The Sunshine Coast is a nature lover’s dream with temperate rainforests, coastal coves, and backcountry alpine landscapes. As a regular Sunshine Coast visitor turned full time resident in 2018, I’ve spent ample time exploring the parks and trails of my new home.
I’m often asked for my Gibsons and Sechelt hiking recommendations by visiting friends and family. While reflecting on my top hikes, I’ve come to realize that my favourites aren’t necessarily challenging, long, or strenuous, and in fact, some are merely nature walks, but they each provide an opportunity to connect with nature in real, meaningful ways, which is, in my opinion, quintessential to the Sunshine Coast lifestyle.
1. Soames Hill
Soames Hill is a small regional park located a short distance from Gibsons village and the ferry terminal. It’s a popular fitness circuit for locals offering a network of easy forest trails around the base of the hill, but also a short but intense cardio workout to the top of the hill where you’re rewarded with a panoramic view. Take the west staircase up the hill, and be sure to visit both lookouts at the top before taking the east staircase down the hill, connecting back around the forest trails to your original starting point. Repeat this circuit several times for the ultimate workout.
2. Cliff Gilker
Cliff Gilker is a beloved regional park in Roberts Creek where a network of easy family-friendly trails immerses you into the lush wild rainforest that the Sunshine Coast is known for. Whether you spend 15 minutes here or over an hour, the well-marked paths take you through ravines and rushing rivers, over wooden bridges and boardwalks, and also rewards you with some beautiful waterfalls. This is the kind of park you can return to frequently and experience it differently each time.
3. Smuggler Cove
If you want an easy hike that shows off the beauty of the Sunshine Coast, Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park is it. Over the span of an hour, it takes you from the deep dark rainforest, through active birding wetlands, and then arrives at a small rocky peninsula overlooking the sea. Here you’ll find islands, shallow turquoise beaches, white shell midden sand, and arbutus groves growing out of ecologically-sensitive carpets of moss and lichen. The marine, forest, and wetland ecosystems are all entwined at Smuggler Cove, and it couldn’t be more magical. Take your time exploring this park and be present with the fragrances, textures, sights, and sounds.
4. Big Tree Rec Site
Located north of Sechelt down a pot-holed gravel road, the Big Tree Rec Site preserves an old growth stand of Douglas fir trees that are truly impressive. A perfect place for forest bathing, this short circuit isn’t something you’ll want to rush through. Bring a lunch and enjoy it from the picnic tables. If you are seeking a longer hike however, Big Tree is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the surrounding mountain biking and hiking trails connecting to Crowston Lake. With a backcountry trail map (I recommend buying the Sunshine Coast Super Map for $5), you can easily spend hours hiking the forest here.
5. Francis Point
Francis Point Provincial Park is a very special place, not widely known, and it’s also ecologically sensitive. It helps that this provincial park is tucked away out of sight at the end of a residential side street. It also isn’t marked by highway signs and I think that’s done on purpose. But those who choose to seek out Francis Point will find a short, beautiful hike that takes you through a dense forest, past a sheltered cove, and then across a smooth exposed rock face covered in fragile mosses and lichens, paralleling the sea. With waves crashing below and Texada Island in the distance, the unobstructed waterfront scenery is rare for the Sunshine Coast. But the real power spot is revealed at the end of the 1.5 km hike, where you climb down the rockface into a grove of ancient arbutus trees. Take a moment here to take in its powerful energy before returning the same way you came.
Tetrahedron Provincial Park is an alpine hiking destination in the backcountry north of Sechelt. If you have a high clearance 4WD, it’s worth the trek to admire the wild beauty of the Coast Mountains. Those who venture up this way will be rewarded with mountain vistas, tremendous biodiversity, and areas of old growth alpine forest. The network of trails takes you across rivers, over wetlands, past alpine meadows, lakes, and overnight huts, though the huts are closed due to COVID-19. Like all alpine hikes in BC, go between late July and mid October to avoid the snow, the bugs, and the boggy trails. I went in late June, for example, and parts of the trails were flooded and the mosquitos were bad. For a short and easy lunchtime hike, consider making Bachelor Lake Cabin your destination and enjoy sandwiches while sitting on the deck. Be sure to bring plenty of warm clothes though, for even when it’s sunny and warm in Sechelt, it can be quite cold in the mountains. You’ll definitely want to leave a trip plan, pack the 10 essentials, and become bear aware before embarking on this one.
7. Kinnikinnick Park
This district park in Sechelt is one of my favourite places for an easy and spontaneous forest stroll. The trails in Kinnikinnick Park are level, well-marked, dog-friendly, and take you into various types of forest, from old evergreen groves of Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, and Douglas fir, through deciduous canopies of red alder and big leaf maple (especially beautiful in the fall), and across boardwalks through skunk cabbage wetlands. Keep your eyes out for the frogs and woodpeckers! I also love the juxtaposition as you enter this park from the surrounding farmland and suburbia. You don’t expect such an enchanting forest to exist here, and stepping into the park always feels like you’re stepping into a fairytale scene. You may even see a fairy house or two! For a first-time visit, I recommend taking the 3.1 km Pink Trail which circumnavigates the park and can be completed in about 40 minutes.
8. Sargeant Bay
Sargeant Bay is like two parks in one: the sheltered beach and birding wetland on one side of Redrooffs Road, and a hillside rainforest on the other. Don’t let the pleasant beach area fool you into thinking that’s all there is to this provincial park. Up the hill and across the street from the parking lot is the trailhead to Triangle Lake where immediately you’re thrust into wild rainforest, including a rushing waterfall and older stands of second growth. This trail can be accessed from the south by the beach or from the north end of the park off the main highway by Trout Lake. However you access it, this is a multiple-hour hike and provides you with fantastic biodiversity, especially in the the late spring when you can spot wild lilies, saprophytes, snails, butterflies, and rare songbirds. Don’t expect to dip your toes into Triangle Lake, however, as the lake is inaccessible, but can be seen from a viewing platform high above from the trail.
9. Hidden Groves
Hidden Groves provides the easiest access to some of the biggest and oldest trees you’ll find on the Sunshine Coast. A network of accessible family-friendly trails takes you through this protected forest near Sechelt where you can hug massive western red cedars and Douglas fir trees estimated to be 500-1000 years old. Tag on a visit to nearby Porpoise Bay Provincial Park for a swim in Sechelt Inlet or stop at Burnett Falls just down the road to admire the most impressive waterfall in the area.
10. Skookumchuk Narrows
The most famous hike on the Sunshine Coast is a must, but only if you can start it an hour before peak high or low tide, otherwise give it a miss. What makes the hike at Skookumchuk Narrows Provincial Park so popular isn’t the 4 km walk through the lush rainforest, although that is lovely. No, what makes this hike remarkable is the fast-flowing whitewater rapids you witness at the end of the trail, but only if you time it right. The Sechelt Inlet narrows so much here that it influences the height and speed of the water precisely when the tides change. On extremely high tides, the water appears to be tsunami-like, rushing at you several feet higher than actual sea level – an optical illusion particularly unnerving when you’re seated mere feet from the shore. Pictures and videos don’t do it justice – it’s something you have to experience in person to get the full effect.
Header image: Taking my parents hiking to Francis Point Provincial Park in the summer of 2019.