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Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island: Complete Hiking Guide

The Cape Scott Trail is a muddy yet beautiful 47km backpacking journey to the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

The highlights are varied and numerous. Pristine golden sand beaches stretch into the distance. Campsites with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

A canopy of magnificent old-growth rainforest. A walk on the remains of a WW2 military road. A tranquil meadow with crumbling fences.

And at the end of it all, a lighthouse resting at the edge of British Columbia’s wildest coastline. 

Boardwalk path leading down to sandy beach in Cape Scott Provincial Park, photo taken at sunset
Sunset on Nels Bight Beach on the Cape Scott Trail

Whether you’re looking for a spectacular coastal backpacking trip or a change from alpine hiking, Cape Scott is a great choice.

Keep reading to discover more about this one-of-a-kind trail, followed by a comprehensive adventure planning guide. 

Here’s what to expect:

Updated February 2024. This article includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, we may receive a small percentage.

Cape Scott Trail
Location: Northwestern Vancouver Island
Distance: 47km
Elevation change: Minimal
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 2 to 4 days
Difficulty: Moderate
Dogs: Not permitted

Backcountry necessities

Boardwalk leading into the old growth forest, Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott Trail overview

Located on the traditional territory of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw and Quatsino First Nations, Cape Scott Provincial Park is one of the wettest and muddiest places on Vancouver Island.

It’s also resoundingly remote, being accessible via gravel roads only and a good few hours from a town of reasonable size.

Hikers prepared to get their feet wet will find their efforts rewarded in many remarkable and unique ways. 

The Cape Scott Trail intersects the main part of the park, travelling from the parking lot through old-growth rainforest, marsh and lowland bog before reaching a series of breathtaking sandy beaches.

Back view of Gemma standing with backpack and hiking pole in front of sandy beach on the coast of BC
Arriving at Nels Bight Beach, Cape Scott Provincial Park

The journey also includes the chance to explore sand dunes, a lagoon, a meadow and some fascinating local history (more details on that below).

While there may be no need to ascend any mountain peaks to see Cape Scott’s attractions, the challenges here include slippery boardwalks, lowland bogs, swathes of mud and giant fallen trees.

Despite that, I would say that Cape Scott makes for an approachable first-time backpacking trip. Indeed, it was our first-ever multi-day hiking trip back in 2014!

Learn from our mistake, however, and plan a summer trip. Mid-April was resoundingly wet and presented a bigger challenge.

Quick facts

  • Cape Scott Provincial Park is open all year round
  • It is free to visit and hike in Cape Scott Provincial Park. Camping fees are $10/per person/per night
  • Cape Scott does not have a reservation system for camping (first come first served)
  • Port Hardy is the nearest town for supplies and accommodation, a two-hour drive away
  • There is no cell phone signal anywhere in the park
  • Campfires are allowed when there is no fire ban in place
  • Dogs are prohibited in most areas of the park due to high wolf activity
Driftwood sculptures on Nels Bight beach, Cape Scott Provincial Park
Driftwood sculptures are a common sight on Nels Bight beach

Cape Scott Provincial Park history

For a place that remains so remote today, it is somewhat surprising to learn that Cape Scott has been settled several times.

The Tlatlasikwala, Nakumgilisala and Yutlinuk people once travelled and lived in this area.

Ethnically Danish settlers from the US arrived in 1897 with the intent to be self-sufficient with fishing and farming.

The lack of transportation links combined with the harsh climate forced a retreat a little over a decade later. Many of the current place names (such as Nels Bight) are remnants of that era.

Another wave of settlers arrived in 1913, this time a mixed group from the US, Canada and Europe. The population across the Cape Scott locale peaked at 1000 people before suffering similar issues to the Danish pioneers.

The provincial government of the day backed out on several pledges to build local roads, dooming any chance of a successful settlement.

When leaving the area for the final time, the settlers could only take what they could carry on their backs. They left pots, pans, saws and other heavy items in the forest to rust, along with houses, wells and even a boiler. 

