Follow the Sun to British Columbia
From Saltery Bay to Desolation Sound, far-western Canada’s Sunshine Coast welcomes RVers to spectacular scenic beaches, ancient forests and 280 sunny days a year
No question about it, RVers love sunshine. It’s the primary reason so many Northerners head south during winter, including Canadians like us. Since U.S. regulations limit Canadians’ south-of-the-border time to six months, many of us like to return to our home country to spend summer in our favorite locales.
Each region has its own special allure, from the majestic Canadian Rockies to the windswept prairies and the craggy coastlines of the Maritimes. My wife, Sandy, and I, full-time RVers for the past six years, have chosen the Upper Sunshine Coast of British Columbia as our personal favorite — not because the sun shines brightly for 280 days a year, although there’s that, to be sure. This hidden treasure offers so much more than just blue skies and a comfortable climate.
British Columbia’s 100-mile coastline north of Vancouver, known as the Sunshine Coast, is divided into two geographical regions, the Lower and Upper Coasts. To get to the more northerly Upper Sunshine Coast, board one of the BC Ferries at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver for a scenic cruise to Langdale. Then follow Highway 101 along the Lower Sunshine Coast to Earls Cove, where you’ll board a ferry for another spectacular cruise to Saltery Bay.
You’re now on the Upper Sunshine Coast, total travel time about four hours. From there, a half-hour’s drive takes you to the town of Powell River — called the Pearl of the Sunshine Coast, and rightly so. RVers can also reach Powell River by boarding a ferry to Vancouver Island, driving north along the island’s idyllic eastern shore and taking a ferry from Comox across the Strait of Georgia.
Part of Powell River’s appeal, in addition to its remoteness, is its natural beauty, seaside ambience and the friendly folks who call it home. If you travel with a destination in mind, put this increasingly popular gem on your must-visit list.
Powell River Townsite
Thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in 1792, this area of coastal British Columbia was home to the Tla’amin First Nation, whose rich heritage continues today, evidenced by totem poles, native art and an active indigenous community. A generous supply of old-growth forests and a deep-water harbor provided the impetus for establishing a lumber and paper mill here in 1908. In its heyday, the facility was the largest pulp and paper mill in the world.
Standardized housing in this planned community was made available to the initial employees in a grid fashion on the nearby hillside. Statelier homes for managers overlooked the mill and Georgia Strait. Recreational venues were constructed, including a baseball diamond, golf course, tennis courts, a lawn bowling green and the Patricia Theatre, which, according to the Townsite Heritage Society, is the oldest operating movie theater in Canada.
The self-guided walking tour of this recently declared National Historic District is a step back in time. All of the nearly 400 buildings have maintained their early 20th-century character. Some, such as the Old Courthouse Inn and Rodmay Heritage Hotel, display artifacts and antiques recalling days gone by.
Today, most of Powell River’s 15,000 residents live in several adjacent communities, separated from the initial townsite by a magnificent forest. The mill itself is now devoted exclusively to papermaking and currently employs fewer than 400 workers.
Although attempts have been made to diversify the local economy, Powell River has become more of a retirement haven, especially for those who enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, boating and fishing. But it is also a haven for artists, musicians and craftsmen, as well as a venue for joyful festivals celebrating such regional themes as blackberries and prawns.
Hiking and Biking
Stop by the Powell River Visitor Centre at 4760 Joyce Avenue to pick up information on local activities as well as a map of hiking trails, many of which are suitable for mountain biking. If you enjoy hiking through wooded glens, here are a few we recommend, all well maintained and easily accessible.
From Willingdon Beach Campsite (see “Camping on the Upper Sunshine Coast” on the opposite page), a level trail leads north along the shoreline through a forest of gigantic western red cedar, Douglas fir and broad leaf maple. Interpretative signs and a variety of early logging machines, including a steam-powered winch called a steam donkey, are located alongside the trail.
After a kilometer or so — that’s about two-thirds of a mile for you Americans — the trail branches off onto a gravel road leading down to a staging area for the mill. Here a string of five World War II ships linked end to end provides temporary refuge for barges of wood chips used to make pulp for papermaking. Cavorting sea lions can often be seen lounging on a log boom or rock breakwater, bellowing for available mates.
Directly across the highway from Willingdon Beach, several trails meander uphill under a mature forest canopy to the town’s recreation complex, which offers various activities to the public, including swimming, exercise classes, pickleball, weightlifting and theatrical productions.
A short drive past the curling rink is the trailhead for a mostly uphill hike to Valentine Mountain with overlooks of the mill and Georgia Strait on the front side and Powell Lake on the backside. If you enjoy geocaching, a well-hidden cache can be found partway up the trail. And if you’re really into geocaching, about 50 caches are hidden within a few miles of Powell River.
Inland Lake, a short drive from the city, has a wheelchair-accessible trail that circles the lake, with several picnic areas and swimming beaches along the way. This scenic 8-mile trail is popular with bikers and hikers and well worth the 4-mile drive on a gravel road to get there.
