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British Columbia Road Trip: The Sunshine Coast

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

I'm Lyn (aka Jazz), a solo female road trip aficionado and I can't wait to show you the hidden gems of my beautiful home province. I have rambled around the Sunshine Coast many times over the years. While growing up, much of this coastline was explored from the deck of my father's sailboat. Later on, I travelled by car and in the last few years I have been wandering about in my converted Sprinter van. This post is part of a series of suggested road trip itineraries for visitors that will showcase specific areas of the province and, collectively, will demonstrate the vastness and diversity of this western province. Our tourism tag of "Super, Natural British Columbia" is so fitting and the Sunshine Coast exemplifies this.

Coastal landscape taken from ferry deck showing a narrow passage between two islands

views from the ferry deck...

Road Trip to the Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast is part of the mainland of British Columbia but does not have road access. To get to the Sunshine Coast, visitors can fly via seaplane or take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

A ferry docked. The ferry is white with blue lettering "BC Ferries".

Harbour Air operates floatplane flights from downtown Vancouver. Sunshine Coast Air flies from the South Airport. Since this is a post about a road trip, I will assume that readers will be travelling via ferry. The Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal is located approximately 30 km/45 minutes from downtown Vancouver along Hwy 99. Fares are based on vehicle size and schedule, so check the BC Ferries website for up-to-date information. The Sunshine Coast is geographically divided between the South and North Coasts, linked by another ferry route. Heading north, your paid fare from Horseshoe Bay will cover both ferry rides.

Why visit the Sunshine Coast?

The Sunshine Coast boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in British Columbia. From lush rainforests and rugged coastlines to pristine lakes and majestic mountains, nature lovers will be in awe of the diverse landscapes.

Stunning coastal view of the rocky shore line of two islands with the coastal mountains in the background

The Sunshine Coast offers an abundance of outdoor activities, attracting adventure enthusiasts from around the globe. Whether you're into hiking, kayaking, fishing, biking, or wildlife viewing, there's an adventure waiting. Unlike busier tourist destinations, the Sunshine Coast provides a peaceful and serene escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. It's the perfect place to unwind and rejuvenate in tranquil surroundings.

a jumble of summer flowers growing over a wooden fence in an untamed garden in front f a cottage

Daffadowndilly Art Gallery, Gibsons

Art enthusiasts will find a thriving arts community, foodies are in for a treat and the charming coastal towns that dot the Sunshine Coast will charm visitors. The region's rich history includes the Indigenous heritage of the Coast Salish people and the story of early European settlers. Museums, heritage sites, and cultural experiences allow visitors to delve into this fascinating past.

A tall totem pole, with the following figures (from bottom to top): Beaver, Bear, Frog, Thunderbird

Egmont Totem

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the Sunshine Coast as a gateway to Desolation Sound, a renowned marine paradise with crystal-clear waters. This area is ideal for boating, diving, and marine wildlife encounters.

Looking through trees to a calm lake surrounded by tall evergreens with a mountain in the background. Nailed to a tree stump in the foreground is a wooden sign with the words "Brown Lake"

Brown Lake, on the way to Skookumchuk Narrows

When to Road Trip along the Sunshine Coast

The best time to visit the Sunshine Coast depends on your interests. Summer is great for outdoor adventures and festivals, while the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) offer a quieter and more budget-friendly experience. Winter provides a peaceful retreat, and each season brings its own natural beauty to explore.

Rocky beach with blue water. 2 people are swimming in the water. On the right of the photo, 2 women can be seen. One is carrying a stand up paddle board, the other is holding a paddle.

Robert's Creek Beach

The weather on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia varies by season but is generally mild. Summers are pleasant, with daytime temperatures ranging from 20°C to 25°C and occasional rain showers. Fall brings cooler temperatures, ranging from 15°C to 20°C, along with increased rainfall, but it's a great time for enjoying fall foliage and whale watching. Winters are mild with temperatures from 5°C to 10°C, and although it's the wettest season, snowfall at lower elevations is rare. Winter is ideal for storm-watching and a peaceful retreat. Spring gradually warms up, with temperatures between 10°C to 15°C, and brings vibrant wildflowers, making it a pleasant time for outdoor activities and whale watching as migrating gray whales pass by the coast. Regardless of the season, the Sunshine Coast offers its unique beauty and charm, catering to a variety of preferences for visitors.


