THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO RIDING ON
SUNSHINE COAST, BC
Words, photos, & video by Brice Shirbach
I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. My eyes went from the ceiling of my hotel room, back to the bedside clock, then to my bikes, and finally to a pair of crows building a nest outside of my window. Oh and then back to the clock. The sounds of downtown Vancouver 6 floors below were probably what woke me up initially, but it was the prospect of what lay ahead that prevented me from a few extra minutes of slumber.
This was my first time in British Columbia, which might come as a surprise to a few, as I've been producing content for BC-based Pinkbike for half a dozen years now, and somehow managed to snag some goods overseas before I was even able to pay my west coast neighbors to the north a visit. A quick drive from downtown to West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal provided me with my first glimpse of what lies ahead of me, and it was staggeringly beautiful. This might've been my first trip to BC, but I've long been inspired by still and moving imagery alike, and through vicarious means as I followed along through social media my friends and their many adventures here. It's one thing to see it from a distance, though still very easy to appreciate, and it's also just as easy to pretend that maybe there's some hyperbole at play here. But once you're in the thick of it; once you're surrounded by so much beauty that it hurts as much as it charms, the gravity of this place changes.
I experienced 2 full days of sunshine out of my 7 on the Sunshine Coast, and this would still prove to be one of the most impactful and eye-opening mountain bike trips of my life. The people, the scenery, and the trails would, in the end, prove to be game changing for me and I'm already a little desperate to return to see even more of it.
// Local FlavoursAge:
Wilmington, DE, USAIndustry affiliations:
Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Pearl Izumi, 9point8, Julbo, MRP, Deity Components, EVOC, Shimano, Dialed Health, Stan's No Tubes, Topeak, Leatt, Cane Creek Cycling ComponentsInstagram: @bricyclesFavorite Trail on the Sunshine Coast:
I'm always most struck by terrain with a dramatic skyline above the sea.
A Bit About the Region
First, we need to establish something very important about the Sunshine Coast and really the rest of British Columbia. These are very obviously beautiful lands, and the people who call this place home are famous for easy going temperaments and generally kind attitudes. See: Canadians. However, it is also important to acknowledge that these lands belong to an indigenous people who never relinquished land rights by refusing to sign treaties with the Canadian Crown. These are the traditional territories of the Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh), Sechelt (Shíshálh), and Sliammon (Tla’Amin) and Klahoose First Nations, and we should consider ourselves fortunate that they share these lands with others, allowing us to freely explore this breathtaking land aboard two wheels.
The Sunshine Coast stretches 110 miles from Gibsons along the southern edge of the South Coast, to Bliss Landing, which is the tip of the North Coast spear. It saw its first non-natives arrive in the 19th century, and from there the logging and fishing industries took hold as initial economic staples. The mid-twentieth century saw a rapid population increase, as the largest newspaper mill on the planet was operating in Powell River, and the development of ferry services and increased highway infrastructure allowed for easier travel to and from Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
Over 50,000 people call The Sunshine Coast home today, with the largest population centers being Powell River, Sechelt, Gibsons, and Robert Creek. Forestry is at the top of the heap in terms of economic impact for the region, but tourism, cultural arts, and small business entrepreneurship are closing in. Mountain biking is a massive draw here, with events like the BC Bike Race bringing hundreds of participants through the area every year for several years running, and over six times the mileage of legal trails to ride than that of paved roads between the two coasts, a number I found staggering when I first heard it.
More recently, the Sunshine Coast has become an ironic amalgamation as a highly visible, yet still largely unknown mecca for some of the most influential and progressive riders and edits in all of mountain biking, with folks like The Coastal Crew, Brandon Semenuk, Kyle Norbraten, Logan Peat, Paul Genovese, Forrest Riesco and scores of other high flying Canadian freeriders and World Cup racers calling this place home while pumping out a steady stream of mind-meltingly brilliant edits time and time again. In reality, the high profile contingent is just the cherry on top of a foundation built upon an unbelievably dedicated core of volunteers and stewards who never seem to take for granted the supreme privilege calling such a paradise home truly is.
