Hesquiat Peninsula Provincial Park
The Hesquiat Peninsula is a peninsula on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, located northwest of the town of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound and Nootka Sound to the northwest. It marks the division between the two regions formed by those sounds and is named for the Hesquiaht people of the Nuu-chah-nulth, and is the location of Hesquiat Peninsula Provincial Park. The Estevan Point lighthouse is at the apex of the peninsula.
The Hesquiat Peninsula is one of the quietest of the Vancouver Island coastal trails, seeing far less visitors than the West Coast or Nootka trails, yet it also has the fewest difficult sections. It is about 50 km long, most of it along the seashore. The trail features great rock ledges, some boulder hopping, and lots of beautiful sandy beaches. There is a great trail guide for Hesquiat written by Philip Stone available online.
Perhaps because it requires both a flight in and a flight (or boat ride) out to access, this keeps the numbers down, but whatever the reason those looking for a greater wilderness experience should seriously consider this trail. Fewer people also means more wildlife so those hoping to encounter wolf or bear might keep this in mind.
I have been anticipating this trip for some time now. The weather report was looking favourable for the long weekend and tides were on our side. Each day the tide went out midday providing lots of options for walking along the seaside. As we settled into camp at day end, the tides came in, which made for great afternoon swimming as the water warmed under the sun as it rose. I have to applaud our trip leader John for scheduling the trip under such favourable conditions.
Day 1: Escalante Point to Barcester Bay
The original plan was a 2.5 hour boat trip from Tofino up the east side of Flores Island, then out into the wild west pacific for travel north to Hesquiat. The voyage ended up being 4 hours as we hit some swells and had to travel at quite a distance from the peninsula due to the shallow and rocky areas around Hesquiat. As we learned, this was also the first time our water taxi driver had been out this way. I can assure you, after 4 hours of travel in the open water, we were all quite happy to get off that boat.
As we hit the sand beaches at Escalante Point, I was immediately struck by the unique rocky shoreline and sea life accessible during the low tide. We headed south along the coastline with the intention to camp at Barcester Bay. As we travelled the 13 kilometres the overcast skies cleared up and by the time we arrived at the beautiful beaches of Barcester Bay we were under full sun.
Barcester Bay is a lovely spot with a beautiful west facing beach. The water source was running well at this time of year and was fed by a beautiful waterfall.
Day 2: Barcester Bay to Homais Cove
Day two was a shorter day of hiking so we enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading further south along the peninsula. Homais Cove was our goal, another beautiful little spot with a number of trocky outcrops just off the coast. Arriving at low tide, it was just amazing to see the landscape change as the high tide came in. The tide easily covered 300-400 metres of flat rock and beach.
I managed to get the hammock hung at this location and enjoyed the afternoon resting. By evening the tide had risen and the wind had increased. A few brave souls voyaged to the nearby point to take in the sunset and a quick windburn.
Before departure, someone spotted a cabin in the woods at Homais Cove which we then explored. Later in the trip we learned that the cabin was built by Peter from Cougar Annie’s Garden.
Day 3: Homais Cove to Matlahaw Point
Boulder Day; billions of boulders really, all sizes, shapes, and types. Not long after heading out we encountered Billion Boulder Beach, then spending much of our day boulder hopping. As the tide was out, there were lots of options to navigate through the boulders. This was kind of fun, as we all took our own route, some luckier than others as many fell. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured during the journey. I could imagine this would be ten times as treacherous in foul weather.
On the way, we encountered a whale carcass that had been washed up on the beach. The entire spine and skull were exposed. It was a stinky mess, but very interesting to see the massive bones piled up.
We visited the Estevan Point Lighthouse on our journey. This location was the site of one of the only attacks on Canadian soil by a foreign country in the last century. The attack came from Japan during World War II.
Matlahaw Point featured an absolutely beautiful beach nestled between black boulders and the old growth forest. This was one my favourite spots of the trip.
Day 4: Matlahaw Point to Le Claire Point
From Matlahaw Point we travelled onwards, now moving north along the eastern side of the peninsula. We visited the settlement of Hesquiat (Population 4) and were welcomed in to explore the store and hear stories of the area. Many of us purchased fudge and also beautiful works of art all made by the residents.
