Vancouver Adventure Guide
25 essential hikes, sights, and day trips around Vancouver, BC
Vancouver is a vibrant and multicultural city full of diverse neighbourhoods, great restaurants, microbreweries, parks, cafés, fun events, all that typical city stuff — but let's be honest: what really sets it apart is its stunning location. Vancouver's close proximity to temperate rainforests, ocean beaches, isolated islands, and rugged mountain backcountry are what set it apart and make it so special — there are hundreds of great hikes, sights, and daytrips into some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes Canada has to offer. These are 25 of our most favourite.
For more city-oriented info, check out our Vancouver City Guide. Or, jump to an area outside of the city that you want to explore: The North Shore, Sea to Sky, Tri-Cities / Ridge Meadows, Fraser Valley East, or Islands
BEFORE YOU GO
THE NORTH SHORE
Vancouver's North Shore has some of the most accessible wilderness anywhere. Only a half hour from the city you can find plunging canyons, crystal clear creeks, old growth rainforest, and a handful of rugged mountain hikes (many with a scenic view over the city).
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LYNN CANYON & THE HEADWATERS
Lynn Canyon is one of our favourite places in the Vancouver area. There's a whole network of easy creekside trails, waterfalls, and refreshing little swimming holes — the more popular of which can get quite busy during the summer months, but you can usually find a quiet area if you know where to look. If you're feeling adventurous make your way north into the Headwaters — check out the intermediate 14km trail to Norvan Falls, or head up the difficult backcountry trails to Coliseum Mountain or the Hanes Valley route to Grouse Mountain.
Difficulty: Easy (Lynn Canyon) to Difficult (Hanes Valley & Coliseum)
ST MARK'S SUMMIT
You'd be hard pressed to find a better view than from St Mark's. With sweeping panoramas over Howe Sound and a scenic bluff, this has become a very popular trail in the last few years. Come on a weekday if you can! Part of the 29km Howe Sound Crest Trail, you start on Cypress Mountain and can continue past St Marks to Mt Unnecessary, the Lions, Mt Harvey, Brunswick, and Deeks Lakes, but St Marks is worth the trip all on its own.
There's a bunch of things to see on Cypress including mountain top hikes and rustic cabin spotting, but our favourite is probably just Cypress Falls down near the highway. The lush canyon feels like something out of time. But also worth checking out is the trail to Eagle Bluffs, with a swim in Cabin Lake on the way.
Difficulty: Easy (Cypress Falls) to Intermediate (Eagle Bluffs)
One of our favourite places to catch a sunset or share a picnic, Lighthouse Park offers some pleasant forest strolls and a beautiful rocky cove-filled coast.
One of Vancouver's three ski hills in the winter, Seymour offers a variety trails with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the city spread out far below. Our favourite trails are the 9km trek up to the Mount Seymour summit, and the shorter but still scenic trail to Dog Mountain. Another place worth a visit is the Seymour Valley Trailway — a paved bicycle route up the valley bottom through old growth forests.
Difficulty: Easy (Dog Mountain, Seymour Valley Trailway) to Intermediate (Mt Seymour Summit)
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is world-renowned as one of Vancouver's premier attractions, but there are a couple other things worth checking out, including the Capilano-Pacific Trail. Starting from shores of the Burrard Inlet, you can hike up past canyons and forests and a salmon hatchery to the photogenic Cleveland Dam.
DEEP COVE / QUARRY ROCK
Deep Cove is a quiet little village nestled on the shores of Burrard Inlet. Only 30 minutes from Downtown Vancouver, it is the terminus of our favourite section of the North Shore-spanning Baden Powell Trail, and the setting off point for the popular the Quarry Rock hike or a paddle up the Indian Arm. Be sure to grab a huge tasty treat from Honey's Donuts after your adventure.
BC's southernmost fjord, the Indian Arm is a paddler's delight. Whether you set off for an afternoon jaunt to the Twin Islands or for a long weekend circumnavigation, there is plenty to see and experience. Highly recommended for all locals. For a bit more info read our Indian Arm post.
SEA TO SKY
The 30 minute drive up the Howe Sound to Squamish is one of the most spectacular stretches of highway around, especially in the late afternoon. Stop in at Lions Bay for a swim, Porteau Cove for a view down the Sound (or a snorkel), and at Galileo's for a coffee and a treat. Past Squamish you're driving through mostly forests until you hit Whistler, but there are a number of scenic pullouts and trails to hit up on the way.
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The Chief is another Vancouver classic, and one that we try to hike at least once a year. It's a steep but rewarding climb, and with picturesque views of Howe Sound and three endpoints to choose from, there's plenty reason to keep coming back for more.
Watersprite is a relatively recent discovery, but it has quickly become one of our favourites. It just seems like something out of a fairytale. There's a new trail that avoids all the mud and swamps, but still plan a full day for this one.
Elfin Lakes are a great hike at any time of the year. The first half of the trail is just through forest up old access roads, but once you hit the Red Heather Hut there are stunning mountain views all the way to Elfin Lakes and beyond. In winter the snow piles up over 2m (7ft) thick, so pack your snowshoes! Reservations are now required for overnight stays between June and October. For more info read our Elfin Lakes Snowshoeing post.
Garibaldi Lake is a great setting off point to a number of hikes like the Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge, but it's also a nice destination on its own. A sparkling turquoise blue, the icy waters are perfectly refreshing on a hot summer's day, and watching the distant glaciers slowly turn pink as the sun sets is pretty great. Reserve a spot if you plan on staying between June and October.
