drive and hike to the ocean: san josef bay

Ever since we moved here, I've been fascinated with our town's proximity to Cape Scott Provincial Park. Cape Scott is a wilderness park, accessible mainly through the rugged North Coast Trail -- for very serious hikers, i.e., not us. But I've read that some small sections are more accessible for a day hike.

People rave about the beauty of San Josef Bay -- known locally as Sanjo Bay -- but always with a caveat: there's no easy way to get there. We pass the turnoff sign on Rt. 19 all the time, and knew that one day, we'd drive those 63 kilometres west on logging roads to see what was at the other end.

This past Sunday, we did it. What we found: a long drive, a perfect hike, and a magnificent beach.

All along the drive, you're in either deep forest, re-growth, or cleared areas. You pass frequent signs posted by the foresting companies, with the year the area was "harvested," then the year it was either replanted, spaced, or pruned. Sometimes you see "next harvest," which is 75 years after the last logging. I neglected to get pictures of these signs, and now I can't find any good example online. (I remember seeing similar signs when we drove around Washington's Olympic Peninsula on our 2002 west-coast trip.)

On the way to San Josef Bay, we drove through the tiny community of Holberg. There was once a military base here, then a logging camp. Now it's just a tiny dot on the map, too small even to be called a village. A former resident has a website dedicated to the community and the area.

We thought this sign was amusing.

First time I've seen a drive sign that wishes you luck!

As advertised, the road was deeply rutted and very slow going. We left our house at 10:30 a.m. and were amazed to see it was a few minutes before 1:00 p.m. when we reached the parking lot for the trailhead. It took 2.5 hours to drive 63 kms! (That's about 39 miles, for the metrically challenged.)

We ate the lunch we had packed at a picnic table, read the wolf warnings (two were seen by hikers about a month ago), and set out.

This was, for me, the perfect hike. It was nearly flat, through deep forest, perfectly quiet. Portions are boardwalked, which is awesome for both accessibility and staying dry. The trail is about 2.7 kilometres (1.6 miles), which is a good length, since you have to double back. (It's not a loop.)

Everything in the forest was blanketed in moss and ferns.

The trees are very narrow and tall. Every once in a while you pass a huge stump, which I assume is the original growth (although I don't really know). In the exposed ends of fallen trees, new trees are growing, along with mushrooms and ferns, and there are holes in which critters must make their homes. I enjoy seeing how a dead tree hosts so much life.

Towards the end of the trail, you catch glimpses of sandy beaches and small inlets through the trees. And then we heard it -- a distant roar. The trees weren't moving, so it couldn't be wind. There are no highways in the vicinity, so it's not the roar of traffic. It could only be waves. I got really excited! The ocean. Not the bay of Port Hardy or the Straight of the east coast of the Island. The Pacific.

The trail ends, you emerge from the forest to find a sweeping expanse of pristine, white-sand beach, and the Pacific Ocean. It is breathtaking. It didn't hurt that it was a gloriously sunny day.

We let Diego off the leash and he pranced around, even though he must have been tired from hiking. I had a good time trying to capture the scene.

Towards one end of the beach, there are caves and sea stacks (vertical rock formations visible at low tide). But after a long hike, then beach time, we couldn't take Diego all the way down the beach and back. As is, we felt we overdid it for him, and those sea stacks must be another two kilometres away.

The beach was nearly empty. Four or five surfers were testing the waves, and two separate families were relaxing with fires and a day tent.*

If we didn't have a hike and a long drive back, we would have stayed longer.

On the way back, we stopped to look at some roadside attractions.

A crushed car.

A shoe tree.

Next time, we might have to set out at dawn.

More pics from Sanjo Bay are here on Flickr.

* Small town alert: one of the families on the beach was my hair stylist and her kids. They passed us on the trail, but only said hi, and I didn't recognize her. I had an appointment the next day! When I arrived, she said, "How did you like Sanjo Bay?"

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