The Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) on mainland British Columbia, Canada is a fantastic, off the beaten track, hut to hut backpacking trail for determined beginners and seasoned hikers. This 180km trail provides views of the Salish Sea and neighbouring Vancouver Island, takes you through serenely wooded forests, peaceful lakes, and gorgeous mountain views. The SCT is also unique in that it is the longest hut to hut trail in Canada, and the cabins are completely free to use! The SCT was launched in 1992 as a way to protect dwindling old-growth forests by linking them as recreational trail route. The trail founder Eagle Walz and Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PAWS) have maintained and expanded the route and the huts over the years. You can choose to explore sections of the trail on day hikes or stay overnight at a campsite or hut. Or you can combine the sections into an extended backpacking trip. There are many exit points so it is not difficult to leave the trail when you are finished hiking or need help. This was a reassuring factor as I was backpacking alone.
Who is it for?
The SCT is for everyone! The trail offers varying levels of difficulty depending on the section you are interested in but there is something for everyone. Those interested in backpacking the SCT must be moderately fit and ideally have some experience in backcountry backpacking. The SCT itself is an easy trail in that it does not require any scrambling or technical skills. However, undertaking the full SCT is not an easy task due to the length, 180km, and the elevation gain and loss of 10 000m.
The trek extends from Sarah's Point in Desolation Sound in the North to Saltery Bay in the South. I chose to start in the North. I took a ferry ride from Comox on Vancouver Island to the town of Powell River. From there, I picked up additional food for the trip and then hitchhiked (for the first time) to the village of Lund. The first person who stopped for me was a man in a truck on his way to the old townsite, about 4km away. I was thankful but I thought I would try my luck and see if I could find someone to take me all the way. I awkwardly stuck my thumb out again and after what felt like eons but was really only a few minutes, a black SUV turned around and the Aboriginal ladies inside offered me a ride. Success! The official start of the SCT is from Sarah's Point in Desolation Sound. To get there you must take a water taxi from the village of Lund, which can be costly if you are the only passenger (up to 200 dollars). Alternatively, you can begin from the village of Lund, as I did.
Multi-Day Route From Lund to Shingle Mill
Day One:Lund to Manzanita Hut Distance: 11.5km
After taking a quick look at the harbor in Lund, I walked East for 220m out of the village and turned left onto Finn Bay road for 600m. Then I made a right onto Baggi Road for 400m and then took a left onto Sarah Point Road for about 2.2 km. At this point, you will see a path leading into the forest and wooden post with a direction sign for Gilpen Road, orange markers, and an SCT map. After walking for 3.5 km on the road under a hot sun it was a relief to start hiking under the cool canopy of the trees. Once entering the forest, it is an easy 4km hike through the rainforest to Wednesday Lake. After a quick snack on the bench and signing the logbook I continued on my way to the first cabin accommodation on the route-Manzanita Hut. The last 4km felt long, but the first day on the hike with the full weight of your backpack is always the most tiring. The views were worth it though, with fabulous views of the Salish Sea and the oceanic islands.
Day Two: Manzanita Hut to Rieveley Pond Hut Distance: 17km
After a well deserved and restful night alone in the cabin, my energy reserves were fully restored and I was rearing to go. It was another beautiful day, with clear skies and sunshine. The hike started through hilly forests with occasional open views. Lunch was had at Emil's Bench overlooking old growth trees. Without the SCT protecting these old growth forests, the view here would be drastically different. Continuing on, the terrain became gentler which made for easier hiking. In this area, I passed by the Toquenatch Falls, giant mushrooms on tree trunks, and more beautiful growth forests. I arrived at Rieveley Pond Hut, (famous for their singing frogs) tired but satisfied with the day. I still hadn't seen anyone on the trail since yesterday though and it was a strange feeling to be completely alone!
Bench at Wednesday Lake
Day Three: Rieveley Pond Hut to Powell Lake Distance: 24.8km
The next day I emerged of my sleeping bag bleary-eyed but content. I had another big day ahead! I packed my belongings and set off. The trail followed along Appleton Creek and I stopped to photograph its waterfalls. Traipsing further I passed Theyeth Lake, Sliammon Lake and it's picturesque sister Little Sliammon Lake. I didn't have time for a paddle around the lake, next time I suppose! I ventured towards Scout Mountain, which took only about an hour to ascend and awarded me with views of the area around the City of Powell River. After descending, I arrived at the Shinglemill restaurant and marina, and back in civilization.
View from Scout Mountain overlooking Salish Sea and City of Powell River
Books & Maps
I would recommend buying the SCT Trail Guidebook from Eagle Walz as it is incredibly useful and detailed. Free maps, as well as maps for sale, are available at the Powell River information center.
Rain Gear & Layers
Even though I had great weather and the trail name itself includes the word sunshine, it is still important to bring raingear as it does rain on the coast and you'll be thankful when you're caught in dreary, wet weather. Layers are imperative as it can be hot in the day but considerably cooler in the evening.
Consider bringing a tent so that you don't have to cover as many kilometers a day as I have. A tent provides more flexibility in choosing where to stay the night, be it in a campsite or a hut. As well, since it is not possible to reserve a spot in the hut, there may not be enough space in the cabin during summer.
It is imperative to stay hydrated and utilize the water sources when they are available. Bring a water filtration and/or purification system with you to avoid getting sick. Some locals say the water is pure enough to drink on its own but I'd rather stay on the safe side.
The cabins were built and maintained by volunteers. Please take care of them and leave the cabins better than you found them. Make sure to take all your garbage out!
Hiking in British Columbia is always a pleasure and the SCT was a fantastic experience! It is slowly becoming more popular and garnering attention both in Canada and internationally, and for good reason. With pristine Canadian wilderness and cozy cabin accommodation, what more could you ask for? Visit the official SCT website
for more information and useful resources to help you plan your trip. Happy hiking!