I didn’t know much about Strathcona Provincial Park before we decided to visit, but after a google search I quickly arrived at the conclusion that Landslide Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Vancouver Island isn’t really known for its mountains. Even though I know the island has mountains, it’s always the coastal hikes that come to mind when I think of the island, so I was keen to do Landslide Lake and explore some of the more mountainous regions.
We spent the first night car camping and got up early to hit the Landslide Lake trail. It’s right off the highway on the way to Gold River. It was a weekday in mid September, so there were a lot more cars in the parking lot than we were expecting. It seemed several large groups had camped up there overnight, but most of them were exiting the trail as we were hiking in.
It’s not a challenging trail. It starts with a short uphill climb before leveling out along Elk River. It is mostly uphill, with some slightly technical sections, but overall not a difficult trail. It just feels long. It’s around 7km to the first campsite at Butterwort Flats, which is located next to the river but primarily in the trees, then it’s another 3km to Upper Gravel Bar Campsite, which is where we were planning to stay. It took us around 3 hours at a pretty brisk pace to reach the campsite.
There was no one there when we arrived, so we set up our tent along the river and had lunch. It’s another 3km to Landslide Lake, but you’re not allowed to camp there, so people just day hike up and back from the campsite. It’s steeper heading up to the lake and the trail can be a little bit confusing at times. There’s a lot of uphill over bare rock and while it’s really obvious which direction you want to go (due to the valley), it’s easy to lose the trail, so watch for the cairns. It took a bit longer than we were expecting due to the heat, but there’s a nice waterfall on the way up and eventually we made it to the lake. There were a few day hikers there, but they soon took off and we went for a swim in the cold water and had a snack.
We probably should have called it a day there, but both of us were keen to check out Foster Lake (aka Iceberg Lake) while we were up there. It’s only about 1.5km to the next lake, but there’s no official trail and it’s a bit of a bushwack at times to get there. We didn’t really have trouble following the trail, but it’s really technical with lots of brush and ups and downs, so we were cursing and swearing pretty much the whole way there. It’s very forested around the back of Landslide Lake and then once you get to the end of the lake, you follow the creek bed for a bit before climbing up over scree and boulder fields. To be honest, some of the best views of Landslide Lake are from the boulder field at Foster Lake, because the angle of the afternoon sun from the base makes it hard to get any good photos.
We strongly debating throwing in the towel and turning around, but we’d come so far and knew we were unlikely to come back, so we kept going while we grumbled. I am glad we persevered, but my advice to others would be to either give yourself an entire day for it (2 nights at the campsite), or skip it. I can’t deny Foster Lake is pretty cool, it’s definitely alpine terrain and there’s a glacier at the back of the lake that you can explore if the conditions are right. If we had a whole day for it I wouldn’t mind exploring around the area a bit more, but we had less daylight because it was September and we were tired from the hike in. We enjoyed the view for 15-20 mins before turning around and heading back to make supper. The trail was just as annoying on the return trip and by the time we made it back to camp, we’d clocked in almost 20km for the day.
I liked the campsite because there was only us and 2 other groups, but I’d guess it gets pretty busy in the summer. That said, there is a lot of room for tents along the river and in the trees, so I wouldn’t be deterred from going on a weekend. It is a bit dark in the forest, but at least there’s an outhouse and bear cache. We had one of my leftover SCT meals for dinner and Brandon made us some soup to go with it. It was the time of year where it’s hot in the day, but can get quite cold overnight. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping, but it was damn cold getting out of the tent in the morning!
We didn’t waste too much time making breakfast and packed up to start our hike out. I’d got it in my mind that we could drive into Gold River for a nice lunch, so we made quick time hiking back down the trail. We only stopped briefly to chat with two guys who were also hiking out and we quickly identified each other as Newfoundlanders, so we had a good chat about life on the west coast vs. the east coast. We made it to the parking lot around 12:30pm and changed into some clean clothes before heading into Gold River for a rewarding cafe lunch!
Well, after my 8 post series on the Sunshine Coast Trail, I needed a little break, but now it’s time to catch up on the week I spent in Strathcona Provincial Park immediately after.
It’s unreal how many provincial parks we have in BC. Me and Brandon were all booked to hike the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park in early September, but then 3 days before the trip we got an email from Parks Canada asking us not to come because of the wildfires. Technically our trail wasn’t closed, but the entire town of Jasper was without power and Parks Canada was encouraging people to cancel, so we listened and made other plans.
