Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
POWELL RIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — We are sitting on an island in the middle of the lake when I hear the sound of wings. Above me, a cormorant glides low. As it passes overhead, I can feel the wind from its wings. It gives me a glance, then passes along, its green eyes intent on the ocean.
This is part of the magic of the Powell River Forest Canoe Route.
Often viewed as an almost-uninhabited land of bears, salmon, and big trees, the southern part of coastal British Columbia is actually dotted with towns. One of these is Powell River, a small city that lies a short ferry ride away from the tip of the Sunshine Coast. The steep inlets that surround the Sunshine Coast and Powell River mean that ferries are the simplest way to move between towns.
You’ll find that Powell River has a mind of its own. The town has been a logging centre for many years. Recently, it has also reinvented itself as a coastal haven for those interested in the arts and sustainability, hosting festivals and classes galore.
Powell River’s history and its canoe route are very much intertwined. The route makes its way through Powell Lake, a reservoir for the town’s pulp mill. When the mill was built, the short Powell River was dammed, creating an even larger Powell Lake.
The Powell River Forest Canoe Route gives you a taste of BC’s wild, without feeling like you’re completely cut off from civilization. If you travel during the summer, you’ll meet others who are making the trek. Yet you’ll also experience abundant wildlife: bears and deer wander along the shore, and the sounds of owls echo across the lakes in the evening. The area has great fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout; you’ll need to purchase a licence before you go.
The Powell River Forest Canoe Route covers eight lakes, with five portages. Over five to seven days, you’ll cover 57 kilometres, with 49 kilometres of paddling. Most of the lakes have numerous campsites available, and the sites have services such as outhouses and picnic tables. The ones closer to the town can be quite busy in the summer months, while you may be the only one camping at the sites that are farther afield.
Although the route is popular, you will often be alone on the water, paddling quietly through lakes nestled in the mountains. You’ll delight in the sense of being alone in the wilderness, and in the call of the Swainson’s thrush that spirals upward over the still lake as the sun drops behind the mountain.
Points to Note
While this route is accessible for most of the year, it’s best done from June to October. Depending on the water level, some sites may be underwater at points in the year. The final leg of the journey can be challenging in the afternoon, when larger waves tend to be prominent on Powell Lake. Try to paddle in the morning before the water gets too choppy.
Riding the Lakes in Style
Looking for a visit to the lakes without as much self-propelled glory? Rent a houseboat at the marina on Powell Lake. We did this many years ago, meandering the boat up to Goat Lake, our unorthodox honeymoon location.
To get to the canoe route from Vancouver, catch one of the BC Ferries sailing at Horseshoe Bay. Go to Langdale, and drive up the Sunshine Coast to Earls Cove. Catch the ferry to Saltery Bay. Including ferry rides, you’ll want to make sure that you leave at least five hours for this part of the journey. Reserve ahead on the ferry to make sure that you make your connection.
After you get off the ferry at Saltery Bay, drive 10 kilometres to the canoe route’s entrance, marked by a sign on the right side of the road across the highway from Loubert Road. This is Lois Lake, the beginning of the canoe route. Travelling the route in this direction means that your portages will be generally downhill.
Before you head into the canoe route, stop in town for supplies. The Powell River Visitors’ Bureau also stocks maps of the canoe route.
MAP OF POWELL RIVER, BC
View Larger Map
NOTE: Photo courtesy of Powell River Tourism