Surrounded by majestic mountains, but open to the waters of the Pacific, Vancouver is one of the world’s truly remarkable cities. No wonder Vancouver is regularly recognized as one of the world’s best places to live!
Some of the best hiking in Canada is within sight of downtown Vancouver. Between the mountain ski hills overlooking downtown and the ocean beaches that encircle the city, there are hundreds of kilometers of paths and hiking trails that wind their way through the forests that flank the city’s edges. Requiring varying levels of effort and difficulty, my favourite four areas are all free, easily accessible by public transportation, and let you escape the city (if you even want to!) in just minutes.
With more than 200 km of trails and roads, Stanley Park is Vancouver’s spectacular jewel and truly the pride of all Vancouverites.
One of the largest urban parks in North America, Stanley Park boasts a range of paths, trails, and sports facilities, all within a natural forest environment. With a number of safe and accessible trails crisscrossing the dense forest growth, urban hikers forget that they are just minutes from one of Canada’s largest urban centres. Raccoons, squirrels, even coyotes and other wildlife are common sights. And it’s not uncommon to see bald eagles perching in trees above the park or flying over the bay.
But the most popular destination for active Vancouverites is the seawall. Running 22 km along the perimeter of downtown Vancouver, the seawall completely encircles Stanley Park with a pedestrian and cycle path. Popular with walkers, rollerbladers, and cyclists all year long, the seawall is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront walkway. While the 8.8 km Stanley Park portion offers spectacular views of the downtown cityscape and Burrard Inlet, the remainder showcases Vancouver’s beaches, the Yaletown neighborhood, and the shops, markets, and restaurants of Granville Island.
Across the Burrard Inlet in West Vancouver, and enjoying the most spectacular views of downtown silhouetted against Mount Baker, is Lighthouse Park. Amid a temperate rainforest of towering Douglas fir, western hemlock, and red cedar, 10 km of trails wind over fallen trees and meander around boulders in the last stand of old growth forest in the lower mainland.
Old growth forest, or stands of trees which have seen little or no logging or disruption in contemporary history, offer a unique environment generally inaccessible to walkers and hikers, particularly in urban areas. But the area comprising Lighthouse Park was spared owing to the strategic importance of its lighthouse on Point Atkinson. The ancient trees, some 500 years old and rising 200ft above the ground, provide a dark background for the lighthouse to help guide ships into the port of Vancouver, still the largest port in Canada.
The Grouse Grind
Also across the Burrard Inlet from downtown Vancouver, the Grouse Grind is more a rite of passage for new Vancouverites than a relaxing afternoon hike. Known as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” the Grouse Grind rises 853 m (2800 ft) over 2.9 km of steep and grueling mountainous terrain straight up the face of Grouse Mountain. Remarkably, the base for ascent is only a 10-20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver, and the top offers panoramas of the city and views as far as the United States.
The Grind will take the average person about 90 minutes of climbing to reach the top, but a few die-hards have done it in under a half hour! Of course, what goes up must come down, and the trek down the mountain can be even harder than the climb up. But for $5, the Skyride gondola, North America’s largest aerial tramway, will take you back down to the base, even if your weary legs can’t.
Finally, the most arduous trek in the Vancouver area is the Baden-Powell Trail. Named for Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, this trail winds about 48 km across the North Shore from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Cutting through thick temperate rain forests, the trail includes creeks, waterfalls, and the stunning Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. Though difficult and taxing, the trail’s path is marked by bright orange triangular tags on trees, and signposts regularly show distances remaining.
This is no trail for beginners, though stairs and bridges help to avoid the worse water and boulder obstacles. At the end, high above Deep Cove, the Baden-Powell trail offers picturesque views of the Indian Arm and Vancouver suburbs in the distance.