Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Explore the Trails of North Shore Mountains
With over 100 kilometers of hiking trails to explore, Vancouver's North Shore Mountains offer adventurers endless opportunities to experience the Pacific Northwest wilderness. From easy strolls through old-growth forests to challenging rock scrambles with panoramic views, there's a trail for every ability and fitness level.
One of the most popular hikes in the North Shore Mountains is the Grouse Grind, a steep 2.9km trail that ascends 853m from the base of Grouse Mountain to the peak. Nicknamed "Mother Nature's Stairmaster", the Grouse Grind is a rite of passage for many locals and a great workout with rewarding views of downtown Vancouver and beyond. Just be prepared for the steep incline and watch your step on the uneven terrain.
For those seeking a slightly less strenuous hike, the Quarry Rock trail in Deep Cove is highly recommended. This 5.5km out-and-back trail through the forest leads to a massive granite outcropping with incredible vistas over Indian Arm and Burrard Inlet. It's especially stunning at sunset when the rocks glow golden. Just be prepared for crowds at the viewpoint, as this is one of the most Instagrammed spots in the city.
Hardcore hikers looking to summit some of the North Shore's tallest peaks should tackle the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Starting from Cypress Mountain, this 28km point-to-point trail traverses the ridge of the Lions with nonstop views of Howe Sound's fjords and coastal islands. Along the way you'll pass several summits over 1,500 meters, including The Lions, Brunswick Mountain and West Lion. Backpacking over 2 or 3 days is recommended to fully experience this stunning alpine route.
For those who prefer forest bathing over mountain climbing, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver offers several peaceful creekside trails perfect for families and nature lovers. Follow the rigid boardwalks and dirt paths through stands of towering cedars, firs and hemlocks draped in emerald green mosses. The soothing sound of rushing water over boulders along Lynn Creek calms the spirit.
What else is in this post?
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Explore the Trails of North Shore Mountains
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Kayak the Calm Waters of Indian Arm
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Bike the Seawall from Stanley Park to Kitsilano
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Hike to Quarry Rock for Panoramic Views
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Go Whale Watching off Vancouver's Coast
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Paddleboard False Creek from Granville Island
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Zipline Through the Forest Canopy in Whistler
- Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Camp and Stargaze in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Kayak the Calm Waters of Indian Arm
Just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver lies Indian Arm, a narrow fjord flanked by towering mountains that feels worlds away from the bustling city. This sheltered passage of calm turquoise waters connecting Burrard Inlet to the Indian River valley makes for a quintessential Pacific Northwest paddling experience.
Gliding across the glassy surface by kayak allows you to soak in the spectacular scenery at a leisurely pace. As you paddle along, snow-capped peaks loom above while verdant forests of cedar, fir and hemlock blanket the mountainsides down to the water's edge. Paddling under the imposing granite cliffs feels humbling yet peaceful.
Several kayak rental outfitters like Ecomarine Paddling Center, Deep Cove Kayak and Vancouver Water Adventures offer guided tours of Indian Arm for all levels of paddlers. For those with kayaking experience, renting kayaks and venturing out solo or with friends allows you to explore Indian Arm's secluded bays and beaches at your own pace.
One destination worth paddling to is Twin Islands, a pair of small, uninhabited islands near the mouth of Indian Arm. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the rocky beaches here. At low tide, you can even walk out along the sand flats connecting the two islands.
Further up Indian Arm, stop to stretch your legs at Buntzen Lake Recreation Area where wooded hiking trails loop around a BC Hydro reservoir. Or paddle another kilometer up to the Indian River to visit the fish hatchery.
For a peaceful overnight adventure, paddle to one of Indian Arm's many secluded campsites managed by the BC Parks Indian Arm marine campsite reservation system. Imagine falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping on the shore after spending the day absorbing Indian Arm's natural splendor from your kayak.