Getting to the Sunshine Coast
Well, here's the thing: While the Sunshine Coast is technically connected to mainland British Columbia, the mountains and fjords have so far proved to be too much for the installation of roads in or around them. Thus, the only means of getting to and from this rugged southwest corner of BC is by sea or air.
I drove to BC from the eastern United States, and made my way into Canada via Interstate 5, through Canadian Customs, and onto Highway 99 north towards Vancouver. Getting through Customs was a breeze, and the drive north to town was especially lovely as the area was drenched in late afternoon sunlight. My decision to stay overnight in Vancouver felt wise as well, allowing for me to rest up and keep my wits about me after such a long drive. The alternative would have been to try and race through post-work rush hour in one of Canada's largest metropolitan centers in order to catch my ferry. Instead I was able to get a great meal, get some great sleep, and had all morning to make the 30 minute drive from downtown to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay.
Both Vancouver and Vancouver Island offer regular ferry service to and from the Coast via BC Ferries
. A quick look at their website will provide you with all of the schedule and fare information you need. Automobiles, cyclists, and hikers are all able to utilize ferries and I found the ride to be comfortable, beautiful, and quick. Most of the vessels have cafeterias and wifi as well. In fact, I was actually able to get a lot of work done on my laptop during my return trip following my week on the Coast. Additionally, a ferry ride is required if you are looking to drive from the South Coast to the North Coast, with terminals that connect in Earl's Cove and Saltery Bay. If the first ferry ride from Vancouver is an eye opener, the trip from Earl's Cove to Saltery Bay will bring tears to them.
While ferries are by and large the primary means of getting to and from either part of the Sunshine Coast, airlines do offer flights from Vancouver International Airport in Vancouver to both Sechelt and Powell River, as well as flights from Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island to Sechelt.
Like steeps? Like to hit massive jumps? You're in the right space.
The Best Trails to Ride on the Sunshine Coast
This is going to be a bit of an impossible task, but I'll give it my best. The reality is that I would need years to explore all of what is available now, and by the time I wrapped it up there would be hundreds of miles of fresh cut loam factories that weren't there when I started. I don't know that anyone has had a chance to actually ride everything on the Sunshine Coast. There are some people who have ridden 99% of the South Coast, but have barely touched the stuff around Powell River on the North Coast, and vice versa. When I put these together, I try and get as comprehensive a sample size as I can, but I can honestly say that after 6 straight days of riding both Coasts, I wouldn't even say I began to scratch the surface of what this place offers. Oh, and I loved everything
I rode. All of it. Nothing left me feeling anything short of pure joy. So there's that to consider. Because of the enormity of this place and the amount of trail available to ride, I'm going to try and keep my breakdown fairly general in terms of the riding areas. I'm sure there are some people who can break things down into a much more nuanced and detail-oriented fashion, but this will at least help get you started. GIBSONS
If you're taking a ferry over from Vancouver, which is very often the case for visitors to the Sunshine Coast, then Gibsons will be your first glimpse of this stunning landscape and community. The first trails are 5 minutes up the road from the ferry drop off at Sprockids Bike Park. Doug Detweiler is behind the organization of the group of 8-18 year olds who are largely responsible for much of the initial work that went into these trails. Despite the youthful name, there is actually a wide variety of trail types for riders of any and all levels and disciplines. Much like the rest of the Sunshine Coast, the closer you are to the trailhead, the mellower the pitch. As you work away from the road and up into the mountains, the trails tend to get quite a bit steeper. While most of the freeride features that put the Coast on the map are found between Roberts Creek and Sechelt, Gibsons does have a handful of really creative flow lines and wooden structures scattered throughout the forest. To be sure, the main draw to Gibsons is the simple fact that you're finally here, in one of the single best places on the planet to ride your bike. Oh and the loam. There's more honest to goodness loam than you can imagine in these here woods.Key trail - Doug's Detention to Pineapple Express: Sure, this is not a single trail, but it's easy to follow, has a very natural flow from one trail to another, and is definitely the most fun way down to the very bottom of the park from the heart of Sprockids. Expect plenty of optional lines, go-arounds, and creative features to play on throughout. It's a perfect trail for intermediates and up, as there are more than enough Easter egg features for advanced riders to hunt for, and a rather mellow pitch when compared to the steeper stuff found further up the slope.
