There are few places in the world where a city visit is synonymous with soft adventure. Welcome to Vancouver. And before winter really kicks in some of the best of these soft adventures happen between the raindrops of a Vancouver fall.
Picture yourself soaring high above the city, paddling a shoreline rich with birds, cycling a mountain trail and you will have a glimpse of life in the southwestern corner of BC.
Edged by the Pacific Ocean and back-dropped by the lofty Coast Range, this playground of pleasure can keep you as busy as you desire. It has become a cliché that in the summer months, you can ski on a glacier and swim at the beach on the same day. No matter what season you choose for your visit, Vancouver provides your pick of activities from the serene to the adventuresome.
Vancouver’s surroundings are sublime for hiking. Challenging forested trails can be found locally on Cypress, Grouse and mountains, or east of the city in the Fraser Valley, which is studded by impressive peaks. And just because it’s a mountain hike, it doesn’t have to be strenuous. There are well-marked trails through meadows and around small lakes on all of the nearby mountains. In summer, take time to stop and enjoy the beautiful wildflowers you’ll encounter in the alpine meadows.
Another unusual Vancouver experience is to mountain bike down Grouse Mountain. This guided cycle tour showcases wildlife along the exciting trails, and the city in miniature far below. For easy cycling, visit the village of Steveston located in the southern municipality of Richmond. Nothing could be flatter than cycling along the dikes, and you can enjoy the historic fishing village where canneries and wharves have been converted to house shops and restaurants. Pedalling or rollerblading around the seawall in Stanley Park is an ideal introduction to the city, but you won’t be alone. There are many outlets that rent bicycles and in-line skates.
Birding is big and little wonder when you consider the 250 species seen regularly and another 150 viewed occasionally in the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region. Stroll Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park to enjoy waterfowl – marvel at the colours of the exotic Wood Duck and the gracefulness of the stately swans. Follow a wooded trail and look for a variety of woodpeckers and check out the shorebirds and eagles at one of the park beaches. There are organized bird walks at George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, a sleepy farming community south of the city. Migrating birds start arriving at the sanctuary in early September, with peak season from November through March. During the month of November, the fields and shores of this sanctuary are alive with thousands of snow geese – some 25,000 arrive from Russia to winter in the Fraser River estuary.
For a unique Vancouver experience, rent a kayak at Granville Island. From your snug vessel, you view the dramatic skyline, a swishy houseboat community, and the bustle of activity along the seawall – but you may also eyeball a heron under a bridge or pass by a family of loons. For wilderness, Indian Arm is less than an hour’s drive out of the city and you will paddle an inlet surrounded by greenery.
For a wilder water ride, there are a variety of whitewater trips available from Squamish or Brackendale. The Elaho-Squamish river system can be a thrill a minute but there are also some areas when you float serenely to view eagles along the shoreline.
Speaking of Squamish, this logging town offers some high adventure. The Squamish Spit draws expert windsurfers to its windy waters and the Chief is renowned as one of North America’s premier rock climbing faces. But don’t try these activities without first signing on with an expert for some lessons.
To get high above the city, take a flight-seeing excursion – in less than an hour you can picnic near a glacial lake. To ride a glider, drive to Hope and have the thrill of a lifetime soaring on thermals. And if you wish a real adrenaline rush – you can do a tandem hang-glide from Grouse Mountain. Now there’s something to put some zing in your holiday postcard.