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A Guide to Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, British Columbia

The Sunshine Coast Trail is an incredible 180km hut-to-hut hiking route in south-west British Columbia, Canada.

The path weaves along and away from the coast, also featuring lakes, waterfalls, old growth tree groves, creeks, working forests, mountain peaks and panoramic viewpoints. 

Read on to discover our own experience hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) plus a comprehensive planning guide so you, too, can organise your own adventure on this magnificent trail!

This post written and published in February 2020. Covid19 update – While the SCT itself is open, the huts are currently closed.

JR standing on rock on the Tin Hat Mountain summit, looking out to surrounding mountains
Tin Hat Mountain summit, Sunshine Coast Trail
Hiking path with bridge in background and tree in foreground with 'SCT south' sign
Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail
Picnic table in front of a two story backcountry hut on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Confederation Hut on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Gemma and JR standing together looking at sunrise from Tin Hat Mountain
Sunrise on Tin Hat Mountain
Mossy bridge on the Sunshine Coast Trail
The Sunshine Coast Trail passes through BC’s amazing temperatre coastal rainforest
JR hiking on Sunshine Coast Trail with sun streaming through forest
Sunny hiking days on the Sunshine Coast Trail

Hiking the epic Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast is one of our absolute favourite regions of British Columbia. The varied landscape here has so much to offer, especially in terms of outdoor adventure. We also find the Sunshine Coast to be relatively quiet and undiscovered, despite being so close to both Vancouver and Vancouver Island. 

First visiting the area back in 2014, the Sunshine Coast Trail has been on our radar ever since.

Last September, we finally made it back to hike what is often called the most difficult section of the trail – Inland Lake to Lang Bay, taking in Tin Hat Mountain, Elk Lake and Walt Hill (62km total).

We plan to hike the other two sections (Sarah Point to Inland Lake and Lang Bay to Saltery Bay) either in 2020 or 2021. 

Our original plan was for a five day, four night trip, averaging no more than 15km a day. Our plans changed a little, as you’ll discover in our trip report below. 

Disclosure – We visited the Sunshine Coast with the assistance of Sunshine Coast Tourism

Waterfall cascading behind a wooden bridge on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Stealth Falls
Gemma looking out to mountains during sunrise on Tin Hat
Watching the sunrise on Tin Hat Mountain
Looking up to the tops of huge trees
Huge Douglas Firs on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Small tree in foreground, in front of elevated lake and forest views
Walt Hill views on the SCT

Inland Lake to Confederation Lake (10km, 4 hours)

Dropped off shortly before kilometre 65, the flat path around Inland Lake offered a chance to slowly ease into our 62km hike.

After checking out the Anthony Island hut (small, but I’m sure very welcome after a long hike), we started the climb up to Confederation Lake. I soon felt glad of that easy section around the lake, as the path ascended up through the dense rainforest. 

With days of rain already, the streams and waterfalls were bursting with water and the soaked ground was almost bouncy in places. Thick moss shined with raindrops and mushrooms seemed to sprout from everywhere (I’ve never seen so many varieties). 

The climb was tiring in places but the glint of Confederation Lake didn’t take too long to appear. The route around the lakeshore was surprisingly long and full of slippery obstacles.

But finally, our first Sunshine Coast Trail hut appear! And what a well built and maintained hut it was, with an incredibly pretty outlook of the still lake. 

Although still relatively early, we were happy to put down our packs and settle in for the afternoon. There wasn’t a soul to be seen so we had the hut to ourselves through the stormy night. 

Tree with red SCT kilometre marker - 65km
Our first SCT kilometre marker sign
Colourful totem pole next to flat hiking path
First Nation totem pole next to Inland Lake
Gemma (with backpack) looking at rainforest with light streaming through
Hiking to Confederation Lake
View looking through Confederation Lake hut upstairs window towards still lake and surrounding trees
Hut views at Confederation Lake

Confederation Lake to Tin Hat Mountain (14km, 7.5 hours)

Hiking between Confederation Lake and Tin Hat Mountain isn’t a great distance but the elevation is intimidating. Confederation Lake sits at 600m, Tin Hat hut at 1150m but the trail descends down almost to sea level (150m). Yep, that’s an initial loss of 450m and a gain of 1000m elevation without even taking into account the meandering nature of the trail in general!

The day passed better than I imagined, however. The rain was on and off, offering teasing, misty views at ‘Vomit Vista’ and heavy showers during lunch at Fiddlehead Farm (thankfully, there’s a shelter). We had to climb over some trees brought down by the storm, very close to a logging operation. 

Post-lunch, the foliage became mossier, the bridges slipperier and the mushrooms even more numerous. And then, the climbing begins. Slowly at first, but then the steep switchbacks arrive. It felt never ending at times, not helped by the red kilometre markers disappearing for a time. 

A stream heralded the start of the end, said to be around 3km from the hut itself. We gathered water, not knowing yet that there would be a filled-to-bursting rainwater barrel at the top. A wide but rough 4X4 road appeared, leading almost to the top. The flat sections were covered in deep puddles of water.

