The gradual rise of this remote, 180-kilometer trail is bringing serenity to thru-hikers and business to nearby towns.
Night falls with the rain as we approach the hut. Our bodies ache. Day hikers masquerading as backpackers, the 16-kilometer trek has done us in. We peel off wet layers inside Manzanita Hut, thankful for shelter from the elements. The stove is lit. The bottle is passed. Feet up at sundown, we sip beer and watch as the day’s final light fades over islands whose names we haven’t yet learned.
Two ferry rides from Vancouver, BC, there exists an up-and-coming long distance trail. It extends 180 kilometers (112 miles)—from the Salish Sea’s Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay—rambling from sea level to 1,300-meter (4,265-foot) heights with countless climbs and descents along the way. Entirely volunteer-built and maintained, it is the longest hut-to-hut hike in Canada. The remote Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) traces the BC mainland—yet it’s only accessible by ferry or flight.
Long overshadowed by Vancouver Island and its world-renowned West Coast Trail, the Sunshine Coast is finding its way onto the map. And while it’s often described as British Columbia’s “best-kept secret,” the coast is home to a vibrant community, whose livelihood is connected to—and increasingly influenced by—the SCT.
The Making of the SCT
In 1992, Eagle Walz, now president of the non-profit Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PAWS), took his friend Scott Glaspey on a hike as a way to convince him to help build a short connector trail. “Walz tricked me into extending an existing trail,” Glaspey writes in the foreward to Walz’s The Sunshine Coast Trail guidebook. That small section was enough to get Glaspey hooked on trail building.
At the time, Glaspey, Walz and a handful of other Upper Coast residents were looking for a way to protect the last stands of disappearing old growth in their backyards. The threat of logging spurred action, and in 1993, PAWS was formed. The two co-founders and a group of dedicated volunteers decided the best course of action was to get the public involved by connecting sections of trail to build a long, continuous path for locals and visitors to hike. If the community was recreating in these areas, they would want to protect them.
“We didn’t know that we were going to be Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail.”
The plan worked. Twenty-five years later, the Sunshine Coast Trail is over twice as long as the higher-traffic West Coast Trail, and much of the Sunshine Coast’s old growth has been preserved. For PAWS, creating a world-class trail was an added bonus. “We didn’t know that we were going to be Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail,” said Walz.
How the SCT Drives Business to Towns
The SCT’s success extends beyond conservation and record-breaking distances. Its financial effect on the towns sprinkled along its course is undeniable. In the SCT basecamp town of Powell River (population: 13,000), many restaurants and shops benefit from increased trail traffic as Powell River moves away from its mill-town economy. Local favorite Townsite Brewing turns out beers directly inspired by the SCT. Take Tin Hat IPA, for example, a hoppy brew named after the second-highest peak (1,193 meters) on the trail.
Though Powell River is the largest town on and near the beginning of the SCT, the trek’s true beginning is 27 kilometers north. Kilometer #0 sits in Lund, BC (population: less than 300), right off of the Pacific Coast Highway, a road that extends over 15,000 kilometers through North, Central and South America to its terminus in Quellon, Chile. Here in Lund, at the beginning of the highway, a quiet coastal community welcomes visitors from all over. These days, more and more are coming for the trail.
At a creekside campground, SunLund By the Sea, owners Ann and Ron Snow provide secure parking while guests are out on the trail. “The Sunshine Coast Trail is rapidly becoming an identifier for our area,” Ann explained. “We now have people from around the world arriving with knowledge of the trail and wanting to hike portions of it.”
SunLund by the Sea also offers complimentary shuttle service to trail access points at Malaspina Road and Gilpin Road. For those headed elsewhere, there’s the Sunshine Coast Shuttle. This service goes where the complimentary service—and many hikers’ cars—can’t: to the end of a BC Hydro road so rough that Walz calls it “a gold mine for towing companies.” This is Sarah Point, the official beginning of the Sunshine Coast Trail.
From Sarah Point, the SCT continues on past Powell River, weaving through old-growth forests, beyond lakes and to many sweeping vistas, before ending at Saltery Bay. Here are a few highlights to experience along the way.
Inland Lake: A unique stretch on the Sunshine Coast Trial, the Inland Lake Loop is a 13-kilometer wheelchair accessible trail alongside sparkling, blue waters. There are two huts in this section: Inland Lake West and Anthony Island, both of which give priority to disabled users. Great for families and day hikers, this easy section can be completed in three to four hours, no problem.
Fiddlehead Landing: Fiddlehead Landing explores a section of forest along the shores of Powell Lake. Near the site of the old Fiddlehead Farm, the area is full of history as you skirt the edges of an abandoned orchard.
Tin Hat: Prepare yourself for magnificent 360-degree views. One of the more difficult sections of trail, the Tin Hat segment climbs about 1,000 meters in 7 kilometers. Once you reach the top, your reward is a fully winterized hut, exposed and overlooking the rugged country all around.
Mount Troubridge: The highest point on the SCT, Mount Troubridge is achieved at around Kilometer #158 on the trail. From this 1,305-meter summit, you’ll look out onto Jervis Inlet and the largest section of old growth accessed by the trail. The hut, which is actually a log cabin, is set just below the summit in a hollow next to Joslyn Pond.
Saltery Bay: The hike from Fairview Bay to the trail’s end returns to the Salish Sea shores, just as it began at Sarah Point. Along this rocky section of trail, you might spot the ferry as it connects Earl’s Cove and the Lower Coast to the Upper Sunshine Coast. Take a minute to read about the trail you just walked at the hut-like kiosk—and snag a final selfie here—before finishing at Saltery Bay.
In total, we spend three days hiking 45 kilometers of the SCT. We meet Walz for victory beers, for even completing only a quarter of the trail feels like a victory to a couple of day hikers. Someday we’ll go back, and we’ll return once more to Powell River, a tight-knit community, intricately intertwined with its backyard trail.