We floated around a lot of ideas for where to go instead, but we had so little time in which to execute the trip that a lot of them were quickly ruled out. Brandon suggested Strathcona Provincial Park, which has been on his bucket list for a long time, and it sounded like the perfect place to do a mix of front and backcountry camping with limited preparations. It was the second week of September, so fortunately the crowds were gone and we didn’t have to worry about reservations. We hoped on the ferry on Sunday morning to spend a week exploring the park!
First off, Strathcona Provincial Park is huge! There are other large provincial parks nearby, like Garibaldi, but Strathcona is largely accessible by car, so it gave us a lot of National Park vibes as we were driving through, though you can tell it receives much less funding than a National Park. It’s not so far from Vancouver that you couldn’t visit over a long weekend, but the size definitely warrants a longer trip. What makes it tricky is that it has multiple entrances and they are all very far away from each other. For example, there are some great trails that can be accessed through Mount Washington and Courtney, but we opted to skip these to focus on the core park area, which is closer to Gold River and a bit of a further drive.
The core area of the park is centralized around Buttle Lake, which extends from tip to toe of the park. There are tons of backcountry campsites, but only 2 frontcountry campgrounds, both located on the lake. The Buttle Lake Campground is at the top of the lake, while the Ralph River Campground is down closer to the bottom. We opted to start at Buttle Lake and spent our first night exploring around the lake. It was a bit smoky when we arrived and the water level of the lake was really low. We went for a walk from our campsite and were able to walk right on to Rainbow Island due to the low water level. There’s a marine backcountry site located on Rainbow Island and I’m now keen to return to Buttle Lake with my kayak because there are several marine sites located along the opposite shore of the lake that would be fun to explore!
Since there’s so much to do, we only spent one night at Buttle Lake before making an overnight trek up to Landslide Lake, which is one of Vancouver Islands most popular backcountry hikes! Landslide Lake is a 20km trek on the northwest side of the park that is best done over 1-2 nights. We opted for 1 night and day hiked from the campsite up to Landslide and Foster Lakes. There’s a lot to talk about between those 2 lakes, so I’m going to write a whole separate post about that hike!
After we finished the Landslide Lake hike, we decided to make a quick stop into Gold River to get lunch. It’s a tiny little town, but it has a lot of great eco tourism! It’s the launching spot if you’re doing the Nootka Trail, as well as if you’re doing any paddling around the coast. It has fishing and some great little tourist attractions if you’re just there for the day. We stopped into a little cafe for lunch and our waitress gave us a hot tip to check out the Heber River, which has the most beautiful little swimming hole! The water is vibrant blue and super clear, but boy is it cold! We both went for a dip, but it was a quick one!
After our swim we got another hot tip when we were stocking up at the liquor store about an easily accessible cave system. About 20 mins west of Gold River, there’s a small Rec Site called Upana Caves. It’s a network of caves with 4 that are easily accessible after only 10 minutes of walking – just make sure to bring your headlamp! I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to caving, but Brandon convinced me to go into a few and we ended up spending an hour crawling around. Our favourite was the last cave in the system, Resurgence Cave, which has a little river flowing through it and is pretty scenic. A bit of a different activity for us, but well worth the detour!
Once we headed back into the park, we went on a bit of a tourist circuit of the easily accessible trails. There’s a ton of waterfalls in the park, most of which are located right off the highway. We stopped into Lady Falls, Lupin Falls, and Lower and Upper Myra Falls. Lower Myra Falls is definitely the shining gem of the park, so if you can’t get to them all, make sure you visit that one. You can swim in the falls, though it’s very cold. If you’re more adventurous, you can climb down from the falls to the bottom end of Myra Lake, which is a much nicer place to swim. Brandon and I had a proper bath here since we were in the park for a full week and neither of the campgrounds have showers.
Since Lower Myra Falls is located at the bottom of the park, we opted to stay at the Ralph River Campground for 2 nights. Some of the sites appear to be “lakefront” which had us excited, but because the water level was so low, it was much more of a swamp then we were anticipating. We lugged all our gear out to the “beach” one night to cook, which was still nice, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a good place for swimming! In our case it started raining on us in the middle of our meal, but we were troopers and stuck it out anyways.
The very end of the park is interesting because there’s actually an active mine right in the park! So a small part of the park is designated as “Strathcona-Westin Provincial Park”, which is basically just the extents of the mine. From what I understand, the mine already existed when they formed the park, so they let it continue operating. You actually have to drive right through it to get to some of the trailheads, including for Upper Myra Falls, so it’s an interesting experience!