Where to Stay on the Sunshine Coast

I would suggest choosing one location on each coast to base yourself and take trips from that base. The total distance along the highway including both coasts is less than 140 km making everything you might want to visit close no matter where you choose to stay. With a wide range of lodgings including guest houses, bed & breakfasts, cottages, wellness resorts, campgrounds, marinas or luxurious beach hotels, you'll find a wealth of choices.

A map showing the Sunshine Coast area with communities and ferry routes labelled

image credit: Sunshine Coast Canada

On the South Coast, the larger communities are Gibsons and Sechelt but you'll also find great accommodations in Davis Bay and Halfmoon Bay. The largest community on the North Coast is Powell River and this is where you'll find the widest selection of accommodation types, unless you are looking for a wilderness lodge. The North Coast is less populated and is terrifically appealing to the outdoor adventurer, fisher, diver, wildlife enthusiast, and boater. There are several provincial parks as well as private operations offering camping. Check out the BC Parks Camping website for more information.


Sunshine Coast History

The Sunshine Coast's history is a complex tapestry woven together by Indigenous traditions, European settlement, economic development, and a diverse community that values the natural beauty and cultural heritage of this coastal paradise. Visitors to the Sunshine Coast can learn about and appreciate both the ancient and more recent histories that have shaped this remarkable region.

Exterior of a wooden building built in the early 1900s. There are several different roof lines and cladding styles. Above the door is a round sign with script writing 'Gumboot Cafe". There are 2 picnic benches in front.

Gumboot Cafe and General Store, Roberts Creek

The Indigenous peoples of the Sunshine Coast primarily belong to the Coast Salish linguistic and cultural group. The Coast Salish people have inhabited the coastal areas for thousands of years, relying on the abundant marine and terrestrial resources for sustenance and cultural practices.


The Sunshine Coast is within the traditional territories of several Coast Salish First Nations, including the Shíshálh (pronounced SEE-shelt), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (skwah-HO-o-meesh), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (tSLAY-wah-tooth) Nations. These nations have a deep connection to the land, sea, and wildlife of the region.

topographical map showing the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people which included all the lands surrounding the Strait of Georgia (Canada) and Juan de Fuca Strait (USA). The map is titled "The Salish Sea"

image credit: strait.com The traditional territory of the Coast Salish People

Indigenous communities on the Sunshine Coast have rich cultural traditions, including art, storytelling, and ceremonies that reflect their relationship with the environment. These practices continue to be celebrated and shared with visitors.

A view from the water of a rusting and abandoned flat-decked sea barge. On the shore is a derelict fishing building

Davis Bay

European settlement in the Sunshine Coast began in the late 19th century, bringing significant changes to the region. The arrival of settlers led to the establishment of logging operations, which became a key economic driver for the region. The towering forests provided an abundance of timber, which was crucial for the growing communities and industries in BC.

view of a ferry deck taken from front of ferry. Motorcycles are parked in front with a semi truck parked behind to the left and a car pulling an RV on the right. In the background is the ferry deck and bridge

The construction of transportation infrastructure, including roads and ferries, played a pivotal role in connecting the Sunshine Coast to the mainland. The ferry system, in particular, allowed for easier access and transportation of goods. Over time, towns such as Gibsons, Sechelt, and Pender Harbour grew as commercial and residential hubs. Each town has its unique history, character and charm.

Sunshine Coast Road Trip 7-Day Itinerary


A map showing all the locations mentioned in this blog.

Day 1: Vancouver Arrival & Vehicle Pickup

Arrive in Vancouver, your starting point. Explore the city's highlights or relax before your journey begins. -- Check out Trish's Guide to Vancouver for places to stay, eat, and play.

A view of downtown Vancouver with Spanish Banks Beach in the foreground.

All the major car rental agencies can be found at the airport and in the downtown core. RV rentals can be easily found with an internet search, but the offices are generally located in the surrounding suburbs. If your accommodation doesn't include parking, my recommendation would be to arrange to pick up your rental vehicle the following morning. Parking downtown is expensive and hard to find. Trying to find parking for an oversized vehicle is next to impossible.