The fudge was a real treat after a few days of hiking, and I managed to give myself a sugar coma which struck me on the next leg of the journey. As I was walking I suddenly felt very strange, almost intoxicated, and then extremely tired. It was a little scary, but I proceeded to drink some water and eat an energy bar and felt better.
Further down the trail, we came upon Crescent Beach located inside the Hesquiat Harbour. Th beach was vast and beautiful here and we all were inspired to stop, strip, and swim in the clear blue waters.
Our camp for the night, Le Claire Point, was an amazing spit of land nestled between the sea and a river.
Day 5: Le Claire Point to Cougar Annie’s Garden
This was to be our last day on the Hesquiat trail. The plan was to make the final journey from Le Claire Point to Cougar Annie’s Garden and enjoy a tour of the garden. On the way, we needed to cross some headlands for the first time and got to experience the old growth forest in the morning light.
At Cougar Annie’s Garden we were greeted by Peter, Anna, and the local ravens on the beach. The side was developed by Cougar Annie, a pioneer who settled near Hesquiat Harbour at Boat Basin in Clayoquot Sound. She lived on this land from 1915 to around 1980, finding sustenance from the land, and developing the gardens. She outlived four husbands in her time here and was said to have killed 62 cougars and about 80 bears which threatened her land and livestock.
The tour of the gardens was quite incredible. We saw the dugout canoe that Cougar Annie had originally used to paddle to the location. We toured the garden and former home of Annie. The site has a beautiful lake behind it and is surrounded by remarkable old growth forests. We then saw the new developments that Peter has added to the location, including an incredible 800 metres of boardwalk through the forest, numerous cabins, conferencing facilities, and common areas.
This is truly a remarkable place, a little piece of heaven really, but so remote and tricky to access. This has lead to some challenges in sustaining the place. For that reason, the Boat Basin Foundation has been established. This charitable organisation owns and maintains the property and the garden with the objective of preserving the garden for future generations and encouraging interest and education in natural history. If you are interested in visiting or supporting this historic location, please refer to their website.
Day 6: Trapped at Cougar Annie’s Garden
As we ended our Cougar Annie’s Garden experience we returned to the beach. The winds had picked up quite a bit in the afternoon and we were all wondering if our boat would be able to come and pick us up. The marine weather reports called for strong northwesterly winds for the afternoon and next few days. We sat on the beach looking out to sea expecting our boat to come around the corner but the pick up time came and went. We tried to raise the water taxi on the marine radio but could not get a signal to Tofino. Peter offered to let us use his satellite internet connection to call in. We learned that the boat was not going to be able to travel as the winds and conditions in the open section of wild west pacific were not safe for passage by small boats. They offered to attempt to come in the morning if the winds had died down.
A number of people in our group had to get back so we contacted a number of float plane companies to see if they might be able to fly us out. This being the Monday of a long weekend, only one plane was available. A group of four departed leaving eight who would travel in the morning. We opted not to risk the water taxi being able to travel with the high wind report and booked two planes for travel first thing in the morning.
I had mixed feeling setting up for a fifth night at Cougar Annie’s. When you are all ramped up to head home; to a soft and warm bed, modern conveniences, and real food; it’s tough to imagine another night out. However, one could really not ask for a better place to be marooned than in Hesquiat Harbour. The winds even calmed as the evening wore on providing a lovely evening and beautiful sunset. Peter and Anna invited us over for dinner and we arrived to find a “beach bar” setup with cold beer! They further offered smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese as an appetiser followed by a beautiful fresh salad from their garden. We combined this with all of the leftover food we had in our packs, which turned into a lovely smorgasbord.
The final night was lovely, we enjoyed fantastic and generous hospitality from our hosts at Cougar Annie’s Garden and a peaceful rest on the beach. In the morning we departed early, flying from Boat Basin to Tofino on Atleo Air. The flight was gorgeous, really it was a scenic flight. As we flew out of Hesquiat Harbour we passed over Hot Springs Cove, the beautiful Cow Beach on Flores Island, Vargas Island, all offering breathtaking views in the morning light.
A collection of various video clips taken during the trip.
This map shows our route and camping spots.