Trail Profile: Hut to Hut on the 112-Mile Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 112-mile community-built trail located just north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Don’t let its proximity to the big city dissuade you; this trail is on a remote section of coastline that requires two ferries to reach. Traveling through damp coastal rainforest and the drier Georgia lowlands ecoregion, the trail takes thru-hikers alongside the ocean, past old-growth forest, and up to mountain peaks with views of glaciated mountains. Plus, the Sunshine Coast Trail is the West Coast’s first and only hut-to-hut trail.

Sunshine Coast Trail At-a-Glance

Length: 112 miles
Expected Completion Time: 10 days
Location: Powell River, British Columbia
Trail Type: Shuttle (end-to-end)
Huts and Shelters: 14
Overall Elevation Gain: 22,812 feet
High Point: 4,232 feet
Scenery: Old-growth and second-growth forest. Ocean landscape. Snowcapped mountains. Lakes and creeks.
Terrain: Moderate to strenuous. Lots of challenging uphill and downhill, exposed roots and rocks, and dense forest.
Navigation: Well-marked, easy to navigate.

Sunshine Coast Trail Access

The Sunshine Coast stretches over 80 miles and is split by a large fjord into a northern and southern section. The Sunshine Coast Trail is located on the northern section of the coast and is only accessible by air or by ferry service.

Northbound: The southern trailhead is 0.5 mile from the ferry dock in Saltery Bay, 87 miles north of Vancouver.

Southbound: SOBO hikers start at Sarah Point, 25 miles north of Powell River, British Columbia. Getting to the Northern Terminus requires a good 4×4 vehicle or hiring a boat shuttle from the small village of Lund.

Shuttle and bus services along the Sunshine Coast are very limited. The Sunshine Coast Connector bus is available to shuttle hikers from Langdale Ferry terminal on the southern end of the coast to Powell River. There are some transit options available around Powell River as well as personalized service from Sunshine Coast Shuttle.

Maps and Guides

Image courtesy Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society

The regional Parks and Wilderness Society has developed a series of free maps available on the Sunshine Coast Trail website. An overview map of the trail is also available.

The Sunshine Coast Trail Guidebook is available to order from the Powell River tourism center. It is written as a guide for day or section hikes and includes detailed maps and mileage information.

Direction of Travel

The Sunshine Coast Trail is best hiked from north to south. Starting from the north, the trail stays relatively flat and close to sea level. After the halfway point there are two challenging climbs to reach Tin Hat Mountain and Troubridge Mountain.

Hikers starting at the Southern Terminus have a steep, 4,239-foot ascent through the first ten miles.

Why Hike the Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail was the brainchild of longtime residents Eagle Walz and Scott Glaspey. Clear-cut logging was becoming more prominent in the area and the two friends wanted to find a way to help preserve the remaining old-growth forest. Construction of the trail started in the early 1990s along with the foundation of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS). The society was fortunate to receive funding from the government and from local businesses. The PRPAWS trail crews consisted mostly of local volunteers, including the Bloody Old Men’s Brigade (BOMB), a collection of retirees who constructed bridges, boardwalks, and benches along the length of the trail.

Once the trail was completed, the founders decided to add a network of huts to provide shelter from the variable weather. The first hut was built in 2009 at Fairview Bay, about four miles from the Southern Terminus. The trail now hosts 12 huts and two shelters, all located approximately ten miles from each other. Half of the huts are fully enclosed; three are insulated and winterized with a pellet stove to provide heat. The huts are designed to accommodate up to 12 people in an open sleeping loft and usually have space for camping nearby. Many hikers opt for shorter hiking days in order to take advantage of the hut system.

One of the appeals of the Sunshine Coast Trail is its proximity to wildlife. Hawks and eagles are regularly spotted, along with an assortment of other birds. Bears roam the forest alongside elk, deer, wolves, cougars and raccoons. Along the shoreline hikers have spotted orca and humpback whales as well as seals and sea lions.

Climate and Weather

The weather on the Sunshine Coast is variable. Even in the middle of summer temperatures can range from damp cold to highs of 90F. The coast is sheltered from the open Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island and receives about the same amount of rainfall as Seattle.

The Sunshine Coast Trail is driest from May to September. Snow may still be present at higher elevations in early summer.

Gear

Layers are your friend when hiking on the Sunshine Coast Trail. It can be cold and damp in the morning and then humid and sunny in the afternoon. The wind blowing from the north will have a sharp bite to it when on exposed terrain, but if the sun comes from the south you’ll be melting from the heat.

Bring rain gear. The trail is in the lush temperate coastal rainforest and the surrounding mountains help to catch the clouds. Expect to be drizzled on frequently with the occasional downpour. But don’t leave your sunscreen at home! In high summer the clouds may disappear for weeks.

The trail is quite technical in spots and ankle-supporting footwear may be more comfortable than low-profile trail runners. The trail has steep climbs and descents and trekking poles will help navigate roots and rocks.

Sunshine Coast Trail Highlights

Malaspina Provincial Park

The Northern Terminus and the first nine miles of the Sunshine Coast Trail are located within the boundaries of Malaspina Provincial Park. The park was established to protect remaining stands of old-growth trees and the surrounding marine environment. Expect lots of ocean views and large trees.

Powell River

The Sunshine Coast Trail passes through the edge of the town of Powell River. There is a pub right along the trail and it’s an easy half-mile walk to a grocery store to resupply. There are lots of accommodations in town where you can build in a zero day.

Tin Hat Mountain

Photo courtesy Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society

No matter which direction you go, the ascent to Tin Hat Mountain is a beast. The reward is worth the effort as you get above the treeline and are treated to 360-degree views of the ocean, islands, and miles of glaciated peaks. The hut on Tin Hat is also above treeline and is a favorite of many thru-hikers.

Fairview Bay
Just four miles from the Southern Terminus is the lowest of all the huts at Fairview Bay. The bay is shallow and calm, protected from the worst of the winds. There is a sandy beach for cooling your feet and a well-placed bench to enjoy the distant mountains.

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