usually available at the trailhead. This is a handy spot to spend the night
for an early start the following day. Or if you prefer vehicle camping, you can camp here and day
hike into San Josef Bay. If you are going for an extended hike, it may be worth while to park
your car at the boat launch.
The easiest hike in the park is the 45 minute hike to San Josef Bay. The trail, leading from the
parking lot, is basically wheel chair accessible and the beach is as beautiful as any in the park.
The trail comes out of the spectacular forest onto the beach near the San Josef River. The bay
actually has two beaches, separated by a rock point with a little sea cave. The first beach was
called by the natives, Letse - "the sunny place" and the second was called Wakeges. The three
little islands in the bay where called, Mekala Lasele, Mekala Alele and Hungary Island. The first
two meaning landward and seaward, respectively. You can camp anywhere you like, but the best
spots are at the north end of the first beach by a rock cliff and sea pillars (high rock formations)
and on the grass patches near the end of the second beach.
Getting to the second beach can be a little tricky, depending on the tides. If the tide is low, you
can get there by walking along the beach, but if the tide is high you must take a trail. This fairly
rough trail from the first beach to the second is located at the farthest northern end of the first
beach near the rock point. It may be a little difficult finding this trail; it starts with a rope leading
up a rocky path. The trail leads the way over the point through some pretty thick bush. There are
two ways to get down from the trail to the second beach. Take the first way down (left) if the
tide is not all of the way in, there is a sign saying "mid tide trail" pointing your way down this
trail. If the tide is high, you must follow the trail all of the way down to the beach. The first way
down will not lead to the rest of the beach if the tide is high, since there is another rock point
that can restrict your access, unless you don't mind getting wet.
There is also another trail leading from the second beach over Mount St. Patrick to Sea Otter
Cove. This is a very rough trail, and is approx. 10 km long and takes around 5 hours to hike,
even though it only looks like 2 km on the map. Sea Otter cove is a mucky beach and is only
passable at mid to low tides. It isn't really worth the trip. BUT, there is yet another trail from Sea
Otter cove to Lowrie Bay (about 2 km). Lowrie Bay has a long, white beach made up mainly of
ground seashells. The beach is very exposed, especially at the north end. John Lowrie had a
homestead above the beach in the settlement days. The water isn't very fast running and should
be treated with caution; it would be best to hike in fresh water. If hiking these trails, you must be
prepared for the unexpected. These trails are not maintained.
San Josef Bay is a wonderful spot for inexperienced hikers who don't want to hike all of the way
to Nels Bight near the Cape. Boaters can launch at the boat launch and float down the river to
the beach, but it is very tricky to make it through the surf into the open ocean. Depending on the
tide level, the river can get pretty shallow in a few areas, and you may have to get out and walk
or carry the boat through these spots. This is also an excellent spot to kayak, and playing in the
surf is a blast.
Hiking to Cape Scott - 23.6 km (15 miles) from the trailhead. Appproximately 8 hours hiking
The first part of the hike to Cape Scott is the same trail that leads to San Josef Bay. After about 1
km, the trail to the Cape veers off to the right and becomes more difficult.
Eric Lake is located about 3 km from the trailhead and the average hiking time is 1 hour. The
trail leads straight to the southern tip of this lake and the trail to the Cape turns right, before the
lake, and leads up around to a nice camping spot about halfway up the lake. This spot has about
a dozen tent pads elevated off of the ground to help keep everything dry. There is also a short
little trail leading to the lake by a creek, a good spot for fishing if equipped. Eric Lake is a good
place to spend the night if you get a late start for a trip to the Cape. The forest around here is
breath taking, with huge trees. There is a Sitka Spruce located about 15 minutes further north
along the trail that measures over 7 meters in circumference, which is over 2.3 meters in
Fisherman River - 9.3 km from the trailhead and approximately 3 hours hiking time.
The crossing over Fisherman River is a little over half way to Nels Bight and is a common place
for people to stop for lunch.
Nissen Bight (Kechegwis - wood drifted on beach) - 15 km from the trailhead and
approximately 5.5 hours hiking time.
