The East Beach Trail - Remote Wilderness Hiking on Haida Gwaii
About 25 years ago I was inspired to hike Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail (ok, it’s a given that I was much younger and in far better physical condition)! I felt blessed to experience nature in such a rich and remote setting and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the 75km (47 mile) hike.
Apparently, that trail is now more 'populated' (8,000 hikers per year/appx 50 per day) and reservations must be made to hike it. The cost for a hiking permit is appx $140 with a reservation fee of $25.
For those seeking a lesser known wilderness trail of similar scope (no reservations or fees), you might consider Haida Gwaii’s East Beach Trail.
The East Beach Trail is a 90 km (55 mi) ‘demanding’ hike along ‘East Beach’. The route is located in Naikoon Provincial Park (a wilderness area) and is rated as being ‘moderate to difficult’.
The East Beach Trail hike is for the most part, a beach walk with no firmly defined trail, however, the route is easy to follow and takes about 3-5 days to complete.
Photo Credit: Flavien Mabit
Note: For those looking forward to 'getting away from it all', it is rare to see other people on this hike except at the trail heads.
Please also see the BC Parks information on hiking in the Naikoon Park
The first segment of the East Beach hike from Tlell takes hikers to the shipwreck of the Pesuta, a log-barge that ran aground in 1928.
Gold in The Sand!
On some parts of East Beach, patches of black sand stand out from the rest of the yellow-gray beach. The black sand is thought to contain trace amounts of gold. Local history has it that approximately 4 gold recovery operations extracted small quantities of gold from the beach at Cape in the mid-1930s.
There have been reports over the years of ‘wild cattle’ sightings along this trail. The cattle are reportedly the descendents of free-range cattle which had been left behind by the settlers and have been described as small & shaggy and locally referred to as “hippy cows”. The sightings have become less common in recent years.
There are three rustic shelters along the East Beach route and are located near the mouths of Cape Ball and Oceanda Rivers approximately 2 km south of their respective river mouths, above the high tide line.
The Fife Point cabin has a wood stove and is located on the east beach side of the Cape Fife
Photo Credit: Flavien Mabit Cape Fife Cabin
At the north end of the trail, you can cut through the woods on the Cape Fife trail or continue all the way around Rose Spit (an ecological reserve).
Photo Credit: Flavien Mabit Campfire on the beach
A vehicle waiting at North Beach will be a welcome sight and will transport your tired body to one of the lovely B&Bs, cabins or hotels/motels awaiting you on Tow Hill Road or Masset...a hot bath and a meal to celebrate – memories for a lifetime...
An important note to hikers:
- The East beach trail is a demanding hike and should not be attempted unless you have a bit of backcountry experience.
- The challenges facing the hiker might be different than the ones you are used to. It is for instance quite difficult to get lost as you are mainly following a coastline all the way, but the fact that it is a fairly flat hike might trick you into thinking it would be a very easy hike. However, walking in sand, dunes and boggy areas is tiring, and very different from a rocky ground.
- There are also streams and rivers to cross, that can sometimes be impassable because of current and depth. Some of those rivers can only be crossed when the tide is at its lowest. You would then have to wade in closer to the ocean's edge, where the river is at its largest, and the current at its weakest. Do not attempt a crossing if you do not feel comfortable about doing it. Some rivers can be crossed upstream, in the forest, where some log jams have created natural bridges. This can also be very tricky and dangerous, you could fall off a log, slip into the stream with a heavy backpack, twist and ankle etc.. Once again, never attempt something you do not feel comfortable about doing.
- The ocean of course can be dangerous, so be respectful of its force. You should carry a tide chart with you.
- Some areas are impassable at high tides, because of sand cliffs, and you will have to wait for the tide to recede.
- Some areas can be very boggy and what sometimes looks in the distance like solid ground is in fact a muddy and marshy meadow.
- Drinking water is perhaps the biggest issue hikers will face. The area around East Beach is very flat and is mostly bogs. The water there is still and percolates through the ground before forming streams. The water is very dark and full of organic debris. Though this water is unlikely to be polluted by human waste or chemicals, it can still be contaminated by bacterias, viruses and other microbial life forms. It can also have a very muddy taste. It is very important to carry a filter with you, or at the very least to boil all your drinking water. More importantly, the water supply is unreliable, as the flow of the streams is tied to the rainfall. Even in a period of relative drought (a few weeks, or in some cases a few days, without rain), streams can run dry.
- You will have to carry all your food for the hike, you will have to carry all your garbage out.
- Nights can be cold and wet. The weather can be stormy and very wet. This is very exposed terrain. You should always look at the extended weather forecast before starting the hike.
- Tow Hill, the end of the hike if you start in Tlell, is not a village or a community, it is a remote part of Naikoon Park. Tow hill is not a area with any services other than 2 campgrounds and a few trails. There are no shops, no taxi service, no restaurants. The closest town with those services is Masset, another 25kms down the road. Tlell is also a community with very few services. There are some accommodations and places to eat in Tlell, but they are far apart and there are only a very minimal amount of groceries carried at the Crows Nest Country Store. It is better to ensure that you have all of the supplies you need before beginning the hike (there is a greater selection at grocery stores in the larger communities of Masset or Queen Charlotte).
- Do not rely on cell phone service. There is no cell reception for most of the hike.
- There are a number of rules that apply for hiking and camping in Naikoon Provincial Park. You may enquire at the park headquarters in Tlell. You should also sign in at their office if you attempt the hike.
Take a look at the BC Parks website for more info.
Tlell to Tow Hill via the Cape Fife Trail - 78 km
Tlell to Tow Hill via the base of Rose Spit - 89 km
Tlell Bridge to Tlell River outfall - 4.5 km
Tlell River outfall to Mayer River outfall - 4.5 km
Mayer River outfall to Cape Ball River - 6 km
Cape Ball River to Oeanda River 36.5 km
Oeanda River to Cape Fife trailhead - 17 km
This is a long and demanding wilderness hike along the length of East Beach requiring sufficient preparation and supplies. Please see the BC Parks website for planning information or contact BC Parks staff at (250) 557-4390
Photo Credit: Flavien Mabit You know the drill: "Take only pictures, leave only some of these!"