Vancouver Island travel guide EH
Cape Scott Provincial Park, San Josef Bay, Port Hardy.
British Columbia, Canada. Eco travel. Backpacking
Cape Scott Park, Port Hardy, Vancouver Island British Columbia, Canada
Canada > British Columbia > Vancouver Island > Port Hardy Canada Travel Guide

Cape Scott Provincial Park
North Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Eric Lake Nels Bight Boardwalk Hiking Trail

Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott Provincial Park is a wilderness backpacking adventure located on the northern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. For years Cape Scott has been a popular destination for backpackers, hikers, bird watchers, photographers and naturalists. The main highlight of the park are the sandy beaches. Some of which include the San Josef Bay, Nels Bight, Guise Bay, Experiment Bight and Nissen Bight Beaches. Together they combine for over 100 kilometres of white sand shoreline.

The 22,294 hectare park includes a long haul wilderness backpacking trail, sandy beaches, old growth forests, a lighthouse and a historic pioneer settlement. Cape Scott Provincial Park was established in 1973. The lighthouse in the park has been guiding mariners pass the harsh rocks and battered coastlines since 1960.

The 24 kilometre one-way backpacking trail (50 kilometre return hike) leads explorers through lush old-growth forests, thick wetland bogs and plenty of mud swamps (especially in rainy season). The hiking route is, by no means easy, and is considered a difficult hike with unpredictable weather. Properly prepared the trail is considered by us as one of the best wilderness backpacking experiences we have encountered in Canada! So much so we have hiked Cape Scott 3 times.

Cape Scott was named by two captains - Captain George Guise and Captain Lowrie - in recognition of David Scott who was a Bombay merchant who played a large part in establishing trading links in the area.

In 1897 and 1910, a group of Danish settlers established a fishing community near San Josef Bay and in Hansen Lagoon. The experience was tragic. The harsh winter storms made life difficult for the pioneers. The conditions were so tough on the early settlers they soon began to leave. Many left their belongings behind. Today the evidence of their community is still visible. Along the trail is an old chimney foundation, tools, livestock fencing and historic buildings. Please do not disturb as the items are now historical artifacts.

The hiking trail is a mixed bag of terrain. There are parts of the trail where you will be walking over raised boardwalk paths. There are bridges crossing rivers. There are muddy sections high stepping tree roots and boulders. There are hills to climb (mostly at the beginning of the trail). And along the route there are strategically located wilderness campsites, pit toilets and food caches.

San Josef Bay is the most easily accessible sandy beach in the park. It is only 45 minutes from the parking lot to the beach walking along a well maintained boardwalk path. This short hike is a great way to experience the park if backpacking is not your thing. There are rusty artifacts, cement foundations of the home, store and post office of Henry Olsen which operated until 1944 found alongside the trail leading to San Josef Bay. There are sea caves and the sea stacks between the first and second beach at San Josef Bay.

Backpackers should note that a trip to San Josef Bay is a side trip that requires hikers to double back when hiking the entire trail to the lighthouse. After San Josef Bay, once back on the main trail, backpackers hike 3 kilometres to Eric Lake. At the lake are some tent platforms, a food cache storage unit and some pit toilets. There is also evidence of the 1908 Corduroy Road connecting Eric Lake to San Josef Post Office located on the south end of Eric Lake.

Continue backpacking past Eric Lake for 25 minutes and there are giant Sitka Spruce trees reaching 7.2 meters in circumference. Next stop on the route is Fisherman River. Fisherman River is 9 kilometres (3-4 hours hike) from the Cape Scott parking lot. Along this portion of the route there are remnants of old fence posts and telegraph communication lines. Look further and you may spot a wooden cart and an old tool shed near the 1956 Spencer Farm and the first motorized tractor wedged between two trees.

Hansen Lagoon is15 kilometres (5 hour hike) from the Cape Scott parking lot. Hansen Lagoon is where the three tributaries of Fisherman River empty into the sea. Again the past is on display as there is evidence of an old dyke that the settlers used to reclaim land for agriculture and a boiler that was used in1898 as a milk condensery and sawmill.

Guise Bay is 20 kilometres (7-8 hour hike) from the Cape Scott trail head. Here, a small trail 50 metres before Guise Bay leads to the remnants of a store used during the second World War and from the beaches of Guise Bay are two cabins used as barracks during the war.

For the truly rugged experience hikers can extend their backpacking adventure by hooking into the North Coast Trail when visiting Nissen Bight. At the far end of the beach is the trailhead. The North Coast Trail is a 46 kilometre adventure connecting Nissen Bight to Shushartie Bay.

There is wilderness camping facilities at San Josef Bay, Eric Lake, Fisherman River, Nissen Bight, Nels Bight and Guise Bay. When backpacking to Cape Scott or embarking on a day hike to San Josef Bay - everyone should be prepared for adverse weather conditions. High winds and heavy rainfall is a common experience in the park. Bear bells, proper camping equipment, rain gear and walking sticks are a welcome necessity and a wise precaution.

How to Get to Cape Scott Provincial Park

The turn off to access the gravel road leading to the Cape Scott Trail is located south of Port Hardy, BC, Canada. Follow the gravel road for 63 kilometres past the community of Holberg. From Holberg keep an eye out for the road signs pointing the way to the trailhead parking lot.


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Nearby Vancouver Island Communities

Haida Gwaii < North < Port Hardy > South > Port McNeill

Cape Scott Park near Port Hardy, British Columbia, eh!


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