Visiting Indian Arm by kayak allows you to access places inaccessible by road and absorb the serenity of this coastal wilderness. As kayaking guide Taras Grescoe writes after an Indian Arm excursion, "I am not just looking at mountain walls rising straight out of the water, I am tracing small indentations in the rock, picking out tiny sheltered beaches tucked under crumbling granite overhangs, spotting the occasional jet-black seal head popping out of the green water."
With minimal motorboat traffic, the fjord's tranquil waters create ideal kayaking conditions for both novice and experienced paddlers. And since Indian Arm is so close to Vancouver, you can be back at downtown bars and restaurants in time for happy hour after a refreshing day of kayaking this scenic passage. Just be sure to keep an eye on tides and weather when planning your paddle as conditions on the water can change rapidly.
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Bike the Seawall from Stanley Park to Kitsilano
Stretching 22 kilometers along Vancouver's waterfront, the Seawall path offers one of the city's quintessential outdoor activities - a lazy bike ride with nonstop views of mountains, ocean and cityscapes. cyclists weave their way from the trails of Stanley Park, past English Bay and Sunset beaches, all the way to Kitsilano's beaches and Granville Island.
Starting your Seawall ride at Stanley Park means beginning with Vancouver's crown jewel - a giant Douglas fir and cedar rainforest wrapped around a secluded peninsula downtown. After wandering past beaver ponds and totem poles, you'll emerge onto the park's famous Seawall path skirting Vancouver Harbour with north shore peaks beckoning in the distance.
Cruising clockwise, you'll soon reach Second Beach with itskitschy concession stands and bustling volleyball courts. Further along, cycling through the bobbing boats of English Bay leads to Vancouver's liveliest stretch of sand - Sunset Beach. Watch locals laze in the sun, buskers perform and kids frolic in the water as you roll past.
At English Bay, be sure to brake for an Instagram of the postcard-perfect Inukshuk sculpture framing downtown's skyline behind it. This is one of Vancouver's iconic landmarks capturing the essence of a city framed by sea and mountains.
Leaving the bustle of English Bay behind, Vancouver's Seawall becomes serene again as you enter Stanley Park's forest trail leading to chic Coal Harbour Marina. Here, another quintessential Vancouver selfie spot awaits - the bright yellow Tangram house against a backdrop of glassy condo towers.
Next up, the Seawall contours False Creek with its houseboats and Habitat 67, the geometric Expo 86 complex. Science World's massive dome soon comes into view marking the end of Stanley Park and the entrance to buzzing Yaletown's redeveloped warehouse district.
Fuel up on freshly roasted caffeine at one of Yaletown's excellent indie cafes before continuing on through David Lam Park's flower gardens and public art. Look out across the water for dreamy views of Granville Island's iconic Kids Market and the North Shore Mountains beyond.
At Sunset Beach Park, you can take a quick detour to check out Vancouver's captivating public art along Beach Avenue. Feast your eyes on the 40-foot Spinning Chandelier sculpture and 15m Digital Orca display dancing with colorful lights.
Leaving downtown's distractions behind again, the trail soon enters a leafy residential neighborhood studded with mansions dating to Vancouver's early history. Feel miles away from the city's bustle biking past extravagant homes and their private docks lining Point Grey Road.
The final highlight of your ride is arrival at Kitsilano Beach - one of Vancouver's most popular and laid-back stretches of sand. Watch stand-up paddlers and kite surfers dance across the waves as you sprawl on the grassy knoll above the beach. Let the panoramic views of mountains and ocean soak into your spirit before heading to Kitsilano's 4th Avenue for sustenance at one of the local eateries.
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Hike to Quarry Rock for Panoramic Views
Rising impressively from the depths of Deep Cove, Quarry Rock is one of the most rewarding short hikes near Vancouver. The relatively easy 10-minute uphill trek through forest to the summit of this massive granite outcropping pays off with what many call the most stunning panoramic views in the Lower Mainland.