Historical artefacts such as these still be seen today, next to the trail and in the forest beyond. Several informal paths lead to grave sites, house foundations and decaying farm equipment. 

Close up of rusting historical artifacts on the Cape Scott Trail, including a plow
Historical artefacts can be found along the Cape Scott Trail

Historical points of interest on the trail

Besides the rusting plows and pulley belts, there are other obvious signs of previous colonisation in Cape Scott Provincial Park.

South of Eric Lake, the trail follows the old corduroy route created by the Danish settlers in 1908.

Before a path was built around the lake, a boat ride across the lake was required to continue the journey north. The remains of a wharf can be seen on the shore of the lake. 

After the Fisherman River, the path follows the very straight route of the telegraph line built in 1913.

The old Cape Scott settlement was located just north of here, where the Nissen Bight junction now sits. The heaviest concentration of artefacts can be seen in this area. 

Mirror lake surface on Eric Lake, with wooden wharf remains next to trail
Remains of a wharf on the southern edge of Eric Lake

Hansen Meadows lies just around the corner. This wide-open area is quite a surprise after hours of hiking amid old-growth trees.

Previously tidal flats, dykes were used to drain the water away and create farmland. Old fence posts remain, a testament to the determination of the settlers to make this land agriculturally viable. 

The final part of the Cape Scott Trail encounters another era of history. A small radar station was built at Cape Scott in 1942. The military road to the radar station, in use until the end of WWII, remains part of the trail today. 

For more info, check out this excellent map which offers more details about historical and cultural points of interest in Cape Scott Provincial Park and where to find them.

Trail leading into the distance with moss covered planks, remnents of the old military road to the Cape Scott radar station
An old military road leads to the Cape Scott Lighthouse

Cape Scott Trail hiking guide

Inspired to plan a trip to Cape Scott? This section features everything you need to know to start planning a Cape Scott backpacking adventure.

Location and trailhead details

Cape Scott Provincial Park is located at the extreme northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Getting to the parking lot requires a little more effort than some of the more popular provincial parks on Vancouver Island. 

Access to Cape Scott is via an unpaved industrial road from Port Hardy. Though the distance from Port Hardy is only 67km, the drive takes around two hours.

  • Be prepared to take your time and drive slowly (40-50km/h). The access road is bumpy in places and can be very slippery when wet
  • A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Drive with headlights on at all times and be prepared to pull over for industrial traffic. Use caution around corners and avoid the soft shoulders
  • Bring a full-size spare tire and be familiar with changing it. We passed two groups of people changing tires on our last visit to Cape Scott
  • Some of the roads leading to the park are occasionally closed for maintenance – check the BC Parks website for notices before heading out

Take the drive seriously – this is not a main highway. Visitors to Cape Scott Provincial Park should be completely self-sufficient.

Close up of giant tree log with 'Be Prepared for the unexpected' sign above
Prepare for the unexpected on the Holberg road to Cape Scott!

After leaving Port Hardy, there are very limited services and facilities available. Fill up on gas and buy all the supplies you need (groceries, propane etc) before leaving Port Hardy.

The tiny village of Holberg (pop. 200) is located about 13km from Cape Scott. It’s a base for the logging operations in the area and consequently has very limited visitor services. There is an excellent pub though! 

On arrival in Cape Scott Provincial Park, you’ll find a hiking trailhead, two fairly large parking lots, two outhouses, an info board and a covered picnic table area.

Don’t leave anything of value in your vehicle – there have been break-ins here. Some years are worse than others.

If you don’t have an appropriate vehicle to drive to the Cape Scott Trailhead, there is a shuttle bus from Port Hardy. As of 2024, there is a bus service to Port Hardy from Campbell River as well.

The Cape Scott Provincial Park parking lot with picnic tables covered by a shelter plus outhouse and information board
What to expect on arrival – the Cape Scott Provincial Park parking lot with shelter, outhouse and information board

Trail breakdown

Here’s what to expect on the Cape Scott Trail, from the parking lot all the way to the Cape Scott Lighthouse. 

