Walking and Hiking in BC

Posted Monday, October 20, 2014

Kootenay Rockies, Northern British Columbia, Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Coast & Mountains, Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, Outdoor Adventure / Ecotourism, Parks & Wildlife

From a walk in the woods to a wilderness backpacking trip, from a stroll on the beach to a helicopter-accessed alpine trek, BC's hiking trails offer every kind of hike or walk.

The landscapes are as varied as the trails: choose from rainforest, coastline, mountains, glaciers, grasslands, rivers, marshes, waterfalls, lakes, canyons, desert and more.

Virtually all of BC's seven national parks and 1,030 provincial parks and protected areas have hiking trail networks. Mountain resorts operate ski lifts during the summer to help hikers reach the trailheads, local volunteer groups have transformed abandoned rail lines into long distance trails, and even major cities have car-free pedestrian paths for urban hikes. If you're in a rush, heli-hiking guides can whisk you to the alpine via helicopter.

You don't even have to leave town. Walkers, joggers and cyclists share Vancouver's Seaside Path, a 22-kilometre (13.7-mile) car-free route which traces the city's coastline from the Canada Place cruise ship terminal, and around Stanley Park and False Creek to Point Grey. Stanley Park alone has an extensive network of trails deep in the forest but just minutes from the city centre.

About 30 minutes north of downtown Vancouver is North Vancouver, home to Grouse Mountain's Grouse Grind trail. Rising 853 metres (2,800 feet) in just 2.9 kilometres (1.8 miles), it's known locally as "Mother Nature's Stairmaster," and is such a popular after-work activity that more than 150,000hikers make the trek each spring and summer.

Several other North Vancouver parks offer short, easy walks that still reward with stunning forest, river and ocean views. In West Vancouver's Lighthouse Park, for example, forested trails lead to waterfront views over English Bay. Trails at Capilano River Regional Park skirt a deep gorge, while North Vancouver's Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve has several easy trails, including 10 kilometres (six miles) of paved pathways.

A tougher walk, usually tackled in sections, is the 42-kilometre (25-mile) Baden-Powell Trail, which extends across the North Shore mountains from Horseshoe Bay in the west to Deep Cove in the east.

All North Shore provincial parks, including Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver and Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, offer challenging day hikes, with plenty of altitude, scenery and wildlife-sighting possibilities. And don't be misled by the proximity to the city -- these are wilderness hikes for the well-equipped.

Whistler, best known as the continent's leading ski resort, is also a top hiking destination. Besides the 40 kilometres (25 miles) of easy strolls along the flat, meandering Whistler Valley Trail and the extensive trail network around Lost Lake, the resort also boasts many kilometres of lift-accessed alpine hiking, including the 90-kilometre (56-mile) trail network in neighbouring Garibaldi Provincial Park.  A popular route is the 21-kilometre (13-mile) Musical Bumps to Singing Pass trail, an eight-hour round trip trek offering views of glaciers and Cheakamus Lake. The route passes three summits before reaching Singing Pass, a spectacular alpine meadow. Also on the Whistler hiking menu are overnight backpacking trips, guided hikes, glacier climbs and even heli-hiking; not to mention post-hike spa treatments and fine dining.

More crystalline lakes, snow peaks, forests and glaciers await in the Kootenay Rockies, which has attracted hikers and mountaineers since the 19th century. These days, the four national parks and many provincial parks in the area all have extensive hiking trail networks, as do the ski resorts, most of which operate lifts all summer to help hikers reach the trails. The Kootenay Rockies is also the headquarters of heli-hiking in BC, with operators located throughout the region, including Golden and Revelstoke, ready to whisk hikers straight to the alpine. 

Even more wilderness hiking is in store in Northern BC.  Some top choices include the glacier-fed lakes and sub-alpine meadows of the Babine Mountains Provincial Park near Smithers and the waterfalls, caves and limestone cliffs of Monkman Provincial Park near Tumbler Ridge.

One of the world's most stunning beach walks is also in Northern BC, at Naikoon Provincial Park on the northeast coast of Haida Gwaii. Well-equipped hikers can stroll for days along a 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch of sandy, wave-tossed beach.  

Of course, anyone who thinks a beach walk is a stroll hasn't tackled the West Coast Trail. Possibly BC's best-known hikes are this rugged 75-kilometre (47-mile) beach and forest trek in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The hike, which averages six days to complete, was originally built to help shipwreck survivors escape from the wilderness.

Two other long distance coastal paths on Vancouver Island are Cape Scott Provincial Park, at the Island's extreme northwest tip, where a rugged 18 kilometer hike along the historic Cape Scott Trail is rewarded with miles of deserted sandy beach; and the 47-kilometre (29-mile) Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on the Island's southwestern shore. Built as an alternative to the popular West Coast Trail, the Juan de Fuca Trail has road access at several points and, unlike the West Coast or Cape Scott trails, can be tackled in day-hike sized sections.

Two of the more accessible alternate trail sections include Vancouver Island's Galloping Goose and Lochside Regional trails, which cover more than 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Sidney through Victoria to Leechtown, an abandoned mining village just north of Sooke.

The Kettle Valley Trail, which is also a popular cycling route, meanders among the orchards, vineyards and wineries of the Okanagan Valley.

Another multi-day option is the Sunshine Coast Trail, a 180-kilometre (112-mile) trail across the Upper Sunshine Coast that is a spectacular multi-day wilderness trek, never more than a few kilometres from a road; and, like all BC hiking trails, always surrounded by stunning scenery.