Cycle Touring the Sunshine Coast
Area Rides & Campgrounds
The Sunshine Coast is the brilliant, narrow stretch of mainland BC coastline NW of Vancouver. It not only shares the same natural wonders - glorious seaside, a rugged interior and lots of summer sunshine - with Vancouver Island, but also shares a distinct vibe, as both areas can only be reached by ferries (no road connections to the rest of the province).
To top it off, there's a direct ferry connection linking Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast, Powell River to Comox (not far from my home in Courtenay).
Most of the rides on this website are on Vancouver Island, mostly because it is the much bigger area, with more roads to all corners. That said, there are a number of glorious rides on the Sunshine Coast. And be sure to check out one of the most popular cycle touring rides in SW BC, the Vancouver Island Sunshine Coast Loop.
Here's a pic from Saltery Bay Provincial Campground, a few kms east of the Saltery Bay ferry terminal along the north Sunshine Coast. Check out the swimmers at the lower right. Just near here, a 3m bronze mermaid holds underwater court for scuba divers along the ocean floor.
A little more on geography.
As the name suggests, the Sunshine Coast is a coastal region, with the towns and villages clinging to the coast, invariably situated around stunning bays and natural harbours. The same thing for the Sunshine Coast Highway (Hwy 101), a thread roughly paralleling the pocketed coastline, though mostly just inland beyond viewing distance.
There's also extensive backroads to explore. NE of Powell River is a grand hinterland of lakes, backroads and Rec campsites - including some remote canoe circuit camps, accessible via portage trails. Or, branch east off the north/south highway up to Earl's Cove, and you'll almost immediately be climbing to high altitude lakes and rugged interior parks.
For cycle tourists, riding up or down the Sunshine Coast Highway, particularly north through Earl's Cove, can be a good workout. The elevation never gets too high, but there's a succession of sharp little hills to make you earn your passage. Expect the Sunshine Coast to be a harder ride than up Vancouver Island.
Below is a summary map, with buttons for Fav Sunshine Coast rides and campgrounds. Look close and you'll see the ride buttons are blue with blue shading, and the campground buttons are green with green shading. The map ropes together a lot of content:
Under the map, the rides and the campgrounds are listed alphabetically, with links to the pages or summaries for each. This gives you a geographic overview of Sunshine Coast options you'll find within this website, and links to follow if you want.
Links below for buttons in above map - click to jump to pages with more detailed information. I've included the Texada Island links: because the Island is accessed via Powell River, many think of it as part of the Sunshine Coast (see also Gulf Isles Area).
Sunshine Coast Area Rides (blue buttons):
Lyon Lake Mt Hallowell Desecent. Backroads ride. Up behind Halfmoon Bay & Madeira Park.
Malaspina Peninsula. Fav ride for all. North from Powell River.
North to Sarah Point. Fav backroads ride. North from Powell River.
North to Theodosia. Fav backroads ride. North from Powell River
Powell River NE Lakes. Backroads ride. NE from Powell River.
Richardson Lake. Honourable Mention ride - backroads. NE from Sechelt.
Sechelt Overnighter. Fav ride for all. Langdale to Sechelt.
Texada Island North. Fav ride for all. Texada Island.
Texada Island Rough. Fav backroads ride. Texada Island.
Texada's Hidden NE Bays. Fav backroads ride. Texada Island.
Vancouver Island Sunshine Coast Loop. Fav ride for all. Van Isle & Sunshine Coast.
Sunshine Coast Area Campgrounds (green buttons):
- Giavanno Lake Trail Camps. Honourable mention camp, NE from Powell River.
- Khartoum Lake Rec Camp. Honourable mention camp. NE from Powell River.
- Okeover Arm Provincial Campground. Honourable mention camp. North from Powell River.
- Olsen's Landing Shoreline Camp. Fav campground. North from Powell River.
- Shingle Beach Rec Camp. Honourable mention camp. Texada Island.
- Smuggler Cove Provincial Marine Campground. (LATE 2020 ALERT: DAY USE AREA ONLY NOW - NO MORE CAMPING!)
