What is the Sunshine Coast Trail?
The Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) is Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail. It’s a point-to-point thru hike trail (not a loop) on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in southwestern British Columbia. The trail stretches the entire length of the Sunshine Coast section farthest from Vancouver – from Sarah Point in Desolation Sound (farthest tip past Lund) to Saltery Bay (landing point from Egmont ferry). See map below for reference.
Done in sections as day hikes, or in its entirety as a multi-day backpacking (or fast-packing or trail running) trip, exploring the Sunshine Coast Trail should definitely be on your radar if it’s not already. It is a very beautiful and such a unique experience we are so lucky to have at our doorstep.
As of writing in February 2021, there are 14 huts along the trail, all of which are “first-come, first-sleep” aka not reservable.
Each one has a sleeping area in an enclosed loft area up a ladder above the kitchen/lounge area, which is just a big open room where everyone just sleeps on the unfinished wooden floor. Each hut is different but typically can sleep from a few people up to about 8-10. See the Sunshine Coast Trail website for the capacity of each.
Many huts have areas outside suitable to pitch a tent, as well as some with established campsites nearby in case the hut is full when you arrive.
Hut availability is hard to predict, so you absolutely must bring all camping gear and be prepared to tent. Like all hiking trails, huts will be busiest during the height of the summer, around long weekends and sunny warm weather. Plan accordingly. I suggest keeping a small group size. Groups of 8+ are not permitted in the huts and must camp. Priority for hut space is to thru-hikers over shorter trip travelers. Please be respectful.
Huts names are: Manzanita Hut, Rieveley’s Pond Hut, Inland Lake West Hut, Inland Lake-Anthony Island Hut, Confederation Lake Hut (pictured below), Fiddlehead Landing Hut, Tin Hat Hut, Elk Lake Hut, Walt Hill Hut, Golden Stanley Hut, Troubridge Hut, Troubridge Emergency Shelter, Rainy Day Lake Hut, Fairview Bay Hut.
The huts are so very generously made and maintained by the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PAWS) and users, and as such do not require any sort of permits or payments. Please show your support by always leaving huts in better condition than you found them, and donating generously to PAWS (I suggest at minimum what you would pay for a fee-based hut ie $20+ per person per night).
Three of the higher elevation huts are winterized, making the Sunshine Coast Trail accessible year around. Many however are open to the elements with only 3 walls, but note those do have a mostly-enclosed sleeping area up top which will protect you from wind and rain but sleeping in a tent would still be warmer. Learn more about each of the huts here. Pictured below are the Rievely’s Pond, Manzanita, and Golden Stanley huts (all three-walled and open concept).
None of the huts have sleeping pads/mats so make sure you bring your own for warmth and comfort. Many of the huts, especially the winterized ones, have lots of stuff for communal use like pots, s&p, candles, but this changes with use so don’t rely on it. Most of that stuff is for emergency use (especially anything edible – there was pasta etc) so please leave for those in desperate need – it’s not there for your convenience. Similarly, do not leave anything perishable as you never know when the next time someone will be there and if they’ll want/need it so you’re just creating a nuisance for someone to pack it out. Many huts do have fun things like playing cards, books, board games, and a guest book. Please use respectfully.
My favourite huts in order of preference: Walt Hill, Tin Hat, and Fairview. The views from Walt Hill and Tin Hat are simply unparalelled. They are both fully enclosed and winterized, making for a cozy experience too. Fairview is oceanfront. And I mean, who doesn’t love falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing?
Read more about backcountry shelters near Vancouver in my blog post here.
My Trip/Route Details
I hiked the entire length of the Sunshine Coast Trail. It was the longest backpacking trip I’ve ever done, and still it to this day (after my five-day trek through Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park). I backpacked it throughout a 9.5 day trip (8.5 days of hiking plus a half day travel each way). I found that it was a perfect amount of time. I could have hiked more kms on some days to save a couple days but I really enjoyed the extra time some mornings to sleep in a bit, and afternoons to have an extra long lunch at the beach or a lake swim, etc.
The published information about the trail says it’s supposed to be 180km but my Garmin Fenix3 HR watch with Glonass satellite tracked it being a total of 165.54km with 8,023 metres of cumulative elevation gain.
Click on the map below to see the location of all the huts and campsites along the Sunshine Coast Trail. For a closer look at various sections to see the locations of huts/campsites by kilometre marker to help with planning etc, click here.
Below are the stats of what I actually did. Note that my actual route changed from my plan quite a bit based on group members needs and wants, weather, and misinformation about distances and elevation gains from my research. So be prepared! I made what I thought was a very detailed and thorough plan, which involved staying in huts every night but we ended up having to change the destinations and tent a couple of times due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances.
Day 1 – caught the ferry in the evening after work from Horeshoe Bay to Langdale, drove to the Earl’s Cove ferry and sailed to Saltery Bay on the last sailing and camped at the Saltery Bay Campground near the ferry and shuttle pickup spot (overnight car parking lot).
Day 2 – 7am Shuttle pickup from Saltery Bay. 1.5 hour drive to Sarah Point.
