The Sunshine Coast Trail - Powell River, British Columbia - The longest hut-to-hut hiking experience in Canada
Powell River is no stranger to hiking trails - tireless volunteers have put in countless hours to create and maintain a diverse range of hiking alternatives for all ages and athletic abilities - but the absolute grand-daddy of back-country hiking is undoubtedly the Sunshine Coast Trail.
Where else in the world can you find 180km of purely volunteer-driven backcountry trails, linking pockets of old-growth forest with hidden lakes nestled in amongst the verdant rainforest, untouched creeks and picturesque waterfalls with panoramic mountain views of distant mountains and deep ocean fjords? The Sunshine Coast Trail is a colossal, completely local, grass-roots achievement that has taken decades to grow from dream, to possibility, to reality; a grand vision that has at last reached its culmination with the creation of 14 handcrafted backcountry huts, linking each section together, meaning you can access all this unspoiled wilderness without even having to bring a tent!
180km in length, from Saltery Bay in the south to Sarah Point in Desolation Sound in the north, the Sunshine Coast Trail is the longest (and completely free) hut-to-hut hiking trail in Canada. What's more, it can be easily accessed at more than 2 dozen separate points along its length, making it perfect for day hikes, 2 and 3 day excursions, or week-long (or more) adventures, any time of year.
Those undertaking the challenge of hiking the trail in its entirety usually start at Sarah Point, overlooking the Coast Mountains and Desolation Sound Marine Park to the east and the rugged peaks of Vancouver Island to the west, and hike south all the way to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay, along coastal paths and up mountain passes, through ancient forests and along the shore of serene lakes otherwise inaccessible to human traffic. However the trail can easily be completed in reverse, or in any series of sections you choose over a longer or shorter time frame, depending on your personal desires.
You can visit the very detailed Sunshine Coast Trail website here to read on for maps and additional information. However, for your convenience, we've included below some of our personal favourite day and multi-day (2 or 3 night) hikes that are perfectly paired with a kayak expedition into Desolation Sound to complete your Upper Sunshine Coast adventure!
Another great resource for planning your hike is this Canadian Geographic article from March 2017 which identifies 7 not-to-miss spots along the trails 180km length.
- Day Hikes
- Sarah Point to Manzanita Bluffs and Malaspina Road
- Appleton Canyon and Rieveley's Pond
- Tin Hat Mountain Peak and Return
- Inland Lake
- Fairview Bay and Rainy Day Lake
- Multi-Day Hikes
- Sarah Point to the Shingle Mill
- Inland Lake to Lang Bay
- Saltery Bay to Lang Bay
With more than 2 dozen entry points along the highway or forest service roads, it's easy to access this incredible hiking trail for day hikes from all over the Upper Sunshine Coast. Here are some of our favourites:
Sarah Point to Manzanita Bluffs and Malaspina Road - 6.5 hours approx., one way, moderate difficulty
If you are staying north of Powell River or in Lund, this great hike is easily accessed and can be broken up into smaller sections to suit your mood or plans.
To hike from point to point, arrange ahead of time with the Lund Water Taxi for a drop off at the trailhead at Sarah Point, at the tip of Malaspina Peninsula and the entrance to Desolation Sound. The trail heads inland and east along the top of the Peninsula, rising after 2 kilometres to Desolation Bluffs - which give incredible views over the Sound - before dropping to the beach at Feather Cove, directly facing Kinghorn Island and Cabana Desolation Eco Resort. From here, the trail heads inland through the rainforest, including some strands of old growth, to Wednesday Lake, perfectly positioned for a mid-day swim. The trail continues south along the eastern shoreline of the peninsula and accesses Malaspina Inlet at Cochrane Bay, before rising again to Manzanita Bluffs - and the first hut of the trail - which gives more incredible views, this time of Savary Island and the northern Strait of Georgia. From here you descend quickly before levelling out and eventually crossing Malaspina Road just south of Lund, where with a bit of forward planning you can arrange to have transport available for a return to Lund.