Parking lot to Eric Lake (0km to 3km)

The Cape Scott Trail starts sedately, with a wide flat gravel path leading away from the parking lot and into the old growth forest.

After less than 600m, there’s a trail junction. San Josef Bay is an easy 1.7km hike to the left, while the Cape Scott Trail continues on the right. 

The real trail begins! Steps lead onwards and upwards to one of the most difficult parts of the trail.

Depending on how much it has rained recently, the next section can feature big swathes of mud as well as slippery boardwalks and rocks. Eric Lake will soon shine through the trees, heralding the completion of this tricky part. 

Hiking path made of rounded wooden planks on the Cape Scott Trail
The trail to Eric Lake follows the old corduroy route built in 1908 by Danish settlers

Eric Lake to Nissen Bight junction (3km to 13.1km)

The route around the lake mostly consists of a boardwalk as well as an impressive giant tree bridge.

Eric Lake campground is pleasant enough for a stop, though can be buggy. After 20 minutes after leaving, the trail passes a huge Sitka Spruce tree. It’s not the only giant tree to look out for. 

Around Fisherman River, the old-growth canopy starts to open and the moss dissipates.

Gemma looking up at a massive Sitka Spruce tree in Cape Scott Provincial Park
Cape Scott Provincial Park is home to some incredible old-growth trees, such as this huge Sitka Spruce

The landscape transitions to grey pine trees and shrubs and then to marsh and lowland bog. This is the second wettest area, with huge pools of rainwater a given almost all year round. 

This section, the old telegraph route, is host to the biggest concentration of noticeable historical artefacts in the park.

Look for rusting saws languishing in the grass and side trails leading to gravesites and building foundations. 

Wooden bridge resting on a log bridge over the Fisherman River, Cape Scott Provincial Park
The bridge over the Fisherman River

Nissen Bight junction to Nels Bight beach (13.1km to 16.8km)

The path splits again with one route to Nels Bight and Cape Scott, and the other to Nissen Bight and the North Coast Trail. Turn left for Nels Bight. 

The landscape changes again at Hansen Meadows, where 20th-century settlers cleared the land in preparation for farming.

Gemma standing at the entrance of the open expanse of the grassy Hansen Meadow, Cape Scott Provincial Park
Reaching the open expanse of the Hansen Meadow can be quite a surprise after hours of walking within the forest

Nowadays, Hansen Meadows is a tranquil place with wide open views into the distance. The tall grasses here can be misleadingly damp, so watch your step. 

Back into the forest, the sounds of the ocean soon be heard. You’re teasingly close but don’t forget to look around at the stunning old growth lining the trail.

This flat, easy section of the trail is regularly used by wildlife too – we’ve spotted both wolf and bear tracks. Turn the final corner and colourful buoys will mark your arrival at the spectacular 2.4km long Nels Bight Beach. 

Close up of colourful buoy at entrance of Nels Bight beach, Cape Scott Trail
The colourful entrance of Nels Bight

Nels Bight Beach to Cape Scott Lighthouse (16.8km to 23.6km)

The trail to Cape Scott Lighthouse continues from the southwest end of Nels Bight.

The path ascends a small hill and continues through the forest until reaching the beautiful sands of Experiment Bight. The route also takes in stunning Guise Bay, complete with sand dunes. 

Long vertical mossy planks leading through to the forest on the way to Cape Scott Lighthouse, the remains of a military road
Section of the old military road on the way to Cape Scott Lighthouse

The final stretch follows an old military road. Mossy planks line the way to the final destination. It’s a bit like entering a small village, with the squat red and white lighthouse surrounded by numerous buildings. 

Cape Scott Lighthouse is one of the last manned lighthouses in Canada. The lighthouse keeper (one of two) was in a fantastic mood on our last visit, probably because he was about to be flown out after a three-month stint!

