I recently had the good fortune to visit San Jose Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park, located at the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is not what you might call the most “suitable for dogs” place to camp for the simple reason that it is home to one of the largest wolf populations in the West Coast.
In fact, dogs are not allowed anywhere in Cape Scott, except in the San Jose Bay area, which is also the most popular camping spot. During this trip, I had my sixteen-year-old little friend Hank — a mixture of rat terriers — with me, and I held him right by the shoulder on a leash or carried him in my arms when he was too tired to walk.
As I write this, Hank has been crossing the arc bridge for about two years, but we will always have the wonderful memory of my last treasure trip with him.
Hank, enjoying the warmth of home base before heading to Cape Scott.
To get there
When I visited Cape Scott Provincial Park, we lived on Gabriola Island, in the Persian Gulf Islands of British Columbia, and got there by ferry and about six hours by car to the north end of Vancouver Island, after which we traveled a long and rough stretch of gravel a forest road along the old logging town of Holberg to the park entrance. (Log trucks are a constant danger you should be aware of, and passengers are advised to provide them with ample space.)
After Hank and I arrived at the main parking lot and walked down the aisle, it was about an 8-mile hike to San Josef Bay. It was a weekday, and as we headed for the bay, we met only a few surfers returning home. In many parts of the trail there are bridges and footpaths over the swampy land and it was quite an easy transition, apart from the load I was carrying.
In the end, I carried Hank most of the way — which he loved — but it certainly did me no favors when combined with the heavy packaging and photography equipment I had taken with me.
The view from near our campsite. Hank and I do a few runs on the beach.
Clear dark sky
Hank and I visited Cape Scott in late March, which by British Columbia standards is still in the middle of winter, although the winters there are much milder and wetter than the rest of Canada. We were lucky and had extremely clear skies, which is actually not so common at this time of year in this region.
Due to the good weather, I was able to take advantage of the clear night sky, without light pollution, and take night photography. Below is a photo from the same place where the photo was taken above, except that the second one was taken about three hours later.
Stars reflected on the wet sand in San Jose Bay
Neighbors in San Jose Bay
Hank and I settled into our cozy little tent on Big Agnes Fly Creek at the edge of the woods after putting all our food and fragrant items in the bear lockers provided by the park. That night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf and what looked like dozens of wolves howling through the water on either side of the entrance.
There were no other people around, the closest were probably those who lived in the small town of Holberg, about 20 miles away. It was an eerie feeling, and I must admit that at first I shivered on my spine to feel such a sense of primordial nature all around us. When I finally adjusted to the feeling of isolation, and after my rational brain assured me that the wolves would take their distance and leave us alone, we broke down and we both fell asleep like logs.
Beautiful, mysterious sea caves
The next day we went to see the sea caves just around the bend from San Josef Bay. At low tide you can access a few really nice ones. I came back after dark and took this picture from inside the cave. Unfortunately, there was a lot of plastic rubbish among the dried algae mats in the cave’s mouth. Most of them were written in Japanese, which makes me wonder how many debris still came from the 2011 tsunami. The next morning we took two large garbage bags, full, and put them in the parking lot.
Should you take your dog to Cape Scott Country Park?
Honestly, if I could get back to Cape Scott Country Park, I’d probably leave my furry friends at home next time. I selfishly wanted one last epic camping trip with my little friend Hank, as he was 16 at the time and was starting to decline.
It’s a harsh environment in the best of times, and even with his puppy’s sweater, I tried to keep him comfortable when the temperature dropped after dark. At one point, when he entered the sleeping bag with me, he managed to move all the way to my feet (in the still buttoned bag!) I quickly returned him to shoulder level, fearing that he would suffocate there.
Also, out of respect for the wolves who call this park home, I think the scent that domestic dogs leave behind in wolf territory can also disrupt natural mating and other patterns. Wolves have a hard time without confusing their scent communication system.
Another good reason to leave your furry friends is that in this 22,294-hectare park you can see much more than just San Jose Bay, which is the only part of it where you can bring your four-legged friend.
Nevertheless, this place is worth a visit, especially if you love the harsh nature and solitude.
Morning serenade by the wolves
Below is a short video I shot one morning just after Hank and we had breakfast. There were several wolves “talking” to each other from different places around the bay. The audio is a little weak, but you can still hear their mourning calls over the sound of the surf.