Hiked Sarah Point to Manzanita Hut – 16.85km, 949m gain
Day 3 – Manzanita Hut to Silammon Lake Campsite – 23.72km, 980m gain
Day 4 – Silammon Lake to Anthony Island Hut – 27.05km, 906m gain
Day 5 – Anthony Island Hut to Tin Hat Hut – 21.82km, 1,875m gain
Day 6 – Tin Hat Hut to Elk Lake Hut – 16.57km, 574m gain
Day 7 – Elk Lake Hut to Walt Hill Hut – 12.98km, 615m gain
Day 8 – Walt Hill Hut to Golden Stanley Hut – 19km to 470m gain
Day 9 – Golden Stanley Hut to Fairview Bay Hut – 21.58km to 1,301m gain
Day 10 – Fairview Bay Hut to Saltery Bay – 5.97km, 353m gain
4 hour journey home.
Note the Sunshine Coast Trail was designed to be hiked north to south (Sarah Point to Saltery Bay). The maps and guidebook and signage is all written that way. Of course that doesn’t make it mandatory.
Some things I learned while hiking/tips for you/things I liked and disliked etc.
- If you’re planning on camping at Silammon Lake, hike the extra 2km to camp at Little Sliammon Lake instead. It is SO much nicer. It has a beautiful little lake with dock and canoe, an adorable lean-to and more.
- Don’t underestimate anything, like the weather, the difficulty level of the trail, etc. Make sure you and everyone in your group is well-prepared. Our plan changed a lot. One group member had to leave because she got really bad heatstroke and we didn’t have cell signal to call for help (she made it safely out thanks to some friendly hikers who had a bike and boat to assist), despite my being an avid hiker I got a really bad pain in my thigh and knee which I was able to manage with the help of the experienced trail runners I was with who coached me through the muscle overuse issue, etc.
- Beer + backpacking = not the best idea. We stopped at the Shinglemill Pub for lunch (the only time the trail travels through civilization) and we had a beer to celebrate. It was lovely at the time but it was only halfway along our day’s journey and it made me so tired and dehydrated and was just the worst decision ever LOL
- The distance markers around the Anthony Island hut were way off. I can’t remember exactly, but the hut was something hugely different, like 4km extra which felt like a lot on a 27km backpacking day!
- So many of the huts and campsites have incredible views and features. Don’t miss out on the experience by arriving too late in the evening and leaving early in the morning. Make sure you plan for some time to enjoy, ie a lake swim, cup of tea taking in the view before having to make dinner, etc.
- Earplugs and a mosquito net would have been amazing. I forgot to bring my earplugs and the various sounds (wind, mice, people snoring etc) kept me awake sometimes and every hour of quality sleep is SO important when you’re tackling such a physically exhausting journey. Most huts are not airtight and mosquitoes get in easily. They are super annoying to listen to (also good reason for ear plugs!) and even worse to wake up to a bite on your face!
When Should I Hike it?
That depends on you, your experience, fitness level, and level of resilience. Weather on the south coast is all over the place, and each season has it pros and cons.
I hiked it in the middle of May in 2019 and we did not encounter any snow until the very top of Mt. Troubridge but it was just a little bit for a short section. Like with Spring on the West Coast, the weather that time of year is unpredictable. We had some sunny cold days, some sunny hot days that gave us heatstroke, some rainy warm days, some torrential cold days.
Some friends who did it a couple weeks prior to us were waist deep in snow and couldn’t make it that far.
Other friends did it in summer and had a hard time finding enough water.
In the dead of winter, you’re traveling through some avalanche terrain.
Pick your poison based on your individual level. If you’re not an experienced outdoorsperson, I’d say mid or late June are the safest bets if you’re planning on hiking the entire route or any of the higher elevation huts.
Read more about how to find current trail conditions in this blog post.
How do I get there?
It is not public transit-accessible from Vancouver. You will need a vehicle at minimum to get you to the Egmont ferry (to drive from Langdale to Egmont). Or you could fly from Vancouver to Powell River with Pacific Coastal Airline and find your way from there.
My group of four decided on the most economical route which was to carpool in a single vehicle, park it at Saltery Bay, and pay for a vehicle shuttle (the Sunshine Coast Shuttle – run by Jesse who is a super nice guy!!) to bring us to the farthest point to begin our hike at Sarah Point and end our hike back at our car.
Other options are taking two vehicles and leaving one at each end. You need to consider however that the area near Sarah Point requires 4×4 with high clearance so both vehicles need to be offroad-capable. Also, you have to spend the extra time driving all the way back there to recover the vehicle, and back again (1.5 hours each way).
Other alternatives are taking the Lund Water Taxi or a water taxi with Terra Centric from Lund to Sarah Point, which is a lovely scenic boat ride. It’s more pricey and requires extra driving if you’re hiking the whole route as Lund is more than 3/4 of the way from Saltery Bay to Sarah Point.
Lund is beautiful tiny town and the jumpoff to Desolation Sound, such as Savary Island – see my guide to Savary Island here!)
