Looking for a new backpacking trail to challenge you this year? We’re putting the spotlight on the North Coast Trail, a multi-day hike located on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. The 58-kilometre trek, which meanders through old growth coastal rainforest, upland bog, across expansive white sand beaches and around culturally significant historical relics, has only been hiked by 6,031 people since it opened in 2008! Compare that to the average 6,000 people that hike the West Coast Trail each summer and you’ll understand why hikers come to the NCT from far and wide for its wild, untouched feel.
We’ll walk you through what you should know about the trail, some cool features, and how to prepare before you tackle it. It’s great for intermediate to advanced hikers who don’t mind enjoying their sunsets with a bit of mud left on their boots. Most hikers will spend between four to seven days on the trail, stopping in at one of the seven campsites each night to rest.
What you’ll see:
Cape Scott Park is known for its juxtaposition of pristine coastal landscape with dense old-growth rainforest. The 58-kilometre North Coast Trail hugs the northern coastline of the Park. It begins in Shushartie Bay and concludes (officially) at Nissen Bight. This stretch offers ample opportunities for wildlife sightings. It is not uncommon to see humongous whales close to shore and if you’re lucky, grey wolves and black bears.
Because of the trail’s remoteness, you’re likely to enjoy many moments of solitude during your visit. Imagine just you and your hiking buddies, with no one else in sight, taking in the sheer magnificence of the towering old growth Red Cedars and Sitka Spruce that have made Cape Scott their home for many centuries. You’ll see intermittent portions of bog with raised boardwalk that crisscross the terrain, and catch periods of sunshine before re-entering the shade of the canopy.
Each evening, you’ll set up camp at one of the seven campsites scattered across the trail. The campsites have food caches, pit toilets and are close to sources of fresh drinking water (although remember to bring a purifying filter!). Campfires are permitted on the beach year-round, unless there is a closure for a fire ban. This is your chance to get cozy, relax and take in the stunning colours of the sunsets over the Pacific, sometimes in the company of Humpback, Grey and Minke Whales!
There are lots of historical and cultural attractions in Cape Scott. First Nations peoples inhabited the region for thousands of years, and there are still many culturally significant reminders of their communities across the trail. Danish settlers were attracted to the area, and made two attempts at establishing a settlement in 1897 and again in 1910. Keep your eyes out for what remains of their efforts, particularly in the west portion of the park. You may also stumble across relics from World War II, when the park was used as a military base. Picking up a copy of Cape Scott and the North Coast Trail will add context to your visit, as it provides loads of details about the rich history of the area!
When to go:
The best season to visit is during late spring and summer, from early May to the end of September. This is when the trail is drier and the weather is at its most comfortable. As well, staff are stationed on the trail during these months ensuring that windfall from the winter is removed and that the excess vegetation gets brushed back.
The North Coast Trail Shuttle, which offers boat transfers to Shushartie Bay and pick up from the Cape Scott Trailhead operates May 1 to Sept 15. Outside of these dates, transport must be arranged on an individual basis, which can come at a higher cost, but can also offer more solitude if that’s what you’re after.
What to bring:
It’s important to remember the wet and windy climate in the area when packing for your trek. Although summertime is usually quite sunny and pleasant, it is hard to predict when the weather on the Northern Island will deliver a heavy dose of wind and showers.
Make sure you come prepared with wet weather gear, lots of materials to get a fire going and plenty of yummy food to keep your energy up for happy hiking! Besides that, a thirst for adventure, willingness to get dirty and good sense of humour will go along way on any backpacking trip!
Check out our website to see our full list of recommended gear to bring and visit Adventure Smart BC to make sure you’re prepared.
How to prepare:
Before you go, be sure to pick up a guidebook or at least read more about the trail. Check out the helpful resources below for some good links. Rally with your outdoor crew and decide when to visit, and then book a Water Taxi with NCT Shuttle.
There are no reservations for permits to hike the trail; you can enter and leave at your leisure. However, you do need to pay your nightly camping fees before entering the Park. You can pay online for any dates in the current season by using the BC Parks Discover Camping website.
You may want to check out some more on the North Island while you’re up there- so visit the Vancouver Island North website for more epic adventures around the area.