Hikers do not have the same privilege, however, and have to travel out the same way they came – over the military road, along the beaches, over the meadow and through the old-growth forest. 

The squat red and white Cape Scott Lighthouse
The Cape Scott Lighthouse

Cape Scott Trail campgrounds

There are six established camping areas in Cape Scott Provincial Park, five located right on the Cape Scott Trail.

All work on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations. A camping permit is required, details are in the next section.

  • San Josef Bay* – 2.5km from trailhead, beach camping, outhouse, food cache, creek water source (can dry up)
  • Eric Lake – 3km from the trailhead, 11 wooden tent platforms in a forest, outhouse, food cache, lake water source
  • Fisherman River – 9.2km from the trailhead, 2 wooden tent platforms in a forest, outhouse, river water source
  • Nissen Bight* – 15km from the trailhead, beach camping, outhouse, food cache, creek water source
  • Nels Bight – 16.8km from the trailhead, beach camping, outhouse, food cache, creek water source
  • Guise Bay – 20.7km from trailhead, beach camping, outhouse, food cache, creek water source
Orange and green tent on golden sands of Nels Bight, facing towards ocean
Nels Bight Beach has a huge amount of space for campers as well as unlimited panoramic views

Random wilderness camping is allowed in the provincial park but I’d highly recommend sticking to the established areas to reduce damage.

Nels Bight is the most popular place to camp on the Cape Scott Trail. It is a very long beach with plenty of room for lots of campers. Most hikers congregate close to the food cache and outhouse.

Be sure to pack out everything you brought in with you, including trash. We carried out lots of empty packets and unused food items left in the Nels Bight food caches during our last visit.

*Not located on the Cape Scott Trail and requires a slight detour

Boardwalk leading to raised tent platforms at Eric Lake campsite
The tent platforms at Eric Lake backcountry campsite

Fees and permits

It is free to hike in Cape Scott Provincial Park with no day-use permit required.

There is, however, a permit required for camping during the main backpacking season.

Backcountry camping fees are collected in Cape Scott Provincial Park from 1st May to 30th September. The cost is $10/per adult/per night.

There is a self-registration vault for fees in the parking lot, so bring cash or pay online for a Backcountry Camping Permit up to two weeks in advance (click the ‘backcountry’ tab then select ‘backcountry registration.’)

There is no reservation system for campsites in Cape Scott Provincial Park. All camping is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. With most of the campsites being on the beach, there is lots of space. 

Two tent platforms set into the forest at the Fisherman River campsite
Tent platforms at Fisherman River campsite on the Cape Scott Trail


The most common backpacking itinerary on the Cape Scott Trail looks a little like this:

  • Day 1 – Hike from trailhead to Nels Bight (16.8km, 5-7 hours), camp on the beach
  • Day 2 – Day hike to Cape Scott Lighthouse (13.6km, 4 hours return)
  • Day 3 – Spare day to relax and explore Nels Bight (or skip this day and hike out early)
  • Day 4 – Hike back to the trailhead (16.8km, 5-7 hours)
Huge tree is acting as a bridge across a stream, with hiker standing in the middle. Forest surrounds the bridge
This giant tree makes for one of the most impressive bridges in Cape Scott Provincial Park

This three-night, four-day trip includes just over 47km of hiking.

With the elevation gain being very minimal and the ability to base-camp at Nels Bight, this is an ideal first-time backpacking trip. Indeed, it was our first-ever multi-day hiking adventure.

A longer itinerary may include an additional night at San Josef Bay or Guise Bay.

During one trip, we stayed one night at Nissen Bight instead. This smaller beach is also beautiful and offers a different perspective of the area. 

Looking across driftwood to long sandy Nels Bight beach with forest and calm ocean in background
Nels Bight Beach

Cape Scott Trail difficulty

The Cape Scott Trail is a moderately difficult backpacking trail. The difficulty rating of this hike is higher in spring and fall and during wet weather.

