There are lots of amazing places in the province that are suited to quick day-hikes or short weekend trips- and there are others that require some extra time. If you live anywhere south of Campbell River, Raft Cove is one of those places that requires some determination to get to, but is worth the journey if you’re willing to leave pavement and cell service behind.
This park on the north-west coast of Vancouver Island is a spot that brings out the well-deserved pride of locals lucky enough to live on the north island, boasting a beautiful tidal estuary, long sandy beach, and uninterrupted sunset views across the Pacific.
BC Parks’ website has information on Raft Cove, including directions to the trailhead and main access point into the park. An alternate access point is provided by the MacJack River, which may be canoe-accessible depending on logjams, flow, and tide, and which takes about twice as long as the hike. Both access points begin outside of the park.
After putting in the effort to visit this park over the May long weekend, I would offer the following tips for anyone thinking about checking out the wild west coast of Vancouver Island!
Gravel roads are hard on spines and on tires- make sure you can get to your destination and back safely. Check you have a jack (and know how to use it!), spare tire, and a tire kit with you in case of a flat (or multiple flats!). Don’t forget pump- plugging a leak is only step 1. A bicycle pump will do the trick in less time than you might think. The BC Forest Safety Council provides good advice on navigating logging roads if you’re in an active logging area.
Check the tides before you leave! Tide charts will become more accurate closer to the date, and if you’re planning to head down the river timing with the tide is key. Low tides also expand the territory for hiking in the park, as access around (and sometimes over) the headlands opens up once the water is pulled back from shore, and timing your visit to coincide with mid-day low tides will give you more range. It’s tempting to keep going to see what’s around the next point, and the next point, and the next….but don’t go too far on a low tide or you might find your return path blocked off!
Take care of the essentials. Hunger, dehydration and hypothermia will ruin any trip, no matter how beautiful the scenery. Although water may be available in this park it must be filtered, boiled or treated, and planning for possible low-water conditions or emergencies like not making it to your destination make bringing drinking water with you a must. Food goes without saying (hiking or canoeing, you’re gonna get hungry!) but make sure you have a way to secure it. There are some bear caches available but if they’re full or located too far from your camping spot, have ropes and containers on hand to cache your food away from animals. Tarps are always a good idea, not just for rain but also wind and sun protection- no one wants to spend all day in their tent if the weather isn’t cooperating. If you’re heading down the river dry bags/bins are definitely recommended for important gear (and if you’re hiking they provide a good safe-guard in case of leaks).
Respect the water and your abilities. Whether you’re heading for a (very chilly) swim in the river or ocean, suiting up for some surf, snorkeling, or taking a boat out for a ride, take the time to get to know the conditions- river currents will change with the tide and there are rip currents and surf to take into account. The river conditions will change with run-off from storms increasing flow, and fresh windfall and erosion can add new logjams to the channel. If you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to navigate the ocean or river safely, best to give it a pass. If you get into trouble you’re not just putting yourself in danger, but also those who might try a rescue. Let’s avoid the drama, ok?
Bring binoculars for spying on unsuspecting wildlife. Remember, it’s not creepy if the animal isn’t a human! We saw some spouts that were tantalizingly close to shore but without binos couldn’t get a definite ID. Up to you whether they’re worth the extra weight.
Get friendly with your neighbours. Chances are if they’ve made the same effort to get there that you have, you just might have something in common. Not all folks are up for sharing their campfire and stories, but if you don’t at least stop by you’ll miss out on some great times with the people who are.
Blog post submitted by Megan, a BC Parks staff member. All opinions are her own. If you have a story or tips for exploring BC Parks, we would love to read it. Please click here to share your story.