The path narrowed again to huge boulders, which required a very small amount of scrambling. I waited for JR near the top, snapping a couple of photos of the view and yelled down that he should hurry. 

Gemma walking on corduroy plank road
Corduroy road near Fiddlehead Farm, Sunshine Coast Trail
Glimpse of lakes and islands through trees on the way up to Tin Hat
Amazing views on the way up to Tin Hat
Tin Hat Mountain hut in cloud, with zero views behind
We arrived at Tin Hat Mountain hut in cloud. We didn’t see anything but this for over 24 hours

A day on Tin Hat Mountain

Within 30 seconds of our arrival to the Tin Hat Mountain hut, we were swallowed by a giant cloud. The 360 degree views we were promised were gone, just like that. It soon becomes clear that the cloud wasn’t going away anytime soon. We were firmly socked in. 

That evening, we took stock of our food supplies and hatched a plan. We came to see the views and we’d just have to ration our food and wait it out. It was frustrating, but such is the unpredictable way of nature.

It took almost 24 hours (and plenty of Yahtzee) for the cloud dissipates some. We are able to see a foggy, yet atmospheric sunset from the Tin Hat summit, with glimpses of the promised lakes below. Most of the mountains are still shrouded in cloud, however. 

The next morning, we wake at 6am with plenty of hope. We quickly scrambled up to the summit behind the hut and kept our fingers crossed.

Surrounded by mountain peaks, with low clouds blanketing the ground, it felt like we were on top of the world. The sunrise is as epic as we hoped and worth every single second of waiting. 

JR and Gemma selfie at the top of Tin Hat with cloudy and misty skies and glimpses of lakes below
Finally, the cloud starts to dissipate
JR standing on Tin Hat Mountain with mist and sun setting behind
Sunset on Tin Hat Mountain
Gemma in front of sunrise views on Tin Hat Mountain
Sunrise on Tin Hat Mountain

Tin Hat Mountain to Elk Lake (13km, 6.5 hours via shortcut)

The day continued as awesome as it started, with wall-to-wall blue skies. We were sad to leave the beauty of Tin Hat but our food supplies were now on the low side. Another day at Tin Hat was simply not an option. 

My research before this trip indicated that the section from Tin Hat to Marsh Lake via Lewis Lake isn’t particularly interesting. With the temptation of a short day in mind, we decide to take a short-cut through an older route of the SCT (Option A, if you’re using the guidebook). 

The rocky path led through saddening clear cuts. On the upside, the views were open, the skies sunny and we were able to dry out our souls a little. We met a day hiker on the old logging railway section and chatted for a while. He would be the only person we see for the entire six day period! 

This is also the day we became acquainted some incredible old growth trees. Perched just below a logging road, these huge Douglas Firs seemed to reach all the way to the sky. 

The real challenge of the day came in the last 1.5km with the hill to end all hills. I was glad to see the the Elk Lake Hut, peeking out of the brush. JR immediately goes for a swim in the pristine lake while I sunbathe on the dock. A perfect sunny day on the SCT. 

JR standing with two hiking poles looking down at open trail beyond
The hike down from Tin Hat Mountain offered plenty of views
Tree framed shot of rolling hills and forests on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Clear cuts aren’t pretty but do open up the views
A completely still lake with fallen tree, blue sky
Gorgeous Elk Lake
Elk Lake Hut with enclosed sleeping loft and open living area below
Elk Lake Hut is a partially open shelter, one of the more rustic huts we stayed in on the Sunshine Coast Trail

Elk Lake to Walt Hill (14km, 5.5 hours)

With the rain returning with a vengeance, we spent much of the next day back in the clouds. The path was narrow in places and the overgrown foliage dripped even more raindrops onto us. We stopped at misty Coyote Lake for a snack, where the motionless surface blended perfectly with the milky sky.

Viewpoints passed with little to see, until we reach the ‘Walt Hilton’ emergency shelter at kilometre `120.5. Here, the elevation could finally be appreciated.

Ripe blueberries started to line the twisty trail. Prior to this point on the SCT, the blueberry season had been and gone. We picked a handful or two and started calling out for bears in earnest. 

Our instincts were proven right as we discover very fresh bear tracks around one of the blind corners. The upturned dirt surrounding the tracks implies that the bear was probably startled and ran off in a hurry. Like us, the bear had probably not seen or heard any other life on the trail for days. 

After a short detour to get water at Walt Creek (in hindsight, we should have dropped our packs first and then backtracked), we arrived at wonderful Walt Hill hut.

The outlook here isn’t quite as panoramic as Tin Hat but the lake studded backdrop is still stunning. Had the weather been better, we may have camped on the tiny wooden platform right in front of it all. 

