Trails for everyone, forever
Along the rugged coastline between Howe Sound and the coastal mountain range of British Columbia, hikers come from all over the world to check out the Sunshine Coast Trail. Established in 1992, the trail traverses 112 miles (180 km) with 13 rustic huts. It’s the longest hut-to-hut trail in Canada and it offers old growth, views of the Salish Sea and lovely lakes | by Rachel Wood
Unlike some popular long-distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sunshine Coast Trail receives relatively light traffic, which peaks in the summer. In spring and fall, you can expect to encounter only a handful of other hikers. Since the huts are first come, first served, adding a tent to your backpacking essentials is a smart move during peak hiking season.
It takes 10 to 12 days to hike the full trail. But multiday section routes are a great way to explore the trail over a long weekend. One of the best routes to experience the variety of the Sunshine Coast Trail is a 31-mile (50 km) threeday trek from Sarah Point to Shinglemill Pub on Powell Lake.
Due to the time it takes to drive from Washington and make two ferry crossings, consider spending a night at SunLund By-the-Sea (sunlund.ca) to help you get an early start on the trail. SunLund offers campsites and cabins and is a short walk away from the seaside town of Lund, which is near the start of the trail. From Lund, you can charter a water taxi to the trailhead. Or arrange for Sunshine Coast Shuttles (sunshinecoastshuttle.ca) to drive you to the trailhead and shuttle you back to your car after your hike.
The Sunshine Coast Trail is well signed—look for the orange square markers to stay on track—but make sure you come prepared with a map. You’ll begin hiking along the shores of Sarah Bay at the mouth of Desolation Sound. This first section of trail travels through the protected old growth of Malaspina Park. Highlights of the day include Desolation Bluffs, Feather Cove and The Knob. After passing Wednesday Lake at 7.4 miles (12 km) you’ll come to a stream. Make sure to fill up on water here, as this is the last dependable source for the next 4 miles (7 km). From here, you’ll begin to climb into Gwendoline Hills, arriving at Manzanita Hut at 10 miles (16 km). Peer down on the Salish Sea before retiring upstairs in the 10-person sleeping loft.
After packing up in the morning, descend from Manzanita Bluffs and Gwendoline Hills nearly 1,000 feet to the forest below. You’ll trade in sea views for a rolling woodland hike on this stretch. In late spring and early summer, the forest blooms with rhododendrons. The forest around you will change as the trail rambles along through old growth and stretches of forest only 20 years old. One of the highlights on this stretch is Toquenatch Falls. You’ll come to Rieveley’s Pond and its namesake hut at 21.3 miles (34.3 km), where an orchestra of frogs will lull you to sleep.
The final day of this route is one of the most dynamic, passing through a canyon of waterfalls and skirting pristine lakes. Appelton Creek and the canyon it carves out create breathtaking falls, the crown jewel of which is Gorge Falls. After continuing through second-growth Douglas-fir, you’ll come to the first of three lakes, Theyeth, at 24.1 miles (38.8 km). Climb to the top of Kayach Bluffs for a view of Sliammon Lake below. The Salish Sea and Vancouver Island are beyond. Climb down to the shores of Dogleg Pond and Little Sliammon Lake.
The last 3.1 miles (5 km) climb over the 689-foot shoulder of Scout Mountain. Or bail out early to end at the Wildwood trailhead. Either way, you should stop by Shinglemill Pub for a victory pint of locally made Townsite Brewing Suncoast Pale Ale. After three days on the trail, the Sunshine Coast will have you under its spell. Extend your trip with a stay in Powell River at the charming Old Courthouse Inn (oldcourthouseinn.ca). If you’re up for even more exploration, stay a night at Arcturus Retreat B&B (arcturusretreat.ca) in Gibsons. From this hospitable homebase (hot tub included), you can hike trails like Soames Hill (a 434-step staircase grind) on the Lower Sunshine Coast. In the morning, it’s only a 2-minute drive to the ferry terminal.
In 1992, Eagle Walz and Scott Glaspey constructed a trail to extend an existing stretch through old-growth forest. This few-kilometer bit of trail was the start of the Sunshine Coast Trail. In an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the Upper Sunshine Coast and make it accessible to hikers, other outdoor enthusiasts joined Eagle and Scott to form the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society. All of the huts and other trail facilities were constructed in part by the society and ongoing trail work is taken on by the community. Along the trail, you’ll find logbooks kept by the society. Make sure to sign, as these logbooks help the community monitor usage.
For everything you need to know about the Sunshine Coast Trail, pick up the essential guidebook, “The Sunshine Coast Trail: Hut-to-Hut Hiking” by Eagle Walz.
From West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal) take BC Ferries to Langdale (Gibsons). Drive approximately 1.5 hours northwest on Sunshine Coast Highway to Earls Cove. Take a second ferry to Saltery Bay to reach the upper Sunshine Coast. Continue driving to Powell River or Lund to begin the hike.
BC Ferries offer reservations, but this is only necessary during summer weekends. If you’re traveling during midweek or off-season, plan to arrive 30 to 45 minutes early to be safe.