From atop the smooth sloping rock face, a sprawling 180-degree vista opens up over Deep Cove, Indian Arm and the rugged North Shore Mountains beyond. Gazing out at this majestic scene, you'll understand why Quarry Rock is among the most photographed spots around Vancouver. Beyond just picture-perfect views, the unique landscape makes you feel like you’re standing on the prow of an epic ship sailing across the fjord.
While the short hike itself is moderately steep, most visitors agree it's worth the effort. The well-marked forest trail ascends through a mossy, fern-filled paradise with wooden steps and railings installed along the steepest sections. Emerging atop the rock, you’re instantly transported into a breathtaking new world.
The panorama stretches across the sheltered turquoise waters of Indian Arm to the crenelated peaks of the North Shore. From here, you gain perspective on the true scale of the mountains dominating the horizon, including the 1,781m Mt. Seymour. Gazing back south, the gem-like waters and forested slopes of Deep Cove nestle picturesquely below.
While weekdays are calmer, weekends see Quarry Rock swarming with photographers angling for epic selfies with the vista behind them. Arrive early in the morning or near sunset to beat the crowds. Watching the golden light glow over Indian Arm from Quarry Rock at sunrise or sunset is mesmerizing.
If you seek a peaceful perch away from the selfie-snapping masses, walk east along the ridgeline beyond the viewpoint. Here, several flat sunny rocks allow peaceful contemplation over this majestic meeting of sea, mountains and sky in isolation.
Pack a picnic to fully soak in the magic atop Quarry Rock - munching snacks while soaking in one of the Lower Mainland’s most wondrous panoramas is what memories are made of. Just be respectful by packing out all trash.
Beyond superb scenery, the unique geology of this ancient granite deposit makes Quarry Rock fascinating. The enormous rock mass was carved and shaped by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Geological evidence indicates this area of Indian Arm was once covered by nearly a kilometer of thick slow-moving ice!
Today, only the hardest stone remains, exposed and polished into smooth rounded forms by the scraping force of flowing ice. The soaring perspective from Quarry Rock lets you visualize just how deeply the immense glaciers of the ice age carved out these fjords.
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Go Whale Watching off Vancouver's Coast
Few experiences connect you as deeply with nature as observing whales in their natural habitat. Vancouver's oceans offer prime territory for several species of these marine giants that migrate through the rich coastal waters each year. From March through October, local whale watching outfitters can bring you up-close with humpback, gray, minke and orca whales near Vancouver.
Gliding across the Salish Sea's swells in search of whales' telltale blows is an unforgettable experience. When one of these immense, graceful creatures suddenly breaches the surface nearby, you'll be awestruck by nature's majesty. Unlike watching marine life in aquarium shows, encountering whales roaming wild in the Pacific instills deep awe and humility.
Vancouver-based whale watching company Wild Whales uses a powerful hydrophone to listen for whale vocalizations, pinpointing animals' locations. Their expert captains then steer small, agile Zodiacs directly into the whales' vicinity so you can observe natural behaviors up-close. Seeing a massive humpback propel its 40-ton body vertically out of the ocean will stick with you forever. Witnessing a pod of orcas swim by your boat while gazing at you with their dark, curious eyes creates a soul-stirring connection. Wild Whales guarantees you'll see whales or receive a coupon for another excursion.
For a more low-key whale watching experience, Vancouver Whale Watch offers relaxing tours on covered powerboats from Granville Island. Their naturalists provide running commentary on the whales’ habits as you take in the sights and sounds from open decks. Just dress warmly as wind chill can be fierce. blue whale
Prince of Whales, one of Vancouver Aquarium's ecotour partners, carries hundreds of whale watchers daily on comfortable catamarans. Their hydrophone technology and sighting network help maximize whale encounters. Trips include onboard videos and exhibits on local marine biology. Certified sustainability initiatives protect wildlife while educating passengers.