To get to Saltery Bay to catch the shuttle from there, drive to Horseshoe Bay and catch the BC Ferries ferry to Langdale (a 40 minute sailing). From the Langdale ferry terminal, drive 1.5 hours to the Earl’s Cove ferry. Take that ferry for a 50 minute sailing to Saltery Bay. Catch the shuttle near here (or elsewhere as arranged).
Save money on travel by getting an Experience Card for BC Ferries
& Navigation Resources
To create your plan, visit sunshinecoast-trail.com first. It is the best place with almost all of the information you’ll need including printable maps (though I highly urge you to get the big map and guide book “The Sunshine Coast Trail” by Eagle Walz from the Powell River Tourism Office).
Unless you have a GPX/kml track you can upload and follow, Gaia GPS with the Backroad Mapbooks and Gaia Topo layers and Avenza Maps were the best apps to electronically navigate this trail. There is very little cell signal along the trail (comes in an out in various places) so make sure you download maps for offline navigation before leaving for your trip.
You can see my highlight on Instagram here for more insight into what the trail is like. Videos, photos and screenshots of the gps tracks for each day.
I’m asked many questions about this trail so here are the ones I find coming up again and again that may not be covered or very clear in the above information.
There is water along most of the trail via creeks and lakes, except some high mountain summits where drinking water access is limited to snow and puddles. The SCT guidebook has tips about where to find water along the trail. Look at various maps for creeks etc so you can plan.
To filter my water, I use a Katadyn BeFree Microfilter with attached hydrobag. Got it from MEC. It’s the best. It’s a lightweight, compactable water bottle with built-in filter that’s super easy to access and use quickly while on the go hiking. I also bring my Platypus GravityWorks filter system to hold and a larger amount of water.
There are lots of places you can park for free. I chose to pay for parking in a monitored lot just in case as it was pretty cheap ($5/day I think) and we were leaving our vehicle for a long time and didn’t want to risk coming back to a stolen or vandalized vehicle. I don’t remember the name but it’s right beside the big signboard of the trail start/end in Saltery Bay. There is a box to leave cash for the parking in an envelope and form to put in your dash. See more parking options here.
I carried all of my food for the entire trip with no problem. My pack was heavy (60L pack was about 50lbs to start) but it was manageable. It got lighter and lighter as the days went on (as I ate food). Most of my food was dehydrated so very light. You can read more about my favourite backpacking meals here.
Some people decide to get resupplied partway through. Either hiding a cache, having a friend drop it off, or paying for a service. You can store items at the Singlemill (which is about halfway, and we just stopped there for a patio lunch and beer and it was lovely) or have the Sunshine Coast Shuttle deliver to you at various spots (or even have a BBQ meal ready and waiting for you! They also rent gear if you need it). I found the service a bit too pricey when I inquired so I couldn’t justify it but every ounce counts for some people so the option is there if you’re concerned about carrying weight or want a titch of luxury.
ARE DOGS ALLOWED?
Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they are NOT ALLOWED IN HUTS. So if you want to bring a pup along, you will have to tent with them, or they will have to sleep outside even if you’re staying in the hut.
ARE HUTS HEATED?
Some are, some aren’t. Some are insulated with fireplaces that may or may not work. Learn more here, and be prepared to spend the night without heat if need be.
WHAT IS HUT ETIQUETTE?
Shared wilderness huts are for enjoying wilderness. They are not for loud, rambunctious parties. To each their own, but those there for quiet enjoyment of nature take priority, even if it’s your stag or birthday or whatever. If that’s you, make sure you’re willing to respect the shared space, or else go somewhere you can reserve for your group only. If no one else is around, go ahead and party, play your music, etc, but not if you’re sharing the space with others. If there are others present, it is a respectful rule of thumb that quiet time is between 11pm – 7am.
Use firewood sparingly and replace before leaving. It takes a lot of effort and cost to fly in supplies like wood and are for emergencies only. A limited supply is meant to last the whole winter to keep people from being too cold. It’s not meant to burn all day and night when not needed.
Campfires are allowed as long as there is not a Provincial or regional fire ban in effect. Use existing fire pits and dead wood only. Ensure that your campfire is completely extinguished before leaving a site and cold to the touch.
There are pit toilets at the huts and at some campsites throughout the trail system. Bring your own toilet paper as there is rarely any stocked.
There is incredible diversity of wildlife on the Sunshine Coast. Take some time to learn and appreciate all about it so humans and wildlife can peacefully co-exist. There are black bears and cougars so you need to be informed and prepared so you understand that 99.999% of the time, they want to do you no harm, it is an honour to view them in their natural habitat (you are a visitor in their home so it is you who must be respectful), but you do need to know how to be prepared, how to prevent encounters if you wish to do so, and how to properly react if you do encounter wildlife. Learn more at wildsafebc.com and North Shore Black Bear Society.
Leave No Trace
Lastly, make sure that for this and every trail you hike that you always practice Leave No Trace Principles to ensure you are respectful to others, nature and wildlife. Learn more at leavenotrace.ca
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