If you haven’t been to the Sunshine Coast it’s hard to imagine that a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale will transport you to incredible scenery, a slower pace and boundless opportunities to connect with nature. And the 180-kilometre stretch of coastline is indeed sunnier than the Lower Mainland.
It’s hiker heaven. The 45-minute trail up to Soames Hill in Gibsons rewards with stunning views. Multiple trails pass creeks and waterfalls in Roberts Creek’s Cliff Gilker Park. The Sunshine Coast Trail, also 180-km long, meanders through old-growth forest, salmon streams, pristine lakes and waterfalls.
Lower (Southern) Sunshine Coast
We timed it right and stocked up with fresh produce at the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in Sechelt. Fuelled with “The Beachcomber” smoothies from the Seafoam stall, we headed north on Highway 101 without a cloud in sight. By noon we were basking in sunshine and soaking in therapeutic pools at the Painted Boat Resort’s spa garden. After a massage treatment, Vancouver’s frenetic pace was far away. And so was hiking…
The resort at Pender Harbour is surrounded by five acres of Douglas fir, red cedar and arbutus trees. From our spacious deck we cracked open a bottle of wine, fired up the barbecue (there’s a supermarket and liquor store nearby) and watched kayakers just beyond Gerrans Bay, a lagoon that drains and fills with the tide.
Back on the road, we passed many arts and crafts signs and could have spent the day exploring and shopping. The Sunshine Coast is home to the highest per-capita number of artists, artisans and crafters in Canada—some of whom display their wares at farmers’ markets. But we also came here for the great outdoors. And we had to arrive at Skookumchuck Narrows during tide change.
After settling into our cabins at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge and gawking at the view of Jervis Inlet, owner Paul Hansen told us the trail from the Lodge to the Skookumchuck takes just over an hour. We dawdled and spent a few hours forest bathing. Literally called shinrin-yoku, it’s a Japanese term for urbanites to immerse themselves in nature—we called it ‘take your sweet time’.
“Skookumchuck”, from the Chinook First Nations vernacular, means “strong water.” What an understatement. Here are some of the fastest salt water rapids in the world. We heard that crazy kayakers and surfers ply the “Skook”. It was quite enough to sit on the rocks amongst a handful of hikers, some of whom brought picnics, and watch this —spellbound.
After walking about eight kilometres we’d worked up an appetite. While sipping martinis on the expansive deck, we decided the “wilderness” part of the lodge’s name is rather a misnomer. Sure, the oceanfront resort is surrounded by rainforest. And developers didn’t get the memo: nothing much has changed here since Hansen built the lodge 18 years ago. But it’s just a few minutes from the highway, it’s got Wi-Fi and the menu is full of fresh ingredients. Hansen said people from Vancouver fly in just for dinner, and no wonder: the food is fabulous. My halibut was cooked to perfection and I need their smoked potato recipe.
“There’s nobody here during the day but the lodge is completely booked,” Hansen said. “Everyone is out kayaking, on the zodiac tour, or taking the float plane to Phantom Lake for a champagne lunch with local oysters and caviar.” This is no culinary backwater.
Next morning Josh Ramsay with Sunshine Coast Air flew us in his vintage de Havilland beaver float plane to Princess Louisa Inlet, surrounded by 5,000 ft high granite walls and Chatterbox Falls cascading from the rocks. Tolkien’s inspiration could have come from here.
Upper (Northern) Sunshine Coast
Another short ferry ride—and stunning views– from Earls Cove to Saltery Bay and the Upper Coast opens a world of even less-explored beauty. At Lund is the “Mile 0” marker, which either begins or ends 15,202km south in Chile, making Highway 101 one of the longest highways in the world.
With over 400 heritage buildings, Powell River is drenched in history and designated a National Historic District of Canada. Don’t let the paper mill deter you: the ocean air is fresh. It also has some of the best mountain bike trails in North America, and they aren’t crowded.
Add an extra day, pack your bathing suit and take the Lund water taxi to Savary Island, surrounded by the warmest waters north of Mexico. Get a fishing license online or at the Lund Store — you’ll soon be shucking oysters and digging for clams on Mermaid Beach while the kids build sandcastles amongst the sand dunes at Duck Bay. We strolled the enchanted forest trail through patches of old-growth forest.
Hike it, bike it or dawdle— the Sunshine Coast Trail welcomes everyone at their own pace. With many access points, you can spend an afternoon on a small section of trail. Kids love the Trinket Trail: It’s like a treasure hunt, mined with small toys left behind by hikers. Or take two weeks and hike Canada’s longest hut-to-hut trail. Twelve cabins provide year-round shelter—free.
There are also good camp sites around Powell River and Lund. Or rent a float cabin to experience off-the-grid life on Powell Lake. For a wilderness experience combined with luxury, drive 20 minutes north of Powell River to Desolation Sound Resort and Okeover Inlet, a protected spot ideal for first-time kayakers and canoers. We chose a room in town at Beyond Bliss. And how convenient, the spa is downstairs!
Ferry: 40 minutes to Langdale from Horseshoe Bay
Car: 90 minutes to Earl’s Cove
Ferry: 80 minutes to Saltery Bay
Car: 25 minutes to Powell River
Total time: 5 hours, 30 minutes including BC Ferries wait times.
Fly: 20 minutes to Sechelt from Vancouver via Harbour Air.
Sunshine Coast flies a scheduled service between Sechelt and Nanaimo, charter flights between YVR, Vancouver Harbour, WCWL, Desolation Sound, Vancouver Island destinations and anywhere accessible by float plane. Sunshinecoastair.com
For more information, including the Skookumchuck best viewing times, visit
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