While the trail is maintained during the main summer hiking season, hikers should still anticipate rugged backcountry conditions. Expect downed trees, broken boardwalks, massive mud pools and more, especially during the shoulder seasons.

There is very little elevation gain on the Cape Scott Trail. Instead, the main challenges are mud and slippery boardwalks.

The main challenges of this trail are mud and slippery boardwalks. As you may imagine, these obstacles are tough to navigate during (or just after) rain.

A horizontal wooden ladder stretches over a pool of mud on the Cape Scott Trail
The first 1.5-2.5km of the trail is one of the trickiest sections to hike, with huge pools of water and mud

Backpackers must be prepared to have wet feet at some point during the hike. If you go into the experience mentally anticipating that, you’ll have a much better time.

If the trail happens to be drier than normal and you manage to avoid all of the mud and water pools, then great! 

One of the most technical parts of the trail is the approach to Eric Lake. This section follows an old corduroy route created in 1908 by Danish settlers. Deep pools of mud and water build up between the wood planks.

Another tricky section is located on the north side of the Fisherman River. The trail widens and becomes very flat. Unfortunately, it is also a boggy area and huge pools of water are usually present year round.

Large, gnarled old growth thee next to Cape Scott Trail, surrounded by thin forest
Large old-growth trees are a common sight throughout the Cape Scott Trail – this one is close to Nels Bight Beach

From the trailhead parking lot to the Cape Scott Lighthouse, the Cape Scott Trail is a well-marked hiking trail. 

  • There are kilometre markers to Nels Bight Beach, which helps to keep track of the journey
  • Directional signs indicate where to go and the amount of remaining kilometres at important junctions.
  • There are also several information boards offering cultural and historical background at points of interest (such as the Cape Scott settlement site, Hansen Meadows etc)
  • The Cape Scott Trail is well-visited throughout the main hiking season (May to September) so you’ll likely cross other hikers, especially on summer weekends
  • Park Facility Operators are based at a cabin on Nels Bight Beach during the main hiking season. They check camping permits nightly and regularly perform maintenance on the trail
Older wooden Cape Scott Provincial Park signs with distances to Fisherman River, Nissen Bight, Nels Bight, Cape Scott Lighthouse
Navigation on the Cape Scott Trail is easy

Best time to hike

While Cape Scott is open all year round, the main hiking season is May to September.

The summer months are the most popular time to explore the park when the weather is warmest and driest. As you can probably guess, weekends are usually much busier than weekdays.

One downside of visiting in summer is the risk of fog. This is caused by warm, moist air passing over the ocean.

Close up of white and red mushroom in Cape Scott Provincial Park
Due to the moist environment, there are many mushrooms to be found in Cape Scott

Rain is possible at any time of year but is more frequent and heavy during autumn, winter and spring.

As mentioned, Cape Scott is one of the wettest places on Vancouver Island (already a pretty wet place!) The park receives more than 2.5m of rain annually. Huge amounts can fall in a single night, causing flooding.

Storms are common during the winter months, one reason why the trail is sometimes closed for safety. Trees may fall on the trail during storms, creating major obstacles for hikers.

Always check the weather forecast before heading to the Cape Scott Trailhead. In bad weather, even reaching the parking lot may be difficult.

Gemma standing on the boardwalk behind Nels Bight beach, with backpack and hiking pole
We have hiked to Cape Scott in spring, summer and fall (photo taken in October)


Cape Scott Provincial Park is full of wildlife. Black bears, cougars, wolves, deer and elk live in and around the surrounding forest.

Like humans, animals also use the Cape Scott Trail to get around. Keep an eye out for tracks and scat on the path. On our last trip, a black bear was hanging out by our vehicle in the parking lot.

The easiest place to spot wildlife is on the beaches. We’ve seen black bears searching seaweed for food before.

