It’s been three long years since I last posted on my blog, so yes it’s been three very long years since I’ve gone on what I can call an adventure. But finally I put my priorities back on track and reintroduced my ass to a long lost friend: outdoor backpacking.
What better way to resurrect my dead blog and my soul with an epic 10 day backpacking trip! It’s the longest trip I’ve been on so far, and based on this experience I highly doubt I’ll be going on some extensive 6 month lone wolf backpacking trip from Canada to Mexico via Pacific Crest Trail any time soon.
Back in 2016 during my year of travel gallivants, my travel adventure husband Felix (jealous of my newfound freedom and making up for it by researching potential wild excursions) forwarded me a link to “50 Best Hikes in the World” that included this Sunshine Coast Trail. I opened it to find myself staring at a beautiful wooden cabin overlooking some vast valley with golden skies from the setting sun. I was midway through my travels that year having thru hiked the Nakahechi Pilgrimage trail in Japan, and already living my dream I quickly filed it away for “future adventures” and promptly forgot about it.
Forward to April 2019, in the midst of another life transition and feeling that itch of a brief yet sweet escape, I remembered the Sunshine Coast Trail. A local trip in ‘beautiful British Columbia’ appealed to both my senses and wallet since there are no fees to use the trail and camp! I had always wanted to visit the Sunshine Coast after living in Vancouver for more than a decade, and I finally got the chance. Felix and I committed to thru hiking the trail in May, and we begun our planning. I found it tricky to find complete information online for thru hikers, and using the official guidebook while super helpful is broken into many sections so it’s hard to get an overview.
So this post, Part 1, will be an overview of our trip, useful information and some top tips. Part 2 coming up, will detail the 10 days of our journey start to glorious finish.
Camping here reminded me what I love so much about backpacking: soaking up incredible views in nature without crowds of people – this was my favourite part of the whole trail. Read on to find out where it is!
- To get to the Sunshine Coast Trail from Vancouver, you can drive and take 2 ferries. One from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, and the second from Earl’s Cove to Saltery Bay. A return trip costs about $115 CAD which includes about $33 CAD in savings by using the BC Ferries Experience Card and pre-loading the card with a minimum of $95 CAD.
- Powell River is the main city you’ll pass through and Lund is a small village and harbour where you can take a boat to the start.
- It takes about 4.25hrs drive time from Vancouver to Powell River, and another 30mins to Lund. Stop in Powell River for more lunch options, and continue to Lund to definitely check out Nancy’s Bakery for their famous cinnamon buns.
- Most thru hikers start at Sarah’s Pt and move south towards the finish at Saltery Bay.
- You can get to Sarah’s Pt by chartering a boat from Lund or by 4×4 vehicle. We used Lund Water Taxi to get there and it cost us $200 CAD for 2. You do need to make a reservation, but they don’t need a deposit. Another option is Terracentric Coastal Adventures and they charge about the same for up to 4 people and they will charge a deposit.
- There is also the Sunshine Coast Shuttle – you can email them and ask for a quote.
The Sunshine Coast Connector bus waits at Earl’s Cove ferry terminal
Hiking Time & Difficulty
- It takes 10-12 days to comfortably finish the trail. We did it in 10 days, with the last day being short and sweet. To do it in less time would be pushing it with heavy packs; unless you’re one of those fly ultrahikers / ultrarunners / ultraultras then by all means forgo the hot food, trail comforts and enjoy less overall suffering time.
- Expect to hike between 5-8hrs per day. Distances will vary depending on where you choose to stop for the night, but our longest day was 22km and it took us about 8hrs including lunch and breaks.
- The total trail distance from start to finish is about 180km, and the total elevation gain is almost 6100m.
- The trail is extremely well marked, you’re unlikely to get lost. We didn’t bring a GPS with us, we just used our phones with a Canada topo map app we downloaded and added waypoints (find the GPX files below).
- Some sections were steep, but overall it didn’t feel technically difficult. Just long days hiking with heavy packs made it physically challenging, especially on the uphills and when we had to carry in water.
L: Follow the red tags on the trees to stay on the trail
R: One of the fantastic bridges built by the BOMB (Bored Old Men Brigade) Squad
I put together this table of our trip and where we spent each night on the trail. I have also included if our overnight location had cell reception.
So where was my favourite part of the trail where we bagged that incredible tent spot overlooking the valley and mountains below? That was the best camp spot at Walt Hill Hut. But FYI the tent pad is barely big enough to fit a 2 person tent.
I highly recommend buying a copy of the SCT official guidebook – we bought ours in Vancouver from Distance Runwear and you can also find it in MEC. The guidebook contains maps of all the trail sections, and if you can’t hike the whole trail at once, it’s shows you all the entry/exit points including GPS waypoints.
I thought this map of the SCT the most helpful for a general idea; this map was downloaded from another blog. I also found “Topo Maps Canada” app for free, and when you download the SCT Route and overnight waypoint flags you can open those files with the Map app and it will add the route and flags to your map.
