Many guests who make it out to Cape Scott Park come for the rugged, untouched feeling of its rocky coastline. Experienced backpackers who crave a different kind of challenge on the trail are attracted to the varied terrain of the North Coast Trail. Visitors from around the globe are drawn to the shockingly white, expansive sand beaches that stretch out as far as the eye can see. Fragile ecosystems of marine species intersect profoundly enormous trees from centuries past in and amongst the remnants of historical settlements. Guests leave enamoured with the space, and vow to return to explore deeper into the exquisite corners of the park.
Whether you are a first time visitor, or already an admirer of the park these three experiences within its boundaries we recommend working into your next trip. Here are our three favourite slightly “off-the-beaten path” journeys to take the next time you visit!
For the Avid Hiker:
The most commonly used trails within the park are definitely the North Coast, San Josef Bay and original Cape Scott Trails. However, not many people take the time to pass from Nels Bight to Guise Bay along the rugged western coast of Experiment Bight. This stretch of unspoilt coastline is most easily passable at low-tide, so be sure to time your hike with the tides before heading out (short high tide trails along the route can help you out in a pinch). You can check the timing of low-tide on local tide charts.
This hike rewards you for your planning with a lightly travelled white sand beach full of sea stacks, tide pools and even one large sea cave to explore during your walk on the Western Side of Experiment Bight. Don’t be tempted to walk the well-marked forested route; follow the meandering coastline. There is a lot of marine wildlife to view, with many hikers seeing whales along this trek. Once you reach the end of Experiment Bight, there are stunning sand dunes to explore, or stage photos of you and your friends suspended in mid-air. If you’re still keen to follow the sandy beaches, you can continue your hike to the lighthouse, which sees 5,000 visitors each year. The colourful lighthouse keepers may be around, and if you’re lucky have a few stories to tell from their days at the Cape.
For the Novice Canoe-Enthusiast
Another area that does not see as much exploration as it deserves is the San Josef River leading into the Bay. This short 45 minute paddle is a quiet and serene was to access the well-travelled San Josef Bay. Bypassing the trail, the slow moving river is a relaxing way to take in the sights of the surrounding old-growth forests while you float to your destination.
One of the advantages of arriving by canoe, is that it also allows you to access the difficult to reach Southern Beaches that are on the other side of the river. These beaches are rarely visited, so you are likely to have the entire stretch of coastline to yourself. There is lots of opportunity for beach combing, and you can camp and make a fire while exploring a few landmarks on that side of the beach.
The put-in location for boat access to the San Josef River can be found by crossing the Heritage Park Campground, run by another interesting Cape Scott local, Doug. Follow the wooded road to the river, where it is recommend you launch at high tide to avoid hauling your canoe or kayak over gravel bars.
If you are an experienced Sea Kayaker, there are other more difficult routes in the area that can be planned with the help of a local kayak outfitter. As well, during the spring, fall and winter waves in San Josef Bay can start to be sizable enough to surf on a kayak. Exciting!
For a family Getaway:
Maybe you are making your way up to Cape Scott Park with a few kids in tow and aren’t sure how kid-friendly the trails are within the park. You’ve probably heard that the North Coast Trail isn’t your best bet, but aren’t sure if San Josef Bay has enough to keep the kids busy for a couple of days.
There are two camping spots that are most accessible for families with kids. Beach camping is available on San Josef Bay, where there is also access to food caches, and pit toilets. On the trail leading into the bay there are several historical relics from the Danish pioneers who attempted to settle the harsh landscapes of the area. Once you reach the beach, the area is a beautiful (but cold!) place to swim during the summer, when the water is usually quite calm. Kids can enjoy exploring the nearby sea stacks and sea caves by making their way around the Northern stretches of the beach. There are several flat spots to pitch a tent above the high tide line, and beachfront campfires make a beautiful end to the day. Watch the sun set over the Pacific, as it lights up the sky in pastel hues. You can even fish where the river meets the ocean and perhaps catch something to cook over the fire. Stargazing on clear nights can be mesmerizing at the beach, where there is no nearby lights to interfere with the night sky. Pick up a copy of Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of Vancouver Island to read about the history of Cape Scott settlements over the fire, if you want to up the spook factor.
If you and the family want to see some other spots in the park, there is a 3 km trail from San Jo Bay to Eric Lake Campsite. Nestled into the surrounding coastal rainforest, the 11 tent pads at Eric Lake campsite are built into the forest floor. It has a totally different feel from San Josef Bay. Kids can walk on the boardwalks through the woods to see gigantic Sitka Spruce trees up to 7.2 meters in circumference. The Lake is also another (warmer) spot to take a dip, and has spots to hang out on its shores after a hike through the woods.