We decided to finish the trip with a second overnight hike up to Bedwell Lake. It’s also a very popular hike and our plan was to do both Bedwell and Cream Lakes. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t really co-operate with us for this hike. It was really nice when we started, but it got foggier and foggier the closer we got to the lake. After talking to some other people, it sounds like most of the park was clear that day, but a bunch of clouds got hung up in our area and unfortunately, we couldn’t see a thing. But I’m also going to do a full post about Bedwell Lakes, because it was still an eventful trip, even with the odd weather.
We had planned to do one more hike in the park via Courtney on the way home, called Century Sam, but we got notice on the way to Courtney that the gate to the trailhead was closed. The road to the trail is on private property, so you are at the mercy of the property owners if you choose to visit that trail. There is no service anywhere in Strathcona Park, so be prepared for that when you visit.
The salmon were just starting to run when we were leaving the park, so we stopped along the river on our way out to watch people fishing and then hightailed it to the ferry when we heard Century Sam was closed. We ended up having a bit of a wait for the ferry, but were able to make it home the same night. So overall, I really liked Strathcona and I don’t think it’s a place I would likely have planned to visit without such an opportunity. That said, I left the park with even more trails on my bucket list then when I entered!
The Sunshine Coast Trail has been on my bucket list for several years and I finally hiked it in its entirety this past summer. You can read my trail blogs starting with Part I, but I also wanted to create a guide to accompany those posts for anyone thinking of doing the trail. I think this is a great trail for thru hikers because while it is long (180km), it’s not life-altering long (like the PCT). But it is still long enough to require considerable advance planning, so here are some things I learned while planning the trek:
The first question to ask yourself is whether you have the experience and ability to hike a trail this long. My longest trail prior to the SCT was 85km, but I’d hiked that distance on 3 separate occasions, so I felt confident that I could attempt 180km. Compared to other popular thru hikes in BC, I would say that the SCT is actually a bit easier (comparing to hikes like the West Coast Trail), but that it shouldn’t be underestimated. I was able to hike at a much faster pace on the SCT than other coastal trails I’ve done, but there is a lot of elevation gain throughout the course of the trail, so you definitely want to be used to climbing mountains before you attempt. However, there are lots of exit points on the trail if it becomes too challenging and the huts can make things more comfortable for newer hikers. That said, if you’ve never backpacked before, get some experience on shorter trails first, or plan to section hike part of the trail instead of the whole thing, because there is a big difference in difficulty when you have to carry all your gear with you, especially on a long trip with heavy quantities of food!
The Sunshine Coast Trail is 178km long on paper, but a bit longer in practice. There have been many re-routes and trail changes throughout the years, so while there’s 178 trail markers on the trail, they’re not all actually 1km apart from each other. I clocked 190km on my GPS when I did the trail. The most notable section is from Tin Hat to Lewis Lake, which is 2-3km longer than indicated, so prepare for slightly longer days than anticipated. In addition, I tracked a cumulative elevation gain of 7500 metres over the course of the trail, so be prepared for a lot of uphill (and downhill if you have bad knees like me).
The trail starts at the far north end of the Upper Sunshine Coast, known as Sarah Point. It’s approximately 50km down the Malaspina Peninsula to Powell River and then the trail meanders through the mountains for another 130km to the trail end at Saltery Bay. The half point of the trail is at Tin Hat Mountain, which is largely regarded as the best viewpoint on the entire trail. There are lots of access points along the trail, but the two easiest are in Powell River (km 50) and Lang Bay (km 150). If you’re section hiking, I’d plan to hike one of these 3 sections, and if you’re thru hiking, these make good resupply points (more on that later).
While you can hike the trail in either direction, the majority of people go from North to South. The trail is set up for people hiking this direction so the trail markers will all be in order. Sarah Point is considerably harder to access than Saltery Bay, so it’s recommended to start at Sarah Point so that you can walk on the ferry when you get to Saltery Bay at the end of your hike and not have to coordinate transportation. For more detailed information about the entire 178km trail, pick up a copy of Eagle Walz’s book, or check out the SCT website.
Time of Year
Time of year can also play a large role in determining when to hike the trail. If you don’t like crowds, then you may want to avoid the summer months and hike in the Spring or Fall. Summer can also be extremely hot and a lot of the streams can run dry in August, making it more desirable to hike in the shoulder seasons. The benefit of hiking in the summer is that you’re likely to have the driest weather, so if you don’t like hiking in the rain, this might be the best option for you, though the heat can be exhausting.
The challenges with Spring hiking are that if you go too early, there may still be snow on parts of the trail and you’re more likely to encounter rain along the trek. Whereas in Fall, you won’t encounter snow unless you go really late, but the streams are more likely to be dry in early Fall and you’re more likely to get rained on in late Fall. I wanted to do the trail in June, but I ended up doing it in August (when it was very hot) and early September (when the streams were mostly dry). But I didn’t encounter crowds during either time.