Moss with tiny mushrooms, as seen on the Sunshine Coast Trail
We saw so many mushrooms on the Sunshine Coast Trail – I lost count of the different varieties!
Cabin wall with 'Where do the wild things go' written
A good question
Gemma standing on rock, at elevation, looking down at lakes and forest
The views from Walt Hill are outstanding

Walt Hill to Lang Bay (11km, 4 hours)

Our final day was mostly downhill, an almost literal comedown. Though steep in places, we moved fast through Suicide Pass and Smokey’s Blue Ridge.

We stopped at one of the picnic areas for a while to try and slow things down a little and take in the last of our Sunshine Coast Trail experience. 

Most impressive along this section were the huge fallen trees (see example below) and logging artifacts. We also passed some lovely camping areas, perfect for thru-hikers looking to escape the huts during the busier months.

The strangest sight had to be a tea party along the trail. I won’t give any more explanation (mostly because I have none) so you can hike the trail and discover that for yourself. 

Just after kilometre 134, the path intersected Dixon Road and we followed this back to our vehicle. A slightly anti-climatic end it may have been but the sun was shining (hooray!) and a portion of fish and chips were calling our name. Thanks for the memories, SCT – we’ll be back to finish soon. 

Gemma hiking past a huge fallen tree on the Sunshine Coast Trail
The Sunshine Coast Trail was originally conceived to link together strands of old growth trees
Gemma and JR selfie with tree and 134km kilometre marker in background
The last kilometre marker (134km) before we headed off the Sunshine Coast Trail to Lang Bay

About the Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 180km (with around 6000m total elevation gain) hiking route from Sarah Point to Saltery Bay, travelling through both public and private lands. 

Canada’s longest ‘hut-to-hut’ trail, there are 14 cosy shelters located along the SCT, plus additional camping opportunities. There is no registration or hiking fee required to use the Sunshine Coast Trail, nor a charge for using the huts or wilderness campsites. 

JR standing on the deck of the Tin Hat Mountain hut looking at the cloud covered views
Above the clouds at Tin Hat Mountain hut

A brief history

The origins of the Sunshine Coast Trail go back to 1992 when a group of local enthusiasts formed the Power River Parks and Wilderness Society (known as PRPAWS or just PAWS), a non-profit volunteer organisation.

The initial aim, was to build a long distance hiking trail that would link the remaining old growth in the area. Completed in 2000, the Sunshine Coast Trail is continually being improved today, with the most recent hut (Confederation Lake) being built in 2016. 

Old metal logging artifacts lie next to the trail
Part of the Sunshine Coast Trail (near Marsh Lake) is built on an old logging railway bed. An old cable and logging artifacts can be seen

Location

Even on the Sunshine Coast itself, there can be little confusion about where the Sunshine Coast Trail actually is. 

To put it simply, the Sunshine Coast Trail traverses the ‘upper’ (or ‘North Coast’) portion of the Sunshine Coast only, from Sarah Point in the north to Saltery Bay in the south. The Sunshine Coast itself stretches further, with the ‘lower’ section comprising Earls Cove to Langdale. 

Not familiar with the concept of the Sunshine Coast at all? No problem. It’s a beautiful section of the British Columbia coastline, starting just north west of Vancouver and sitting directly across from Vancouver Island. 

Calm harbour with mountains in background
Gibsons, Sunshine Coast

How to get to the Sunshine Coast

Due to the rugged nature of the British Columbia coastline (fjords, inlets and mountains et al), the Sunshine Coast is accessible only via air and boat. There are no bridges connecting the Sunshine Coast to the rest of the British Columbia. 

Lone figure on mountain ridge with clouds and mountains behind at sunrise
Sunrise at Tin Hat Mountain

Ferry routes

Travelling by road, the North Sunshine Coast (where the SCT is located) is accessible via two vehicle ferries from Vancouver. The first, from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, takes 40 minutes.

The second ferry, from Earls Cove to Saltery Bay, is a slightly longer journey at 50 minutes. The 80km distance is twisty in parts and takes about 80 minutes to drive comfortably. 

Both ferry routes are operated by BC Ferries and accept vehicles of all sizes as well as bikes and pedestrians. Magnificent views abound, even on slightly misty days. Don’t forget to watch for whales!

Another way to access the Sunshine Coast is from Comox (Vancouver Island) to Powell River. The ferry journey time is 90 minutes but is very convenient as it arrives at the Sunshine Coast Trail’s main supply town. 

Ferry times vary depending on the season and don’t necessarily line up. Weekend and holiday sailings can be very busy.

Reservations are possible on the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route so I’d recommend doing that if you have a strict schedule. A BC Ferries Experience card offers discounts on all three of these routes. 

Air travel

It is possible to fly to Powell River from Vancouver on Pacific Coastal Airlines. Another option is flying to Sechelt or Comox (on Vancouver Island), but a ferry journey would still be required to get closer to the Sunshine Coast Trail itself. 

Gemma on board the BC Ferries boat, looking out to magnificent mountainous views
Taking the ferry is an essential part of the Sunshine Coast experience!