Close up of American Robin with orange breast looking away from camera on beach
Cape Scott Provincial Park is full of wildlife – this American Robin was exploring the beach

While we never saw it, we did find wolf tracks next to our tent on Nissen Bight. The presence of wolves in this park is one of the main reasons why dogs are not allowed in most areas.

Cape Scott is a stopover location on bird migration routes. Whale sightings are also possible, more specifically orcas and grey whales. Seals, sea lions and sea otters can sometimes be spotted just offshore.

  • Always make noise while hiking. This alerts wildlife to your presence and gives them a chance to avoid you. As a general rule, animals don’t want to be close to humans
  • Give wildlife space. If you do see any animals, keep your distance – ideally 100m or more. This offers them an escape route
  • Know what to do if a bear (or wolf) approaches you. Always remain calm. Depending on the behaviour of the bear, different techniques are required (read our bear safety post and this wolf safety guide for more info)
  • Bring bear spray and store it in an accessible place. An aerosol deterrent made with chilli pepper oil, bear spray is a ‘last resort’ tool intended to be used only when other methods have failed
Overhead view of bear tracks in mud on the Cape Scott Trail
We’ve seen bear and wolf tracks every visit to Cape Scott Provincial Park – make noise, stay alert, store your food properly and carry bear spray


This backpacking trip is located in a remote area. Hikers should be self-sufficient. In an emergency, it could take a long time for help to arrive.

To help stay safe, keep the following in mind:

  • There is no phone signal in the park or at the trailhead. We carry an InReach device in case of emergencies
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back before leaving Port Hardy (check out our outdoor safety guide for more tips)
  • Coastal weather can change quickly. Rain is possible at any time of year. Bring extra clothing in case of cold or wet weather
  • Mud and standing water are usually present on this trail. Prepare to get wet feet
  • Besides these hazards, it’s also important to be aware of wildlife, particularly bears and wolves (see previous section)
  • Always purify or filter water before drinking. On our most recent trip, we utilised a gravity hydration bladder system with the MSR Thru-Link In-Line Microfilter
A black bear in the distance, behind parking fences in the Cape Scott parking lot
We encountered a black bear in the Cape Scott parking lot, just after finishing our Cape Scott Trail hike

Packing list

The lighter your backpack, the easier (and likely more enjoyable) you’ll find this hike. Of course, you still need to ensure you have everything to be self-sufficient and comfortable. Backpacking is a balance!

Essential items

As well as your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking stove/fuel and 10 Essentials, I’d recommend bringing the following items:

  • Hiking poles – The Cape Scott Trail features plenty of mud and slippery boardwalks. We found hiking poles to be very helpful for balance. We used Black Diamond’s Carbon Zs, which are super light and also pack down easily
  • Satellite communication device – There is zero phone signal in this region. For emergency purposes, we carried an InReach device
  • Bear spray – We always have bear spray in the backcountry. Bear spray is helpful to have as a last resort in the unlikely event you need it. Carry the canister in an accessible place and know how to use it
  • Camping permit – Don’t forget to bring a copy of your camping permit if you purchased it online
  • Tarp – A tarp (like this lightweight one) can provide shade on sunny days and shelter on rainier ones. Beach camping can feel very exposed. Bring some extra cord for attachment
  • Waterproof backpack cover – Due to the amount of rainfall and the general misty/damp environment, I would suggest bringing a waterproof backpack cover to protect your gear
  • Tent stakes – If your tent is not freestanding, consider bringing some sand stakes or extra cord to help secure your tent while camping on the beach. Some hikers use drywall screws to stake their tent to large driftwood instead
  • Gaiters – As mentioned, the Cape Scott Trail is usually very muddy. For a cleaner and drier hike, use boot gaiters. They are also useful for keeping sand out of your shoes on the beach
  • Extra socks – Take one more pair of socks than you usually would. Your feet will thank you after being in wet shoes for at least part of the day! We love merino wool socks
  • Cash. The Cape Scott Lighthouse keepers usually sell candy, chips and pop cans during the main hiking season and accept cash only

For more multi-day hike packing tips, head to our comprehensive packing guide.