Getting to the Sunshine Coast was probably the biggest challenge for me and was the most considerable cost of the trip. If you’re going with a group and have more than 1 car, it’s relatively easy, but if you’re alone or don’t have a car, it’s a bit more challenging. You’ll have to either drive or walk on two different ferries (Horseshoe Bay to Langdale and Earls Cove to Saltery Bay) and prepare to shell out $100+pp to take the shuttle to the trailhead. Saltery Bay and Powell River are accessible by transit, but the trailhead at Sarah Point requires 4WD to access. If you have 4WD, that’s great, if not, make a booking with the Sunshine Coast Shuttle. Here’s the options I’ve identified for getting to the trailhead:
Drive yourself (1 car). Park your car at Earl’s Cove and walk on the ferry, then get the SCT shuttle from Saltery Bay to the Sarah Point Trailhead. If you want to drop off resupplies, then drive on the ferry instead and park at Saltery Bay once you’ve dropped the resupplies and catch the shuttle. Once you finish the trail at Saltery Bay, your car will be waiting for you!
Drive yourself (2 cars). If you have a rugged 4WD with high clearance, you can park one car at Saltery Bay, drop off your resupplies, and drive your second car all the way to the trailhead. If not, drop off your resupplies and catch the shuttle from Powell River to the trailhead. Collect your car at Saltery Bay at the end of your hike and pick up the other car.
Take transit. You can walk on both ferries and there is a connector shuttle that runs between the two ferries in the summer. It runs every day except Thursday, but it only goes once per day. Once you get the second ferry to Saltery Bay, you can get the shuttle to pick you up and transport you to the trailhead, or you can take the city bus to Powell River, drop off your resupply, and then get the shuttle to the trailhead. This was what I did on my first attempt.
Fly. There are several airlines that fly direct to Powell River, but I recommend Harbour Air because it flies directly to the Shingle Mill Pub, which is one of the resupply locations. So you can drop off your resupply when you arrive and then arrange the shuttle to the trailhead. The downside is you can’t fly with fuel or bear spray, but you can purchase both from the shuttle company. This was what I did on my second attempt.
All of these options assume starting at Sarah Point. You can walk off the ferry at Saltery Bay and start from there, but it’s better to take the shuttle for drop off rather than coordinate a pick-up time when you might not know how fast you’ll be hiking. Unless you plan to camp at Sarah Point on your last night and get picked up in the morning.
Once you’ve established you’re ready to attempt the trail, itinerary becomes an important consideration. You can hike the entire trail in one go, or you can make a couple of trips to complete in section hikes, or even day hikes if you’re ambitious and comfortable with trail running. I decided on one big thru-hike, but circumstance forced me to complete it as two section hikes. You want to be realistic about your abilities when deciding how many days to allot for the trip. Because it’s a long trail, there’s a tendency to want to do a lot of kilometres, but consider whether this will be enjoyable over an extended period of time. If you’re hiking solo, it may be easier to hike longer distances, but if you’re in a group, you will naturally need a slower pace. If you don’t have lightweight gear, also consider that packing 3-8 days of food will present a considerable challenge.
Campsite choice is also an important consideration in determining your itinerary. Are you flexible in where you camp? Are you comfortable staying at tent sites, or do you only want to stay in the huts? Either way, plan to bring a tent because the huts can fill up on summer weekends, though users are supposed to prioritize space in the huts for thru-hikers. Determining how many days you have available for the trip can help you determine your itinerary, just make sure to leave enough time for travel to and from the Sunshine Coast as getting to the trailheads can be somewhat tedious.
You don’t necessarily need to pick exactly where you’re going to camp in advance when you draft your itinerary, but it’s good to set some goals so that you can assess whether you’re ahead or behind your targeted pace while on trail. I decided on 10 nights on the trail and planned my itinerary around that. I generally had a target that I wanted to reach every second night and I was flexible on the opposite nights based on how I was feeling. I wanted to stay at Tin Hat Hut and Walt Hill Hut because I heard they were the most scenic, so I set goals for when I wanted to arrive at those locations. It’s also good to know if there’s any sites you want to avoid, so you can plan around that. For example, I really didn’t like Homestead Rec Site or Lewis Point Rec Site.