Key trail - Torrent: This would actually prove to be my first ever trail in BC, and I ended up picking a classic. Torrent was one of the first downhills built in Gibsons, and it's a hefty task to get to the top of. I often had to shoulder my bike and cling to the side of the mountain as I worked my way through a series of chutes in excess of 80 degree pitches. But it's more than worth the huffing and puffing on the way up, as the mostly fall line descent is a stunning showcase of steep chutes, greasy roots, and non-stop off camber fun. The loam is copious, and there are a handful of timber structures and slippery log rides to mix things up on as well.ROBERT'S CREEK
This is where The Coastal Crew made their mark on the rest of us. The trail made famous in their "Kranked 8: Revolve" segment from a decade ago is somewhere above Robert's Creek, and trails continue to be built since that iconic moment in mountain biking cinematic history that have drawn a great deal of inspiration from what Norbs, Dylan, Kyle J, and Curtis did on camera in 2009. Many of the trails here are in fact repurposed logging skids, often dancing back and forth along the fall line. Everything in these woods is either drenched in green, or carries a shade of dampened chestnut brown. The moss almost has a glow to it, and the depth of the loam and organics throughout virtually every single trail is staggering. The area is also known as the B&K trails and they really do offer something for riders looking for everything. Another plus is that these trails are very easy to shuttle.Key trail - Hand Solo: Want to go fast, hit some sweet jumps, roast a few perfect corners, and do so in the middle of a deep, damp, and beautiful forest? The features here are sizable but still reasonably comfortable from your first run on. There's plenty of speed for everything without having to work hard for it, and the trail builders did a great job of making everything intuitive, so there's no guesswork involved when riding this trail.
Key trail - Ripped Nipple to El Dorado: This run is really easy to shuttle, and is a quintessential Coast ride, without much of anything especially steep. From the shuttle, you'll have a bit of a punchy climb, but from there you can expect to find lots of natural features, really fun flow, amazing dirt, and some clear cut sections towards the bottom of El Dorado that offer up some amazing views of the water.SECHELT
Sechelt sits opposite a sandbar from Robert's Creek but manages to offer up some pretty distinct types of terrain compared to the mostly loamy stuff found throughout the rest of the Sunshine Coast. Don't get me wrong, there's quite a lot of loam here, but you will find a bit more rock as well, with granite lined chutes and some straight up slab and boulder fields with loads of line choices to choose from. Many of the trails are shuttleable, but this is really a great place to string together a bunch of trails for a slightly more XC-oriented ride compared to the rest of the South Coast.Key trail: E-Line There's no really easy way to get here, which is why I imagine it's so damn good. It's got some super steep chutes, dreamy loam and moss lines, and it offers up some of the best views I've ever experienced from behind bars. It can be connected to a couple of trails below to extend the fun, but it's two minutes of unimaginably good fun.
Key trail: Huggies An old hiking trail that has since been converted into a SSC classic by one of the South Coast's preeminent rider/builder talents: Linden Feniak. Just a few kilometers from the base of Coast Gravity Park, this is a pretty technical and rowdy trail that will leave you smiling with bits of loam in your teeth.COAST GRAVITY BIKE PARK
I realize that this place doesn't really need an introduction on this here website, but for those of you new to the sport; welcome first and foremost. As far as Coast Gravity goes, it's a year-round, low elevation ocean front forest with 12 stunning trails built by some of the most talented builders and riders on the planet: The Coastal Crew. Riders are whisked to the top of the park by shuttle service, and from there have a range of trails to choose from, including massive and perfectly sculpted jump lines, steep and loamy hand built singletrack, and ultra wide corridor trails for people looking to just dip their toes into the mix.Key trail: Dynamite Panther Steep, rough, and loamy, with a slew of optional lines that'll help you get the wheels off of the ground for more than a heartbeat. It's purpose built, but with a more natural, Sunshine Coast feel to it.