A popular alternative is to start and leave your car at the Malaspina Road trailhead, hike up to the hut on Manzanita Bluff and return the way you came back to your vehicle. This route can take anywhere from 3-5 hours.
Appleton Canyon and Rieveley's Pond - 1.5 hours each way approx., return, moderate difficulty
Another fantastic day hike north of Powell River, this section of the SCT is accessed up Wilde Road about 5 minutes north of Sliammon.
The hike follows Appleton Creek past multiple picturesque waterfalls and moist rainforest to an old campsite (and perfect lunch spot) amongst old growth Douglas Firs. From here you can return to your vehicle along the same trail you came, or continue about an hour further to Rieveley's Pond, a serene lake with another SCT hut, before turning around and returning to the parking lot.
If you wish avoid backtracking, park one vehicle at the trailhead and continue in a second up to Southview Road, where you can access this portion of the trail from the north and hike through to Wilde Road without retracing your steps. This option adds a little more scenery and distance to the hike, and includes a pretty gruelling ascent north of Rieveley's Pond!
Tin Hat Mountain Peak and Return - 2 hours each way approx., return / loop, challenging difficulty
A steep, difficult, but immensely rewarding hike that leads to the summit of Tin Hat mountain and offers - on a clear day - 360 degree views of Powell Lake, Coastal range mountains, the Powell River Canoe route, the Strait of Georgia, and far to west, Vancouver Island. A common and popular day trip for both hikers and ATV enthusiasts, Tin Hat is also the site of one of 14 SCT huts - a fully winterized mountain cabin for overnight stays or used to link different sections of the trail into a multi-day adventure.
To access the trailhead, you need to drive for 45 minutes or so up numerous active logging roads, which connects with Highway 101 south of Powell River at Dixon Road. The way to Tin Hat is well-marked but requesting further assistance at Tourism Powell River or purchasing Eagle Walz's 'Sunshine Coast Trail' book, as well as using a backcountry road map, is highly recommended. Also be aware that these are active haul roads and access should only be attempted by private vehicles before 8am or after 6pm, or on weekends, but that the roads may be used by commercial logging trucks at any time.
From the trailhead you can continue straight up the old deactivated road to the summit, or take the longer scenic route past Lewis Lake and along the eastern ridge. Both routes can be combined in a loop for a longer, scenic hike.
Inland Lake - 3-4 hours, loop, easy difficulty
The Inland Lake Loop is a flat, fully wheelchair-accessible 13-km section of the SCT surrounding Inland Lake, easily accessible from town and popular with hikers, swimmers and bikers. Dotted with campsites, small wood huts and picnic areas, the trail is a popular summer recreation area for families, pet owners, trail runners, campers and through hikers.
To access the lake, drive up Haslam Road in the Cranberry area of Powell River and turn left at the fork at the top of the hill. After 5 kilometres or so the road forks again, left to Haywire Bay (and more hiking and camping) and right to Inland Lake.
Fairview Bay and Rainy Day Lake - 2 hours to Fairview Bay, 4 hours to Rainy Day Lake, one way, moderate difficulty
The far southern section of the Sunshine Coast trail, accessed at a point close to the Saltery Bay ferry terminal, is the starting point for a couple of fantastic day hikes.
Fairview Bay, and another SCT hut, sits in a protected cove round the the east of Saltery Bay at the foot of Mount Troughbridge, which is the highest point of the entire SCT. From the trailhead you immediately climb up a fairly steep wooded slope to a small plateau, before dropping back down to the ocean on the far side, where you are afforded amazing views of the snowcapped Coast Mountains to the south and the east. The trail follows the shoreline for a number of kilometres before opening up to a picnic area and aforementioned hut at Fairview Bay.
From here, you can return to the parking lot the same way to came, or continue inland from here up to Rainy Day Lake - another couple of hours of fairly steep climbing - a serene lake set amongst moss-covered firs and cedars. Yet another hut sits here on a beautiful bluff overlooking the lake, a perfect place to spend the night before coming back down in the morning, or continuing on to the summit of Mt Troubridge and beyond!
