A Local’s Guide to Powell River, British Columbia
At the north end of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, two ferry rides away from the city of Vancouver, is the qathet Regional District and the city of Powell River. In our latest local’s guide, Miles reflects on living there for the last year, several local bikepacking routes, and the community that has drawn him in…
Two years ago, if you were to tell me I’d be renting a heritage home in qathet regional district (Powell River), going to Monday night yoga, and holding a position on the local cycling association board, I’d probably ask you where the hell Powell River is. It’s funny how life works sometimes, and it took a few random coincidences before Emily and I made the move to the Sunshine Coast. I have my good friend Natalie Jones to thank for the move, who I originally met at the 2019 Bikepacking Summit in Ellijay, Georgia. She was the only other Canadian at the Summit and was quick to invite us to visit her in Powell River. At the time, I had no idea where to find Powell River on a map, and the name had an aura of northern British Columbia remoteness that seemed out of reach. A few months later, when Covid-19 first began wreaking havoc on our world, we found ourselves housesitting on Vancouver Island with just the Strait of Georgia and a few islands in between us and Powell River. It wasn’t until then that we realized where Powell River was, the amount of mountain bike trails that existed there, and how easy it would be to visit.
That summer, being mostly restricted to the west coast, we spent a number of weekends scoping out Powell River. First for some mountain biking with Natalie and an introduction to what the city had to offer, then for a longer bikepacking trip. Growing up on Texada Island, Natalie has spent a great deal of her life in the area and did a good job at curating an attractive list of places to visit and things to do. I can’t be certain it was her direct intention to convince us to move there, but it worked.
My first taste of riding in the area was scouting the Powell River Sampler Route, which solidified my initial impressions of mountain biking in the area. The route is just under 100 kilometers and is designed to be tackled in a long weekend or less. Over half of the route follows purpose-built mountain bike trails and old-school hiking trails, making for a challenging but incredibly rewarding ride for anyone comfortable riding blue-rated coastal singletrack. Now that I have a better bearing on my surroundings, it’s awesome how out there it feels for anyone new to the Sunshine Coast. It’s a good reminder that some epic adventures can happen right in your backyard.
The town of Powell River has several distinct trail systems that can almost all be linked together to create long rides. North of town, just past the Tla’amin Nation, you’ll find the Marathon Trails—the destination for my Good Night 2020 Campout with Emily and a popular spot for fast sunset rides. Closer to town there are the Duck Lake and West Lake Trails for more XC-oriented riding. Mount Mahony is home to steeper, more downhill style trails, and the smoothest rolling trails are found in Millennium Park, the Penticton Street Maze, and the Suncoast Trails just south of town. There’s no lack of trails to keep busy on, and the amount of new trails being developed is exciting. While this region is known for rooty, often technical terrain, there’s an impressive amount of variation between the different riding areas—perfect for newer and more experienced riders alike.
The majority of these trails systems are linked together with gravel roads, a byproduct of the logging industry, and connect a number of picturesque freshwater lakes that can be included in some fantastic rides. It’s almost too easy to whip together a beautiful 100-kilometer gravel loop right from town—our 10 Lakes Overnighter route being a good example. Not only can the roads get you to some impressive destinations, but they also help put the terrain into perspective, providing views of the mountains between Powell Lake and Jervis Inlet, skirting alongside the popular Powell Forest Canoe Route and Sunshine Coast Trail. Add a packraft or hike-a-bike into the equation and you’ll be set up for some pretty incredible adventures.
Nearby Bikepacking Routes
While the majority of people relocating to Powell River are seeking refuge from the busy city, there has also been an influx of gear-laden cyclists looking to tackle one of several routes we’ve published in the last few years. From the challenging, singletrack heavy Sampler to rolling gravel roads on Texada Island, there are numerous ways to experience the region’s unique landscapes.
