North Coast Trail

Earlier this summer, I hiked the North Coast Trail with a group of friends on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We did the trail in six days, including a side trip to the Cape Scott lighthouse for Canada day, and had a day of getting up and back on each end. Lots of mud, forest, gravel and sandy beaches, rain, sun, roots, logs and fun. I think though if I came back, I would probably stick to the more developed west side of the park, since the beaches are more sandy and expansive and there’s less logistics involved (we took a boat to the east trailhead). We went at a fairly leisurely pace with short days of hiking, which gave me some great opportunities to take some photos along the way. If you’re ok with a bit or lots of rain, this trip makes for a good shoulder season destination. Otherwise, come here in July and August when the weather is likely to be good, though it’ll probably still rain.


We took a water taxi from Port Hardy to Shushartie Bay. It’s not cheap, but the only other option would be to drive up a logging road from Port Hardy, bushwhack through a small cutblock, and then cross a bear-infested estuary to get to the trailhead. We did see two black bears there.

The first part of the trail goes up a steep cutblock, and then through muddy forest, and then through bogs covered with boardwalks. Gaiters are a great thing to have along on this trip.

Flat beach walking at Skinner Creek. When it was sandy, the walking was great, but the many sections of loose boulders and gravel felt like a good slog.

There’s nothing like a good book next to a campfire on the beach. We spent our first night at Nahwatti camp.

On the second day we hiked from Nahwatti camp, hiked inland to get to the cable car across the Nahwatti and then back to the coast and through headlands passable only at low tide. It was wet and windy at times along the exposed coastlines , and the camera never came out when we had to climb up and down ropes over some headlands. We camped at Shuttleworth Bight on the second night, enjoying a feast of mexican food, campfires, and endless waves of stormy clouds.

The whole gang, Ian, Lisa, Martin, Adam, Keith, Richard, Agi, and Craig.

The tide went out and exposed a vast stretch of white sandy beach. The weather was never stable, and the constantly changing clouds made for great lighting.

The far end of Shuttleworth Bight, a particular scenic stretch of beach to stroll along.

The third day consisted of short inland trails, and long stretches of gravel beaches. But the spectacular tidal zones made the slog more interesting. We crossed many pocket beaches, sometimes we were able to cross them when the tide was out, but usually we followed inland trails marked by hanging floats.


That evening we camped at Laura Creek, enjoying a spectacular sunset down by the tidal pools. We were lucky that it never rained hard in the evenings.



Check out Charlie Easton’s painting of this photo!

Our fourth day was fairly mellow, as we only had to hike a short distance to Nissen Bight. The previous night, groups coming the other direction from Cape Scott were warning us about how terrible the mud was on this section, and told us to expect the worse. But it wasn’t that bad compared to the two first days.

Nissen Bight marked the end of the North Coast trail, and we were now back in the more developed spots of the west end of Cape Scott provincial park. We rolled dice and placed bets on our snacks, from peanuts to fuzzy peaches to chocolate truffles, gambling away the rest of our food.

The next day we hiked from Nissen Bight to Nels Bight, dropped our stuff and continued on to Cape Scott.

Canada Day celebrations at the lighthouse, complete with games and cupcakes.
And then we camped at Nels Bight, hiding underneath a tarp until the rain disappeared for the last time. And finished the day with another rounds of cards until sunset. I lost track of how many rounds of Doppelkopf were played


The beaches were spectacular, and so were the sunsets, especially those close to Cape Scott. I don’t think I would go back and hike the North Coast trail, but I would probably visit this side of the park again.

We finished off the trip by staying at San Josef bay, only 2.5km from the parking lot, to give us a full day to do the car shuttle and to drive back to Vancouver. That gave us more time to explore the sea stacks and rest our sore feet.

After six days on the trail, it was hard to leave and head back home to the real world. A permanent vacation would be nice sometimes…

05 comments on “North Coast Trail

  • Warren Long , Direct link to comment

    Liked the photos. Since it has been 13 years since we did the WestCoastTrail, it is time to do something like this again. Thanks for sharing.

  • melissa , Direct link to comment

    Hey Guys. we are supposed to do this on August 2, but I am really getting cold feet. I am hearing that it’s so hard its not do-able but I’m looking at your shots and it looks totally fine. is there anything dangerous other than wildlife that may prevent us from being successful? I have backpacked the JDF trail in 4 days with no issues which they are saying is super easy. I didn’t find it easy, just slow, and I expect some of the same, but I’m worries about something so physically challenging that its too dangerous. thoughts?

    • RichSo , Direct link to comment

      Hi Melissa, it’s been a really long time since that trip, but I don’t remember anything particular dangerous. You should be prepared to hike a long distance in uneven rooty muddy terrain with a multi-day pack. I think the NCT would be a good progression up from the JDF for you!

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