San Josef Bay, Where We Learned the Downsides of Beach Camping

We had camped out at Nels Bight for two nights without issue. Despite the two light station keepers assuring us that rain was not in the forecast, it did drizzle that night after we had returned to camp. But it was nothing that would keep us in our tents. We sat outside and watched the horizon, where a group of whales were spouting, were treated with a phenomenal sunset.

sunset at Nels Bight

The next day, we hiked our way south to San Josef Bay. This beach is a mere 45 minutes from the trailhead, so it’s often a popular choice for day hikers and families. We had seen people carrying large coolers in the parking lot when we arrived at the park on our first day; this was definitely their destination. But we were surprised that it was so vacant now, a long weekend. We had our pick of the camping spots since there was only one other tent, so walked a few minutes down the beach towards where our map indicated the water source was to find a flat spot.

We argued whether we wanted to be closer to the forest or the water. The forest was cozy, but wouldn’t allow for much sun—plus it would be closer to the animals. The tide was far out now, but we wanted to make sure we would be safe when it came in again. But how far was far enough? Amy and I argued that the tufts of grasses in the sand indicated that it was above the water line; Alicia did not believe us.

“What about the rogue waves?” she asked. Neither Amy nor I knew how to respond.

According to my online research later, not much is known about them, with scientists for a long time not even accepting them as real. But, according to an Economist article from 2009, an oil rig recorded a 25.6 metre wave in the North Sea in 1995, and there was a recorded 29 metre wave off Scotland’s coast in 2000. Scientists could no longer deny that these larger-than-normal waves exist (I’m sure to the relief of all the seamen and sailors who were dismissed during all those years of sea exploration). But, fortunately for my friends and me, they occur in deep water, not on the shore where we were. Unless we were going to get hit by a tsunami, we would be fine.

Amy and I convined Alicia we would be fine. We set our tent up right in the middle of the beach. Luckily for Alicia, it was an uneventful night.

camping at San Josef Bay

While the sea was no longer our feared enemy, the beach was. The next day, the wind picked up and we were treated with a sand storm. I tried to read, resting against a log, but couldn’t concentrate. The wind kept blowing our tent fly and I kept walking over to tack it down again. We had left the outer doors open since it was warm out, but the sand kept sifting through the netting and onto our sleeping bags. Eventually the wind got too strong; I couldn’t read anymore because I had to use a shirt to cover my face to protect it from the sand-bullets.

We had planned this, our last full day, as a lazy one where we got to relax and read, but I could do neither of those things. Finally, we decided to move our tent into the forest.

Beach camping is not always what it’s made out to be. We had conquered our fears of rogue waves, but the wind had conquered us.


Details:
Cape Scott can be reached by car. Drive  hours via Highway 19 on Vancouver Island from Nanaimo north to Port Hardy. From there, turn west towards Holberg on Holberg Road; of the 2 hour drive, the last hour or so is a dirt logging road. After passing through the very small town of Holberg, turn right onto San Josef Main/San Joseph Road to reach the park's parking lot. 

Be prepared for extreme weather at any time of year. You can find water sources at campsites, but you must treat the water. Pay attention to tides. There are bears in the park, so you must put hang your food or store it in provided bins.

Get yourself a drink at the Scarlet Ibis Pub in Holberg on your way out to celebrate your hike.