Level: Flatwater Paddling

Distance: 63 km

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Time: 5 days

Season: June till October

Access: See Getting to the Sunshine Coast.

A paddler's paradise on the Sunshine Coast.

When the going got tough for the one company town of Powell River the town got thinking. With the forest industry on a decline locals took a new look at the bountiful forest that had so long buttered their bread. At the behest of people like Powell River map maker Gerhard Tollas, with the co-operation of the local Chamber of Commerce and the B.C. Forest Service and with the financial support of a federal make-work scheme the project took off. Unemployed loggers were hired and the rest is history.


Paddlers set out from camp as dusk settles over Dodd Lake. The extended evenings of summer are ideal for flyfishing all along the Powell Forest Canoe Route.  

Just half a day from the Lower Mainland, the Powell Forest Canoe Route now rivals even its more famous cousin the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route in the central interior of the province. Unlike the Bowron route, Powell Forest is not a truly circular route. And while some will denigrate the experience because of active logging in the area the same can be said of the Bowron Lakes since, in recent years, massive clearcuts, just outside the park boundaries, have marred the landscape forever.

The Powell Forest route does not even pretend to be wilderness. Indeed part of the canoeing experience is complimented by the historical aspect of logging throughout the area.

Hot Tip

Powell River Visitors Bureau has produced a brilliant map of the entire region detailing, the Sunshine Coast Trail, the Powell Forest Canoe Route and Desolation Sound. The full-colour map includes topographic information, logging roads, and other routes of interest to mountain bikers, horseback riders and hikers. Key scuba diving, kayaking, climbing and camping locations are also highlighted. Download the map in PDF format here.

Lois Lake, the first of the eight lakes embraced by the route, owes its eerie quality to the flood first and ask questions later approach to damming that was prevalent in the frontier days of coastal industry. Throughout the Powell Forest Canoe Route notched cedar stumps, now moss-covered and topped with shocks of salal, attest to the bygone era of springboard and handsaw logging.

When developing the route, work crews uncovered a corduroy logging road built by Japanese immigrants to retrieve cedar shake bolts. The technology of the day dictated the use of horse pulled sleds with greased wooden runners to drag the valuable cargo over the wood-plank road. And while the road remains as a portage between Dodd and Windsor lakes, the loggers themselves were infamously rounded up and sent to de facto concentration camps more than half a century ago.

Starting at Lois Lake, the main route connects with Horseshoe, Nanton, Ireland, Dodd, Windsor, Goat and finally Powell Lake.

And while the main route comprises eight lakes and 55 km of paddling with 8 km of portaging, a less direct approach offers four further lakes and as much as 160 km of paddling with only one added portage. All portages are wide-laned avenues with canoe rests spaced every 300 metres. The shortest is 0.7 km while the most taxing of these portages links Windsor and Goat lakes. The 2.4 km long trail is further complicated by a steep grade. For this reason, starting the journey at the Powell Lake Marina instead of Lois Lake is not recommended. Powell Lake itself, a giant fjord long since cut off from the sea, can be subject to afternoon squalls that at best will impede your progress. At worst these unexpected winds could capsize a canoe paddled by novices. Powell Lake is best tackled in the calmer morning hours. Ancient cedar snags and submerged deadheads, especially in Lois and Goat Lakes present considerable hazard to the inexperienced as well. Yet one canoeist's hazard is another osprey's habitat. The abundance of ancient dead wood has allowed these fish-hunting birds of prey to proliferate.


Trout Time: Though fished-out when compared with its early years, fine trout can still be pulled from the depths of Powell Lake. And deep it is, measuring 347 metres at its deepest point. Down there we find a layer of seawater dating from the days when Powell Lake was not a lake at all but rather an inlet of the sea. In addition to rainbow and cutthroat trout, Powell Lake is home to kokanee, a small, land-locked variety of salmon.      

Osprey breakfast tastes mighty fine to canoeists too. Rainbow and cutthroat trout and a tiny landlocked salmon called kokanee are found in abundance throughout the Powell Forest Canoe Route. These fish are not so readily caught however, especially in the dead of summer when it takes a pretty convincing lure to tempt them away from their ample food supply.

With sharp eyes the chance of spotting a family of mountain goats on the cliffs of aptly named Goat Island or those above Goat Lake is good. Black bears abound throughout the canoe route environs so be especially vigilant in hanging food high and away from sleeping areas. The best place in the area to catch a glimpse of bears is in the vicinity of Rainbow Lodge, a fishing resort operated since the 1930s for newsprint clients of, first the Powell River Company, then later MacMillian Blodel.

Staff at the lodge dump all edible garbage on a point across the bay to keep bears away from the buildings. Early morning feedings invariably attract several of the hungry creatures.

You can rent canoes or kayaks locally at Mitchell's Canoe & Kayak or Powell River Sea Kayak.

For hiking routes in the vicinity of the Powell Forest Canoe Route visit the Sunshine Coast Trail.

The End

Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea

Forgot the tea bags and dying for a cuppa? Look around the camp. Chances are your drippy socks are draped over a Labrador tea bush. Steep the leaves, but not the socks, in boiled water for a tea that was enjoyed by more North American Indians than any other kind. Don’t actually boil the leaves however as boiling releases a chemical called ledol which has a number of unpleasant side effects. Pregnant women should avoid Labrador tea altogether. As a mild narcotic, Labrador tea was also an essential ingredient in kinnikinnik, a tobacco-less smoking mixture used by native groups throughout much of North America.

Illustration by Manami Kimura