Gear & Suggestions
- Be sure to pack your 10 essentials
- Things to add in your first aid kit
- Make sure you have moleskin and good bandaids! The moleskin that came with my first aid kit saved my feet big time.
- Pain killers in case the aches and pains bother you too much
- Antihistamines in case you get stung – I read some trip reports of people getting attacked by wasps on the trail. Luckily this didn’t happen to us but best to be prepared
- Bear Spray and Fox 40 whistle, a local told us it can sometimes scare unwanted attention from wildlife – we never had to use it for that purpose but always bring a whistle in general and the Fox 40 is super loud
- We did the trip in mid-May and the weather mixed between hot and sunny / chilly and wet. The weather can change very quickly in the mountains, always be prepared with warm clothes (even in summer) and make sure you use dry bags so nothing gets wet.
- We each used a 2L bladder and a 2L packable platypus bottle, for hiking during the day we only filled the bladders to save weight, and once we made camp we would fill everything from the creeks / lakes (note there’s no water source at Manzanita or Tin Hat).
- For water treatment we use Pristine CIO2 and I actually transfer the liquids to smaller glass dropper bottles because it’s much easier to use a dropper than the squeeze it out in the plastic bottles. I put the glass bottles in a plastic hardcase.
- There’s other options out there but I found this one to be a very lightweight solution, taste the least worst and kill the most nasty stuff. If you’ve got other suggestions let me know in the comments!
- For 2 people we used 1 large 450g and about half of 1 110g gas canister boiling about 6L of treated water daily (overall fuel consumption will also depend on how fuel and heat efficient your cooking system is).
- I charged my Iphone 6 and Sony A6000 camera with an Anker 10000mAh battery. Keeping my phone on airplane mode, but still using it to take photos and videos, and using my camera, the Anker battery still had 2 bars left by the end of the trip.
- A very dorky but highly effective bug hat / net (I don’t like putting bug spray on my face) – there are A LOT of flies and bugs and insects that will bite the crap out of you (especially the no see ums / sandflies & jurassic sized mosquitoes) on whatever exposed skin they can find.
- Gaiters so your legs / bottom of your pants don’t get all muddy
- Hiking poles really help with the steep sections of uphill / downhill
- There’s a fine balance between bringing too much which makes for a very heavy pack or bringing too little for the sake of shaving weight and being unprepared. Remember the 10 essentials at least and everything else really is personal preference
All the items I brought and carried in my pack. Felix carried our food and cooking stuff. My pack weighed about 17kg with 2L of water, and Felix carried about 25kg in the start but this got lighter as we chowed down on our supplies.
Food & Suggestions
- Pack food that does not have strong scents (ie. tuna, bacon, etc.) and try use odour proof bags to contain smells and not attract bears / critters
- We’re vegetarian and I mostly follow a plant based diet so the food recommendations here are plant based
- Breakfast was oatmeal with dried blueberries and we used Laird Superfood Creamer to make our oatmeal nice and creamy
- Lunch was a calorie dense Probar Meal, some Triscuit crackers and Noble Jerky for that salty goodness
- Dinner was either couscous or polenta with dried veggies we bought from Bulk Barn and seasoned with a generous heaping of salt and pepper
- 4 emergency ramen portions – which we devoured on days 6 & 7
- My favourite Prana trail mix for snacks – if anyone has suggestions for a lighter calorie dense option let me know!
- It’s easiest to portion every meal especially for long trips so we used ziplock bags. I admit the zero waste advocate inside me is dying but we’ll wash and reuse these bags as much as we can for our trips
- Pack lightweight food that takes minimal cooking time to save on fuel – make your meals soupy to avoid burning pots
- Use biodegradable soap and a pot scraper to minimize cleanup
- We didn’t come across any bears (thank goodness), but be sure to hang your food to avoid rodents getting in – there are quite a few in the huts
The view from the jetty of Elk Lake Hut tucked between the trees
Other Info & Useful Links
- The huts and camp sites are completely FREE to use on the Sunshine Coast Trail, which I find incredible. The overall quality of the huts and hiking trails were amazing, and I recommend making a donation to PAWS (Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society) to help volunteers continue all the amazing work they’re doing!
- If you have time, stop by Powell River Visitor Information Centre where you can see a cool 3D map of the SCT, speak with the super helpful staff, and get other maps and resources.
- If you’re a sucker for collecting ink stamps like me, for every hut you visit, take a selfie and then show the staff at the Visitor Centre – you can get a SCT Passport for $5 and they’ll stamp it with the stamp for that specific hut. Fun!
I was very happy to see no trash on the trail, and the huts were generally well kept and clean. Let’s keep it this way and always practice Leave No Trace.
Now that all the nitty gritty is out of the way, get ready for Part 2 coming soon which will cover our 10 day journey!
One of the sunny days and views from the trail, but it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns… Read Part 2 which covers our 10 day journey on the SCT
Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my experience and is my opinion. While I’ve provided all the information to try and be helpful, it doesn’t replace you doing your own research and making smart decisions based on your overall levels of experience and fitness. Stay safe and have fun out there!
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