Whistler has a bunch of great trails, and the Musical Bumps is easily among our most favourites. We like to take the gondola up to the High Note Trail overlooking Cheakamus Lake, then connect onto the Musical Bumps and hike the open alpine all the way to Singing Pass. From here you can either loop back down to Whistler via a long forest slog or take the branch trail up to Russet Lake and the Himmelsbach Hut. For more info read our Musical Bumps.
Wedgemount is a difficult trail with substantial elevation gain (and no gondola, sad sad). Climbing 1100m (3600ft) in just 7km (4.3miles), at can times it feel like a heroic effort to pull yourself up. Much of the trail is through forest, but once you climb out onto the rocks and see towering mountains, glaciers, and the grey-blue waters of the lake all the effort is immediately worth it. Just be sure to be easy on your knees and leave yourself plenty of time to hike back down as the steep descent can take almost as long as it did coming up.
SEA TO SKY GONDOLA
If the idea of a steep sweaty hike up the Chief doesn't get you excited, you can opt for a pleasant gondola ride up instead — and then cap it off with a round of drinks and snacks from the mountaintop restaurant. For the more adventurous, you can scramble up the Via Ferrata or Sea to Summit Trails and take the gondola back down, or use the gondola as a jumping off to a backcountry hike to Skypilot and beyond.
Difficulty: Easy (gondola) to Difficult (Via Ferrata, Skypilot)
TRI-CITIES / RIDGE MEADOWS
Suburbs stretch eastward from Vancouver, but the city is contained by a vast wall of steep mountains and wilderness to the north. Here you can find beautiful lakes, great hikes, and plenty of backcountry camping opportunities at the northeastern edge of Metro Vancouver.
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BUNTZEN / SASAMAT LAKE
Buntzen and Sasamat lakes are popular swimming spots in the Anmore - Port Moody area. There are scenic picnic areas, nice trails around the lakes, and a couple wilderness treks including the magnificent Halvor Lunden trail, a collection of challenging 8-12hr loops with spectacular views of both Indian Arm and the Coquitlam mountains.
Difficulty: Easy (swim/picnic) to Difficult (Halvor Lunden)
The approach to Pitt Lake is one of the prettiest areas around. A vast series of marsh and meadows under the Pinecone-Burke and Golden Ears mountains, you can walk for miles on the extensive dyke system or hop on a boat and head up the lake. Pitt Lake is one of the world's largest tidal lakes and notoriously temperamental, so we haven't canoed it... yet
From the Pitt Lake dock you can paddle across the river to the Widgeon Slough, a maze of meandering creek systems that slowly leads you up the valley. It's a beautiful paddle, but if you come late in the summer you may have to pull your canoe up some of the shallower sections. backcountry camping is available, and there's a steep overnight trail to Widgeon Lake.
Difficulty: Easy (but watch the tidal current on Pitt River!)
Golden Ears is the largest provincial campground in the lower mainland, with plenty of hiking, canoeing, and backcountry camping opportunities as well. Check out Alouette Beach, Gold Creek, and the thick moss forests of the Spirea Trail.
Difficulty: Easy (Gold Creek Trail) to Difficult (summiting Golden Ears)
FRASER VALLEY EAST
Driving east, you leave the flat farmland of the Fraser floodplain and enter the Cascade Range near Chilliwack and Hope. Towering mountains line the highway, the rough dirt roads beckon you into the wilds. It's a couple hours' drive from Vancouver, and one of the areas we've explored the least, but there is plenty to discover.
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It's a long drive northeast of Mission to get to the Cascade Falls, but once you're there it's just a quick walk out onto the scenic suspension bridge.
Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park is predominantly a boating and camping destination but there are some nice trails in the area too, most notably the Flora Peak Trail which offers sweeping views down the lake and across the border into the Washington's snow-capped North Cascades.
Difficulty: Easy (Lindeman Lake) to Intermediate (Flora Peak)
It's a bit of a rough drive in, but the striking mountain views above Jones Lake make for a great camping getaway. The lake is a reservoir operated by BC Hydro, and you can expect low water levels and lots of submerged stumps in the off season. Unfortunately there's also a bit of a party scene, and you can probably expect to see a lot of garbage as well.
Just south of Hope, the Silver-Skagit Rd cuts through some beautiful mountain terrain. Camp out at Silver Lake, or make the long drive down into the Skagit Valley Provincial Park where you can camp, boat, or hike the trails. Much like Jones Lake, Ross Lake is a hydro reservoir so if you come in the shoulder season expect low water levels and a lot of stumps. You can hike the steep Skyline Trail into Manning Park, or cross the unguarded border into Washington to the stunning Hozomeen Mountain and Desolation Peak access trails.
There's no better way to unwind and enjoy BC's relaxed coastal lifestyle than by hopping on a ferry to one of the islands. Whether you're camping, kayaking, or renting a cabin and hitting up the quiet towns, there's just something really special about these rural arbutus-lined rocks.
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SALT SPRING ISLAND
The largest and most populated of the Southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring also happens to be our favourite. Camp at Ruckle Park, drive up Mt Maxwell, swim in St Mary's Lake, and grab some frozen yogurt and baked goods in Ganges.
We've barely scratched the surface of Galiano, but the stunning views atop the eponymous mountain were enough to make it on our list. While you're here, check out the shops of Sturdies Bay, take in the coastal views from Bodega Ridge, and spend a couple nights relaxing at the Montague Harbour campground. We'll be back.
Bowen has a bit of a different flavour than the Southern Gulf Islands, but its proximity to Vancouver alone makes it worth a visit. Stroll through the shops and galleries at Snug Cove, take in a unique view of Vancouver from the top of Mt Gardner, or catch a stunning sunset from the rocky coast of Cape Roger Curtis.
Difficulty: Intermediate (Mt Gardner)