Key trail: Coastal Cruise Built by the Coastal Crew, for the Coastal Crew, all of the massive features are mandatory, however they are so brilliantly built that I felt comfortable on them with a camera pack on. That's a testament to the brilliance of the trail building here. Definitely for experienced jumpers, there's a rhythm to this trail that needs to be experienced firsthand.POWELL RIVER
Powell River is the largest population center on the Sunshine Coast, and in truth is really made up of 5 or 6 separate trail networks that surround the town. It's home to 2 of the absolute loamiest trails I have ever ridden and has become synonymous with the BC Bike Race, although the South Coast plays host to the event as well. The trails around Powell River generally tend to favor the mid to short travel trail bike segment, although there is a growing contingent of youth and dedicated trail builders looking to utilize the copious amounts of fall line terrain at the ready throughout the North Coast. There are loads of massive all-day epics to be found around Powell River, with much of it employing creative use of lumber, and all of it playful and fun. The views can be staggering as well, with Mount Mahoney a stone's throw from the coastline, and moss drenched forests that are both mysterious and inviting at the same time. Side note: The World Health Organization has called Powell River the least polluted city on the planet, so you can happily treat your lungs to some high-quality air while working hard on those pedals!Key trail: Death Rattle This is a new-ish trail found in the Duck Lake area, and it is utilized by the BC Bike Race as a timed enduro descent. While there are a handful of spots that, if you were interested in snagging a KOM or something to that effect, would require a bit of pedaling, the vast majority of this trail stands as a reminder of the unabashed joy riding bikes in the woods can bring us. It has a handful of steep and off camber sections, with multiple line choices, and some amazing corners.
Key trail: Burly to Civil Disobedience While a true top-to-bottom run down Civil Disobedience is a bit of an epic adventure in and of itself, I want to suggest something different. The cutoff to Burly will only require half of the climbing involved when headed towards the top of Mount Mahoney where the start of Civil Disobedience awaits, but this version of the run will still bag you 1,000 feet of descending over the course of nearly 5 kilometers. Burly will start out with a few greasy and steep chutes, but offers up some really long lines of sight. You'll pick up the bottom third of Civil from the finish of Burly, and from there you shall fill your belly with the finest loam you'll ever see.
Powell River may favor the XC to trail side of the spectrum a hair more than most of what you'll find on the South Coast, but that doesn't mean you'll enjoy it any less.
The Sunshine Coast is a year-round riding destination. Despite being north of the Canadian/American border, the warm air from the Pacific keeps temperatures relatively mild during the winter months, particularly at elevations close to sea level with daytime highs averaging somewhere in the mid-40's Fahrenheit. The steep mountains here certainly collect plenty of snow over the course of the winter, but that precipitation is typically found in the form of rain down low. It's a fairly wet place for most of the year, so always pack some shells and layers, but things can get rather dry and dusty during peak summer months, though still very comfortable with average temps rarely exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August.
Bring them all. Seriously, there is more than enough terrain here for almost every conceivable type of mountain bike out there. There's even some decent road riding, particularly around Powell River. We all know those folks who dust off the downhill bikes for a handful of flow laps at the local bike park, and that's totally viable here, but those things were built to smash steep and rough stuff, and this is a place that actually warrants the use of those big hit machines.
I brought my long and low Firebird with me, as well as my shorter travel and wheelbased Switchblade, and managed to find things to keep them both extremely happy. I almost always opted for the Firebird on the South Coast, particularly between Roberts Creek and Gibsons, and even some of the steep and raw terrain outside of Sechelt. It was good to go for Coast Gravity as well, although a proper DH bike would've been pretty ideal there.
Powell River definitely caters to the shorter and more responsive XC to mid-travel trail bike, as those bikes tend to hit the sweet spot on much of those trails. I drove, so I was able to have a selection, but if you're flying in and need to go with one bike to rule them all, I'd likely opt for a longer travel trail bike. It's better to be over prepared than under gunned, especially during travel.
Local Clubs and Advocates:The Coast Mountain Bike Trail Association
is a non-profit organization serving the MTB trails on the Sunshine Coast, BC (South Coast - Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay, Pender Harbour, Langdale & Egmont).The Powell River Cycling Association
was created to represent the interests of cyclists from all disciplines in and around Powell River area, such as developing an all-access bike park, improved cycling infrastructure including the development of bike lanes, ways and paths in and around the major routes of town and creating more access to cycling for the youth of Powell River.
