The Sunshine Coast in Canada is often confused with the Sunshine Coast in Australia: a tropical paradise filled with thousands of palm trees, pristine white-sand beaches, and splendid natural wonders. However, the Canadian Sunshine Coast is slightly different from the Australian one… There are no palm trees, tropical temperatures or azure waters.
Then why bother going?
Well, the Canadian Sunshine Coast is unique in its own way. Located in the southwest on the mainland of British Columbia, this 180 km (112 miles) stretch of paradise is surrounded by endless mountain peaks, dense forests and pristine lakes. Only accessible by air or ferry service, the Sunshine Coast possesses a laid-back charm while remaining relatively quiet and unexplored by tourists. Even though it is not as tropical as Australia, the Canadian Sunshine Coast is known for its mild, sunny and dry weather compared to the rest of Canada. As such, the area attracts outdoorsy visitors who are especially interested in hiking, mountain biking, paddling, boating, strolling around the artsy oceanside villages, or spending time at one of the many secluded beaches.
I recently spent a weekend on the Northern Sunshine Coast, around the historic town of Powell River. Dominated by a sprawling paper mill, this town is known for being a logging community. Logging takes place all year long at accessible and more inaccessible areas around Powell River. Luckily it isn’t as bad as it sounds… The logging industry uses sustainable practices where they only log a maximum amount of trees each year so they have enough time to replant them. This also ensures that the surrounding nature of Powell River remains breathtaking!
The following activities are ones you can’t miss in Powell River:
Hiking (part of) the Sunshine Coast Trail
One of the main reasons people visit the Sunshine Coast is to experience Western Canada’s only free hut-to-hut hiking trail. The Sunshine Coast Trail is over 180 km long and connected by 13 huts where the traveler can relax and sleep at a first come, first serve basis. The trail is relatively quiet, with numerous lakes and scenic mountain viewpoints along the way. The beauty of it all is that you can decide to only do a small part of the trail if you’d like, as it is accessible via multiple logging roads.
I decided to hike one of the most scenic parts of the trail, the part leading up to Tin Hat Mountain. Hiking to the top of the Tin Hat Mountain takes approximately 3 hours as the trail is fairly steep and challenging. Nevertheless, you will be rewarded by a phenomenal 360-view of the surrounding snow-capped mountain peaks, infinite lakes, the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island and beyond. If going for a day hike, allow yourself at least a one-hour break at the top to truly breathe in the natural surroundings and explore the Tin Hat Mountain Hut. The way back is only about 2 hours as it is downhill for the lion’s share.
Be cautious when driving to the Tin Hat Mountain Trailhead. The roads are not always clearly marked and logging roads may be in poor conditions. The easiest way to access the trail is to follow Highway 101 to Lang Bay and turn left at Dixon Road which merges with Stillwater Main right above Lois Lake Dam. Look out for signs that mark Tin Hat or Lewis Lake. There are multiple access points, which are indicated with the parking lot on the map. The parking lots may be challenging to find as they are not official but rather a small patch of gravel along the road.
Of course, there are many other awesome day hikes near Powell River that connect to the Sunshine Coast Trail. For instance, Appleton Creek is a trail that follows picturesque waterfalls and a grove of old growth Douglas Firs. This hike is considerably shorter, taking about 3 hours total. For more information about other trails, visit Sunshine Coast Day Hikes
Unwinding at the pristine lakes
Defined by a rugged coastline, Powell River is also known for its wealth of pure lakes. Most of these are relatively accessible by car and bike as they are connected by (primitive) logging roads. Nearby lakes include Inland Lake, Powell Lake, and Lois Lake, which allow you to camp, swim and/or kayak there. The desolation and tranquility are what makes these lakes especially unique. Peculiarly, you can find several houses in the center of the lake, home to the true lone wolves.
Visiting one of the nearby islands
The small port of Powell River hosts ferries to several nearby islands. On Texada Island, you can find an old mineral mine that has been transformed into what is now an extraordinary emerald green reservoir. Even though officially not to be trespassed, this spot attracts a number of locals and curious travelers going for a dip.
Another island worthy to visit in the area is Savary Island. A water taxi takes you from Lund (just north of Powell River) to the southern tip of the island. Savary Island’s sandy beaches and temperate climate make it a popular holiday destination. Given its small size (approx. 7km long and 1km wide), the island is basically a migrating, fragile sandbar. Rapid erosion is battled by dedicated preservation and protection campaigns. The island is best enjoyed on foot or by bicycle, which can be rented on the island itself. There are numerous quiet beaches within walking distance from the harbor.
Note: There are no public bathrooms on the island! There is only one restaurant/store, which has limited opening hours.
Strolling around the historic seaside town
The calm seaside towns are a perfect break from the hectic daily life. The townsite of Powell River has a fascinating history and ever-lasting calmness. Spend the day relaxing at the beach, grab a beer at the Townsite Brewery, observe the continuously active paper mill, or just stroll around and breathe in the hippie vibe.
How to get there?
The Sunshine Coast can be reached by air (various seaplane harbors), ferry, car, or bike (for the true adventurer!). Coming from Vancouver, you will have to follow Highway 101, and take two ferries if traveling all the way to Powell River. From Vancouver Island, you can take a direct ferry to Powell River from Comox. Ferry schedules can be consulted at www.bcferries.com