Cape Scott Trail Guide
Campsite on Nels Bight
Cape Scott Provincial Park is home to over 100km of beautiful coastline, consisting of deserted white sand beaches, sea caves, estuaries, and rocky outcrops. The trail to the Cape Scott Lighthouse is great as a hike on its own, but could also be tied into a larger excursion of the North Coast Trail, which is over 50km long.
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- Distance: From parking lot to Nels Bight is 17km. From Nels Bight to Cape Scott Lighthouse is about 6.5km
- Difficulty: The entire trail is very flat and easy. The trail is very well established and in good shape. There are a lot of sections of boardwalk, which can be slippery when wet. There are also lots of very muddy sections, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear.
- Hiking Time: About 5-7 hours one-way from parking lot to Nels Bight. About 2-3 hours one-way from Nels Bight to Cape Scott Lighthouse.
- Camping Fees: $10 per person per night camping fee paid at parking lot/trailhead. Be sure to bring receipt with you to be posted at your campsite.
- How to get there: Follow the Island Highway north past Port McNeil and turn left on the Cape Scott/Holberg road, which is just south of Port Hardy. Follow the gravel road about 63km to the brand new, very nice trailhead.
- This trail would be good any time of the year, although the winter months would be considerably more muddy and a much higher chance of rain/storms.
- The weather is very unpredictable on the north coast of the island. Wind and rain are common (even in summer months) so make sure you have appropriate gear. Raingear and a tent with a good waterproof fly are very important to have.
- Camping is available at Eric Lake (3km in), Nels Bight (17km in), Experiment Bight (19km in), Guise Bay (21km in). Other areas for camping include Nissen Bight (15km from trailhead) or San Josef (2.5km from trailhead).
- Fires on the beach are generally permitted, but make sure to check for possible fire bans in summer months. Always remember to completely extinguish your fire before leaving or going to sleep.
- The trail is generally very muddy - waterproof footwear, gaitors, and extra socks are essential.
- Drinking water is not easily accessible. There are water sources at the southwest end of Nels Bight, the East end of Nissen Bight, and at the East end of Guise Bay. These water sources are pretty brown with tannins and mud, and water NEEDS to be treated. I highly recommend a good filter, to get rid of all possible microorganisms as well as the brown colour. However, if boiled or treated with iodine tablets it would still be okay for drinking, it would just be pretty brown.
I did this hike on May Long weekend and we lucked out with great weather the entire time. We took 3 days to complete the hike, camping at Nels Bight both nights and doing the Lighthouse as a day hike on the second day. We arrived at the parking lot at about noon on Saturday ready to go after the long trek up the island highway. Along the highway we were lucky to see some Roosevelt Elk and a couple Black Bears. The Parking Lot at the trailhead has been completely re-done, and is just beautiful with new gravel, lots of space, and a big covered area with picnic tables underneath.
The trail leads into the woods, and in less than a kilometer you come to a junction. Going left takes you down the relatively short trail to San Josef Bay, and going right takes you towards Cape Scott. There are some fairly muddy sections between this junction and Eric Lake, and near the Eric Lake Campground there is a nice gravel beach on the lake; which makes a good place for a quick rest. Just past the north end of Eric Lake on the right hand side of the trail is a gigantic Sitka Spruce, which measures 7.2 meters in circumference. It is one of many giant trees in this old-growth area.
After quite a few more kilometers of trail, you arrive at the area that used to be the Cape Scott settlement in the early 1900s. There are various remnants of the settlement along the trail and off some small side trails, including an old tractor, the site of the community hall, granite gravestones, and telegraph lines. Also near the settlement area is another junction. Going right here takes you to Nissen Bight and the North Coast Trail, and going left takes you to Nels Bight and Cape Scott.
After the Settlement you pass through some coastal bog area and then come to a big grassy area, which is at the end of Hansen Lagoon. Again the trail leads into the forest that leads to Nels Bight. This is a great beach for camping, with beautiful sand, sunset views, a ropeswing, and tons of room for everyone. This beach also has one of the better water sources in the area, located at the southwest end close to the ranger station. With our boots off and bare feet in the warm sand, we set up camp, got a small fire going and had dinner watching the sunset.
We woke up to the sounds of Eagles and Stellarís jays and a beautiful sunny morning. As we ate breakfast a grey whale came in very close to shore to feed, and we watched it spout and dive for over an hour just a few hundred feet offshore. After breakfast we set out on our trek to see the beaches in the area as well as visit the lighthouse.
The trail leading towards the lighthouse begins at the southwest end of Nels Bight near the Ranger Cabin. It goes over a hill through the forest before descending down to Experiment Bight, which is another nice sandy beach. We found cougar tracks in the sand along this beach. After walking down the beach for a while the trail heads into the forest again to cross over to Guise Bay. Guise Bay is a beautiful moon-shaped bay lined with driftwood. Along the inside of the bay is a big area of sand dunes, which also has a large field of wild strawberries. After heading into the woods again after Guise Bay, there are various side trails off of the lighthouse trail that bring you to some small beaches tucked away between the rocky outcrops.
Following the main trail leads uphill to the lighthouse on the end of the peninsula. The Lighthouse was built in 1960 and is important for guiding boats around this treacherous stretch of waters, which has had more than its share of shipwrecks overt the years. When we got to the lighthouse, we were just in time to see the Canucks beat the San Jose Sharks in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. There were lots of people up there that day, so we hung out in the yard in the sun for a good part of the afternoon before heading back.
We took a different route on the way back, descending the hill below the lighthouse to a beach with sea caves and sea stacks. This route took a bit of bushwhacking through some steep terrain, but was definitely worth it. We followed the coastline back towards Guise Bay until we got to a small beach that led back in to meet up with the main trail. We ended up getting back to Nels Bight by 6pm to have dinner and get another campfire going.
We had a long day of traveling ahead of us, since some of us had to get back to Victoria and Vancouver, so we got up at sunrise and started packing up. We ended up hitting the trail by 8am, and made better time on the way back as our packs were lighter and we had already had a chance to stop at all of the interesting spots along the trail on the way in. We stopped for lunch at the beach on Eric Lake and went for a swim, as it was a warm sunny day. We got back to the trailhead by 1pm and had cold beers waiting for us in the cooler, which was possibly the best idea we had that weekend. After that it was a long drive home full of good stories and lots of photos to look through.
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