Getting around the Sunshine Coast

Once on the Sunshine Coast, one main road (Highway 101) links all major communities. For the most part, it is a two lane highway. It winds through both rural and town areas and has some winding sections near Earls Cove. 

The Sunshine Coast Connector operates a seasonal service run between Langdale and Powell River with some stops along the route. Although you can turn up and pay cash to the driver, it is a good idea to secure a seat with an online reservation. 

BCTransit operates a limited year round service along the South Coast (Langdale to Half Moon Bay) and also on the North Coast (Lund to Powell River, Lang Bay and also to Saltery Bay on request).

A road sign points right, indicating opportunities for camping, climbing, kayaking, skiing and more
One of my favourite road signs on the Sunshine Coast – there is SO much to do here!

Respect the trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail is unusual in that it is not located in a provincial park, national park or other protected area. Traversing through a mixture of private and public lands, the future of the Sunshine Coast Trail relies on the courteous behaviour of trail users. 

The land on which the trail sits is the traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation, one of the tribes of the northern Coast Salish. The Final Agreement treaty, in effect from 2016, included 8,323 hectares of settlement land, some of which the Sunshine Coast Trail travels through. 

With the help of the BOMB Squad (the Bloody Old Men’s Brigade), the volunteer run PRPAWS continues to maintain and enhance the SCT and huts. Assistance, equipment, expertise and funds have been donated by many other local businesses and community members as well as provincial organisations.

While hiking on the trail, always follow No Trace Principles, be kind to other hikers and be sure to take a few moments to appreciate the incredible efforts that have been made to bring the SCT to life. After your hike, consider making a donation to PRPAWS to help continue their excellent work. 
JR looking up towards a huge old growth tree on the Sunshine Coast Trail
The Sunshine Coast Trail is home to some pretty impressive old growth trees

How to Plan a Sunshine Coast Trail hike

Inspired to go hiking on the Sunshine Coast Trail? Awesome! This section will tell you everything you need to know about planning your adventure.

I’ve written the following advice with multi-day and thru-hikers in mind, but day hikers will find a lot of relevant information here too. 

This section does include some affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Tin Hat Mountain summit view looking down to forested hills and cloud cover
Looking down to Tin Hat Mountain (on left) from the summit

What to expect

The Sunshine Coast Trail travels through a variety of landscapes, from beautiful rocky coastline and pretty lakes to lush temperate rainforest and mountain summits. There is natural beauty to be seen almost everywhere along the 180km length of the trail, with truly spectacular panoramas to be found. 

Hikers do have to be aware, however, of two things:

  • The Sunshine Coast Trail is not located in total wilderness. Dirt roads (mostly for logging or recreational use) do criss cross across the local landscape and the path does weave in and out of populated areas
  • Some sections of the trail do route through or close to working forests. In this context, that means active or dedicated logging areas

For me, these two factors did not dampen my enthusiasm or enjoyment for this trail. I still had the opportunity to see so many magnificent places and truly immerse myself in nature.

I still feel it is important to mention this to properly set expectations of perspective Sunshine Coast Trail hikers. The scenery is not pristine in all places, but this, in my mind, proves that recreation is perfectly possible even in areas that have long been associated with industry. 

In terms of difficulty, the Sunshine Coast Trail is not technically hard. The path is established, well marked and easy to follow. There’s no scree or exposed trail walking and very limited scrambling. 

The challenging aspects for most hikers will be the meandering terrain (lots of ups and downs), long distances and slippery/muddy surfaces during or after rain. 

Logs sorted into piles as part of logging operation, as seen through the trees from the Sunshine Coast Trail
A logging operation as seen from the Sunshine Coast Trail (September 2019)

Section breakdown

With such huge choice in overnight accommodation (huts, campsites, paid lodging), there are many ways to structure a multi-day trip or thru-hike on the Sunshine Coast Trail. 

For this reason, it would be almost impossible for me to list all of the possible combinations. Base your own itinerary on available budget and time, while considering your group’s fitness and experience. If you have some flexibility, you could just make it up as you go. 

Here is an example of what a typical SCT thru-hike may look like a reasonably fit hiker (comfortable with walking up to 8 hours a day with a full pack) who wants to stay in the huts as much as possible. Distances are approximate. 

  1. Sarah Point to Manzanita Hut (16km)
  2. Manzanita Hut to Rieveley Pond (17km)
  3. Rieveley Pond to Haywire Bay camping (24km) or Townsite, Powell River for resupply (18km)
  4. Townsite, Powell River or Haywire Bay to Confederation Lake (23/17km)
  5. Confederation Lake to Tin Hat Mountain (14km)
  6. Tin Hat Mountain to Elk Lake (20km or 13km if you take shorter route like we did)
  7. Elk Lake to Walt Hill (14km)
  8. Walt Hill to Golden Stanley (22km)
  9. Golden Stanley to Rainy Day Lake (24km)
  10. Rainy Day Lake to Saltery Bay (11km)

This is a very hut focused itinerary. Some SCT thru-hikers primarily use campsites, others use both huts and campsites, and a few exit the trail at convenient points (Townsite, Lang Bay) to seek accommodation. 

