On a winter visit to Vancouver, B.C., try these nearby hikes, walks and snowshoe outings not far from the city.
It’s an inescapable fact: Winter along the northern Pacific Coast is gloomy, dark and wet. But given the physical and mental benefits of outdoor exercise, this may be the most important time of year to get out there and do something.
It’s much easier to brave the chill and damp if you can return to a warm, inviting place at the end of the day.
Ideally, this place has plentiful shopping, museums and dining to keep you busy when it’s raining, yet is close enough to nature that you can head to a trail or beach within minutes during a quick sun break.
On a recent family trip, we found such a place in Vancouver, B.C.
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Not only is it possible to hike or snowshoe or ski all day and return to the city in the evening, outdoor recreation is so close that it’s possible to go from one to the other in minutes.
Although we had a car, many of the closer-in destinations are easily accessible via the city’s extensive public-transit system (ask the tourist information center about routes).
Get out of town
Vancouver is famous for the urban delights of Stanley Park, its crown jewel. But its outskirts are home to a number of regional and provincial parks that feel much less manicured and far more removed from city life.
Those close to sea level are open for hiking year-round, and many of them offer unique combinations of steep terrain, rugged cliffs, and city views.
Keep in mind this is the season for cold and damp, so be prepared for any hike with good, grippy shoes and rain gear.
Most of the best winter park options are on the north side of the city:
• Our first stop was Lighthouse Park, on the edge of West Vancouver (which is actually west of North Vancouver). The park’s 160 acres, preserved for the public since the first lighthouse opened there in 1881, offers a network of trails, totaling about 5 miles, that lead to great views of downtown Vancouver — and, of course, a lighthouse, though it’s not open to the public.
The park is home to old-growth forest, which means its trees — Douglas fir, Western red cedar and hemlock — are among the biggest and oldest around.
Most walks are easy, but at water’s edge, some trails drop down steep granite cliffs up to 187 million years old. They make for the kind of scrambling you’d expect on more remote, less populated hikes.
The best views of the city are from East Beach and Eagle Point, each only a few hundred heavily forested yards from the parking lot.
• One of the area’s most popular outdoor attractions, is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, an easy drive or bus ride up Capilano Road from North Vancouver. The privately owned park’s pedestrian-only suspension bridge, treetop catwalks and cliff walk are especially fun for families with kids; adults may find its admission price a bit steep ($30 Cdn. for adults, but children 6 to 12 get in for $10 and kids younger than 6 for free). See www.capbridge.com.
• A quarter-mile beyond the commercial park is Capilano River Regional Park, with 16 miles of lush trails in steep-walled Capilano Canyon. It’s a bit less exciting than the commercial park, but free to enter and generally less crowded
Bonus: The trail is next to a fish hatchery, where an interpretive center is open daily with free admission. Kids may get as big a kick out of watching the life cycle of salmon as they do from the suspension bridge.
Hikes in the park vary in length and difficulty; a trail map and interpretive signs along the way delineate them as well as natural pools and grottos, giant trees and other points of interest. A handful of the trails go right up to, and even over, the roaring spillway of Cleveland Dam.
• Other trail-filled parks on the edge of the city — or right in it — include Belcarra Park on the northeast side of town and Pacific Spirit Regional Park and the Kitsilano Beach/Point Grey area to the west and south of downtown.
• If you’re feeling more adventurous, head north from West Vancouver via a short ferry ride to the Sunshine Coast, dotted with small towns and a healthy scattering of parks.
Despite the name, the coast is almost as gloomy in winter as the rest of the Northwest. But many parks are accessible year-round, including Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, which is at its most exciting during the stormy winter months.
Here, a 5-mile (round-trip) hike takes you to one of the world’s biggest saltwater rapids, where up to 200 billion gallons of water flow through narrows connecting Sechelt and Jervis inlets during tide changes.
The park is about an hour’s drive north from the ferry terminal; park at the Green Rosette Bakery near the trailhead and grab picnic supplies on the way in (parking at the trailhead itself is very limited). For maximum excitement, check tide tables and plan to be there for peak tidal currents.
• At higher elevations, many Vancouver-area parks have already turned their attention to winter sports. Two provincial parks, each about a half-hour from the city, in the mountains to the north, exchange summer hiking for winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. (Each also has alpine ski slopes.)
Beginning in mid-December, Mount Seymour Provincial Park will maintain cross-country skiing trails. Cypress Provincial Park features three snowshoe trails, ranging from 3 to 7 kilometers, through diverse territory that feels more remote than it is.
Christy Karras is a freelance writer based in Seattle.