Untamed ancient forests? Check. Sparkling beaches? Yep. Some of the world’s best ski slopes? Absolutely. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, Vancouver has plenty to keep nature enthusiasts occupied. Here’s where to enjoy the fresh air.
Larger than New York’s Central Park by about 20 per cent, this 400-hectare oasis is bigger than Vancouver’s downtown (and less than a 10-minute drive away). For natural wonders within easy access of the city’s conveniences, it can’t be beat. Think: 27 kilometres of walking trails through cedar and fir forests, natural lagoons, white-sand beaches and dramatic views of the nearby mountains.
There’s also Vancouver Aquarium, home to over 65,000 animals including fuzzy sea otters and a miniature train that’s sure to be a hit with the kids. Don’t miss the totem poles – if you’ve got an hour or two, Talaysay Tours runs excellent First Nations-guided walks of the Indigenous art throughout the park.
Keen to get your heart rate up? Cycle the nine-kilometre section of the seawall, hit the tennis courts or get in a round of golf before grabbing a casual bite at Prospect Point Café. Ordering a scoop of the handmade maple walnut ice-cream is a must, obviously.
Lynn Canyon Park
Skirting the eastern edge of North Vancouver, a 20-minute drive from downtown, this lush forest is best known for its towering suspension bridge. Swaying 50 metres above terra firma, intrepid travellers are rewarded with epic perspectives of centuries-old trees and the tumbling river below. A free alternative to Capilano Suspension Bridge, it’s not quite as tall but is always far less crowded.
Follow the short path to Twin Falls, a beautiful swimming area where two waterfalls meet, or tackle hiking trails like the easy riverside path to Lynn Headwaters. The park’s Ecology Centre is packed with displays, dioramas and exhibitions on the region’s rich biodiversity and hosts free children’s programs and walking tours during the summer months.
Known as “the peak of Vancouver”, Grouse Mountain is a 20-minute drive from downtown (there’s a handy shuttle service if you’re travelling without a car). Accessed via the Skyride gondola, the trip is worth it for the vista alone – on a clear summer day expect jaw-dropping views of the city, Gulf Islands and out to the ocean beyond. But there’s lots more to keep you busy: during the warmer months you can hike, mountain bike, zipline, watch a lumberjack show and tour a 20-storey wind turbine. Plus, meet the locals – rescued grizzly bears, owls and hummingbirds all call the wildlife refuge home.
Winter is all about skiing, snowshoeing and ice-skating on the 750-square metre pond. There isn’t any accommodation on the mountain but 15 of the 33 runs are open until 9pm. No matter the season, stop for a hearty meal at family-friendly eatery Altitudes Bistro or outdoor BBQ joint The Rusty Rail.
SEE ALSO: These Are Canada’s Most Epic Experiences
Located in Vancouver’s swanky West Point Grey area, this three-kilometre stretch of sand is a 15-minute drive from downtown. Jericho is further out than its tourist-magnet rivals – English Bay and Kitsilano (‘Kits’) Beach – but the vibe here is local and low-key. The sheltered setting also makes it an ideal spot for young explorers: the water is calm with next to no surf, and the warm pools that emerge at low tide provide endless entertainment.
Water temperatures are on the refreshing side, ranging from 13°C in early May up to 19°C in high summer. Adults and older kids can work up a sweat with watersports – kayaking, surf skiing, paddleboarding, sailing and windsurfing are all on offer. Jericho Sailing Centre and Jericho Beach Kayak have equipment for hire and run lessons and tours like the full moon paddle during the high season.
When you’re ready for a break, retire to the grassy park backing the beach where there’s a pretty pond and lots of shaded picnic spots. Didn’t bring your blanket? Stop for fish and chips at The Galley Patio & Grill on the second floor of the Jericho Sailing Centre – the deck overlooking the ocean is the place to be as the sun starts to set.
A two-hour drive north of Vancouver, Whistler Blackcomb is one of North America’s top mountain resort towns. Sure, there’s the pristine ski terrain (200 kilometres of postcard-perfect powder runs, to be exact), but during the snow season you can also join an ice cave adventure by helicopter, go dog sledding or take in the Vallea Lumina light show. Come spring, hike and mountain bike trails that loop through wildflower fields and glaciers. Either way, don’t skip the Peak 2 Peak cable-car ride for incredible mountain scenery.
Aprés-ski bunnies will appreciate a trip to Scandinave Spa, where hot springs soothe tired muscles, and the charming Whistler Village – home to shops, taverns and sophisticated restaurants like Italian hotspot Il Caminetto. If you’re staying overnight, it’s hard to go past The Four Seasons, one of Whistler’s most luxurious properties with a heated outdoor pool and over 280 rooms, each featuring a fireplace and cosy dark wood interiors.
The Canadian Rockies
Vancouver is the gateway to the majestic Canadian Rockies, the jagged mountain range spanning British Columbia and Alberta. It’s about an 11-hour drive – well worth stretching out to a seven-day road trip that passes through alpine towns and national parks. Just make sure to check Drive BC for up-to-date information on road conditions in areas with inclement weather.
Or hop aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxurious train designed with glass-domed carriages to perfectly frame the spectacular vistas. The company offers several two- or three-day routes that connect Vancouver to the mountain towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, each including elegant meals, local wines, plush leather chairs and overnight stays at mountain top hotels.