Spiderwebs with sunshine on the SCT

Multi-day adventures

Some popular multi-day itineraries are:

  • Sarah Point to Powell River, staying at Manzanita and Rieveley Pond huts (3 days, 50km)
  • Inland Lake to Lang Bay, staying at Confederation Lake, Tin Hat, Elk Lake, Walt Hill (5 days, 62/70km)
  • Fiddlehead Landing to Lang Bay, staying at Tin Hat, Elk Lake, Walt Hill (4 days, 56km)
  • Lang Bay to Saltery Bay, staying at Golden Stanley, Mount Troubridge, Rainy Day Lake (3 days, 43km)

The section we did (Inland Lake to Walt Hill) has the most elevation and is generally considered to be the most difficult physically. 

There are also many day hike options on the SCT , especially if you have two vehicles available (or use a shuttle service). Tin Hat Mountain, Walt Hill and Mount Troubridge all feature steep elevation with amazing panoramas, while Confederation Lake, Rainy Day Lake and Fairview Bay also make for great destinations. 

Suggestions above are based on my own experience and research plus recommendations in hut log books. 

Path snaking through old clear cut, with new growth growing
Hiking through old clear cuts on the old Sunshine Coast Trail route (Tin Hat to Elk Lake)

Sunshine Coast Trail huts

The Sunshine Coast Trail hosts 14 different huts and shelters, located fairly evenly along the trail. All are free to use and operate on a first come, first serve system. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each SCT hut:

  • Manzanita – Partially open with closed sleeping loft, kilometre 16
  • Rieveley Pond – Partially open with closed sleeping loft, kilometre 33
  • Inland Lake West – Small closed hut, kilometre 65
  • Anthony Island (Inland Lake) – Small closed hut, kilometre 67
  • Confederation Lake – Fully enclosed, winterized hut, kilometre 74
  • Fiddlehead Landing – Partially open with closed sleeping loft, kilometre 81
  • Tin Hat Mountain – Fully enclosed and winterized, kilometre 90
  • Elk Lake – Partially open with closed sleeping loft, kilometre 110
  • Walt Hill – Fully enclosed and winterized, kilometre 123
  • Golden Stanley – Partially open with closed sleeping loft, kilometre 145
  • Mount Troubridge – Mid-sized, fully enclosed and winterized, kilometre 158
  • Mount Troubridge Emergency – Small and insulated, kilometre 159
  • Rainy Day Lake – Partially open, kilometre 169
  • Fairview Bay – Fully enclosed, kilometre 173

All huts have outhouses or composting toilets nearby. There is space around each hut for tents, useful if the hut is full or for hikers who prefer more privacy. 

Where noted as ‘partially open,’ there is a covered seating area and closed sleeping loft. Most huts accommodate around 10-12 people in the main enclosed sleeping area. 

Confederation and Tin Hat huts have basements (the latter with a rock floor) that can provide extra sleeping room when necessary. We found rainwater barrels outside both Tin Hat and Walt Hill huts. 

Winterized huts have a pellet stove, which look like a traditional wood stove but work more like a furnace. They can be a bit tricky to start, operate using pellets only (bring your own to guarantee stock) and require constant attention. 

Inland Lake West, Anthony Island and Fiddlehead Landing huts are all located slightly off the main trail route. 

The Sunshine Coast Trail huts are AMAZING. So we were disappointed to find so much trash and unwanted items left in them. Always pack out what you pack in and leave the huts better than you found them!
JR walking up the stairs of the two story Walt Hill backcountry hut
Walt Hill Hut on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Enclosed sleeping loft of Tin Hat Mountain hut with two sleeping bags unrolled on the ground with a backpack nearby
The sleeping loft (half room view) of Tin Hat Mountain hat
Fiddlehead Landing hut on shore of lake
An older photo of Fiddlehead Landing hut – we stayed here while paddling the Powell Forest Canoe Route in 2014

Camping on the Sunshine Coast Trail

As well as the huts, there are designated camping areas along the trail. At a minimum, these have a relatively small but cleared area suitable for backpacking tents. Most of these rustic campsites have outhouses, picnic table and a water source nearby. 

Some of these free campsites are vehicle accessible Recreational Sites. One example is Homestead Creek (near the Rieveley Pond Hut). 

There are also some paid campgrounds accessible along the SCT. One of these is Haywire Bay Regional Park. As well as tent campsites and showers (extra $2), this campground has a reservable cabin available for $50/night. 

Another paid campground is located in Inland Lake Provincial Park. It has 22 vehicle accessible campsites. 