Gemma standing by the ocean looking out to the waves on Nels Bight beach
Watching the ocean from Nels Bight beach never gets old

Where to stay before/after your Cape Scott hike

The closest place to stay to the Cape Scott trailhead is the Adventure Huts in Holberg. These small handcrafted cabins are on the basic side but have everything you need after some time in the backcountry (including access to a shower!)

Port Hardy has a range of accommodations, including a couple of inns, a backpackers hostel, guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels. My top picks are:

  • North Coast Trail Backpackers – Comfortable hostel with great value dorms as well as private rooms. Walking distance to everything in Port Hardy
  • Telco House B&B Welcoming option located very close to the waterfront. Highly rated on
  • Kwa’lilas Hotel – Stylish modern hotel featuring indigenous art and carvings, owned by the Gwa’sala ‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation
Carved wooden Port Hardy sign with fish, bear, log and 'Fishing, Logging, Mining' text
Port Hardy is the closest town to Cape Scott Provincial Park – stop here for any last minute supplies

Camping near the trailhead

Overnight parking is not allowed in the Cape Scott parking lot, with signs forbidding it.

One option is to hike in and camp at San Josef Bay via the very easy and flat 2.5km trail (45 minutes). Eric Lake, located at 3km, is also an option, though the trail is more difficult. 

About five minutes (or less!) from the Cape Scott Provincial Park entrance is the Western Forest Products San Josef River Recreation Site campground.

While this basic campground is a little run down, it is completely free, There are about eight campsites as well as outhouses, picnic tables and fire pits. Be aware – this campground can flood quickly in heavy rain. 

Another option is the privately run San Josef Heritage Campground just before the Cape Scott entrance. I haven’t visited myself yet but apparently, the owner is quite a character! 

Our preferred camping spot is the Nahwitti Lake Recreation Site. This free campground is located right on the main road, about a third of the way to Cape Scott from Port Hardy and is set under a canopy of huge balsam and hemlock trees.

White van parked next to tall trees at Nahwitti Recreation Site
Nahwitti Recreation Site, our trusty camping stopover on the way to Cape Scott Provincial Park

Things to do in and around Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott isn’t the only reason to visit this spectacular region of Vancouver Island. Extend your trip by a few days and explore other local trails and attractions.

Other hiking trails in Cape Scott Provincial Park

Nels Bight and the Cape Scott Lighthouse aren’t the only destinations in Cape Scott Provincial Park.

  • San Josef Bay is a very popular easy day hike (5km) and offers a great taste of the coastal wilderness in the rest of the park. The sea stacks here are gorgeous
  • Hansen Lagoon was the main settlement location of the Danish pioneers and can be visited on a side trail (15.7km from the parking lot). Depending on the tide level, a dyke (built to reclaim land for pasture) can be spotted as well as fence posts and other relics from the past
  • Mt. St. Patrick is the highest peak in the park at 422m. The rough, unmaintained 3km trail leading to the summit starts from San Josef Bay 
  • The North Coast Trail is a 43km extension to the main Cape Scott Trail, creating a 60km multi-day coastal backpacking experience. It is usually hiked in a westerly direction, with hikers being dropped at the Shushartie Bay trailhead by floatplane or boat and then picked up at the Cape Scott trailhead

Ronning’s Garden

Not far from the entrance of Cape Scott Provincial Park, Bernt Ronning established a homestead here in 1910.

As part of his work to clear the rainforest, he ordered seeds from all over the world and established an eclectic mix of plants and trees (including BC’s largest monkey puzzle tree!)

Bernt remained here until the 60’s and the garden is now being maintained by Ron and Julia Moe.

Raft Cove

A short drive from Cape Scott, the main attraction at Raft Cove Provincial Park is accessed via a difficult 2km trail.

The path is exceptionally muddy, slippery and rooty and takes around 45 minutes to hike. The reward is a gorgeous, long windswept white sand beach. Walk-in camping is $5/night/per person.

