BC Trails: A Guide to Where Urban Meets Nature
It’s true: backcountry is at your doorstep no matter where you are in British Columbia, a huge western province nearly one-and-a-half times bigger than Texas. It’s a place of glaciers, fjords, lakes, rivers, alpine meadows, and lush rainforest. BC’s cities back right on to wilderness, which for you means scenic trails in 850 parks and protected areas a stone’s throw from any urban center. Here are the top day hikes in and around four BC cities:
Bookended by ocean and mountains, Vancouver loves to play outside: hiking, kayaking, and biking in summer; skiing, boarding, and snowshoeing in winter. In the Lower Mainland’s hike-to-view ratio, insiders say Dog Mountain, just 25 minutes from downtown on the North Shore, is the top choice. You can do this three-mile up-and-back in under two hours on foot or snowshoes. Starting at the Mount Seymour parking lot, the trail passes streams and a lake, with killer vistas of downtown and Vancouver Island’s peaks in the distance. St. Mark’s Summit rewards hikers with bird’s eye views of Howe Sound. The five-hour intermediate trail follows seven miles of the two-day Howe Sound Crest Trail, starting at the Cypress Creek Day Lodge. In Squamish one hour north of Vancouver on the dramatic Sea to Sky Highway, the Stawamus Chief is legendary among rock climbers for its domes of sheer granite cliffs, the second-largest such outcropping on the planet. Hikers can ascend three steep paths, varying three to five hours each round-trip, starting near thundering Shannon Falls. Join locals in climbing “the Chief” — a Vancouver rite of passage.
On southern Vancouver Island just off the mainland, Victoria is BC’s capital — a cheery, flower-filled city popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Victoria’s mild climate makes hiking a can-do year-round. One of the most popular, the Goldstream Railway Trestle is 25 minutes from downtown. It’s a two-mile up-and-back starting at the day use area, passing rushing falls surrounded by moss and ferns, ending at a train bridge above Niagara Creek Canyon. There are several options for longer hikes, too. In Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, Jocelyn Hill overlooks Saanich Inlet from above. Start at Caleb Pike from the south, following the steeply climbing trail, and be sure to bring along detailed trail info. East Sooke Park’s Coast Trail is hands-down the area’s most scenic ocean-side trek. Although it’s an eight-hour one-way, day trippers can choose from a number of shorter loops, such as Aylard Farm to Beechey Head, a three-and-a-half-mile round-trip along Juan de Fuca Strait’s craggy shoreline. Stop for lunch on a sandy beach or in the grassy meadow with picnic tables, and look for centuries-old First Nations petroglyphs carved into the rocks.
Celebrated for its wine country tasting and touring, hiking in Kelowna — in BC’s arid Okanagan Valley — is just as fabulous. Here are four popular treks: 1. Angel Springs: an easy, 1.5-hour, four-and-a-half-mile out-and-back through the forest with interpretive signage, ending at a natural warm spring. This trail is best in summer. 2. Carrot Mountain Bluffs: tough, but diverse, with falls, views, uphill slogs, and a huge boulder overhang. Allow about two hours to complete the two-and-a-half miles. 3. Mount Boucherie: a favorite, with a gorgeous forested ascent up a dormant volcano leading to summit views of downtown. try the 1.5-hour Eain Lamont Loop, choosing between harder and easier options. There’s a wishing tree uptop if you want to reveal your secret desires. (Both Carrot and Boucherie are 10 minutes from downtown.) 4. Pincushion Mountain trail: a moderate, one-hour round-trip for intermediates near Peachland. Steady uphills pay off with big outlooks onto Okanagan Lake, plus there’s a geocache at the summit. Bring or borrow a hiking stick, if you can, and picnic at the top, keeping an eye out for skittish grouse and deer.
The advantage of world-renowned ski resort Whistler is that you’re already in the alpine — and the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola can take you even higher. The High Note Trail, for one, starts just off the gondola from the top of Whistler Mountain: an easy, six-mile loop, about three to four hours. It’s a classic ridge trail with impressive views of Cheakamus Lake and Black Tusk Mountain. In late spring, alpine wildflowers carpet slopes in purple, crimson, and yellow, so bring along the wildflower ID guide. A happy medium is Rainbow Lake, a 10-mile intermediate round-trip, about five to six hours. It’s uphill, yes, but you get forest, boardwalks, waterfalls, suspension bridges, a pristine reservoir, and then finally, Hanging Lake, where you can dive in and cool off. The recently improved, well-marked Ancient Cedars Grove is a mellow, gradually ascending, three-mile round-trip loop, about three hours in length. The payoff is a grove of towering old-growth yellow cedars, some 900 years old, plus grassy meadows, panoramas of Soo Valley peaks, and a hidden waterfall. Fall is a great time to visit, especially in October when all the brightly colored mushrooms pop up. The trailhead is six miles outside Whistler, just after Green Lake. If you want to amble versus hike, Lost Lake Park has a wide gravel three-mile loop trail from the village — a good option in July when there’s still snow higher up. Bring a bag lunch and find a sunny spot on a bench.
Because there’s so much big nature in BC, seeing it on foot is one of the best ways to get to know it — not to mention, a chance to disconnect, recharge, and get in touch with the beautiful, simple, stirring things in life.
There are so many amazing hikes in BC, find the info you need to choose the best ones for you on the Hello BC website.