Campsites, both paid and free, are marked on the Sunshine Coast Trail website maps here

Picnic bench with flat area in forest - one of the camping areas on the Sunshine Coast Trail
Campsite at kilometre 126 on the Sunshine Coast Trail

General hut and camping etiquette

  • According to the Sunshine Coast Trail website, thru-hikers should be given priority for hut use. It also suggests that large groups (8 or more) should consider using campsites rather than huts
  • Campfires are allowed as long as there is no provincial ban (check here first). Use designated fire rings, keep fires small and only burn dead wood
  • Be prepared to hang your food. This isn’t just for bears, but smaller critters too. The huts attract a lot of mice and other small creatures to the surrounding area
  • Treat water from lakes, streams and rivers (and rainwater barrels!) before drinking. We use the the BeFree filter – super fast and no chlorine taste. We also carry Aquatabs for purifying large amounts of water and as a lightweight backup. 
  • Use existing campsites – don’t create new ones. This avoids further damage to the land and also respects local land owners
  • Where there is no outhouse or composting toilet, use the cat hole method. Leave No Trace has a great guide here
  • PACK OUT EVERYTHING YOU PACK IN! I just can’t say this enough. If you hiked in with it, you need to hike out with it as well. This includes fuel canisters, leftover food and trash. 
A view inside Tin Hat Mountain Hut with benches, kitchen counter, window and lots of wall hooks
Inside Tin Hat Mountain hut

Trail condition

The Sunshine Coast Trail is kept in very good condition. The volunteer maintenance teams clearly put a lot of work into removing obstacles, building new bridges and rerouting the trail when necessary. 

With some parts of the trail being next to clear cuts, the surrounding trees are vulnerable to high winds. Though the trail maintenance is excellent overall (better than any other backpacking trail we’ve ever been on in BC), be prepared for downed trees on the trail after storms. 

Three fallen trees on the Sunshine Coast Trail
High winds brought down several trees on the trail during our hike

Hiking season

The main backpacking season for the entire Sunshine Coast Trail is May to September. The lower elevation sections, particularly Sarah Point to Inland Lake, can be comfortably hiked almost all year round. 

The busiest time on the trail seems to be mid May to August. With the weather warming up faster on the coast, the SCT is a popular spring destination when other multi-day hiking routes are still snowed in. 

Mosquitoes are more of an issue in spring and early summer, so keep that in mind if you’re sensitive to biting bugs. The coast is susceptible to heavy and prolonged downpours, especially in spring and autumn. 

We hiked from Inland Lake to Lang Bay in mid September and saw only one hiker (out on a short walk) over six days on trail. The weather forecast was pretty poor but the lack of life anywhere does make me think that September, in general, is a great time to hike the Sunshine Coast Trail! 

Snowshoeing the trail is popular in the colder months, with Confederation Lake, Tin Hat Mountain, Walt Hill and Mount Troubridge being popular overnight destinations. 

A Sunshine Coast Trails is covered with inch thick moss
Parts of the Sunshine Coast Trail are very damp, creating incredible displays of moss

Transportation

With the Sunshine Coast Trail being an end-to-end hike (as opposed to a loop), there has to be some thought concerning navigation. A common solution is to have two vehicles, one parked at each of the chosen trailheads. 

For thru-hikers or groups with only one vehicle, there are other solutions:

  • The easiest way is to use the Sunshine Coast Shuttle. The owner, Jesse, is a SCT expert and also offers resupply services. Due to the prevalence of logging roads throughout the region, there are many different drop off points available. The service charge varies with the distance travelled and amount of passengers.
  • Sarah Point, the SCT’s northern terminus, can be reached by water as well as dirt 4X4 road. Both Lund Water Taxi and TerraCentric Adventures run services on request. There is no parking lot at the trailhead.
  • There is a limited BCTransit service from Saltery Bay to Lund, via Powell River.
  • Staying at the Old Courthouse Inn prior to our hike, we were offered a ride to our desired SCT trailhead by the owner. I’m sure there are other accommodation providers in the area doing the same.
  • If budget is a concern, I’d recommend joining the Sunshine Coast Trail Facebook group to try and link up with other hikers to split shuttle or water taxi costs.
Gemma sat on the porch of the Confederation Lake Hut, looking out to the water
Relaxing at Confederation Lake hut

Navigation

The Sunshine Coast Trail may well be the best signed path we have ever hiked. 

The trail itself is marked with bright orange diamond blazes, appearing every five metres or so. Sometimes, even more frequently. These trail markers can be spotted on trees, fences, fallen logs, bridges and more. 

According to the SCT trail website, there are double the amount of markers going from north to south than the other direction. In addition to the orange blazes, there are numerous wooden directional signs, kilometre markers and SCT maps at trailheads. 

A map of the Sunshine Coast Trail can be picked up at the Powell River Visitor Information Centre. Section maps are available on the Sunshine Coast Trail website here

A step-by-step description of the entire trail can be found in Eagle Walz’s Sunshine Coast Trail guidebook, as well as trailhead directions and elevation breakdown. We purchased our copy at Tailwind Books in Sechelt. 