Nissen Bight is closer than Nels Bight, and usually has very few campers. So if privacy is what
you're looking for, this is your better choice. The beach isn't as spectacular as Nels Bight, but it
is still very beautiful, with nice fine sand and interesting shorelines.
Some energetic campers with minimal time will hike to the turnoff to Nissen Bight and then
stash their bags and walk to the Cape and back. Then they grab their bags and head to Nissen
Bight for the night, leaving the next morning. This way they can hike the entire trail in only two
days. It is also nice to hike into Nissen Bight the first day of the trek, then hike to the Cape the
next day (either leaving camp at Nissen Bight or moving to Nels Bight) and then hike out on the
Hansen Lagoon (Wachlalis - river on the beach in bay) - 14.7 km from the trailhead and
approximately 5 hours hiking time.
This area is a very nice place to camp during nice weather, a sunny little meadow. A nice change
if you have been camping in sand for a while.
Nels Bight (Tsewunchas - winter place) -16.8 km from the trailhead and approximately 6 hours
Nels Bight is considered the most spectacular of the nine major beaches, and it definitely is the
biggest. Most campers make this their base camp and explore the surrounding areas by day
hikes. During the winter, you should probably camp up on the shore since the winter tides and
storms could easily soak you.
There are a couple of nice camping spots up off of the beach, near the water source, next to the
ranger's cabin. This is also a nice spot if you don't like the wind and sand of beach camping. The
water is located about 100 meters to the left (west) as you come out from the trail, towards the
ranger's cabin. At the far eastern end of the beach there is an abundant supply of mussels, which
are great to eat when there is no red tide. You can also hike out along the rocky shoreline to the
point at this end of the beach. You will see an excellent display of sea life in the tidal pools. The
trail to the Cape continues on from the western side of the beach, past the ranger's cabin, marked
by floats tied up in a tree. From now on, all of the trails will be marked by hanging fishing floats
in the trees, and the trails lead from beach to beach.
Experiment Bight (Gwegwakawalis-whales between on the beach) - 18.9 km from the trailhead
and approximately 7 hours hiking time.
This is the next beach after Nels Bight. It is also very beautiful, but it has no water source so it is
not suitable for camping unless you want to carry water from either Guise Bay or Nels Bight. At
the West End of this beach, you can see the remnants of a native midden; sun bleached shells
and bones of a native claming and fishing site. The trail from Experiment Bight to Guise Bay is
short and is located about midway down the beach, just past the second rock point.
Sand Neck (Apdzeges - against each other)
Further down the beach at Experiment Bight, past the trail leading off to Guise Bay is the Sand
Neck, which is a thin strip of sand dune connecting the two beaches. The two beaches basically
Guise Bay (Patschach or Yichaledaz - where canoes run ashore in heavy swell) - 20.7 km from
the trailhead and approximately 7.5 hours hiking time.
Guise Bay is the third beach on the way to the Cape, and is the last sandy one. This beach is the
windiest, but still many make this spot their camp. Fresh water is available at the southern end of
the beach. The sand neck connects this beach to Experiment Bight.
Achdem - foam place (Indian Reserve 3, Ouchton)
Around the point at the north end of Guise Bay is another beach called Achdem by the natives. A
large portion of this area is part of the Indian reserve 3, which is an inhabited Indian reserve.
This area is accessible from Guise Bay along the shoreline, but is best attempted on a receding
There is usually running water at the northern end of the beach here, and sea pillars, or Nomas,
can be seen even further north. The site of the reserve is mythically important to the natives.
This site was possibly chosen since it was easy to protect from invasions from other tribes. The
island off of the point between this reserve and Guise bay gave a clear view in all directions, and
could be easily defended.
Along the trail from Guise Bay to the lighthouse, there is a trail leading west to Sauna Bay, a
clean, rocky beach which is said to be a good spot to fish offshore. Somewhere near here, the
natives called an area "Loquas", meaning halibut fishing off the rock.
Cape Scott (Tsekume-trail on the surface) - 23.6 km from the trailhead and approximately 8.5
hours hiking time.