For serious hikers, the 112-mile Sunshine Coast Trail begins at Saltery Bay and traverses a variety of landscapes from sparkling lakes and streams to coastal shorelines and mountain peaks, terminating north of the hamlet of Lund. Shelters and huts in strategic locations, together with some bed-and-breakfast inns, are available so hikers don’t have to carry tents. For us less ambitious folks, portions of the trail are easily accessible for day hikes.
Boating and Fishing
Powell River has two marinas, and Lund, just 20 miles to the north, has another. Scenic dinner cruises to Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park can be taken out of Lund, as can guided raft and kayak tours to experience the marine life and remote splendor of coastal British Columbia.
If you prefer to explore on your own, kayaks and canoes can be rented in both Lund and Powell River. If qualified, you can even charter a sailboat or power yacht out of Powell River for extended cruising. Houseboats may be rented near the mill on pristine Powell Lake, which has more than 180 miles of shoreline with scenic coves, verdant mountains, waterfalls and streams — it’s a little like RVing but on the water.
If you enjoy fishing, many of the nearby lakes provide anglers with an opportunity to catch rainbow or cutthroat trout. Several outfitters in Powell River rent boats with outboards, or you may wish to cast a fly in one of the many streams downhill from the lakes. If you’re thinking salmon, cod, crab or prawns, several companies provide seaworthy boats and knowledgeable guides to ensure your dinner includes fresh seafood.
Arts and Culture
Be sure to stop by Powell River’s Open Air Market, a lively weekend spot selling locally grown produce, baked goods, honey, soap, crafts and a variety of original handcrafted items. If you’re looking for that perfect painting, weaving, carving, piece of pottery or printed T-shirt, duck into one of several galleries in Powell River or Lund.
If you visit in late summer, don’t miss the Blackberry Festival (August 15, 2014) with fireworks and all things made from local blackberries, and the Sunshine Music Festival (August 30 through 31, 2014), with entertainment styles from rock to blues to reggae.
And, of course, there are lots of cultural events planned in various Sunshine Coast communities all year long. For a full list of regional events, visit www.sunshinecoastcanada.com.
A fellow who had moved to Powell River a few years ago told me: “I attend more activities here in a month than I did in Vancouver in a year!”
Whether you like to laze about and enjoy the scenery or get out and explore, the choices are plentiful on the Upper Sunshine Coast, our favorite place to spend the summer.
Camping on the Upper Sunshine Coast
The 35 miles of Highway 101 between Saltery Bay and Lund has at least a half-dozen commercial RV campgrounds and a handful of provincial and regional parks suitable for RVs. Reservations are highly recommended during July, August and holiday weekends.
Garnet Rock Oceanside Resort, Powell River
A favorite campground of ours is Garnet Rock Oceanside Resort, 10 minutes south of downtown Powell River. Beautifully landscaped grounds incorporate full-service sites that back onto Malaspina Strait, a busy waterway for marine traffic and wildlife. Be sure to check out Wispy Trail, a circuitous path that leads from the campground through towering trees and waist-high ferns, marked by neatly arranged rocks and squirrel feeders. Golfers appreciate the 18-hole Myrtle Point Golf Course, just a nine-iron away.
604-487-9535 | www.garnetrockrv.com
Inland Lake Provincial Park, Powell River
Part of the BC Parks system, the Inland Lake campground has 22 tree-shaded campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Kent’s Beach Cabins and Campsites, Powell River
True to its name, this place is right on the beach. It has both dry campsites and sites with partial hookups, a washroom with hot showers and a laundry room.
604-487-9386 | www.kentsbeach.com
Okeover Arm Provincial Park, Powell River
Located 4 miles southeast of Lund, this small rustic campground is within walking distance of one of our favorite restaurants, the Laughing Oyster (604-483-9775, www.laughingoyster.ca), offering fine dining and captivating views of Okeover Inlet.
Saltery Bay Provincial Park, Saltery Bay
On Mermaid Cove, this provincial campground offers 42 RV sites under a forested canopy.
800-689-9025 | www.discovercamping.ca
Seabreeze Resort, Powell River
An easy stroll from the shore, Seabreeze provides full-hookup
RV sites, free Wi-Fi, a laundry room and washrooms.
604-487-9534 | www.seabreezeresortbc.com
SunLund by-the-Sea, Lund
The only RV park in the village of Lund, SunLund has 35 slideout-friendly RV sites with full hookups and free Wi-Fi.
604-483-9220 | www.sunlund.ca
Willingdon Beach Campsite, Powell River
Another one of our favorite RV parks, Willingdon Beach offers sites with full and partial hookups in a natural setting. Here you can back your rig next to a sandy beach and enjoy magenta sunsets silhouetting the ragged snowcapped mountains of Vancouver Island. Porpoises, seals and whales can be observed in the Georgia Strait, while bald eagles and seabirds soar overhead. In the fall, schools of salmon return from the ocean to spawn in two freshwater streams that flow through the campground. Quaint shops, art galleries, ethnic eateries, miniature golf, a bowling alley and two museums related to forestry and local history are only a short walk from the campground.
604-485-2242 | www.willingdonbeach.ca
Y-Knot Camp and Charter, Powell River
On the banks of Okeover Inlet, 4 miles southeast of Lund, Y-Knot offers rustic campsites.
604-483-3243 | www.yknot.ca