Eat, drink and be merry. And maybe grab another drink.
The historic district of Powell River is a really cool place to rest your legs after a long day on the pedals.
Food is an art form here. Enjoy.
Accommodations and Food:
While the entirety of the Sunshine Coast combines for just a hair over 50,000 inhabitants, as tourism continues to grow as an economic presence here, the number of lodging options and restaurants to choose from grows with it. I worked my way up the coast during my week in town, and had the opportunity to sample many restaurants and lodging options.
If you're looking to stay in Gibsons, Bliss by the Bay
is an amazing B&B, perfect for families or a group, and the costs are incredible, especially when split among a few people. In Robert's Creek, I stayed at the venerable biker/backpacker inspired hostel, Up the Creek
. Martin Prestage and his son are both mountain bikers, and it includes a bike wash and storage. My last night on the South Coast was spent at the uber-luxurious Painted Boat
resort. It is another option perfect for large groups and is just a 20-minute drive to the Earl's Cove ferry. My stay in Powell River was at the Old Courthouse Inn
, and it might've been my favorite of the lot. There was fast wifi, bike storage, a really comfy bed, and an adjoining cafe serving up amazing coffee and breakfast. It's run by a couple of amazing guys, J.P. and Kelly, who have a great deal of knowledge of the area and are incredibly hospitable. It's BC though, so everyone was really nice and went out of their way to make me feel at home throughout my time here.
The proximity to the water definitely plays a role in what you eat here, although you don't have to be a seafood lover in order to eat well. Gibsons, Sechelt, Pender Harbour, and Powell River offer up the densest selection of dining options, but food is damn near an art form in these parts, so you're never far from something tasty. Keep in mind, this is not a nightlife hub, so places tend to close shortly after dark, even on the weekends. Here are some of my favorite places from my time on The Coast:
Breakfast: Gumboot Cafe
in Robert's CreekEdie Rae's
Cafe in Powell RiverBase Camp Coffee
in Powell River
Lunch:Lone Wolf Bakery
in SecheltGibsons Public Market
in GibsonsBase Camp Coffee
in Powell River
in Robert's CreekSmitty's Oyster House
in GibsonsCosta Del Sol
in Powell RiverThe Coastal Cookery
in Powell River
For those of you who fancy a tasty beer or two, see below.
Local Bike Shops:
The Sunshine Coast has a few bike shops to help keep you rolling on your trip here:Off the Edge
in SecheltElphinstone Cycles
in Roberts CreekSuncoast Cycles
in Powell River
1. Learn a bit more about First Nations culture
. As we established early on, this is land that has belonged to a large community of native inhabitants long before anyone else set foot on this pristine soil, and it would behoove us all to do what we can to show respect and appreciation for their generosity. One way to do so is to educate ourselves on their art and culture, and the shíshálh Nation tems swiya Museum
in Sechelt is a good place to start.
2. Check out the craft beer, cider, and distillery scene
. The craft beverage scene here is strong and getting stronger, with several breweries, cideries, and distilleries popping up along the Sunshine Coast. Many of them are deeply involved with the mountain bike community as well, donating beer to the BC Bike Race, opening up their property lines to riders for increased trail access, and working hand in hand with the mountain bike community to cultivate a growing love for mountain bikes throughout the region. Tapworks Brewing
, Townsite Brewing
, and Brickers Cidery
are just a few of the places you should check out while in town. You can even build an entire vacation around it via the BC Ale Trail
3. Check out West Coast Thick
. I travel quite a lot, and often like to come home with some cool gifts for the family that are rooted in wherever I've been. This is a rad clothing and art shop in Powell River that is emblematic of the love locals have for the place they call home. A portion of the proceeds from many of these items are pumped right back into the trails as well, which almost makes me feel good about the amount of money I spent there.Southern Sunshine Coast mountain biking trailsNorthern Sunshine Coast mountain biking trailsCoast Gravity Park mountain biking trails