The SCT is marked on both the Maps.me (we used this one) and Hiking Project apps. There are also section maps available for the Avenza Maps app. 

Numerous trees with orange Sunshine Coast Trail markers
The Sunshine Coast Trail is well marked overall….and some sections even more so!

Parking

The choice of where to park our vehicle was probably one of the biggest decisions we had to make when planning our SCT hike. Your own choice for parking will depend on your hiking plans and level of desired security.

With the SCT being intersected by logging roads in numerous places, there are many access points besides Sarah Point and Saltery Bay. Hikers also have the option to park their vehicle in surrounding communities, either in paid parking lots or outside businesses (with prior permission). 

There are paid parking lots in Lund, Mowat Bay, Powell River Government Marina, the Shinglemill Pub and the Lang Bay Store.

Unsecured parking lots can be found on the Sunshine Coast Trail maps on the official website here (marked in blue). 

We chose to park our vehicle at the Lang Bay Community Hall. The building manager lives next door (the house to the immediate north of the lot) and accepts donations for parking. Jesse from the Sunshine Coast Shuttle picked us up and took us to our starting point on Inland Lake. 

From our finishing point at kilometre 134, we needed to walk 2km along the (wide) Dixon Road to Highway 101 and then a very short 100m stretch north to get back to the hall. 

Gemma walking towards white van in Community Hall parking lot
Arriving back at the van at Lang Bay Community Hall

Hazards

  • The Sunshine Coast is an extremely safe place to visit, with minimal crime. Hikers should, however, be aware that parking a vehicle overnight in an unattended location is inherently risky. Take all valuables with you where possible and keep all remaining items out of sight. 
  • Phone signal is limited on the SCT. During our hike, we only received signal on Walt Hill and Tin Hat Mountain. 
  • At approx 135.7km, the trail crosses the Eagle River. There is no bridge here and the flow of the river can vary. Besides the potential for deep water, the other hazard here is the dam above the river. There are warning sirens, but they would be difficult to hear from the river itself. A safer option is to backtrack to Stillwater Main (135.1km), follow the road west and then south to cross on a concrete (road) bridge and then continue back onto the trail via Lois Main. 
  • Some SCT trailheads are only accessible via active logging roads. When driving on these, be prepared to meet industrial vehicles at all times. Slow down and pull over completely where possible. Check the Western Forest Products website for closures, restrictions and one-way system information. The Vancouver Coast Backroad Mapbook can be a great help for navigation. 
  • Bears, cougars, elk and other wild animals live on and around the Sunshine Coast Trail. Sightings of larger animals are rare but hikers must take precautions. Make noise on the trail to avoid startling any animals nearby, keep alert, carry bear spray, hang your food at night and be sure to pack out everything brought in. 
Bear track in mud
Fresh bear track on the Sunshine Coast Trail – we are pretty sure it was happily eating berries until hearing us!

Supply points

Powell River is the main supply town for the Sunshine Coast Trail. There is a locally owned gear store called Powell River Outdoors.  

Also in town is a Walmart, Dollarama, Canadian Tire, choice of fast food chains (A&W, McDonald’s) and numerous banks. There is a good variety of restaurants and independent businesses along Marine Ave, near the ferry terminal. 

The grocery stores in Powell River are well stocked but are on the pricier side, with Save-on-Foods, Safeway and Quality Foods as options.

We’ve always found gas prices to be higher in Powell River too, sometimes up to 10c/l higher than Comox or Sechelt. 

Other supply points on the SCT are Lund (bakery, pub, restaurant), Townsite (brewery, restaurants, convenience store) and Lang Bay (convenience store, pizza). The Shingle Mill pub is located just off the trail at kilometre 50. As well as food, you can inquire about bag storage. 

It is also possible to organise a supply drop with Sunshine Coast Shuttles

Totem pole in front ocean view near Powell River
Powell River on a beautiful September day

Packing list essentials

  • The Ten Essentials, of course, is a good starting point for the Sunshine Coast Trail and any other hike
  • If this is your first multi-day hike, I cannot emphasize enough to practice first and find comfortable footwear that works for you. I use fairly high waterproof hybrid boots (the women’s version of these) but there are merits to using lighter, less waterproof hikers
  • We were unsure how busy the SCT would be in September so brought our tent with us. After meeting zero hikers on the trail, I wish we’d brought our lightweight tarp instead (this one). I think I’d still bring a tent if I was hiking the SCT during the busier months, based on logbook reports
  • I always carry lightweight hiking poles during multi-day hikes and these especially came in handy during our ascent of Tin Hat and descent from Walt Hill. It is steep in places and the poles help to take pressure off your knees. We share a pair of Black Diamond Carbon Z poles (pricey, but totally worth it)
  • Waterproof backpack covers are helpful on the SCT not only for the frequent rain but also for protection in forests. We got dripped on a lot! Our Osprey ultralight raincovers haven’t let us down so far
  • The Sunshine Coast Trail isn’t just for hikers; it’s a wildlife route too. Elk, coyotes, cougars, bears and other animals live in the area. Black bears are more commonly seen than grizzly bears. Always make noise, be alert and carry bear spray in an easily accessible holster (and know how to use it!) 
  • Toilet paper!