Instead, use the Canada Line Skytrain (Vancouver's metro) from the airport to go downtown. It is less expensive and takes less time than an Uber or taxi.


Day 2: South Coast: Gibsons and Robert's Creek

Take an early ferry from Horseshoe Bay (30 km/45 min from downtown) to Langdale. This is a spectacular 45-minute journey that follows a route through the islands. I have travelled this route too many times to count in my life and it never fails to stun me.

A view of a cove with a sailboat in the foreground and cottages along the beach.

Upon arriving at the Langdale Ferry Terminal, it's a 10-minute drive north along the Sunshine Coast Highway to the town of Gibsons. Find your accommodations and explore the little town. Check out this post for some ideas on places to explore.

A wooden building, painted yellow, with a large false front with the words "Molly's Reach Welcome Back!" are printed in blue. The front is glass paned. On the sidewalk in front is a woman walking her dog.

Grab a burger and milkshakes at the iconic Molly's Reach. Molly’s Reach was used as the set for the CBC show “The Beachcombers” the longest-running Canadian TV drama.

Cliff Gilker Park is a favourite place to spend a couple of hours. This is a lovely nature park with multiple trails leading through the forest with picturesque bridges and delightful waterfalls.

Looking up a creek with a small waterfall in the foreground and a bridge crossing the creek in the background.

In the afternoon, drive to the village of Robert's Creek. Wander around the little community garden beside the school. Stop in the Gumboot Cafe to enjoy a delicious coffee and pastry to enjoy on the beach. Take a look at the menu, you'll want to return for dinner while you're on the South Coast.

The front porch of a wooden shingled house. Decorations on the porch include a rusting metal tin man and a seated Buddah

Day 3: South Coast: Sechelt

Sechelt is the largest community on the Sunshine Coast. This is where more adventurous travellers leave the highway to seek adventures along the Sechelt, Salmon, and Narrows Inlets. Start the day in town exploring Sechelt's vibrant arts scene. Take a self-guided tour of Sechelt's public art using the free BaladoDiscovery mobile app. The tour leads visitors to highlights of the town's Public Art Collection and murals.

Corner of a building painted on both sides with vivid street art

Grab a picnic lunch and head to the Sunshine Coast Botanical Gardens which features plants unique to the local area. The 40-acre garden is home to an extensive collection of Pacific Northwest plants, lots of Rhododendrons, and a demonstration vegetable garden. The site includes grassy meadows and both open and shaded walking paths. Stop at the Rain Forest viewing platform and look way up at the big leaf maples. Admission is by donation. Dogs are not allowed in the Garden, except for special “dog days”, see the website for details.

A natural  woodland areaa with a pond. In the foreground is a directional sign pointing to the various garden areas: Sparling Paavilion, Vegetable Garden, Senior's Garden, Bees

After lunch, it's time to pamper yourself at the Tuwanek Hotel and Spa located on Sechelt Inlet. This is a 4-star luxury bed and breakfast, next to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, and has a range of spa services and packages. After your massage, enjoy sitting on the terrace with a refreshing drink and a beachfront view.

Front terrace of resort in the afternoon sun. There are deck chairs, container plants and shade umbrellas.

Day 4: South Coast: To Skookumchuck Narrows and the North Coast

Today is the day to get active at Skookumchuck Narrows by driving north along the highway. As you drive, you'll pass the communities of Halfmoon Bay and Madeira Park which are well worth a short stop to walk along the water or get a coffee and breakfast.

a wooden walkway over water leading to small homes and cottages nestled in trees on the opposite side.

Madiera Park

The ocean inlet narrows at Skookumchuk Narrows, creating strong currents and powerful rapids. Just before Earl's Cove, you'll take Egmont Road heading east. You'll drive for approximately 6 km before reaching the community hall where you will park. Follow the community road (only local residents may use the road) until you reach the trailhead. If you need some sustenance for the trail, the little bakery has a tasty selection of treats.

A sign post advertising the Skookumchuck Bakery and Cafe hangs from a yellow hanger. Next to the sign post is an old rusting truck overgrown with forest debris and ferns. On top of the truck is a yellow kayak. On the hood of the truck is an "Open" sign

There is a fairly easy hiking trail (8km in/out, minimal elevation gain) from the community of Egmont to Roland and North Points, the prime viewing areas. Don't forget to check the tide table to find the best times to visit.