Definitely pick up a copy of the SCT guide when assessing where you want to stay. Some campsites are more rugged than others and they don’t all have bathrooms, water sources, or bear caches. Water sources are important because if you stay at a campsite without one, you will have to hike with extra water. Likewise, if you’re staying at sites without bear caches, you’ll need to put extra consideration into how you’ll protect your food. See below for more information on both of these items. Even if you plan to stay only in huts, I still recommend bringing a tent with you because the huts can fill up on popular summer weekends. However, if you’re hiking in the off season, generally you’ll be okay. I’m told the huts were extremely busy in 2021, but when I hiked the trail in 2022, they were virtually empty, both in August and September.
Gear is a favourite topic of any hiker. You don’t need expensive gear to go backpacking – I hiked with cheap gear for years and did just fine. But prepare yourself for the weight of it. I’ve invested in some really lightweight gear over the years and it really paid off for me on this thru hike. I was able to hike longer and faster than if I was using cheaper, heavier gear. In some instances I sacrificed comfort for this (a smaller sleeping pad, only the essentials for clothing, a non-freestanding tent), but the comfort of the lighter pack was more than worth it for me.
Fortunately, the SCT is not an alpine hike, so generally you can get away with cooler gear. I always bring a lot of warm gear when I’m going to the alpine, but this wasn’t needed on the SCT, especially in the middle of summer and with the huts. Plus, if you’re doing the hike with a friend, you can share gear to lighten the load. A few things I would definitely still bring include trekking poles, bear spray, and all of the 10 essentials, especially an inreach (or satellite device) and a GPS (or a large power bank for your phone).
Food is one of my favourite topics when it comes to thru-hiking. Some people get really into calorie counting for a big hike, but I’ve personally never found this was accurate for me and resulted in carrying way more food then I needed. If you’ve done some practice hikes, they should give you a good idea of how much you will generally eat and then plan for slightly larger portions sizes or extra snacks since it’s a long hike. Personally I prefer to bring larger meals in lieu of extra snacks. Generally you will get hungrier the longer you hike, so plan for a bit extra towards the end of the trip. Always bring an extra day of food on a trip of this scale in case of emergency.
I’ve been getting really into dehydrating and I prepped my entire menu for 11 days using my dehydrator. You don’t need a dehydrator to do a multi-day trek, but it can significantly lighten your load. The average person carries 2lbs of food per day, but I was able to get my weight down to just over 1lb per day (12lbs for my 11 days on trail). The easiest way to shed weight is through dehydrated/freeze dried meals. I dehydrated my own, but you can also purchase them from a large suite of options at places like MEC, though these are often a little bulkier and very pricey. Before I got into dehydrating, my preference was to stock up on simple grocery store items like knorr sidekicks, of which there are lots of rice and pasta options, or easy dinners like ramen. The trick is finding some way to add protein. Tuna packets are a good option, but a little heavier than dehydrated proteins. Famous foods carries lots of freeze-dried options.
Resupplies go hand in hand with food. If you’re fast, you can probably carry all your food from the start, though carrying so much food weight may slow you down. The two easiest resupply points are the Shingle Mill pub in Powell River and the general store in Lang Bay. Shingle Mill is right on the trail, but Lang Bay involves a 2.5km road walk each way. Because of this, I opted for just 1 resupply at the pub. I carried 4 days of food at the start and then picked up 7 days of food from the pub. Another option is to pre-arrange a drop-off from the SCT shuttle company at any point where the trail crosses a road, but this is a pricey option, so I didn’t meet anyone who utilized it. Both the pub and the general store will hold your resupplies free of charge.
Water Supply – No matter when you hike the trail, water supply requires constant thought. Not every campsite has a water source, so you may need to carry extra water with you if you plan to camp at one of these sites and you need to know where your last reliable source of water is before you get to the campsite. When I hiked in early August, the majority of streams were still flowing, but when I hiked in early September, almost every stream was dry. This meant that I had to get almost all my water from lakes and ponds, meaning I often had to carry extra water and that a water filter was extremely necessary to purify my water. Streams are a higher quality source of drinking water than lakes or ponds, so plan accordingly when choosing your water treatment system. At times I carried 4-5L of water with me depending on my campsite and last reliable water source – 5L of water weighs 11lbs, so it’s a significant addition to your pack!
Bear Caches – Not every campsite has a bear cache. Most of the huts have them (but not all) and most of the tenting sites don’t have them. Pending on location, it may be very difficult to create a bear hang, so it’s recommended to bring either a bear bin or bear bag on the trail. Everyone has different opinions on bins vs. bags. Personally, I think a bin is the safest option, though I opted for the bear bag for weight reasons. It’s almost impossible for a bear to walk off with your bear bin, but it can walk off or crush your food with a bear bag, so I still tied mine to a tree even though it’s made of kevlar and supposedly bear proof. It was never tested.