This summer I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in the Vancouver area. And, if you read my blog, I’m also trying to get in shape for hiking the Inca Trail next month. With that goal in mind we tried to fit in a walk, hike or stroll every single day. The great thing about the Vancouver area is that there are so many great places to choose from. Here’s a list of my five favourite places to walk, hike or stroll in Vancouver.
1. Buntzen Lake
This is a busy spot in the summer with people enjoying the beach and swimming in the temperate water. Kayakers and stand up paddlers also appreciate the calm water of Buntzen Lake. There are hikes for people of all abilities and most of the trails can be enjoyed year round. More information, including maps can be found at Buntzenlake.ca.
One of the most popular hikes is the Buntzen Lake Loop. This 10 km loop around the lake can be done in as fast as 45 minute if you run, but why? The path winds its way through old growth forest with a handful of bridges over small streams. The halfway point rewards you with another sandy beach and a pier. There is also a small suspension bridge at the far end. We took a leisurely 3 1/2 hours to make our way around. This included lots of stops for pictures and lunch at the sandy beach.
Located in Anmore, near Port Moody, Buntzen Lake is about 45 minutes from Vancouver. Another great thing about this lake is that it is also accessible by public transportation. Details on public transportation and parking can be found at bchydro.com.
2. Cypress Mountain
In winter Cypress Mountain is home to some amazing skiing and boarding. But come summer, hikers take over the slopes. Hiking shoes are recommended, but most people were hiking in running shoes. If you have bad knees you may want to consider walking poles for the return trip. The round trip can take 3-6 hours depending on your pace and how many scenic breaks you take.
Although Cypress offers several hikes and walks, probably the most popular hike is the hike to Cabin Lake and Eagle Bluffs. A warning though, this hike starts off a bit tough. A series of switch backs takes you up Black Mountain. It is about a half hour of up, up, up, followed by some more up, up, up. Don’t let this put you off though, it gets easier after this and the views are worth it.
The first viewing stop is at Cabin Lake, a great place for a rest or a picnic lunch. This pristine lake is absolutely picture perfect. The lake is spring fed so it is a bit cold for swimming, but this doesn’t deter people on the hottest days.
After your break keep going through the forested path to reach Eagle Bluffs. The great thing about this hike is that the entire walk is beautiful. You will pass several other small lakes and bluffs. You scramble up and down some root covered paths, through towering trees. You might have to jump over a small stream depending on if its been raining lately. You get to feel like a real hiker on this trail.
When you finally reach Eagle Bluffs you will be glad you kept going. The Bluffs give you a gorgeous view of the lower mainland, Horseshoe Bay, and Stanley Park. On very clear days you can even see as far as Vancouver Island. Container ships dot the water giving you a sense of how high up you really are. And, if you are really lucky, you might even spot an eagle.
There are several ways to start this hike, but the easiest place to start is in the parking lot of Cypress Mountain Ski Resort, which is only a half hour from downtown Vancouver.
3. Stanley Park
No trip to Vancouver is complete without a visit to the iconic Stanley Park. The most visited attractions in the park might be the Vancouver Aquarium and the horse drawn carriage rides, but the walks here are spectacular. With over 27 km of quiet refuge in this park, it’s easy to forget you are actually in a city of over 2 million people.
There are several different smaller hikes, walks, and strolls you can take in the park, a map of all the possible trails can be found at Vancouver.ca. Paths are fully paved, making them accessible to all.
After countless visits to Stanley Park, my favourite activity is to “do the Seawall.” More of a walk than a hike, the Seawall is a paved path that envelopes the entirety of Stanley park as well as some surrounding areas. A complete loop is more than 10 km, but there are several places to cut through the park to make a smaller walk. If you don’t feel like walking, you can also rent bikes, scooters and inline skates near the park.
I would recommend starting in English Bay, near Sunset Beach. This takes you in a clockwise loop around the park. Pay attention to the well marked path. One side is for walkers and the other side is for bikers. Highlights along the way are Siwash Rock, the viewpoint by Lions Gate Bridge, Lumberman’s Arch, the Girl in A Wet Suit (Stanley Park’s version of the little mermaid), the Stanley Park Totem Poles, Deadman’s Island and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.
End your visit with a cold beverage in any of the local watering holes that dot Denman Street as you make your way back to English Bay.
Easy to get to, Stanley Park is located in downtown Vancouver’s West End. Directions on how to get here by car, public transport or by foot can be found at Vancouver.ca.
4. The Grouse Grind
It’s only 2.9 km long but trust me when I say this, this is the mother of all walks. It’s nicknamed “Nature’s Stairmaster” for a reason. This trail has a gruelling elevation gain of 853 metres (2,800 feet) as you walk up the 2,830 stairs to the top. In fact, the walk is so steep that for safety reasons they only let you walk up.
Active Vancouverites spout phrases like “I did the grind in 40 minutes.” One guy even gets to say “I ground it out in 23 minutes, 48 seconds.” Way to go Sebastian Salas, whoever you are. High five! These Grinders are serious about their times and you should stay out of their way. Trail etiquette suggests keeping right and letting these crazy Grinders go by.
Average time is actually closer to 1.5 hours, and you will need to be prepared. Wear good quality footwear, light trail shoes are actually preferable to heavier hiking boots. Definitely no sandals, you need real shoes for the Grind. Wear loose fitting comfortable clothes and bring lots of water. Also, remember to visit the washroom before you start. There aren’t any until you get to the top.
Here’s what you should expect when you do the Grind. Step after step of slow death. You hit the one quarter mark and you realize you have made a grave mistake. What the hell was I thinking? People will try to encourage you by saying the second half is easier. It’s not. It just keeps going and going and going. You will feel like can’t possible take another step, but you have to, because there is no option of going back. You hit the three quarter mark and you text your friends to explain why they may never see you again. But you keep going, step after weary step. And finally you make it to the top. Oh sweet joy! The harps begin to play, hundreds of people line up to give you a high five, and they honor you with a medal of achievement. Oh wait, that doesn’t happen. The people who took the gondola up Grouse Mountain look at the sweaty mess that you have become, with a trace of pity and disgust, and move away.
Enjoy the restaurants and activities, including a visit with bears, at the top before taking the gondola down the mountain. For more information on visit grousemountain.com
Trail starts at the base of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. It is accessible by car and public transport. in the summer you can even take a free shuttle from Canada Place.
5. Harrison Hot Springs
With a paved walk along the Harrison Lake front, and ice cream shops galore, Harrison becomes a tourist hot spot in the summer. What you might not know is that it also a great place to go for a hike. There are actually several good hikes in the area. More information, including maps can be found at Tourism Harrison.
The hike we chose was the Sandy Cove/Whippoorwill Trail. It’s about 4 km return and takes about an hour and a half. The first section is the hardest. You don’t need hiking boots, but you do need good shoes. You will have to do a bit of rock scrambling at the beginning, but the reward is a viewing platform with a view of Harrison Lake. The rest of the trail is an up and down, through the trees, with occasional glimpses of the lake. My favourite part was the beach in the secluded Sandy Cove. If you are lucky, you might have the beach all to your self, even on a beautiful day. Some people stop here, but you can also pick up the trail at the end of the beach. The trail then continues along the west side of Whippoorwill Point before joining back up with the original trail.
Harrison Hot Springs is located 16 km east of Chilliwack, a few minutes off Highway 1, exit 135. If you are coming from Vancouver, depending on traffic, it should take about 90 minutes to get here
Bonus Hike: Bridal Veil Falls
Also located just off highway 1, exit 135. Bridal Veil Falls is located on the opposite side of Harrison Lake.