A dirt trail leading into the woods on a sunny day.

Kayakers and wild water seekers will want to organize a ride on the tides and waves. High Tide Tours offers 30-minute water adventures during prime tidal times.

Looking down onto the churning waters of the Narrows. There is an island in the center and mountains behind.

After enjoying your time at Skookumchuck Narrows, head to the ferry at Earl's Cove for another stunning ferry crossing. This journey will take about 50 minutes. Make sure your camera has plenty of charge because you will need it!

photo of the author on the ferry deck with the Sunshine Coast in the background.

After arriving at Saltery Bay drive the 30 km scenic drive to Powell River. Powell River is a hub of the North Sunshine Coast that successfully combines the great outdoors with historic and cultural appeal.

Call ahead and make a reservation at The Coastal Cookery. The brussel sprout appetizer and the roasted Ling Cod main show up in my dreams regularly.


There are few hotel options in Powell River, but the Beach Gardens Resort and Marina is probably the best choice. It is a short drive from the town centre and has beautiful views over the water. There are also several places to go camping in Powell River, such as Willingdon Beach Campsite, which is right on the edge of town or Haywire Bay Regional Park a short distance away.

Day 5: North Coast: Discovering Powell River

Day 5 will begin by exploring the historic town and its heritage sites. Start by joining the lineup at Base Camp Coffee to pick up your morning beverage and a tasty treat. Use this map to follow a self-directed tour along a route of streets named after trees. The walk takes visitors past well-preserved historic buildings dating back to the early 1900s, including wooden houses, storefronts, and industrial structures. The tour features the Powell River Historical Museum, with artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays that follow the town's evolution, from its origins as a pulp mill town to the present. Historical plaques scattered throughout the tour enrich the experience.


Head to the Shingle Mill Pub and Bistro (recently featured on Amazing Race Canada) for lunch. If it's a nice day, you'll want to sit on the expansive deck and enjoy the activity around Powell Lake. Depending on your timing, the Shingle Mill has a delicious weekend brunch menu.

View from the deck of a marina filled with small recreational boats, with a pier in the foreground and the mountains surrounding Powell Lake in the background.

View from the deck of the Shingle Mill Pub overlooking Powell Lake

After lunch, head to Mitchell's Canoe Kayak and SUP to rent your choice for the afternoon. The spectacular coastlines around Powell River deserve exploring from the water. For those preferring a quieter paddle, head to one of the many lakes in the area.


If you prefer a good trail walk, a fabulous trail to explore is the Inland Lake Provincial Park trail that goes all around the lake. It is an easy 13km shared-use gravel trail with wooden boardwalks and bridges.

A boardwalk beside a lake. Trees to the left, boardwalk in the center, lake to the right.

Back in Powell River, consider dinner at Costa Del Sol Latin Cuisine, featuring a Latin/Mexican menu. I was introduced to this restaurant by a good friend who lives in the area. It has become a favourite place for us to have a margarita (or two) while enjoying their delicious poblanos fritos and fish tacos. The menu also includes vegetarian and gluten-free options.


After dinner catch a flick at the Patricia Theatre—Canada’s oldest, continuously operating movie theatre.

Front facade of theatre. Marquee sign with "Patricia" hangs vertically above the door.

Day 6: North Coast: Desolation Sound

A day trip to Desolation Sound from Powell River is an unforgettable adventure in one of British Columbia's most breathtaking marine landscapes... and we have a lot of breathtaking marine landscapes! Visitors to Desolation Sound are likely to spot seals, sea lions, dolphins, and even orcas/humpbacks while seabirds and eagles circle in the skies above.

15 sea lions basking on the rocks beside the water

Desolation Sound, located at the end of the Sunshine Coast Highway, is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and pristine marine environments. The emerald-green waters, snow-capped peaks, and abundant marine life create a hotspot for wildlife enthusiasts. There is a plethora of recreational activities, including kayaking, swimming and exploring onshore trails.