Whale watching is a contemplative experience being surrounded by nature’s vastness. Witnessing whales navigate and feed in their rightful ocean home nourishes the spirit. Vancouver-based clinical counsellor Jan Hanson describes her whale watching epiphany:
"I've lived in Vancouver for over 20 years but never went whale watching till last summer. I was going through a rough personal time and needed to reconnect with the beauty of life. Being rocked by the ocean swells while a humpback mother and calf surfaced nearby felt magical - like nature was embracing me. The graceful, powerful whales gliding through their natural home calmed my soul. It was profoundly moving."
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Paddleboard False Creek from Granville Island
Gliding atop the jade-green waters of False Creek on a paddleboard allows you to soak in vistas of Vancouver from an serene new perspective. Paddling away from the boats bobbing along Granville Island’s bustling public market, you quickly enter a peaceful watery playground with glassy conditions ideal for paddleboarding.
Scoping out False Creek’s landmarks like Science World, BC Place and the Cambie Street Bridge from out on the water gives you an entirely different angle on Vancouver’s icons. With downtown’s glass towers mirrored on the creek’s calm surface, you almost feel like you’re levitating between land and sea. Turning your gaze west, you’ll soak in idyllic views of English Bay framed by Stanley Park’s forested slopes.
One quintessential False Creek paddleboarding route launches from Granville Island then loops around the Olympic Village, across to Vanier Park, through False Creek Flats, then back ‘home’ to Granville Island. This peaceful tour shows off Vancouver from nearly all angles while avoiding strong currents.
Gliding along Granville Island, you’ll grin at kids splashing in the waterside Adventure Playground. Next, marvel at towers of shipping containers stacked Skid Row-style at the port. Cruising past Science World’s massive dome then under Cambie Bridge, make sure to stop and balance atop your board for a quintessential selfie with the city skyline behind you.
Entering False Creek Flats, industrial ruins like the abandoned Molson Brewery contrast with Space Centre’s modern rocket shape. Paddling through moored houseboats near Granville Bridge, it feels a world away from downtown. Yet city views return upon reaching Vanier Park’s green slopes crowned by forceful totem poles.
Outfitters like Ecomarine Paddling Center, Spiky’s Paddle Shack and Vancouver Water Adventures rent boards and gear near Granville Island and offer lessons for newbies. If you’re at least moderately athletic with good balance, you can quickly get the hang of standing and paddling on a stable board. Even tumbling into False Creek’s refreshing waters on a warm summer day is loads of fun!
Just beware winds can whip up unexpectedly - check forecasts before heading out. And avoid False Creek during busy boat traffic like 4th of July. For sightseeing paddles, go midday when wake action calms down. You’ll share the waters with leisurely kayakers, rowers, dragonboaters and a few laid-back powerboaters respecting the mellow vibe.
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Zipline Through the Forest Canopy in Whistler
Gliding on adrenaline 100 feet above the ground, you'll feel like you're flying as you zip-line over Whistler's ancient mossy rainforests and glacier-fed rivers. This thrill-seeking adventure allows adventurers to experience the area's awe-inspiring landscapes from an exhilarating new perspective high up in the treetops.
Cruising along at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, the epic ziplines with Ziptrek Ecotours let you soak in panoramic mountain vistas framed by towering cedars, firs and hemlocks over 150 feet tall. Their certified guides outfit you with climbing harnesses, helmets, gloves and trolleys before reviewing proper ziplining form. Soon you’re stepping off wooden platforms tucked high in the trees to soar over the lush temperate rainforest on steel cables stretching 2,000 feet long.
Gliding above emerald green carpets of moss blanketing the forest floor, it feels like you're transported back to prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed lands like this. Gazing past ragged cliffs and cascading waterfalls, you'll understand why Hollywood blockbusters like Twilight love filming in Whistler’s primordial landscape.
