3 Stunning Vancouver Hikes

Good vistas come to those who climb. But leave the competitive inclination at home.

April 20, 2015

By Jennifer Van Evra

Lois Tomlinson stops to look up at the sunlight streaming through the cedar and fir boughs waving high above us. The Vancouver area hiking and tour guide has climbed peaks from Mt. Kenya to Kilimanjaro and is about to trek to Everest base camp-for the third time-but when she’s home, she brings groups from tourists to seniors out into the wilds with her company, Natural Trekking. Today, she shares some of her favourite routes with me, as well as her hiking mantra, which is that hiking is about pleasure-not speedy summits. “My philosophy is we’re out here to enjoy this. You want to look around. Especially in Vancouver we are so competitive and everything is moving faster. Slow down, smell the coffee,” she says with a laugh. “It just makes for a much nicer day.”

A river runs through it

West Vancouver’s picturesque Whyte Lake trail winds through the woods southeast of Horseshoe Bay. Just a few minutes in and the din of the Trans-Canada fades beneath the soothing rush of Nelson Creek, which runs along a deep ravine below the trail then meets with the gentler Whyte Creek roughly halfway through the hike. Save for the occasional trail marker, there are no signs of civilization. “It’s what I think hiking is about,” says Tomlinson, “Getting into the forest, getting quiet, getting-not in a religious sense-spiritual.” The lesser-known trail is getting busier, she says, but it’s still a welcome departure from many of the North Shore routes that can feel more like packed high-performance gyms than nature getaways. (During our three-hour trek, we cross paths with just a handful of other hikers, one of whom stops to tell us about the baby ducklings she spotted in the lake.) And while there are a few points where I feel the burn, in particular on a steep incline near the very start of the hike, they are mercifully few and just challenging enough to get my ticker thumping and add a little breathiness to our conversation.

Once the trail levels out, hikers need only watch out for slippery roots and rocks as they make their way through the still and quiet forest, which offers an undulating trail, a wooden bridge, and 300 metres of boardwalk (constructed from fallen trees using a portable sawmill) that protects the environmentally sensitive area.

Black bears also roam the region, and near the lake, two fishermen warn that they just encountered a mother and her cubs, so it’s important for hikers to remember their ursine etiquette. (Speak loudly or carry bells; if you encounter a bear, speak softly and back away slowly. Never walk toward or feed a bear.) After two kilometres of twists and turns-and thankfully, no bear sightings-we reach the small but picturesque lake, where a newly constructed dock and a bench offer a welcome load-off. Around its tree-lined banks is the aptly named skunk cabbage, the pungent flowering plant that is both a traditional Native salve and a favourite food (not to mention post-hibernation laxative) for bears.

Those who are feeling particularly adventurous can continue on past the lake and meet up with the Baden Powell Trail; cutting left will take you back to Gleneagles in West Van, while heading right could lead you, in theory, all the way past the striking Cleveland Dam and Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Van to Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, 48 kilometres away.

Walk in the park

Sure, West Van’s Lighthouse Park is popular, and the main walkway toward the Point Atkinson lighthouse makes for a lovely-if fairly populated-stroll through some of the oldest fir, cedar, and hemlock trees in the region, and on rock that dates back 187 million years. But jutting off from the main trail are several paths less travelled, and they offer spectacular views of Howe Sound, the Gulf Islands, and downtown, as well as the lighthouse itself.

Tomlinson’s favourites are the perimeter trails, including the Juniper Point, Shore Pine, and Arbutus trails. “When you get to the east side of Lighthouse Park, you can see the city and the Lions Gate in the distance, so it’s incredibly beautiful-and if you go on a weekday or an evening, there is hardly anybody on the trails,” she says. “It’s very much underrated. People just go, ‘Oh, Lighthouse Park.’ But it’s pretty spectacular.”

No pain, no gain

With iridescent turquoise waters sitting in front of a picture-perfect glacier, it’s no wonder Garibaldi Lake is widely considered one of the best hiking destinations in the province-but there’s no prize without putting in the work. Starting just south of Whistler Village, the nine-kilometre trail winds up through dense Douglas fir and Western red cedar forests and past The Barrier, a 300-metre-thick volcanic formation that dammed the area’s lakes 9,000 years ago but has unleashed thundering slides of volcanic rock as recently as the mid 1800s.

Once you get to the glacial lake-named for Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi-the three- to four-hour uphill battle, which gains you nearly a kilometre in elevation, is soon forgotten.

Garibaldi Lake is quite a slog. It’s switchbacks for six kilometres-but the last three are beautiful,” says Tomlinson. “And of course, the reward is second to none.”

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.