The Powell River Sampler
…is a 90-kilometer one-way route that follows a mix of loamy, ribboned singletrack and gravel roads. It rewards you with cabins, ocean views, vibrant rainforests, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes, all while boasting over 50 kilometers of premium singletrack. This scenic route makes for a great continuation of the Lower Sunshine Coast Route, and also serves as an off-road connection to the Comox ferry and Vancouver Island. Check it out here.
10 Lakes Overnighter
…links together no fewer than 10 freshwater lakes in close proximity to Powell River. This 103-kilometer loop is a perfect introduction to the extensive gravel road network that exists on the Sunshine Coast—which can all be attributed to the once-booming commercial logging industry that emerged in the 1880s. Learn more here.
Texada Ridge Runner
…is a 144-kilometer gravel route that traverses BC’s Texada Island from north to south and back again, following a mix of quiet gravel roads and pavement. The route is designed to hit some of the must-see spots on the island, including Anderson Bay, Bob’s Lake, Shingle Beach, and the communities of Gillies Bay and Van Anda, all accessed via some of the best gravel roads and biggest climbs around. Find the full route guide here.
The Tree to Sea Loop, Vancouver Island
…is an incredible 1,000-kilometer gravel loop around the lesser-known areas on the north end of Vancouver Island. The route links massive valleys, oceanside villages, towering coastal mountains, and deep fjords via an impressive patchwork of forest service roads. Aside from some of the best gravel riding on the coast, there are opportunities for spelunking, whale watching, waterside camping, and much more. Check it out here.
The Lower Sunshine Coast Bikepacking Route
…leaves the pavement behind and enters a lush green tunnel and a seemingly endless network of loamy mountain bike trails. This popular singletrack-heavy route showcases some of the best trails on the coast, popularized by the BC Bike Race and maintained by a dedicated group of trail builders. Learn more here.
Food, Drink, and Shopping
Although it’s a small town with a population of just over 21,000, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the number of dedicated and skilled business owners in town. The best part? Almost all of my favourite spots are within a 10-minute bike ride from one another.
- TAWS Bike Garage: Operated by my good friend Justin, TAWS is the only bike shop in downtown Powell River and is the place to go for all things mountain biking and gravel riding. Justin built the shop from the ground up and has been experimenting with bringing in some lightweight camping gear and accessories for bikepackers as well.
- 32 Lakes Cafe and Bakery: Just down the street from the bike shop is 32 Lakes, a locally owned cafe and bakery with some of the best coffee and baked goods in town. The owners, Nevada and Ryan, are some of the friendliest people I’ve met and their small team is really what makes the cafe such a pleasure to visit. Make sure to get in early for the best selection of treats and grab yourself a buttercream cupcake so I stop eating them all.
- Townsite Brewing: Located in the original community of Townsite, Townsite Brewing is the only local brewery in town and a popular destination for post-ride drinks. They have a large selection of beer, as well as locally brewed kombucha and ginger beer, and a shop cat named Wanda.
- Costa del Sol: I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve ended every local campout with tacos and margaritas at Costa del Sol. If it’s sunny out and you’re in town, do yourself a favour and grab a spot on their patio.
A Welcoming Community
Aside from year-round riding and yummy croissants, it’s the local community that has drawn me in the most. After spending the majority of my pre-Covid time on the road, forming meaningful friendships in a town where you start to recognize everyone’s vehicle and can’t go anywhere without seeing a familiar face, has been a game-changer for me. I thrive on these interactions and the folks I’m lucky enough to call friends have made finding my role in a new place easy. For anyone visiting, make sure to check out the Powell River Cycling Association for all things cycling, and consider booking a clinic or guided ride with Ransom Bike Co. if you’re unsure on where to ride.
The qathet Regional District and the city of Powell River have a lot to offer visiting bikepackers, and as you can probably tell, I’m a big fan. Several great bikepacking routes start right from town, serving as a perfect warmup for the Tree to Sea Loop. The people are friendly and the trails are great. Grab yourself an oceanside campsite at Willingdon Beach and stay a while!
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