Powell River: the hidden gem of the Sunshine Coast in BC
Updated: Sep 14
Are you planning a visit to the Sunshine Coast in BC? We explored the Sunshine Coast in the summer of 2019 and totally fell in love. We chose Powell River as a base, as it has so much to offer for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts! This article reveals why you should consider visiting the Sunshine Coast in BC, the top things to do in and around Powell River, and how to get there from the Mainland and Vancouver Island.
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Why you should visit the Sunshine Coast in BC?
The Sunshine Coast in BC 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. Yet, that doesn't mean that the Sunshine Coast in BC is less beautiful!
The Sunshine Coast in BC is unique in its own way. Located in the southwest on the mainland, 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 Sunshine Coast in BC 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.
In the summer of 2019, we 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! We chose Powell River as a base because it is the most accessible and largest community along the Sunshine Coast in BC. Besides, it has a rich heritage and is known for its dynamic cultural life, beautiful lakes and beaches, and great outdoor recreation - including hiking, camping, kayaking, and scuba diving.
Top Things to Do in and near Powell River
As the Sunshine Coast in BC is relatively isolated, Powell River doesn't receive as many tourists as the southern more populated areas of British Columbia like the area around Whistler or Vancouver. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't much to do... Powell River is the true hidden gem of BC and Canada.
The following activities are ones you can’t miss in and around Powell River:
1. Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail (partly)
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.
We 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. We parked on the one right above Lewis Lake, or at least we think we did. There was one other car parked there, and we found a sign with Sunshine Coast Trail on it. Read more about the hike to Tin Hat Mountain along the Sunshine Coast Trail here.
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. We haven't done this hike, but it was recommended to us by a local! For more information about other trails, visit Sunshine Coast Day Hikes.
2. Camp, Relax, and Kayak at the Pristine Lakes around Powell River
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 tranquillity are what make these lakes especially unique. Peculiarly, you can find several houses in the center of the lake, home to the true lone wolves.
3. Visit nearby Savary Island
A nearby island worth visiting 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. Ask the water taxi driver for the best beach, he'll tell you how to get there! We spent hours at the beach without seeing anyone... talking about a TRUE HIDDEN GEM!
Note: There are no public bathrooms on the island! There is only one restaurant/store, which has limited opening hours.
4. Strolling around the historic town of Powell River
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 Townsite Brewing (Belgian-style craft beer!), observe the continuously active paper mill, or just stroll around and breathe in the hippie vibe.
How to get to Powell River
Getting There from Vancouver
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. The drive will take 4-5 hours as the roads on the Sunshine Coast are not connected to the Provincial Highway network. The first ferry takes you from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, and the second one from Earl's Cove to Saltery Bay. On a positive note, you only have to pay one ticket which covers both ferry routes.
Getting there from Vancouver Island
From Vancouver Island, you can take a direct ferry to Powell River from Comox/Courtenay. Ferry schedules can be consulted at the BC Ferries website.
What did you enjoy the most in Powell River? Let us know by commenting below!
Looking or more things to do in BC? Check out our full adventure travel guides: