Explore: San Josef Bay & Cape Scott Provincial Park

This rugged park is a dream come true

Cape Scott Provincial Park is located on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, and offers a truly rugged and beautiful getaway for those that are up for the adventure.

Photo by Carrie Cole Photography, San Josef Bay

The park is named after the Cape Scott Lighthouse, established in the 1960s to safely guide mariners, but access to the lighthouse is no longer available. Today, people come to Cape Scott Provincial Park for its unparalleled hiking and camping opportunities. The park is home to more than 115 kilometres of beautiful ocean frontage, including about 30 kilometres of remote beaches. This is a hike-in park, and there is only one parking lot available.

Location

Cape Scott Provincial Park is located about 563 kilometres from Victoria. The only parking lot is located in the southeast corner of the park, providing easy access to Cape Scott and San Josef Bay trailheads. The lot is about 64 kilometres west of Port Hardy, and can be reached by car through a combination of public highways and private, active logging roads.

Beaches

The park runs from Shushartie Bay in the east, west around Cape Scott and south to San Josef Bay. There several stunning, white-sand beaches within the park, including San Josef Bay, Guise Bay, Experiment Bight, Lowrie Bay and Nissen Bight. The park’s most popular beach and camping destination is Nels Bight, which stretches 2,400 metres long and 210 metres wide at low tide.

One of Cape Scott Provincial Park’s special features are its sea stacks, which can be seen and accessed at low tide. The park is also home to excellent examples of old-growth forest.

Photo by Carrie Cole Photography, San Josef Bay

Camping

Cape Scott is a wilderness park, and backcountry camping locations are available. There are 11 wilderness campsites, and fees are applicable during the main camping season from May 1 to Sept. 30. However, the park is open all year round for those that don’t mind winter camping opportunities.

Wildlife

Visitors should be prepared to encounter wolves and bears within the park. Make sure your vehicle is locked and your windows are closed, and that all food and other attractants are secured in your trunk – bears have been known to break into vehicles parked within Cape Scott Provincial Park. To avoid bears that are searching for food at low tide, make sure you set up camp in the designated camping locations, and avoid camping close to the shoreline areas. Dogs are allowed in the San Josef Bay area only, and are not allowed within the remainder of the park. Since 2016, Cape Scott has been experiencing high wolf activity, and dogs are a high-level attractant for wolves and other large carnivores.

Photo by Carrie Cole Photography, San Josef Bay

Hiking

Cape Scott is a Mecca for hiking enthusiasts, and hikers should be prepared and knowledgeable for coastal hiking. The following information comes from the BC Parks website, http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/cape_scott/hiking.html.

San Josef Bay: Length 2.5 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 45 minutes. Less adventurous hikers can leave the backpack at home and still get a taste of Cape Scott’s unique terrain and spectacular Pacific Ocean vistas along this well-maintained gravel trail, which ends at the sandy shore of San Josef Bay in the southeastern corner of the park. Camping is allowed at San Josef Bay.

Eric Lake: Length 3 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 1 hour. 11 tent pads, located in the forest, are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fisherman River: Length 9.3 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 3 hours. This is a popular spot for a picnic or rest. The river is also a good place to collect drinking water. Remember to boil, filter or treat all drinking water before consuming. 

Photo by Carrie Cole Photography, San Josef Bay

Nissen Bight/Nels Bight Junction: Length 13.1 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 4.5 hours. The trail forks here – go straight ahead to Nissen Bight, or left to Nels Bight and Cape Scott. This is a popular camping destination with a beautiful sandy shoreline.

Nissen Bight: Length 15 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 5.5 hours. This is a popular camping destination with a beautiful sandy shoreline.

Hansen Lagoon: Length 14.7 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 5 hours. More than 100 years ago this area was the main settlement of the Danish pioneers, who grew crops and hay here on the open meadows. Remnants of the past include fence-posts along the old road and evidence of the early settler’s drainage systems.

Nels Bight: Length 16.8 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 6 hours. With a beautiful sandy beach stretching more 2,400 metres long and 210 metres wide at low tide, Nels Bight is the most popular camping destination in the park. This area is also a good base for those exploring the rest of the park. 

Experiment Bight: Length 18.9 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 7 hours. This area has a beautiful sandy beach, however there is no year-round drinking water or facilities available. 

Guise Bay: Length 20.7 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 7.5 hours. Guise Bay is another beautiful beach that offers good camping possibilities. Lucky visitors may sometimes spot sea otters, an endangered species, in the bay. 

Cape Scott: Length 23.6 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 8.5 hours. The public may visit the lighthouse, which is outside the provincial park and federally operated. The Federal Government has removed the suspension bridges and closed all public access between the lighthouse and foghorn at the Cape itself.

Sea Otter Cove and Lowrie Bay: Length 10 kilometres from the trailhead. Average one-way hiking time: 5 hours. The route to Sea Otter Cove is accessed via San Josef Bay’s second (western) beach. From this point the route gains elevation quite quickly until you reach the summit of Mt. St. Patrick, which offers a spectacular panoramic view of the park. From this point the route descends the mountain to Sea Otter Cove. Sea Otter Cove is only passable at mid to low tide. Only experienced hikers familiar with wilderness hiking and the use of a map and compass should go beyond Mt. St. Patrick. This route receives minimal or no regular maintenance.

North Coast Trail: This trail is an extension of the original Cape Scott Trail, stretching 43.1 kilometres, with a total hiking distance of about 59.5 kilometres. The minimum one-way hiking time is about 5 days, but most hikers take 6 to 8 days to complete the trail. This route is very challenging, and not recommended for beginners.

Photo by Carrie Cole Photography, San Josef Bay

Swimming

There aren’t any designated swimming areas in the park, but the beaches at Nels Bight and San Josef Bay are popular swimming destinations for hikers and campers.

If you’re up for the adventure and want to travel to Cape Scott Provincial Park, don’t forget to bring your camera. These are memories you’ll want to keep forever.

More information

For more information, visit http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/cape_scott/.




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Michaela Ludwig

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