With the addition of fourteen carefully placed huts along the entire length of the Sunshine Coast Trail, multi-day hiking in the spectacular backcountry of Powell River has never been easier! Here is a couple of our favourite linked sections ... or if you're really game, most people can through hike the entire trail in anywhere from 10-14 days.
Sarah Point to the Shingle Mill (2-3 days)
The entire northern portion of the Sunshine Coast Trail, from Desolation Sound to Powell River, is also the flattest section of the trail, and can be completed fairly comfortably by most people in 2 days.
Take the water taxi from Lund out to Sarah point and begin your hike with sweeping views of Desolation Sound and the Strait of Georgia. Hike through strands of old growth and discover hidden, unspoiled lakes nestled deep in the forest, inaccessible to outsiders. The trail follows the eastern side of Malaspina Peninsula, occasionally dropping down to touch the shore of Malaspina Inlet, before rising to the first SCT hut at Manzanita Bluff - a scenic rocky bluff with incredible views of the Strait of Georgia, Savary Island, and Vancouver Island beyond.
Stay here or continue on, crossing Malaspina Road and hiking beyond the head of Okeover Inlet, eventually linking up with the Appleton Canyon and Rieveley's Pond day hike outlined above. A second hut stands at Rieveley's Pond, and depending on how early you leave Sarah Point in the morning can be easily accessed in a day from the trailhead.
The final section of the section hugs the shorelines of Little and Big Sliammon Lakes, before climbing Scout Mountain overlooking the Wildwood neighbourhood of Powell River and coming down the other side at the Shinglemill Pub and Bistro on Powell Lake. Grab a drink and a hearty meal and relax ... the perfect end to a beautiful summer hike!
Inland Lake to Lang Bay (4-5 days)
Beginning at Inland Lake, this hike ascends quickly through old growth fir and cedar groves to Confederation Lake, the site of an old (and barely usable) forestry cabin. There are plans in the near future to upgrade this cabin to reflect the other, newer huts along the trail, and you can choose to stay here or descend fairly quickly again to the shore of Powell Lake, past the old Fiddlehead Farm site with its still functioning orchard, to the Fiddlehead Landing hut on the shore of the lake.
Day two is a climb, straight up through one of the steeper and longer ascents of the entire trail, to the summit of Tin Hat mountain. Even if you arrive here with plenty of daylight to hike on, the majestic 360 degree scenery is reason enough to linger and spend the night in the Tin Hat hut, a fully winterized cabin perched on a small plateau just below the peak.
The trail continues from here down from the summit and along the banks of Lewis Lake, amongst some spectacular old growth forests, crossing a main logging road and rises again to more huts and Elk Lake, and further along at Walt Hill, where you can choose to spend one or two nights depending on your speed and window for adventure. From Walt Hill you drop again to Dixon Road and the Highway near Lang Bay store, where you can arrange a ride back to base.
Saltery Bay to Lang Bay (3-4 Days)
From the southern trailhead of the Sunshine Coast Trail near the Saltery Bay Ferry Terminal, you can climb up and over a slight ridge and descend to Fairview Bay, a picturesque cove with incredible views of the Coast mountains to the south, as well as the first SCT hut on the trail. While it's perfectly reasonable to stay the night here, if you continue along for another 2 or 3 hours you will climb to a second hut at Rainy Day Lake - fringed with moss-covered trees and warm in the summer months for a refreshing swim.
The Rainy Day Lake hut is also perfectly positioned for your assault on Mt Troubridge on Day 2. This is the highest point of the Sunshine Coast Trail, and from the Rainy Day Lake hut you can trace your next-day's ascent along the ridge line to the summit, which like Tin Hat has a full range of views across the Strait of Georgia to the west, down the Lower Sunshine Coast to the south, and into the heart of the Coast Mountains to the east and north, the lakes and streams of the Powell River Canoe Route glistening in the sun far below.
There is a second hut two kilometres beyond the summit - a beautiful fully winterized log cabin that is considered by some to be a jewel in the SCT crown - and from here the next morning it is a long (but thankfully entirely downhill) 18km stretch down to Lois Lake and Dixon Road, where you can arrange for onward transport back to Powell River.