The Cape Scott Marine Trail has been a project of BC Marine Trails for more than a decade now, first as a leg of the West Vancouver Island North Marine Trail proposal, then as the North Island Circle Route. The trail extends from Fort Rupert/Port Hardy around the top of Vancouver Island, through Cape Scott Provincial Park, and back to Coal Harbour via Quatsino Sound.
The trail heads into some of the most dramatic wilderness areas on the British Columbia coastline — including all of Cape Scott Provincial Park.
Famous as an ill-fated Scandinavian community at the turn of the last century, and many First Nations communities before that, the Cape Scott region is now home to mainly humpback whales, wolves, black bears and eagles. Notably it is now crossed by the North Coast Trail, a land route created in 2008 to join with the older Cape Scott Trail that runs from San Josef Bay to the Cape Scott lighthouse. The Cape Scott Marine Trail adds to the adventurous nature of the landscape by adding a designated water route that snakes the coastline, then turns back inland at Quatsino Sound. The final leg runs the length of the sound and through Quatsino Narrows to end at Coal Harbour, a location conveniently near the starting point.
Creating this route has involved the formal creation of several new marine campsites along Quatsino Sound, as well as site improvements and infrastructure — with collaboration of Quatsino First Nation. Work remains to secure sites to fill the gaps to optimize the route for safety.
Plan your trip
Port Hardy is approximately 500 km north of Victoria and 400 kms north of Vancouver, so plan the best part of the day just to get north along Vancouver Island. Any other launch location into Quatsino Sound (Koprino Harbour or Winter Harbour) will involve a lengthy additional drive along gravel logging roads, so be sure to bring a spare and a pump, as one flat tire can be expected and two should be planned for.
- It’s a good idea to view the overall area on our main map first to get an idea of where you wish to paddle. Choose your location and route.
- Our goal is to ensure safe travelling by canoe or kayak. We completed safety audits of all routes in the Gulf Islands and other stretches of the BC coast to determine where distances are not optimal or safe. For example, the outside of the Gulf Islands – Gabriola Island, Valdes Island and Galiano Island – have long stretches of coastline without ample campsites. That is, campsites optimally should be 8NM apart to a maximum of 12NM.
- If you are new to paddling you have to decide whether you are ready for your first trip. Consider taking paddling lessons and join a local club. Be trained. Be prepared. Be connected.
- As a member you can access our trip resources page or easily find resources online at Sea Kayak Association of BC.
North Vancouver Island is approximately a 5-hour drive from Nanaimo or the ferry at Departure Bay. You can launch at several locations depending on whether you are completing the whole Cape Scott Marine Trail or accessing a part of it.
Launch and Campsites
Most people traveling the route start from the Port Hardy area and transit counter-clockwise. Either way, one end will have to be the Port Hardy region, where a number of options exist for starting your trip. Full details can be found on the main BCMT map. Here is a summary:
Carrot Park: This is the main access to the beach within the town of Port Hardy.
Bear Cove: This is a boat ramp and launch located across Hardy Bay from Port Hardy. Parking can be an issue.
Storey’s Beach, Fort Rupert: This is a beach access at a local park slightly more distant than options within Port Hardy and Hardy Bay.
Launch Sites to access the trail and area: Quatsino Sound
Coal Harbour: The access is via the marina and boat ramp at the old aircraft hangar, a private commercial operator. Fees and parking restrictions apply. The main advantage is the close distance to Port Hardy. A taxi is an option to return to your car.
Port Alice: While more distant to Port Hardy than Coal Harbour, it has the advantage of a municipal boat launch. Parking fees will still apply.
Winter Harbour: This is a convenient launch for trips to outer Quatsino Sound, or to create a loop from Port Hardy that skips the transit through Quatsino Sound. Water access is possible in the village at a small launch ramp near the general store, or outside the village at the locally-run Kwaksista campground.
Koprino Harbour: This is a forestry campground with a boat ramp providing access to central Quatsino Sound.
The best way to find campsites is on the BC Marine Trails map. There are number of excellent campsites along the route. A rough itinerary could consider these sites: Goodnuff Beach, God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park (multiple sites), Nolan Point on Balaclava Island, Loquillilla Cove on Nigei Island, Nahwitti River, Cape Sutil, Shuttleworth Bight, Nissen Bight, Nels Bight, Experiment Bight, Guise Bay, Lowry Bay, Helen Islands (San Josef Bay), Raft Cove Provincial Park, Grant Bay, Hunt Islets, Mahatta Creek and Drake Island.