This memorable destination offers more than just sunshine ….
No question about it, RVers love sunshine, the primary reason so many of us Canadians head south during the winter months. Since US regulations limit our time in the sunny south to six months, most of us return to Canada to spend summer in our favourite locales. Each area of Canada has its own special allure from the majestic Rocky Mountains, to the wind swept prairies, to the craggy coastlines of the Maritimes. My wife Sandy and I, full-timers for the past six years, have chosen the Upper Sunshine Coast of British Columbia as our personal favourite. Not because the sun shines brightly for 280 days a year. Oh, there’s that to be sure — but this hidden treasure offers so much more than just sunshine.
British Columbia’s 160-kilometre coastline north of Vancouver, known at the “Sunshine Coast,” is divided into two geographical regions, the Lower and the Upper Coast. To get to the Upper Sunshine Coast, board a BC Ferry at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver for a scenic cruise to Langdale. Then follow Highway 101 along the Lower Sunshine Coast to Earl’s Cove where you’ll board another 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 Powell River, “The Pearl of the Sunshine Coast.” Part of this city’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.
Thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in 1792, this area of coastal BC was home to Sliammon First Nation whose rich heritage continues today, evidenced by totem poles, native art, an indigenous community, and involvement in community activities. A generous supply of old-growth forests and a deep-water harbour provided the impetus for establishing a lumber and paper mill here in 1910 that eventually employed nearly 3000 workers. Standardized housing 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 theatre in BC. A 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 Townsite by a magnificent forest. The Mill itself, the oldest in Canada, is now devoted exclusively to papermaking and currently employs less 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 camping, 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 beloved themes as music, blackberries, and prawns.
The 60 kilometres of Highway 101 between Saltery Bay and the hamlet of Lund on the upper end of this coast has at least a half dozen campgrounds suitable for RVs, many more if you just want to pitch a tent. Reservations are highly recommended during the busy summer months, especially July and August, and long weekends.
One of our favourites, Willingdon Beach Municipal Campground within Powell River, offers sites with full and partial hookups in a natural park setting. Here, you can back your rig next to a sandy beach, sit back and enjoy magenta sunsets, silhouetting the ragged, snow-capped mountains of Vancouver Island. Occasional 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 fresh-water streams that flow through the campground. And it’s conveniently located, only a short walk to quaint shops, art galleries, ethnic eateries, miniature golf, a bowling alley, and two museums related to forestry and local history.
Another favourite campground of ours is Garnet Rock Oceanside Resort, just ten minutes south of the city. Beautifully landscaped grounds incorporate full-service sites that back onto the Malaspina Strait, a busy waterway for marine traffic and wildlife. Be sure to check out Whispy 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 will appreciate the 18-hole professionally designed Myrtle Point Golf Course, just a nine iron away.
Hiking and Biking
Stop by the Visitor Information Centre in Powell River and 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 would recommend, all well maintained and easily accessible.
From Willingdon Beach Campground, a level trail heads 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, such as a Steam Donkey and Pole Wheel Wagon, are located beside the trail. After a kilometre or so, it branches off onto a gravel road, leading down to a staging area for the Mill. Here a string of five WWII 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 are several trails that meander uphill under a mature forest canopy to the Recreation Complex, which offers various activities to the public, including swimming, exercise classes, pickle ball, 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 on the back-side, Powell Lake. If you enjoy Geocaching (www.geocaching.com), a well-hidden cache can be found partway up the trail. And if you really enjoy Geocaching, about fifty caches are hidden within a few kilometers of Powell River.
Inland Lake, another short drive from the city, offers campsites and a wheelchair-accessible trail that encircles the lake, with several picnic areas and swimming beaches along the way. This 13-kilometre trail is very popular with bikers and hikers, well worth the seven-kilometer drive on a gravel road to get there.
For serious hikers, the 180-kilometre 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 Lund. Shelters and huts in strategic locations together with some B&B’s 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
Two marinas are located in Powell River and another in Lund just 30 kilometers north. Scenic dinner cruises to Desolation Sound, BC’s largest marine park, can be taken out of Lund, as can guided zodiac and kayak tours to allow you to experience the marine life and remote splendor of coastal BC. Or 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 sailing or power yacht out of Powell River for extended cruising. Houseboats can be rented near the Mill on pristine Powell Lake, which has over 300 kilometres of shoreline with scenic coves, verdant mountains, waterfalls, and streams – a little like RVing but on the water.
If you enjoy fishing, many of the nearby lakes provide anglers 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 numerous 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
If you’re looking for that perfect painting, weaving, carving, piece of pottery, or printed t-shirt, stop into one of several galleries in Powell River or Lund, or contact independent artists directly in their studios. For festivals, don’t miss the Spot Prawn Festival (May or June) for more prawns to eat more ways; the International Choral Kathaumixw (July), a bi-annual gathering of choirs from around the world; the Blackberry Festival (August) with fireworks and all things made from local blackberries; and the Sunshine Music Festival (September) with entertainment styles from rock to blues to reggae. Equally as much fun is Powell River’s Open Air Market, a country-style market selling fresh, locally grown produce, home baking, honey, soap, crafts, and a variety of original items hand-crafted by local artisans.
And of course there are lots of cultural events planned in various community settings, too numerous to mention. 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!” There is much to do on the Upper Sunshine Coast: laze about and enjoy the scenery, or get out and explore – the choices are plentiful and varied, memories in the making. Visit the Upper Sunshine Coast and you’ll see why it’s our favourite Canadian locale to spend the summers.