Vancouver Best Hikes & Walks
Vancouver offers a huge array of urban strolls, woodland walks, and mountain-hugging hikes for alfresco explorers of all interests and fitness levels. Stanley Park is a super-scenic must; historic areas like Gastown and Chinatown are endlessly fascinating, and the inviting forested trails of the North Shore are easy to reach on the city’s doorstep. Read on for well-known options plus some off-the-beaten-path routes that only the locals seem to know about.
Stanley Park Seawall
Encircling Canada’s favorite urban park, the 8.5km Stanley Park Seawall is an essential stroll for all visitors. It’s worth devoting a few hours to the task and drinking in the breathtaking views of mountain-framed ocean, eagle-topped forests, and log-strewn beaches with panoramic vistas. The well-paved trail is wide and mostly flat (there’s also a dedicated lane for cyclists and skaters) and its visual highlights include the Brockton Point Totem Poles, Lions Gate Bridge, Siwash Rock, and Second and Third Beaches. On summer afternoons, the Seawall is very busy so arrive early to sidestep the crowds. Start from the West Georgia Street entrance and follow the trail all around the park to English Bay in the West End.
Stanley Park’s Other Trails
Vancouver’s top green space isn’t just about the Seawall. The park’s lesser-crowded interior is also crisscrossed with additional trails, each offering its own charms. The 1.8km trail around Lost Lagoon is an easy introduction to the region’s flora and fauna, complete with regular sightings of raccoons, Douglas squirrels, and a multitude of water birds including herons, coots, and multicolored wood ducks. The Stanley Park Nature House is located alongside this trail and its exhibits profile the park’s wild side – they also offer guided walks, usually on weekends. Need more? The 1.5km Beaver Lake Trail leads into the heart of the park and includes, not surprisingly, a lake with a large beaver lodge – early mornings and early evenings are the best times to spot these semiaquatic critters.
Queen Elizabeth Park
Vancouver’s second-busiest park was a quarry before being reinvented from the 1930s onwards into a verdant city oasis. An easy walk here (less than 1km) starts in the Quarry Garden, an immaculately manicured paintbox of flower-studded beds, then rises up to a lofty promenade area – the highest point in the city – that delivers grand panoramic views across the glass-towered metropolis. This is also the location of the Bloedel Conservatory, a climate-controlled indoor garden complete with tropical plants and birds. It’s an ideal destination on rainy days, but if the weather is fine the rest of the 52-hectare park is also well-worth exploring: multiple pathways snake around ponds, towering trees, and a 50-year-old Rose Garden here.
Vancouver’s newest nature-hugging urban trail, the 8.5km Arbutus Greenway was created when the City bought an old railway route in 2016. The rails were swiftly removed, the wide route was temporarily paved, and plans were drawn up for a multi-year renovation including public art, viewing platforms, and more. With the plans progressing, the route is already open and has quickly become a popular promenade and bike route among locals and curious visitors. Start near the intersection of 6th Avenue and Fir Street in Kitsilano, then walk southwards to Marpole near the shoreline of the Fraser River. En route, there are swaths of trees and wildflowers, quirky allotment plots, the enticing shops of Kerrisdale, and the Marpole Museum historic house, which recreates a working-class home from the 1930s. At the end of the trail, walk south for a few more minutes to reach the Fraser River’s shoreline park.
Pacific Spirit Park
It’s easy to forget that Vancouver is situated in a temperate rainforest – until you visit this gigantic woodland wonderland near the University of British Columbia campus. One of Canada’s largest urban park spaces, 874-hectare Pacific Spirit Regional Park is a dense swathe of towering trees – including second-growth cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs – streaked with more than 50km of trails that locals love to jog, trek, bike or horse-ride along. It’s also fringed by beaches and shoreline cliffs and is home to countless local critters from raccoons to coyotes and from bats to pileated woodpeckers. Start at the Park Centre on 16th Avenue (free trail maps are available here), then plot a half-day wander along interconnected trails such as the 1.2km Cleveland Trail, the 1.3km Heron Trail, and more.
Across Burrard Inlet, the seasonally snow-capped North Shore Mountains rise like sentinels on the city’s edge. Popular with downhill bike riders, there are also countless trails here for those keen to hike in the region’s great outdoors. A rite of passage for locals and intrepid visitors, the 2.9km Grouse Grind is a steep, sometimes slippery climb that starts at the Grouse Mountain parking lot. Very busy in summer, the trail is challenging – water and appropriate footwear required – and it takes most people around 90 minutes (the record is under 25 minutes). At the top, Grinders are rewarded with free access to Grouse Mountain’s multiple attractions, including a movie theatre, grizzly bear enclosure, and summertime lumberjack shows. Additional trails also radiate from this summit and, when the weather cooperates, there are jaw-dropping views across Vancouver. One caveat: the Grouse Grind is a one-way trail and participants need to purchase a $15-to-$20 Gondola Download Ticket to get back down the mountain.
Among the North Shore’s other favored trails, the 3.8km (round-trip) Quarry Rock route is highly recommended. Popular with experienced as well as novice hikers, it’s easy to feel a million miles from the city here with the forested, slightly elevated, and often tranquil trail leading to a jaw-dropping Deep Cove promontory that overlooks the vast, mirror-calm waters of Indian Arm – the kind of life-affirming vista that makes every participant want to come back again soon. A 25-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, it typically takes around two hours to complete the Quarry Rock hike – but the route also connects to the much larger Baden-Powell Trail for those keen to extend their excursion.
