Savor the best of British Columbia's beauty.
Framed by glacial peaks and surrounded by water and ancient rainforests, Vancouver boasts plenty of opportunities to hike, bike, ski, and swim, just to name a few. Add to that the year-round temperate climate, and its natural surroundings make British Columbia’s largest metropolis a paradise for anyone with a penchant for the outdoors—no matter the season.
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Get Up Close With Marine Life
For an up-close look at the diverse marine life that calls the waters surrounding Vancouver home, consider a whale-watching tour on a custom-built catamaran with Prince of Whales, which conveniently takes off from Granville Island. While whale watching season typically runs from April to October, May through September is prime time, with ample opportunity to spot a variety of whale species as well as other marine life play in the waters and hunt along the coast, including killer whales, humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, and porpoises. Aside from observing marine mammals, these half-day conservation-focused tours also leave visitors with a deeper understanding of the West Coast’s aquatic ecosystem, the importance of preserving marine environments, and how to practice responsible whale watching.
Soak up Spectacular Scenery at the City’s Favorite Park
Occupying 1,000 acres of the downtown peninsula’s western tip, Stanley Park is Vancouver’s favorite green space. With stretches of sun-soaked beaches, playgrounds, and over 17 miles of forested trails that weave through the park, there are plenty of highlights. Stop at Prospect Point for a view of the North Shore Mountains and Lions Gate Bridge, go bird watching at Lost Lagoon, and admire the collection of nine totem poles at Brockton Point that pays homage to the area’s original inhabitants. For a fascinating glimpse into the traditional uses of this land by the Coast Salish and Squamish people, consider a guided nature walk with Talaysay Tours.
Stanley Park’s biggest draw remains its 5.5-mile paved seawall that encircles the park, where many come to bike, rollerblade, or stroll alongside dramatic oceanfront vistas and dense fir, cedar, and hemlock forests.
Visit Vancouver’s Highest Point
At 410 feet above sea level, Queen Elizabeth Park, or QE Park to the locals, is Vancouver’s highest point and comes in second after Stanley Park as the city’s most popular urban green space. Stroll among the perfectly manicured gardens, challenge friends to a game of pickle ball or tennis at its on-site courts and seek shade beneath one of the 1,500 trees of varying species that make up the arboretum. With picturesque elements like a cascading mini waterfall and an arching stone bridge, QE Park provides an especially pretty backdrop for wedding and engagement shots. At the summit of this 130-acre park, visitors can take in a panoramic view of the city’s glittering skyline backed by the dramatic North Shore Mountains. It’s also where horticulturists will find the Bloedel Conservatory, which houses over 500 tropical plants and flowers, as well as over 120 free-flying birds of various species.
Journey High Above the Tree Tops
Suspended at a height of 230 feet and extending 450 feet across the Capilano River, the Capilano Suspension Bridge has been enticing thrill seekers who want to walk amongst the treetops since it first opened in 1883. For a dazzling display of over a million multi-colored lights that illuminate the trees and the canyon, time your visit to the festive Canyon Lights event, which takes place between November and January each year.
Given the immense popularity of the suspension bridge, a free shuttle bus operates year-round, whisking visitors between downtown and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Within the sprawling 27-acre park, visitors can also stroll through the treetops with Treetops Adventure and walk along a cliff wall while admiring views of the Capilano River below on the Cliffwalk, a cliffside walkway suspended 30 stories above the Capilano River Canyon.
For a similar experience sans crowds and entry fees, visit the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, which dangles 160 feet above the canyon.
Tackle Mother Nature’s Stairmasters
A quintessential Vancouver experience for the fitness-obsessed, this steep and narrow trail that climbs 2800 feet in less than 1.8 miles sees over 100,000 people commit to this physical and mental challenge each year. Dubbed Mother Nature’s Stairmaster, the Grouse Grind is a challenging trail made of 2830 stone and wood steps that climb up the face of Grouse Mountain, and spectacular vistas of downtown framed by towering trees reveal itself at the summit. Due to the steep incline, hikers must descend via the Skyride gondola. While the Grouse Grind is typically open from the end of May until October, depending on weather conditions, visitors to Grouse for the remainder of the year can head to the top via the gondola.
Join the City’s Naturists
Embrace your free spirit with a visit to Vancouver’s only naturist beach. Situated on the western edge of the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, reaching the clothing-optional Wreck Beach requires a bit of a workout — follow the tree-shrouded Trail 6 down a steep set of 490 steps. Stretching 4.8 miles, Wreck Beach is heralded as Canada’s largest naturist beach. Though it boasts a laidback vibe and the naturist community is welcoming of visitors, cameras should be left behind, as photos are strictly prohibited. The beach is especially buzzy in the summer months when independent vendors frequent the shores with a slew of food, drink, jewelry, and t-shirt offerings.
As a coastal city, Vancouver is home to a collection of sandy and sun-soaked beaches. Kitsilano Beach, locally known as Kits Beach, unites beach volleyball players in friendly competitions. It’s also home to a 449-foot-long outdoor saltwater swimming pool, which holds the record as the longest outdoor pool in North America.
With a central location in the vibrant West End neighborhood, English Bay is a popular pick among sun worshippers for its central location. It draws the largest crowds during the Honda Celebration of Light, an annual display of fireworks that takes place for three nights each July. In the winter, English Bay also hosts the annual Vancouver Polar Bear Swim, which sees swimmers brave icy waters each New Year’s Day. Beachgoers in search of tranquillity should leave the downtown core for Jericho Beach. The Jericho Sailing Centre offers stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals for those who want to get out on the water.
Paddle at Deep Cove
Surrounded by rugged cliffs and dense forests, this sleepy seaside village on the eastern edge of North Vancouver about a 30-minute drive from downtown offers ample opportunities to hike and view wildlife. But the placid waters of the Indian Arm draw the largest crowds, who come here to paddle, whether on stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) or in kayaks. Pick up equipment rentals or sign up for lessons at Deep Cove Kayak Centre. Or for a relaxing guided paddle and opportunities to spot harbor seals and eagles, consider the three-hour Deep Cove Explorer Tour, which also offers insights into the history of Deep Cove, as this area traditionally belonged to the Coast Salish peoples.
Hit the Slopes
During the winter months, fresh powder transforms Vancouver’s three local peaks into playgrounds for powderhounds, creating the perfect setting for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and tubing. Plus, all three peaks can be conveniently accessed within a 45-minute drive from downtown Vancouver.
Billed as the “Peak of Vancouver,” the summit of Grouse can be reached via its Skyride gondola and boasts dazzling views of downtown, as well as an outdoor skating rink. Cypress Mountain reigns as Metro Vancouver’s largest ski hill, with 53 runs across a skiable terrain of 600 acres. For those seeking well-valued lift passes and beginner-friendly terrain, opt for family-owned and operated Mount Seymour.
Explore Vancouver’s Waterways
Bordered by the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River, Vancouver’s waterways provide a different perspective to the city’s attractions. Join Harbour Cruises from May through September for a one-hour narrated tour of the Burrard Inlet, which passes by some of the city’s most sought-after attractions, like the verdant forests of Stanley Park and the historic neighborhood of Gastown.
For a more cost-effective alternative, hop aboard the mini water taxis that traverse False Creek. Operated by Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, these vessels are pet and stroller-friendly and also accommodate bikes. While they cater to commuters traveling up and down False Creek, they also offer scenic 25-minute tours. For views of Vancouver’s skyline and to explore the Burrard Inlet, take advantage of the city’s public ferry service, which operates a 12-minute ride between downtown and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.