Driftwood on wet sandy beach, with scattered rocks and backdrop of forest
Raft Cove beach

Scarlet Ibis Pub

Located in Holberg (don’t worry, you’ll be able to find it easily), this no-fuss pub is the only place serving hot food for miles around.

The hearty pub grub is immensely satisfying after Cape Scott Trail hike! There’s an awesome view from the patio too.

Telegraph Cove

On your way to or from Cape Scott, take the detour to explore the tiny boardwalk community of Telegraph Cove.

There’s a free whale museum as well as whale watching tours launching straight from the boardwalk. Just a warning – it can be very busy in July and August.

Find more activity suggestions in our Campbell River to Port Hardy road trip guide

Vertical image of brightly coloured houses on stilts at Telegraph Cove, with calm ocean below wharf and clouds above
Telegraph Cove

Discover more amazing Vancouver Island destinations in these posts:

Hiking to Della Falls, Vancouver Island’s Highest Waterfall

How to find Big Trees on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo to Campbell River Road Trip Guide: 16 Great Places to Stop

A Complete Guide to Storm Watching in Tofino

27+ of the Best Things to Do in Campbell River, Vancouver Island

25+ of the Best Campgrounds on Vancouver Island

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Friday 5th of August 2022

Gemma: What a wonderful piece on Cape Scott, San Josef Bay and Nels Bight!! Your describe them well. Between 1956 and 1963 I lived in Holberg (7 years). I was 8 yrs old when we moved there. My dad was a logger. We knew Mr. Ronning and Mr. Jensen who were lovely people. I've flown all over the park and camped @ San Josef.

You've written an excellent article! I am so pleased that such a place of stunning beauty was designated a park and people like you are enjoying it's beauty and history. Thank you.


Sunday 7th of August 2022

Hi Laurie,

Oh wow, what a story! Thank you for sharing. I'm so glad you think I did Cape Scott Provincial Park justice in this post :)


Saturday 30th of October 2021

Beautiful and relatively unknown. Thanks to Landmark maps I found out about the Hotel in Port Hardy and then discovered this trail. Wow


Thursday 7th of June 2018

Hi! We would like to hike the whole North Coast Trail next month. Problem is we have really small budget for 1 month in Canada, so we primarily want to hitchhike and sleep outside (as we do everywhere). Is it possible to do wild camping while hiking NCT without paying 10 dolars per night? I mean, not using the official camping places but just random places on the trail. Of course we keep the Leave no trace principle, camp without making noise, fire etc. How does the paying actually work? You need to pay all the cost before you enter the park or are there rangers who control people? Thank you very much for response and for great trip report.


Thursday 7th of June 2018

Hi Kristina,

You can wild camp (random camping) in Cape Scott Provincial Park outside of the campsites but you still need to pay the nightly backcountry camping fees. Think of it as a trail fee - it pays for the maintenance of the trail so you are able to hike it. You can pay online or self register at the San Josef trailhead. There is a ranger's cabin on Nels Night beach so it is very possible that you may run into a ranger.


Wednesday 9th of August 2017

About to hike the North Coast Trail with the Canadian non-profit Connected in Motion. This article is beautifully written and love all the photographs. I am worried about the mud but that is what makes it fun...right? Keep exploring you two.


Wednesday 9th of August 2017

Good luck for your hike Erik! In hindsight, the mud definitely made the hike more memorable for sure ;) Thanks for your lovely comments about the article.


Sunday 31st of July 2016

Hiya! My guy and I are travelling from Toronto to Vancouver Island next week. We will be hiking from the trailhead to San Josef Bay and thenjoy North as long as we can. What equipment would you recommend that we bring?


Friday 5th of August 2016

Hi Jenne,

You'll need everything to be self sufficient for as long as you plan to stay. There is absolutely no supplies in Cape Scott park and Port Hardy is a good couple of hours drive away.