Check out our Shop for more outdoor gear recommendations for adventures like this

JR hiking next to lake on Sunshine Coast Trail with green rainjacket, hiking poles and an Osprey backpack raincover
Our backpack covers came in handy, especially during the first few days of our Sunshine Coast Trail hike. This is Inland Lake

SCT Passport and Certificate of Completion

The SCT Passport is a fun way to record your journey on the SCT (thru-hiking or otherwise). It costs $5 and can be picked up at the Visitor Centre in Powell River.

To receive stamps, hikers must take a photo of themselves in front of each of the huts (Golden Stanley and Mount Troubridge Emergency Shelter excepted). On return to Powell River, hikers then go to each corresponding business and receive a unique stamp. 

Once all stamps are collected, the Visitor Centre will issue you a SCT Certificate of Completion!

Alternatively, you can also present the photos at the Visitor Centre and get a generic stamp for each hut. 

Front view of wooden Anthony Island hut
Anthony Island (Inland Lake) hut is one of the more basic Sunshine Coast Trail shelters

Where to stay

The Northern Sunshine Coast has a large choice and variety of places for hikers to stay before, after or even during their journey on the SCT. Choose between resorts, motels, cottages, campgrounds, guesthouses and even oceanside Airbnbs. 

Powell River is an ideal place to stay due the availability of accommodation, local facilities and central location.

We loved the Old Courthouse Inn, located in the Townsite district. Yep, it really is an old courthouse, but is completely renovated and each room has a unique theme. A freshly made hot (or cold, it’s your choice) breakfast is included for all guests. Townsite Brewing is also conveniently located just across the street. 

For free camping, check out Lois Lake Recreation Site. This rustic campground has 12 vehicle accessible spots and 4 walk-in sites. The path of the SCT actually travels right through here. 

Black and white Tudor style building
Old Courthouse Inn, Townsite
Townsite Brewing taps at bar
Townsite Brewing is a must visit during any visit to the Sunshine Coast!

Other things to do on the Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast Trail isn’t the only world class attraction on the Sunshine Coast! There are so many amazing things to do in this area, especially if you love the outdoors as much as we do. 

  • Accessible only via boat or helicopter, Princess Louisa Inlet is one of the most beautiful places I have been anywhere in the world. This magnificent fjord features huge granite walls and ends with a thundering waterfall. It’s even more impressive in the rain. Sunshine Coast Tours run five hour boat tours from Egmont
  • Another one of a kind attraction on the Sunshine Coast is the tidal rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. The powerful tide changes cause huge waves and whirlpools to form in the Narrows. It is exhilarating to watch, especially if any kayakers are trying to surf the waves!
  • If paddling is your forte, Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park offers fabulous ocean kayaking while the Powell Forest Canoe Route (visible from the SCT itself) is a satisfying lake hopping adventure
  • Back on land, you can find over 700km of bike trails. There are climbing opportunities too, as well as awesome rock climbing gyms in Townsite and Sechelt (plus a bouldering gym too!
  • The craft drinks scene is thriving on the Sunshine Coast, with four breweries, two distilleries and a cidery. Raise a glass to Persephone Brewing Company’s sustainability ethos on their beautiful 11 acre beer farm, watch the ocean from Tapworks‘ stunning patio and try the Belgian brewed beers at Townsite (patio coming in 2020!)
A waterfall cascades down granite fjord walls, surrounded by forest and mist
Princess Louisa Inlet is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been
desolation sound views gemma kayaking roscoe bay
Kayaking Desolation Sound, Sunshine Coast
A trio of tasting ciders on picnic bench at Bricker's Cider
A tasting flight at Bricker’s Cider near Sechelt

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The Sunshine Coast Trail is a magnificent free hut-to-hut hiking path in south-west British Columbia, Canada. The path takes in coastal scenery, lakes, waterfalls, old growth forest, mountain peaks and panoramic viewpoints. Click here for more info! offtracktravel.ca
The Sunshine Coast Trail is an incredible 180km hut-to-hut hiking route in south-west British Columbia, Canada. Click here for a full hiking guide with everything you need to know! offtracktravel.ca
The Sunshine Coast Trail is an incredible 180km hut-to-hut hiking route in south-west British Columbia, Canada. Click here to discover our own experience hiking the SCT plus a comprehensive planning guide so you, too, can organise your own adventure on this magnificent trail! offtracktravel.ca

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1 thought on “A Guide to Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, British Columbia”

  1. Thank you for this genuinely impressive article! We have been noodling the idea of hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail for two years, and have been hindered by the dearth of online information on the trail. I love the tremendous amount of info that you’ve packed into this article. I feel so much better informed!

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