Raft Cove: Vancouver Island’s remote reward for the muddy

Sunset at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)Sunset at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)
Sunset at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)Sunset at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)
Sparks or stars? (Zoë Ducklow)Sparks or stars? (Zoë Ducklow)
Ocean fresh mussels from Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)Ocean fresh mussels from Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)
Where clouds are waves and waves are clouds. (Zoë Ducklow)Where clouds are waves and waves are clouds. (Zoë Ducklow)
Towering western red cedar in the forest at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)Towering western red cedar in the forest at Raft Cove. (Zoë Ducklow)

To absorb the last rays of summer, Raft Cove is as good as it gets.

The remote but accessible West Coast beach is just hard enough to get to that it stays sparsely populated — one to two dozen folks on a sunny weekend. Waves roll in off the wild Pacific ocean, sometimes in perfect barrels that attract surfers who don’t mind carrying their board on a tight, muddy, full-of-roots two-kilometre hike.

The forest is thick with humus scent, rising from undisturbed coastal forest of Sitkas, hemlocks and cedars.

Almost every step on this trail is a squelch. Waterproof footwear and steady balance are highly recommended.

Cedar boughs frame the first ocean view like curtains.

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Were the temperature not what it is on the north Island, or had there been strains of reggae pulsing over the beach, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a tropical beach and not the blustery unforgiving Pacific Northwest.

The sand, marred only by disheveled piles of bull kelp, stretches two kilometres and slopes gently into the sea.

Raft Cove is protected by mounds of volcanic rock on either side, making for an idyllic sandy beach.

Look for hanging buoys or driftwood structures others have set up to mark good camping spots. Mackjack River empties out on the south end of the beach, but don’t plant to get fresh water here; the estuary is salty for several kilometres.

Volcanic outcroppings are also a fantastic place for mussels to grow, which can make a sublime fresh appetizer over the fire — provided plankton blooms are under control and shellfish harvesting licences are in order. Extra butter and minced garlic won’t hurt either. Boil mussels for about five minutes; they’ll open on their own.

It’s worth every squelch.

Travel tips:

• Pack in, pack out. Bring fresh water. There is a stream past the north end of Raft Cove if you have a water filter.

• To get to Raft Cove, take the Holberg Road off Highway 19. Past Holberg, follow signs to Raft Cove. It’s south of San Josef Bay and Palmerston Beach.

• Raft Cove is in wolf country. Use bear caches provided to secure food.

• Go prepared for any weather. It is, after all, the unforgiving Pacific Northwest.

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