Just east of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast stretches about 100 miles, with fjords and inlets piercing the land from almost every angle, making room for anyone traveling by boat.
The Sunshine Coast is less than an hour from Vancouver’s northern suburbs, but it feels a lot farther away. On this peninsula that hugs British Columbia’s western edge, towns are small and scattered among the many bays and hills. The steep, unyielding mountains cut it off so completely from the mainland that it feels and functions much like an island.
And like any island, one of its biggest draws is water.
The fjords and inlets piercing the land from almost every angle provide miles of protected water for anyone traveling by boat. Experienced whitewater kayakers practice tricks on the massive rapids of Skookumchuck Narrows, a slim passage where tidal flows rage. The mainland is dotted with glacier-carved lakes of many sizes and depths, which become family swimming holes in summer.
Just east of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast stretches about 100 miles from Lund at the north end to Gibsons to the south. My destination, the tiny town of Egmont, is about in the middle.
The name “Sunshine Coast” was born a century ago as a bit a tourist-luring marketing. It rains less frequently in the Vancouver Island rain shadow, but only a bit.
While it’s possible to fly from Seattle via Kenmore Air, I wanted to bring my car for exploring, so I took the 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay north of Vancouver. The amenity-rich vessel featured a restaurant, a kids’ play area and an arcade, plus designated workspaces with desks and outlets.
To get to Egmont from the Gibsons ferry terminal, all you have to do is stay on the main road until it ends.
I stayed at West Coast Wilderness Lodge, whose reclaimed wood and big windows make it feel cozy but not fussy. Its rooms overlook the Jervis Inlet, which, like many “inlets” around here, is actually a fjord. Steep, forested slopes or rocky cliffs plunge straight into the water, and tall mountains rise beyond.
The lodge owns tour boats for longer excursions and kayaks for shoreline exploration. Both guests and non-guests can sign up; other companies also operate tours in the area.
With a handful of folks from Canada and Europe (many Europeans stop here during grand tours of western Canada, lodge owner Paul Hansen told me), I took a four-hour excursion to and up long, narrow Princess Louisa Inlet. Along the way, our guide pointed out pictographs created long ago by the seafaring ancestors of local shíshálh (or Sechelt) people. We also saw plenty of wildlife, including a black bear cub and its mother on a rocky beach.
The main attraction on this ride is waterfalls. While you’ll see a few along the way, the best are at the very end of Princess Louisa Inlet. Tumbling down the face of a cliff about 2,800 feet high, James Bruce Falls is the tallest measured waterfall in North America. During the summer, it can range from slight to nonexistent. I was lucky to arrive after a few rainy days, when the falls emerged from hovering clouds in a silver streak.
Even if James Bruce isn’t running, you can admire the far shorter but well-fed Chatterbox Falls from the beach below the cliffs.
From a kayak
For a half-day kayak tour the next day, I met up with a guide, Graham, who turned up wearing steampunk-ish round sunglasses, a slightly battered fedora and a healthy mustache. Having recently moved from Yukon territory, he was as much of a character as I’d hoped, and we chatted about the scenery and life in general as we paddled.
We explored Hotham Sound, near the mouth of the Jervis Inlet, where the protected waters were glassy smooth. In places, cliffs dip straight into the sea, and that plus the water’s inky darkness indicate how deep it is. Paddling within inches of the cliff walls, we were close enough to touch clinging sea urchins and starfish.
As we paddled along, a river otter slipped off a rock and into the water, swimming ahead of us for a while, occasionally rolling onto its back to peer at us.
We paused for lunch on a rough beach in Harmony Islands Marine Provincial Park. Like Princess Louisa Inlet, this is a popular anchorage for touring boaters in the summer.
We ended our paddle at Freil Lake Falls, which drops a respectable 1,475 feet from a mountain lake into the water below.
As much as I love flatwater kayaking, I’m not good enough at whitewater paddling to tackle the Skookumchuck Narrows, or the “Skook.” There, intrepid kayakers — and even stand-up paddleboarders — ride six-foot-tall standing waves as billions of gallons of water flow through the narrow channel at high tide.
I instead did what most people do: I checked the tide tables posted all over town, then took the 8 kilometer (about 5 miles) out-and-back hike to an overlook, where I could watch the churning water from a safe distance.
I joined a twice-daily communion with a handful of fellow water enthusiasts, contemplating the power of nature. At one point, a jet boat interrupted our quiet as it powered through the churn, its passengers erupting in a loud whoop.
The peninsula is dotted with other parks, both local and provincial, presenting even more hiking options, most with some kind of water view. Steep, short hikes up Pender Hill and Mount Daniel are local favorites, and both lead to 360-degree panoramas over the hills, bays, and lakes of the Sunshine Coast.
If you go
For B.C. Ferries tickets and to make reservations (recommended in summer): bcferries.com
West Coast Wilderness Lodge: wcwl.com
B.C. Parks, including Princess Louisa and Harmony Islands as well as about 15 other provincial parks nearby: env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/
General information, including lodging, hiking, and tour options: sunshinecoastcanada.com