- Texada's Hidden NE Bays. Honourable mention camps (4). Texada Island.
- Windsor Lake Rec Camp. Fav campground. NE from Powell River.
A view from the ferry between Saltery Bay & Earl's Cove, on a fine day for summer riding ... and sailing
One of the realities when visiting the Sunshine Coast is the need to take BC Ferries - there and back for most of us. I like BC ferries (some regular travellers really don't). On a bicycle you don't get caught in long line-ups, one can enjoy a relaxing break from riding (ice cream!), maybe meet other cycle tourists in season, and there's some fabulous scenic views, notably along the Earls Cove to Saltery Bay passage (above pic).
For more info on taking bikes onto BC ferries, have a look at FAQ here. If, like many coming from Vancouver, you'll be passing through Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver's ferry terminal), and could use a little more info on Horseshoe Bay, check this out.
A stretch of the incredible trail into Smuggler Cove Provincial Park, a tiny campsite, but worth the effort (see Fav campsite). The final access is via a well maintained 4km trail, much of it built up above an expanding. other-worldly wetlands.
When riding the Sunshine Coast highway, you'll be able to find all the comforts as you pass the occasional towns and villages - coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, B & Bs, some hotels or lodges, campgrounds, etc. Here's a useful link to Sunshine Coast Tourism. You'll find websites for the main towns: Gibson's Landing, Sechelt, Powell River, as well as some of the villages.
There's lots of fine camping. The best formal camping options along main, paved roads are at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park outside Sechelt, which has a walk-in area that can almost always take another cycle tenter, and Saltery Bay Provincial Park, a few kms west from the Saltery Bay terminal. There's also a nice Provincial Campground at Roberts Creek, though it is not seaside. I like Okeover Arm Provincial Park (see also above link to honourable mention camp), up the Malaspina Peninsula: the campsite is not really special, but there are cool surroundings. See also Dinner Rock Rec Camp, a little south of Lund. I also recommend Smuggler Cove, a favourite campground, though tiny and a little out of the way; Klein Lake Rec Camp, near Earl's Cove (a tough little climb to get in); Katherine Lake Regional campground, near Garden Bay; Haywire Bay & Inland Lake Provincial Park, just north from Powell River on a good dirt track road, are popular options; and, if you need to camp right in Powell River for a ferry connection, Willingdon Beach is a decent town campsite.
If you like the backroads, there's a host of Recreation, or basic forest campgrounds, you can check out. NE of Powell River is one of the geat hubs of Rec Camps anywhere. If you're into small, high elevation lakes, check out Lyon or Richardson Lake. Finally, there are also lots of private campgrounds.
I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight the world class trails along the Sunshine Coast. It's possible to ride and/or push a rough road bike along sections.
Here's a link to the Sunshine Coast Trail, a trekking and horseback riding trail from Sarah Point in Desolation Sound at the north of Malaspina Peninsula, south to Saltery Bay ferry terminal. An enormous project - 180 kms with lots of backpacking campsites. In 2015, the Trail was named by Outdoor magazine as one of the 50 best hikes in the world!
South from Earl's Cove, there's the Suncoaster Trail, a 37 km track along old backroads and local trails (see pic below), connecting lakes ands communities. At the north, the Trailhead is at the junction of Egmont road and the highway, just south of Earl's Cove. It ends at the intersection of Hwy 101 and Homesite Creek Forest Service Road near Halfmoon Bay. Check out this write up on the Klein Lake Cut, which follows a segment of the Suncoaster from behind Klein Lake down to Ruby Lake.
As noted beside the pic above, the cluster of lakes NE of Powell River is also home to the Powell Forest Canoe Circuit. There's lots of really neat portage trails into remote, tiny rec campsites (like Windsor Lake, a favourite). Many of these trails are possible to navigate on a bike - usually via a combination of riding and pushing (some, like Goat Lake, are too rough - steep! - to get a bike into).
Powerline track, which criss-crosses the SuncoasterTrail following the same general direction, east of the
Highway near Madeira Bay. I ran into elk a couple of times along this track.