A day trip to Desolation Sound is your opportunity to experience the highlights of Desolation Sound's beauty, wildlife, and recreational offerings without the need for overnight accommodations. I recommend booking a guided day trip led by an expert guide to make the most of this incredible pristine marine wonderland. Sunshine Coast Tourism provides a list of tour operators here. After a full day of adventures, plan to have dinner at the Laughing Oyster Restaurant. The food and service are exceptional. This is the restaurant that is consistently recommended by locals for a foodie experience. I have eaten here multiple times throughout the years and it never fails to surpass my expectations. Make the most of your last night on the Sunshine Coast.


Day 7: Vancouver Bound

All good things must come to an end and it's time to return to Vancouver. Even though the distance is not far, this will be a long travel day with two ferry rides. Drive at a comfortable pace, and stop along the way at any spots you may have missed on the northward journey.

A mini BC ferry on a pole with mountains in the background

Try to organize your day to avoid needing to cross the Lion's Gate Bridge into Vancouver during the afternoon "rush hour" when it becomes a nightmare trying to merge onto the bridge with all the commuter traffic.


Extending Your BC Road Trip

If you've got some more time to explore, instead of heading towards Vancouver when you get off the ferry in Horseshoe Bay, turn towards Whistler and follow the stunning Sea-to-Sky highway, using this post to choose your stops along the way.


Helpful BC Road Trip Resources

Conclusion

There you have it, a 7-day road trip filled with natural beauty and coastal charm along BC's Sunshine Coast. I hope you're as smitten with the Sunshine Coast as I am. Now, it's your turn to embark on this unforgettable adventure! Feel free to reach out for additional information or clarification that will help you plan your road trip to Super Natural British Columbia.


If you are enjoying the content and would like to be kept up to date with new posts become a member/subscribe (it's free!) and follow along on the RamblynJazz Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram. You can help the blog to grow by sharing the link with a travelling friend or through social media. I truly appreciate your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts below.

 

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14 Comments


Guest
Dec 10, 2023

The Sunshine Coast you say? I thought this one would only exist in Australia! I see that the Canadian sunshine coast also offers just as many hiking trails and surfing spots as the Australian cousin. I've fallen low-key in love with the indigenous Totem poles, they are a wonderful piece of cultural art.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

The totems are fascinating. If you get to this area, I recommend a totem tour with an indigenous guide who can show you how to 'read' the stories from bottom to top. We are working hard in Canada to correct the colonial mistakes of the past while learning to celebrate the contributions and history of the indigenous peoples.

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Nature, adventure, art, culture, history and food? You've absolutely sold us on the Sunshine coast. What a stunningly beautiful area to explore. This is a great itinerary which offers a range of activities to suit all interests as well as practical advice about visiting. Desolation Sound looks like a highlight destination - and the Laughing Oyster a perfect place to round off the trip.

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

For wildlife enthusiasts, Desolation Sound is an absolute must! I love that the Sunshine Coast offers something for every traveller to enthuse about.

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Guest
Dec 04, 2023

In addition to the wonderful landscapes, the range of activities, culture and heritage sites are factors that would certainly make me consider this region for a stay.

I confess that I would tend to choose the shoulder season, as it is less crowded

Enjoying the privilege of seeing so much wildlife in Desolation Sound must be absolutely extraordinary. Angela | https://blondearoundtheworldtravel.com/

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

The great part about the Sunshine Coast is that the weather is mild and the area is great to visit year round. Shoulder season is the best time to see the whales migrating, and the bears will still be active.

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Guest
Dec 03, 2023

Absolutely beautiful pictures! I've wanted to visit Desolation Sound for a while now - the views are just stunning. Relaxing in a cafe would be a great way to end the day too.

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

I am planning to return to Desolation Sound next summer because once is simply not enough. There is such an abundance of wildlife and beautiful views. I urge you to put it on your list, you won't be disappointed.

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Guest
Nov 28, 2023

What a treat this post is - visually as well as to the imagination. Lots to absorb in this post on B.C. I can imagine seeing the views in person. It can all easily be a potent dose of serotonin. Honestly, look that those stunning photos. I can cetainly see myself having a moment in all the points of interest and places you have mentioned here and specially the ferry crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale #flyingbaguette


Jan - https://flyingbaguette.com/


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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

The ferry rides are spectacular and alone are worth the short journey to the Sunshine Coast! The charm of the area will seep into your soul. There are so many charming areas to explore that I find something new every time I visit.

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