The North Shore also encompasses the enticing trail system that radiates in and around the city of West Vancouver – and the Cypress Falls route (3km round-trip) is one of the best. Busy in summer, this route is often snow-free in winter, which makes it handy for off-season hikers as well. A great way to encounter British Columbia’s mist-streaked mountain forests, hikers often encounter ravens and ancient cedars as well as frothing, camera-friendly waterfalls here. A relatively easy trail for hikers of all levels, keep in mind that conditions can change on mountainous routes like this so raingear, water, and appropriate footwear are essential.
The 3.5km round-trip Beacon Lane Trail and Shore Pine Trail route to this historic West Vancouver lighthouse is one of the region’s most popular and accessible hikes. The park can be reached via transit Bus 250 from downtown Vancouver and visitors love the area’s arbutus trees, abundant birdlife, and breathtaking Point Atkinson views across the water from the rocky cliffs. There are additional and typically quieter, hiking trails in this park as well – which can be highly inviting on those summer days when everyone in town seems to be here. Click here for a handy map of all the park’s routes.
A charming 20-minute ferry hop from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay, Bowen is a great destination even if hiking is not on the agenda. The ferry pulls into rustic Snug Cove, where gabled stores and restaurants line the old-fashioned wooden boardwalk. But just a few steps from this shoreline ‘downtown,’ easy trails take visitors directly into the great outdoors. For panoramic hilltop views over the shimmering ocean and countless Gulf Islands, head uphill to Doorman Point Lookout (2km round-trip). Alternatively, the popular Killarney Lake route (9km) includes old-growth woodlands, shoreline panoramas, and countless birds. Watch for woodpeckers and bald eagles – the island’s resident deer are also easy to spot on this route.
Iona Beach Regional Park
Due south of Vancouver, the adjoining city of Richmond is where in-the-know birders flock for restorative nature walks. And most of them beeline straight to Iona Beach Regional Park, where the mighty Fraser River meets the even mightier Pacific Ocean. That confluence is the main reason why a vast diversity of year-round as well as visiting birds are easy to spot at this slender, easy-to-walk waterfront park. Those local birds include ospreys, yellow-headed blackbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks, and bald eagles. Since the area is also on the Pacific Flyway migratory route, there can also be everything from snow geese to western sandpipers to spot here at different times of the year.
The cobbled heritage district where modern-day Vancouver began, Gastown is named after John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton – whose bronze statue in Maple Tree Square (at the intersection of Water Street and Carrall Street) is popular with camera-wielding visitors. Start this short, time-traveling urban history walk at the statue, then turn left onto Water Street and walk alongside the restored stone and brick storefronts, now housing boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Highlight stores include Orling & Wu and John Fluevog Shoes. Stop at the Steam Clock, a freestanding timepiece with a steam whistle that sounds at regular intervals, then continue onto Waterfront Station on West Cordova Street. This column-fronted old train terminal was the city’s main railway station when it was built in 1914. From here, take a 15-minute SeaBus ride to North Vancouver or walk the 2km scenic shoreline to Stanley Park.
Vancouver’s other main historic neighborhood, Chinatown – the largest in Canada – is right alongside Gastown. Most visitors explore both areas on foot in a busy half-day or a more leisurely full-day (there are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants to duck into). Start at the Chinatown Millennium Gate near the intersection of West Pender Street and Taylor Street. It was unveiled in 2002 but it’s located on the site of a flag-covered wooden gate built here in 1912. Continue east alongside the red-painted lampposts and tile-roofed historic buildings, then turn right along Carrall Street to find the entrance to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Take the excellent guided tour of this verdant oasis, watching for turtles in the mirror-calm pond. Return to Pender Street, continue eastwards and explore the colorful stores, restaurants, and traditional teashops of Chinatown – making sure to include Main Street, Keefer Street, and Gore Street. Finish at the Vancouver Police Museum on East Cordova Street for in-depth crime-related exhibits and a dramatic preserved mortuary room.
Mountain View Cemetery
History fans should also save time for a yesteryear exploration of Vancouver’s only cemetery, which has been in operation since 1886. The well-maintained 106-acre site is easily reached via transit (bus Numbers 8 and 41 stop right outside) and its wide walkways and grassy terrain memorialize a huge array of local citizens and fascinating stories. This free downloadable tour is a great introduction: look out for headstones recalling Vancouver’s first mayor, the 1918 sinking of the Princess Sophia steamship, and the grave of Caradoc Evans: the cemetery’s first interment, his weathered headstone was replaced with a new one a few years back. Also, check out the site’s art deco crematorium building as well as its dedicated (and well-restored) war graves.
Start in the heart of downtown at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Robson Street before walking north along Hornby Street to the nearby Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. After exploring both, hop across one block to Burrard Street, perusing the grand façade of the 1930s-built Fairmont Hotel Vancouver en route. Turn right onto Burrard and walk downhill towards the mountains. Christ Church Cathedral is on the right, while a few blocks later is the Marine Building, a masterpiece art deco skyscraper with transport and aquatic-themed frescos adorning its exterior. Continue on to the waterfront and Canada Place, a Vancouver landmark with a roof shaped like a series of sails and an exterior walkway that offers grand views of Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, and the North Shore Mountains – complete with floatplanes landing and departing from the water. In total, this easy and walk is less than 1km.
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