The Sunshine Coast in the southwest corner of British Columbia is a paradise for nature lovers. Although the area comprises many islands (which some do associate with sunshine), the region is mainly a lush, temperate rainforest with rocky beaches. The 110-mile coastal region is bordered by the gorgeous Coast Mountains to the east and the deep Strait of Georgia to the west.
Year round, you’ll find an exciting range of outdoor adventures here, from kayaking and hiking to cross country skiing and fishing. Hop on a ferry in Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay and ride across Howe Sound to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast—you can even bring your car or RV. Here are a few things not to miss.
1. Gibsons Landing
This harbor village offers ample entertainment, from funky shops to tasty local eats and drinks. Check out Gibsons Public Market for fresh veggies and fruits in season, artisan chocolates, and fish from local fleets. For a fabulous view and a meal inspired by local growers and catchers, head up to the Drift Cafe and Bistro where you can dine and sip local wines while overlooking the picturesque harbor. In town, you can sample a range of farm-to-barrel brews at either Persephone Brewing or Gibson Tapworks.
2. Marine Museum and the local arts
Gibsons Public Market also houses the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, which features a 1,200-square-foot aquarium where you can marvel at 30 habitats of 70 local marine species collected from harbors and bays. As you cruise the whole coast—especially artsy Sechelt—keep your eyes open for purple banners that show an artist is at work in an open studio or gallery and welcoming visitors.
3. Wildlife encounters
Water creatures abound in the area’s inlets, fjords, and rivers, so climb aboard a kayak or boat to see sea lions, dolphins, eagles, otters, and whales. In Sechelt, Pedals & Paddles offers paddle board and kayak rentals and guided tours. As you navigate the shallower, clear waters nearby, you may see starfish and sea cucumbers and, if you’re lucky, eagles and orcas. In Egmont, the Egmont Adventure Center’s boat will take you further out among the smaller islands to observe a thriving—and noisy—sea lion colony. Many of the harbor towns also offer saltwater fishing excursions.
4. The Skookumchuck Narrows
To see the rare natural wonder nicknamed “The Skook,” be sure to time your hike to the tidal shift. Named Skookumchuck Narrows after a Chinook Jargon word meaning “strong waters,” this site showcases the second biggest tidal change in the world twice daily. Between the Sechelt and Jervis inlets, the saltwater level change can be up to 9 feet with more than 200 billion gallons of water flowing through at up to 16 knots. Although the resulting whirlpools can be deadly, you’ll usually find extreme kayakers testing their limits on the fastest salt water rapids in North America. The delightful, wooded trail to the water, 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles) round-trip, lets you immerse yourself in this verdant cedar and fir forest. Find the best viewing times here.
5. Chatterbox Falls
Local touring companies offer a stunning 5-hour round-trip tour through Princess Louisa Inlet, sometimes referred to as BC’s Grand Canyon, to Princess Louisa Marine Park, the home of glacier-fed Chatterbox Falls. On the way you can gaze up at mountains more than 7,000 feet tall and stunning cliffs. You may see petroglyphs painted on some of the rock faces, along with sea lions, seals, eagles, and ospreys. In the Princess Louisa Inlet, get off the boat to explore. During the growing seasons, everywhere you walk is bright green with abundant moss and ferns—it feels truly magical, as if a fairy or gnome might pop out at any moment.
6. Hop aboard a float plane
To see this natural area in all its magnificence, try a bird’s eye view from a float plane. Both Sunshine Coast Air and Harbour Air offer multiple flightseeing options to reach and explore the Sunshine Coast and other BC destinations, including Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Sunshine Coast Air offers a flightseeing tour to Chatterbox Falls that includes 30 minutes at the park, or you can book a Fly ‘n’ Dine lunch or dinner package to fly out of Sechelt over the water and islands, land in Egmont, and dine at Inlets Restaurant at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge. Harbour Air offers multiple panorama flights, and both will fly you over the mountaintops and glaciers to Whistler or over the ocean to Tofino.
Perfect storm: In the winter, Tofino’s rugged coastline puts on a wild and magnificent show
7. Lush lodgings
From RV sites to more luxurious abodes, you have ample options for sleeping well after all that fresh air. For a splurge, stay at West Coast Wilderness Lodge with its gorgeous bluff setting and comfy private cabins. At the seaside Rockwater Secret Cove Resort, choose from tenthouse suites, woodsy cabins that date to the 1950s, or the main lodge. In season, it also offers a wall-less spa, kayaking, and hiking. The Garden Bay Resort and Campground has easy access to lakes, mountains, and the ocean in a friendly, less crowded setting. Katherine Lake and Campground has a sandy beach on a beautiful inland lake perfect for swimming and kayaking.