The pristine beauty of Vancouver is best seen from the many trails that surround the city. While there are numerous short hikes to break in your boots, there are also challenging hikes that allow the more adventurous and physically fit to explore the diverse terrain of the Pacific Northwest. But be warned, as these trails are not for beginner hikers; there are significant gains in elevation and the terrain is often rough. I would not recommend trying these hikes until you have gained experience hiking other trails around Vancouver.
Additionally, remember to bring adequate amounts of food and water proportionate to the length of the hike. Plenty of small snacks like trail mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and jerky are great to add on top of regular meals. A sturdy backpack weighing at least 15 pounds is essential for each of these hikes, as you need to store extra clothing, water, sunscreen, and safety equipment. Carrying all this weight means you're also going to need sturdy hiking shoes (and as aforementioned, preferably broken in).
Distance: 17km Recommended time: 8 hours Season: Late July-October Elevation: 1320 m
Situated in North Vancouver, the Hanes Valley Trail is the closest to the Metro Vancouver area, and an approximate 30 minute drive from the downtown core. The trail head starts at Lynn Creek crossing in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and makes its way up along the backcountry and Grouse Mountain. Be warned, there are areas of the trail that you will need to scale on your hands and knees, so be prepared to get dirty.
There are several scenic points along the gruelling hike, most notably Norvan Falls. A spectacular 30 meter waterfall and mere 10 minute detour from your route, the falls make a great pit stop to cool off on your way up the mountain. Keep in mind that the trail endpoint is at a different place than the trail head, so it is best to drive at least two cars to transport your group back to the start.
Keep your eyes open for the orange trail markers on this hike, as there are several open areas where it's easy to lose track of them, but the trail is generally well-kept. The hardest part of the hike is a 1.5 km ascension on a boulder field. The view as you climb up 500 meters of rock is amazing, so don’t forget to turn around at least a few times to enjoy the journey.
Distance: 30km Recommended time: 11 hours Season: July-October Elevation: 1520 m
The Panorama Ridge trail is a truly rewarding hike that should not be attempted by the unprepared. The trail shares a 6 km start consisting of continuous switchbacks that elevate nearly 800 meters. The intense starting leg of this hike turn many away, considering that there is another 9 kms after the first leg-burning stretch. Once past the switchbacks, the hike gets significantly more enjoyable. Many who attempt this hike camp at Garibaldi Lake and split the hike into two more manageable portions, though the entire hike can be completed in a day if started early in the morning.
There are several indirect routes that take you by Garibaldi Lake or among other trails, but that adds significant length to the journey. Walking along the trails around Garibaldi, you can appreciate the tranquility of an untarnished Whistler backcountry. The Panorama Ridge trail takes you through rolling hills until you reach the base of the final mountain, another climb of about 700m in elevation.
Early in the summer, the latter part of the trail is covered in snow, so it is advisable to wait until Vancouver experiences a few weeks of warm weather before going on this hike. The best time to ascend the mountains would be in late July, when the snow has melted off the lower parts of the trail, leaving only the final climb covered in powder. The view at the top of the ridge is unparalleled, as you can see the expanse of the deep blue Garibaldi Lake as well as the surrounding mountains.
Distance: 75km Recommended time: 5-7 days Season: May-September Elevation: 1520 m
Along the west coast of Vancouver Island lies a trail that draws the attention of many foreign travellers and outdoor thrill-seekers. The West Coast Trail must be completed in several days and requires the use of camping equipment to stop at designated points along the way. Averaging 10-15 kms a day is a reasonable pace that allows you to make progress while still stopping to enjoy the abundant scenery and wildlife. There is also a shorter version of this trail starting at Nitinat Lake for the less experienced hikers.
At various points of the trail you will wade through rivers, navigate steep slopes, cross rivers on cable cars and ascend ladders, so it is important to be prepared for all terrain. Often, it is muddy along the trail, so a pair of proper hiking boots is a requirement. You will trek across bogs, beaches and the occasional boardwalk, giving you a full range of everything the West Coast can throw at you. During stormier weather, parts of the trail can be dangerous, so use caution when planning this hike.
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