Canoe circuits can be immensely satisfying –it’s a fantastic challenge to transport your gear over both land and water, and the mixture of hiking and paddling keeps the experience and scenery varied. It’s this kind of trip that makes me want to set out and canoe across Canada…but then by the end I don’t ever want to hear the word ‘portage’ again! Until the next time anyway…
Powell Forest Canoe Circuit
The Powell Forest Canoe Circuit was our first experience of the mainland, and it set the theme for the rest of our road trip. Almost everything is bigger on the mainland (I say ‘almost’ due to Vancouver Island having some pretty huge trees). While this circuit wasn’t that much bigger than the first one we did on Vancouver Island last year, over half of the paddling is on just one lake. And that 30km of paddling isn’t the length of the lake, oh no, Powell Lake is over double that in size. The portages too are more numerous and longer than the Sayward Circuit. Luckily (or unlucky for some?) it’s not really possible to use canoe carts on the portages on the Powell Forest route, so there are frequent canoe rests every 200m or so. This made for a very happy Jean Robert, who prefers to carry the canoe overhead in the traditional style.
Aside from the portages, we were also impressed by the camp sites and general upkeep of the route, especially since it was still early season. The signage was great and most campsites were in good condition (free firewood!), though at some it was hard to find a place flat enough to put the tent up on. The floating docks at the majority of the put-in and take-out spots were awesome; we managed to avoid the threat of mud. There was a major log jam blocking the landing to Horseshoe Creek (for the portage to Little Horseshoe Lake), so we had to play a bit of log Tetris. Good thing water makes them weightless and all.
No people, plenty of rain
While we saw few people (two and their dog to be precise, hanging out at their cottage on Dodd Lake) over the whole five days we were on the circuit, it’s not quite wilderness.
There are logging roads around most of the lakes and a fair amount of houseboats and cottages, especially on Powell Lake. Windsor Lake was by far our favourite lake: beautiful views of the mountains, waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet, no clear-cuts and a mostly quiet logging road. It was a good place to be rained in on day three, when it absolutely poured down for 12 hours straight. Not to worry, we weren’t exactly in a rush to start the next portage to Goat Lake, a 2.4km route descending 100m elevation. With a canoe on your head, that’s not particularly fun. At least, that’s what JR told me anyway.
Sleeping in a Sunshine Coast Trail hut
Wilderness or not, there is plenty of beauty to be found here. The mountains peeked out of the clouds when they could, we saw ospreys and bald eagles, almost stepped on huge frogs on the portages, and found the largest tadpoles ever. Turns out that the latter were bullfrog tadpoles (thank you, Vancouver Aquarium), which makes sense. Powell Lake, while very long and full of houseboats, was surprisingly very pretty. Well, at least it was before the last 10km when we experienced a one metre swell and a lot of headwind all the way to the end!
We spent our last night on the circuit in the Fiddlehead Landing hut on Powell Lake, one of many on the 180km Sunshine Coast Trail. It was wonderful to be out of the tent after two days in the rain, though the hut’s ventilation grates didn’t keep out the vicious blackflies determined to get in. Bug bites aside; staying in the Fiddlehead Landing hut was a great way to end our time on the Powell Lakes route. Despite the challenging weather, it was still a fantastic trip, a great in-between from our first circuit on Vancouver Island to our third, Bowron Lakes (100km paddling), which we will be doing in September.
The standard Powell Forest Canoe Circuit, located on BC’s Sunshine Coast, includes eight lakes, with around 55km of paddling and 8km of portage. There are quite a few adaptions to the route; you can add more lakes (such as Khartoum near the start or Inland close to the end), or cut it down to about half by turning around at Dodd Lake. We took the ‘less travelled’ route of Horseshoe-Little Horseshoe-Beaver Lakes to lessen our portage kilometres (to just over 7km), though we ended up doing one more portage overall. The portages on this route were less well kept than the other side of the circle (Nanton-Ireland). We spent five days on the circuit, including one ‘rained in’ day at Windsor Lake. This is a nice amount of time to allow for one ‘lazy’ day in the summer, swimming in the lakes or fishing.
How to complete the circuit
One down side to this trip is that it is unfortunately not a true canoe circuit (I should probably say ‘route’ instead). There is an approximate 30km gap between the end at Powell Lake and the start at Lois Lake. If you’re in a group with at least two cars, this is not much of a problem since there is a fair amount of parking both at Lois Lake and Powell Lake’s marina (the latter with a charge). If you only have one car, it’s a little more difficult. The easiest way is to arrange a shuttle with a local company to take you and all your gear (including canoe) back to Lois Lake from the marina. The quote was $150 for this. Since we have more time than money ($150 = two weeks budget), we figured out an alternative.
There is a local bus service that travels along the coast road regularly, passing by the marina on its way to Powell River mall. Leaving from the mall there is a rural bus service that goes to Saltery Bay ferry terminal, and stops near the logging road turn off to Lois Lake. From here, you would have to hike 6km to get back to your vehicle, and then drive back to Powell Lake to pick up the canoe (and other person!). This was our original plan as it would cost less than $5 (well, minus gas), but the last rural bus service of the day leaves the mall at around 2pm and we finished the circuit at 2.30pm. Plan B – JR rode the bus to the mall and then took a taxi to the logging road turn off. As it was, the taxi driver didn’t mind driving on the logging roads, so JR was able to get to the van and then back to the marina a lot quicker. It cost $50 for the taxi, $2 for the bus and took about two hours.
Hover over the photo below and PIN for future reference and inspiration!