Powell River, the anchor town in the north Sunshine Coast, is coming to grips with the relative decline of logging, although the mill remains open and you'll find active logging about. Local challenges are compounded by the relative remoteness, at least 2 ferry connections from Vancouver.
Like much of far-flung Vancouver Island, smaller communities, traditionally reliant on resource extraction, are struggling to reinvent themselves to attract outdoors oriented tourists, or retirees seeking cheaper property prices and a more moderate climate.
Every so often, one hears talk of building a land link road in to the Sunshine Coast, likely via Squamish, but projected costs are always too steep to rise to a government priority.
Here's some "off the highway" spots (above), in case you're interested and have some time. The top left shows Skookumchuck Narrows, one of the world's most furious tidal rapids, east from Earl's Cove near Egmont, reached by a final 4km trail (rideable - see Blog Post). Top right - a 'watcher' looking over the Suncoaster Trail and beyond to Ruby Lake & the Coast, from behind Klein Lake (check out add-on section for more). Bottom right - some company along a decommissioned old backroad near Mt Hallowell in Spipyus Provincial Park (see Fav backroads ride). Finally, bottom left - tiny Rec campsite along NE Ireland Lake, accessible only along portage trail, part of the Powell Forest Canoe Circuit, NE of Powell River (see Fav ride).
Local view point, just off the highway, a few kms east of Powell River on the road to Saltery Bay. We're looking SW over Malaspina Strait towards Texada Island.
Here's what I think of as the main riding areas within the larger Sunshine Coast.
Vancouver Island Sunshine Coast Loop - a backbone ride. Check out the Fav ride.
Langdale to Sechelt - a great stretch for those starting out bike touring or just looking for a relaxing place to explore, ride and camp. See Sechelt Overnighter Fav ride for more.
Climbing up east from the Sunshine Coast Highway - this largely starts north from Sechelt. If you're training for a major mountain tour, there's some fabulous options, notably Lyon Lake Mt Hallowell and Richardson Lake. The route up to Lyon Lake connects to other options like Crowston and Carlsson Lakes, Homesite Creek. There's lots more to explore in Spipyus and Tetrahedron Parks.
Up the coast north from Sechelt to Earls's Cove one finds a host of more comfortable options, including Smuggler Cove, Madeira Park area, Garden Bay area (Katherine Lake), Klein Lake and Egmont/Skookumchuck Narrows (see blog post).
Check out the Fav ride for lots more info on the fantastic cluster of lakes and backroads and rec camps NE of Powell River. And, if you need to chill out along the seaside, or just line up your ferry connection, don't miss Saltery Bay Provincial Park.
Finally, north from Powell River, there's the Malaspina Peninsula. Check out the Fav ride.
And check out this ride if you want to read more about nearby Texada Island.
From Porpoise Bay Provincial Campground, outside Sechelt. On top is the great walk-in tenting area (almost always room for cycle tenters). You can see the early morning wake-up crew making their rounds. Below is the beach at dusk (so-so for swimming; more of a children's beach)
Above, I've noted lots of options to get off the highway and see the backroads when riding the Sunshine Coast. But I do want to emphasize a less arduous and more laid back option right at the heart of this fine area.
You can do a fantastic (though still strenuous) ride by just following the Sunshine Coast Highway, making little side trips into the local towns, villages and campgrounds. This is a region that faces the ocean, and most every little place has an incredibly scenic marina or bay or cove, often with a few shops and seaside walkways (Lund, for example, has a great harbour boardwalk). In summer, if you arrive early at the Langdale ferry terminal, there's a little market of stalls along the side of the parking area, selling local goods, artisan works, and food treats.
The marina at Sechelt, at the SW corner of long, narrow Sechelt Inlet. Right beside here is the Lighthouse Pub, a fantastic dinner & kick-back option if you don't mind the 4km ride back to Porpoise Bay Campground. Or head into town proper where there are lots more restauant choices.
I'll finish this page off with one of my favourite photos, taken along NE Lois Lake, north of Saltery Bay, in April 2016. I'd love to hear the story about this one.