Free fun: Gorgeous one-day hikes around Vancouver

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free things to do Vancouver

Image: Olivia Kelava

Why the heck are any of us living in Vancouver in the first place if we’re not going on hikes on at least a semi-regular basis?

You may not be athletically-inclined, and that’s fair, or you may hate bugs and dirt, and that’s okay, but the appeal of the hike is that it can be as intense or as laid-back as you choose. BC is overflowing with trails of all varieties that are sure to offer your Goldilocks experience – not too much and not too little, but just the right amount of outdoors-y intensity for you.

I absolutely love going on hikes. They give me everything I want in a weekend activity: no cost and all the adventure. I get to be outside, I get to be with friends, I get to be sweaty, and I’m not spending any money while I’m making all these memories. I’m always looking for smart ways to enjoy Vancouver on a low income. What’s more, I get some hard-hitting validation for the choice I’ve made to stick it out in Vancouver. Few things could make you feel better about where you are in life than getting to the top of a peak, soaking in a view of water and trees, and saying, “That’s home.”

It can definitely be challenging to find a big chunk of a day in which you can make a hike happen, but juggling schedules around to make it work is always worthwhile in the end. I’ve gone on a handful of moderate hikes around the city this summer. Here are my experiences so far:

1. St. Mark’s Summit

This was the first hike of the season for me, back in May, and when we reached the top there was actually quite a bit of snow on the ground. The air was so frozen and foggy that the view was indiscernible – unfortunate timing, as the Howe Sound Crest Trail is famous for its viewpoints, but it wasn’t tragic enough to ruin the otherwise scenic journey uphill. Driving to Cypress as the starting point means that most of the elevation is completed by car, and you really do get to just hike the summit, so this is perfect for a Saturday afternoon pre-party work out, or, even better, a Sunday morning post-party recovery. It’s brisk but not overwhelming, and can be done enjoyably in about three hours round trip.

2. Lynn Canyon

More so a meander through the forest than a real hike, Lynn Canyon Park won’t necessarily offer you a work out, but it will definitely give you the taste of fresh air that you’re after, and most certainly will provide all the scenery that you’re looking for. The trails are more or less paved, but they are bordered by tall, lush trees, and the canyon itself is distracting enough that you don’t miss the hike you may have expected. The water is cold and fresh, and the waterfalls are beautiful. This is the perfect outing for when you actually want to chat and carry on conversations with your companions while being dazzled by your surroundings. Pack a picnic and plan on getting in the water.

It is an hour and twenty minutes on the bus from Kitsilano to Lynn Valley. I don’t have a car, so I often rely on friends who do when I go on hikes. Lynn Canyon takes about twice as long to get to on transit versus in a car, BUT it is, unlike a lot of mountaintop hikes, easily accessible by bus – it just takes a little longer. So, if you are in the same boat as me (that boat being a bus), and crave hikes on the regular, then definitely consider Lynn Canyon as a great escape to the great outdoors. It’s worth the journey, and is comfy enough once you get there that you can spend the day and still have energy to get home after.

3. The Chief

A famous destination for those visiting Vancouver, The Chief is my go-to hike. I’ve climbed to the top of each peak several times, and it never gets old. Because it is so popular, I tend to forget that it is, in fact, a real hike, and that I will get sweaty and breathless. It can be steep at points, and the fact that there are people around only seems to make me want to go faster, making it more of a challenge. That’s exactly what I want. True, my ideal hike would be one in which there are no other people, but I have to admit that fellow hikers on The Chief are always friendly. (I once stumbled coming down and slid a few feet before two gentleman behind me each grabbed an elbow, hoisted me up into the air and back down onto my feet, gave a little nod, and continued on their way.) There seems to be a sense of camaraderie on The Chief that adds to the overall experience.

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The view at the top is spectacular. There are three peaks, so you have some flexibility to make this hike your own. Either drive up to Squamish (about 45 minutes from Kitsilano), hike to the first peak and back down in about an hour and a half total, and head home, or make a day of it and journey from one peak to the next. The former will undoubtedly get you a good work out without disrupting your weekend too much, and the latter has the makings of an adventure. Third option: camp somewhere around Squamish, and spend consecutive days exploring the peaks. When I hiked the Chief at the end of July, I spent the night at Klahanie Campground right across the highway from the base of the hike. The campsite was not the best I’ve ever been to (highway noise and no access to any swimmable lake or river are not exactly my criteria for the ultimate camping experience), but we got a satisfying taste of tent life and only had to venture about twenty metres to the start of our hike the next morning.

4. Whyte Lake

Located in West Vancouver, Whyte Lake Park is a lovely outing. It’s a short wander to the lake itself, which has some benches and a pier, but once you venture past the boardwalk, you land on a moderate intensity trail that takes you through lustrous green trees. I have to be honest, my hiking bestie and I have a tendency to get distracted by berry-foraging in the foliage, and we often choose to take the road less travelled once we reach a fork, so I have no idea if we actually hiked Whyte Lake Trail or not. But we spent about four hours in total wandering uphill and then wandering back down. We got a fairly decent sweat going and lots of deep breaths of fresh air, with a pause at a little summit we found that was incredibly peaceful. Overall, a great hike.

This is another one in which the car is appreciated but the bus is not impossible. Like Lynn Valley, it’s about an hour and a half on transit, but because the hike is fairly easy and the lake is so inviting, it’s doable to bus there, hike and swim, and bus back.

5. Joffre Lakes

Absolutely breathtaking. Everybody needs to hike Joffre Lakes. When I went for the first time just this last weekend, we drove right past Pemberton to a little rustic cabin I found on Airbnb ($45 total for the night), spent the night pseudo-camping (there was a bed, but no electricity; there was mountain air and a gurgling creek, but hot coffee was brought to us in the morning – basically, an ideal experience), then drove just twenty minutes to Joffre Lakes the next morning. We had to get back to the city, so only had time to hike to the second of three lakes, but there is no harm in being left wanting more. The hike was fairly steep uphill, and the water was pure turquoise. Definitely a photo op that is worth the trek.

This is one that definitely requires a car. I know lots of people who make this into a day trip, but as the drive is about three hours in each direction, I would recommend turning this into a weekend getaway. The hike becomes the cherry on top of a mini mountain adventure. (More on my Airbnb deals and expeditions in the future.)

These easy, one-day hikes around the city are my favourite way to spend my time. The fact that the outing itself is free is just a bonus. You’ll pay for gas and you’ll probably stock up on some snacks, but at the end of the day, the hike is several hours of breathtaking adventure that costs less than dinner and a movie. Plus, you get to explore this city of yours that you’ve chosen, at no small cost, to call home.

Find more intel on how to live joyfully on $2000/month: the twenty-something’s guide to low income living on Oliviakelava.wordpress.com. Or find me on Instagram.

 

Last modified: January 3, 2017

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