Camping at Second Beach
I love camping on the beach! It’s such a cool experience and you’ll feel like such a badass adventurer. Besides Second Beach, Mystic Beach on Vancouver Island is another great place to try your hand at beach camping — it’s not even that far away!
When I first heard about beach camping, I thought novice backpackers like myself wouldn’t be able to do it. At the time, I didn’t have any experience with backpacking and didn’t own any special gear — I borrowed my parents’ tent and our other gear was huge. Luckily, Second Beach is very forgiving of amateurs and you just need a sense of adventure! Which I’m sure you have, otherwise why are you here?
Hiking to the Ocean
The trail to Second Beach is 0.6 miles (1 km) long one-way and takes about a half hour to hike. If you’re new to backpacking, it’s tiring but doable. It’s also a popular day-use beach, so the trail could be quite busy in the summer. There’s also kilometers of beach to check out once you reach the ocean.
The trailhead is beside an outhouse near the parking lot. You’ll head downhill and cross a creek before starting a short uphill climb. After the small hill, the trail steadily descends towards the ocean. Watch your step because the trail is riddled with massive roots. About halfway through the trail, the descent becomes much steeper and you’ll reach a set of wooden stairs. The stairs are filled with gravel and aren’t well maintained, but they’re functional. They are an awkward size and make for slow going, though.
Amenities at Second Beach
There aren’t many amenities when you’re camping at Second Beach. You won’t get to have a continental breakfast or pool — unless you like fishing and swimming in the cold ocean.
Having said that, there is an outhouse. Yay, you don’t have to poop in the woods! It’s located right where the trail meets the beach, down a small side trail that’s not very noticeable from the main trail. It’s nothing special, it doesn’t even have a door and is full of spiderwebs and vandalism — maybe you’d actually rather do your business in the woods, I dunno. If you’re lucky, there’ll be toilet paper. But don’t count on it. Bring your own toilet paper to be on the safe side.
Setting Up Camp on Second Beach
A sandy beach and maze of driftwood greet you when you reach the beach. To the north there’s an arch and to the south tall sea stacks rise out of the ocean. After navigating the driftwood, you’ll need to find a place to spend the night. Depending on the time of day, a few fellow beach-campers may have already set up camp. The area near the trailhead is often quite full, but if you continue south you’ll find many great places to set up camp.
One of the most important parts of beach camping is to set up above the high tide line. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be awakened by the ocean in your sleeping bag in the middle of the night. By setting up your tent among the driftwood, you’re not only ensuring you won’t get wet, but you’re also protecting yourself from the wind that comes in at night.
PS: We wrote an article about camping in the rain. Some of the tips might come in handy on the misty ocean!
If you bring food or scented products with you, you’ll need to store it away from your campsite at night so that animals don’t come to your campsite. There isn’t communal food storage on Second Beach, so you’ll need to use a bear canister. They’re available for free from Wilderness Information Centers, just remember to return them.
The canisters are pretty big and should be able to hold all of your smelly food and toiletries. Make sure to put your bear container far away from your camp when you head to bed. Contrary to its name, smaller animals such as raccoons are more likely to rifle through your belongings at Second Beach than bears. Regardless, I’ve written about bear safety and it never hurts to be well informed.
Campfires on Second Beach
A campfire on the beach is magical. It’s so much fun to cuddle up beside the fire, listen to the ocean, and watch the stars.
If you have a campfire, build it below the high tide line so that the ocean will wash it away at night — and check that there’s no garbage or plastic in the ashes. Make sure that you don’t strip the beach of its natural resources when you’re looking for firewood and only use dead wood. Keep your fire to a reasonable size, but, obviously, if there’s a fire ban don’t have a fire.
Mornings on the Beach
In the morning, a fine mist often to the beach and your tent. It rolls from the ocean, over your camp, and into the forest. Lighting a fire is difficult, but if you’re persistent enough it’ll eventually start. You’ll probably be chilly, but just layer up. Your tent will be soaked through, but that just gives you more reason to hang out a little longer.
As the mist slowly burns, golden rays of sunlight sneak through the trees and reveal a stunning blue sky. When you finally pack up, the sand will find its way into everything you own.
Enjoy Second Beach
After you’ve set up camp, take a moment and relax. Nestle your toes in the soft sand and breath in the fresh ocean air. Watch as sun becomes one with the horizon and bathes you in its soft, golden rays. It’s not every day you get to do this, so take advantage of it!
Take a stroll down the beach and check out the natural arch, rock outcroppings, and sea stacks. The tides are a huge factor on Second Beach because many areas aren’t accessible at high tide. Always keep an eye on the tides because you don’t want to become stranded. Starfish, barnacles, seaweed, and clumps of jelly line the beach the closer to the sea stacks you walk.
At night, except for the fires crackling up and down the beach, you’re entirely alone. The ocean drowns out voices and after the sun sets, very few people walk the beach. You’ll be blissfully unaware of the time as you laze beneath the stars.
Camping on Second Beach is different than camping in a campground or even the back of your car. Since you have to carry everything in, you need to be very selective of what you bring.
At the bare minimum, bring the following:
There are also a lot of other things you can bring that’ll make your stay more enjoyable, such as: