Accessible year-round, a series of trails offers plenty of options
Sunshine Coast Trail
The Sunshine Coast Trail - which begins at the Saltery Bay ferry terminal and winds north to Desolation Sound - is "99.9 per cent mud-free and grandma-proof; accessible for all ages," said Eagle Walz.
Walz helped build the trail (and still continues to improve and maintain it), along with the BOMB squad (Bloody Old Men's Brigade, a group of retired loggers and millworkers).
"We've got switchbacks in steep areas to provide a good grade. It's not like the Grouse Grind, but you can still challenge yourself," he adds. "There are 24 access points to trails and lakes and there's always something - a shelter, a bench, a stellar view, even trolls on the trinket trail - just around the corner."
You can hike the trail year-round. If you do get wet, there are eight shelters where you can dry out, but the dense forest canopy keeps downpours at bay.
I'm a city gal who loves the great outdoors, but when it comes to serious hiking - that is, more than an hour in the rainforest - my interest was nil, until I discovered "have camera, can hike" and saw nature through a new lens.
On my first visit to Powell River, I took a four-hour outdoor photography course with resident Darren Robinson. We hiked the Appleton Creek Trail and shot one waterfall after another. When someone shows you how to look at something in a different light, from another angle, it's amazing what you can see. And I finally figured out how to shoot on the manual setting. Darren's classes are popular with teens and adults of all ages.
"If you hike to Fairview Bay - which should have been named Oyster Bay - all you'll need is an oyster shucker and beverage of choice," said Eagle Walz, laughing. The shelters also have barbecue pits and (when I was there) firewood. Free!
You'll come across many different environments, from ocean shore to mountain ridge, lake and creek, as well as old-growth forest. "Because we are in a working forest, there is logging, but we're working hard [for 17 years] to have buffers," Eagle explained. "It's important that we linked the trail to old growth to increase awareness and support."
Geocaching - like an electronic treasure hunt - appeals to all age groups. Created by volunteer enthusiasts, it has a dedicated following worldwide. "I know adults who base their entire trips around these things," said Darren, and they apparently love coming to Powell River - both residents and visitors have created lots of geocaches in the area. (Maybe the Upper Sunshine Coast can no longer be considered one of B.C.'s best kept secrets ...)
This is all you have to do: Get a GPS unit and go online to www.geocaching.com, where you look up different sites by region, area or city. It will give you the co-ordinates and a clue.
"A clue may be, 'Look under a rock that has a painted circle,' or 'Look up into the tree that looks like the letter Y,'" Darren explained. "The treasure could be a bottle cap, hockey card, T-shirt, button - you're welcome to take a treasure, so long as you leave one behind."
And don't forget to sign the log book, usually near the treasure in a Ziploc bag; it's a way to keep connected with fellow geocachers.
The Upper Sunshine Coast is a perfect long weekend getaway. You can get to Powell River from Vancouver in less than five hours - quicker than driving to the Okanagan, but better because you can sit back and study the Sunshine Coast trail maps (a must have; available online and in many bookstores) on two B.C. Ferries cruises. Some people consider the two-ferry journey as an impediment, while others believe it keeps the area pristine and unspoiled. Or you can take a half-hour flight on WestJet from Vancouver's airport.
If you take the ferry from Vancouver, it's 30 kilometres west on Hwy. 1 to Horseshoe Bay terminal, then a 40-minute sailing to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. Drive about one hour to Earl's Cove and the second ferry crossing to Saltery Bay. Drive 20 minutes to Powell River. (BC Ferries: 604-886-2242; www.bcferries.com)
Where to stay
If you're camping, don't worry about critters sniffing around your tent - all you need is a sleeping bag and provisions on the trail. Thanks mainly to the BOMB Squad and Eagle Walz, you can sleep in the lofts of eight open shelters and two cabins along the trail, free of charge. For extra safety, shut the trap door behind you.
There are also several good camp sites around Powell River, and Sunland-by-the-sea campgrounds in nearby Lund. Or rent a float cab-in to experience off-the-grid life on Powell Lake.
For a wilderness experience combined with luxury, drive 20 minutes north of Powell River to Desolation Sound Resort, which looks over Okeover Inlet, a very protected spot that's ideal for first-time kayakers and canoeists. Spread over three wooded hectares, its well-appointed, spacious chalets sleep six to eight people with full kitchens and gas grills on wide decks (stock up on groceries in Powell River); some have private hot tubs.
Desolation Sound Resort: www.desolationresort.com
Floating Cabins on Powell Lake: www.floatcabins.com
To learn more about the Sunshine Coast Trail, visit www.sunshinecoast-trail.com. Hikers are advised to check out the "trail conditions" link before setting out.
Tourism Powell River (8778178669, 604-485-4701); www.discoverpowellriver.com
Sunshine Coast Tourism (866941-3883); www.sunshinecoastcanada.com
If you go
If you time it right, lunch in Lund before hopping the water taxi to Savary Island. The boardwalk offers more than just fish and chips; go for the Blackberry Grunt, the signature dessert. Check out the kayak rentals shop behind the Lund Hotel where you can spend the day paddling over to Ragged Island and even snorkel - the water is that warm. Savary Island boasts the warmest swimming conditions north of Mexico. Get a fishing licence online or at the Lund Store - you'll soon be shucking oysters and digging for clams on Mermaid Beach while the kids build sandcastles among the historic sand dunes at Duck Bay. Walk along the enchanted forest trail through patches of old-growth forest. Or rent golf carts ($40 per hour) and tour the island.
If you plan far enough ahead, book a room at the Savary Island Resort. Its six cabins are perfect for families, and are beautifully built from Douglas fir and red cedar milled from the property. Rooms for three start at $135 per night. savaryislandresort.ca