Cruising at heights over 10 stories above the valley floor instills a thrilling sense of freedom. Yet the cables feel remarkably stable and secure. The biggest danger is wanting your ZipTrek tour to last longer as you find yourself grinning uncontrollably zip after zip. This adventure leaves you craving more.
Whistler boasts multiple zipline tour options allowing riders as young as five years old. Ziptrek's TreeTrek tour includes beginner-friendly lines letting families zip together through the trees. Their more extreme Sasquatch tour amps up speed, heights and lengths for an even bigger adrenaline rush.
For ziplining under the cover of night, check out their special full moon tours. Nighttime adds haunting beauty soaring over mist-shrouded forests and mountains glowing in moonglow. You may even glimpse nocturnal wildlife like owls, deer or bears during your nighttime zips.
Beyond thrills, Ziptrek’s courses educate riders on Whistler’s delicate rainforest ecosystem and First Nations heritage. Their tree platforms highlight the biodiversity sustained within these ancient forests. Certified eco-friendly construction practices protect the environments their tours showcase. As the original forest canopy tour company, Ziptrek pioneered sustainable ziplining and maintains the longest zipline cables.
Whistler ziplining converts even the most timid into adrenaline junkies. As Texas tourist David Wilson enthused after his first time soaring with Ziptrek, “I was scared of heights and ziplining looked terrifying. But the guides put me instantly at ease and gave simple instructions. Soon I was Zip-lining longer stretches than I ever dreamed and loving it! Once you take that first leap into the air, your spirit feels free as a bird gliding over the treetops. It's addictive.”
Top 10 Epic Outdoor Adventures to Have in Vancouver - Camp and Stargaze in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Escape the city lights to experience the magic of stargazing in Garibaldi Provincial Park’s pristine wilderness. Pitch your tent at one of Garibaldi’s designated backcountry campgrounds, then watch in awe as the night sky comes alive with celestial wonders free of light pollution. Gazing up at the Milky Way’s star-dusted band arcing overhead, you’ll feel insignificantly small yet deeply connected to the vastness of the universe.
Garibaldi is one of the best places for stargazing near Vancouver since most of the park is shielded from the bright lights of nearby towns. In the remote wilderness, thousands of stars you can’t see from the city emerge in the blackness. Arriving at your campsite after nightfall, you may gasp seeing the sheer number of celestial bodies splattered across the sky.
On cloudless new moon nights when only starlight illuminates the darkness, the stargazing gets astounding. You can easily see the hazy glow of the Milky Way streaming from horizon to horizon as you scan for streaking meteors. With no competing light sources, Garibaldi’s celestial show mesmerizes beyond your wildest dreams.
Garibaldi also offers optimal stargazing thanks to relatively high elevation. At campsites situated above 5000 feet, you rise beyond the lower atmosphere’s densest moisture and pollutants. This increased altitude reveals fainter stars washed out at lower elevations.
Don’t forget your binoculars or telescope to maximize what’s visible in Garibaldi’s pristine skies. Zooming in on the moon’s craters, Jupiter’s swirling storms or Saturn's rings touring the sky is an ethereal experience from your remote wilderness perch.
Avid astrophotographer Isabelle Gagne says, “I’ve shot the Milky Way from Garibaldi on crystal clear nights using my camera's long exposure and the photos turn out insane. But honestly, the most memorable moments come from just lying by the campfire watching for shooting stars then scanning the endless stars with binoculars. It makes you realize how small yet connected we are in this vast universe.”
Beyond its remote dark skies, Garibaldi Provincial Park offers picture-perfect scenery to complement your stargazing. Massive glaciers shimmer under the moonlight while alpine meadows glow. Silhouetted mountain summits circle around your camp adding drama to the night sky.
Veteran park ranger Marie Dubois recalls, “Stargazing in Garibaldi is next-level with the rugged mountains framing the skies. I’ll never forget seeing faint hints of the northern lights swirling above famed Panorama Ridge after midnight when camped at Taylor Meadows. The mix of mountains, stars and space weather was pure magic.”