I dare say these are the best hikes near Vancouver? That title is a very bold statement, I know. While I believe it to be true, what makes a hike amazing is totally dependent on the reader and what they’re after, so let me first tell you what makes a hike amazing for me.
Of paramount importance to me when deciding whether or not a hiking trail takes a top spot on my list is the view. Usually hikes have a stellar view at the top, so to be a truly awesome hike for me, beautiful views of mountaintops and lakes are usually visible for a lot of the time hiking. I’ll add that I’m also partial to alpine and sub-alpine trails. While low-elevation forested trails are definitely beautiful, I rarely find them more spectacular than high elevation trails with expansive views.
While I have hiked a lot, I have not been everywhere, and for the trails I have done, weather is a huge factor. I know I’m biased for sunshine so there could very well be other hikes even more amazing but I either haven’t done them personally so I won’t write about them until I can speak from experience, and the ones I do write about were likely done on a clear, sunny day. Trails look so much different depending on the weather and time of year.
So without further ado, here are my favourite ten hikes near Vancouver, BC. Get the full stats here.
1. Three Brothers
Also called the Heather Trail, this hike is in E.C. Manning Provincial Park, near Hope. It takes about 3 hours to drive to the trailhead from Vancouver. The trail is 44 km round trip trail if you also hike up the brothers (peaks). It is best done camping two nights. I hiked in to camp at Kickinghorse, hiked to Nicomen Lake on day 2, then out on day 3. The overall elevation gain isn’t much, about 490 m, but there is a lot of up and down so it is definitely not easy, but not too difficult either. It’s a great multi-day backpacking trip for hikers with some experience doing longer hikes.
2. Russet Lake via Highnote Trail
Really, Russet Lake, as well as Panorama Ridge (below), all tie for the top spot of best hike ever, but people like lists so I had to assign a number.
There are a few ways to access Russet Lake. While Russet Lake itself is quite a pretty area (last pic), the route that I took leading down to it is what makes this trail one of the most spectacular I’ve ever done. Views for days. DAYS!
So, you can bypass paying the insanely high price for taking the Whistler gondola up by hiking up to Russet Lake from the village by taking the Singing Pass Trail, but from what I’ve heard it’s quite a boring route. You can also make the hike a little shorter via the Musical Bumps Trail, accessed from the top of the Whistler gondola by the Roundhouse. This is the most direct route, but not nearly as scenic as the way I will suggest in a minute. Also, like I did, I recommend hiking back via this route so you can get all the views.
The route I would HIGHLY recommend is the High Note Trail, accessed from the top of the Peak Chair, accessed by walking down a short way from the top of the Whistler gondola. It’s a 28 km round trip trail hiking to Russet Lake from Peak Chair along the High Note Trail, and back to the top of the Whistler gondola. This is the only route where you can see Cheakamus Lake (middle pic), which is the highlight view along the way.
Where to Stay
There is a hut and campsites at Russet Lake so I would recommend making a weekend trip out of it by staying the night. Note the hut is infested with rats. You don’t want to sleep there. It’s just a great place to warm up and cook if it’s cold or rainy, and to store your food. They are planning to build a new hut to be ready for summer 2017 though (part of a plan for 3 new huts along Panorama Ridge!).
It’s super windy up there so try to find a campsite with a rock wall, and make sure to bring your tent pegs! If you want to do a dayhike, hike from Peak Chair down around back to the gondola instead of going down to Russet Lake, or start early and hike from Peak Chair down to the village. You can park for free in Daylot 6 or there is cheap parking ($5/day I think) by conference centre. This is also a great option for people without access to a car as there are tons of transit options to Whistler, like Greyhound.
3. Panorama Ridge
Another seriously epic hike, this one is also usually done as an overnight or 2-night trip. There are beautiful campsites at Garibaldi Lake, which are reservable (and really need to these days as it’s SO busy), or you can camp at Taylor Meadows. Located in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, the trailhead is accessed just a short 45 minute drive from Vancouver. It’s a 30 km trail round trip and climbs almost 1600 metres so, while it could be done in a single day, you need to be a fast hiker and start at first light on a very long day. Near the Taylor Meadows campsite is also the turnoff for the Black Tusk hike if you wanted to spend some extra time in the area to do that too. Note that dogs are not allowed anywhere in Garibaldi Provincial Park due to the incredibly sensitive alpine ecosystem.
4. Mumm Basin
The Mumm Basin trail is an off-shoot trail from the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Accessed from the end of the Berg Lake Trail – Robson Pass campground, or the Berg Lake Campground a few kms before, the Mumm Basin Trail takes you up a slope and traverses along a ridge parallel to the Berg Lake Trail below, offering incredible views of Adolphus Lake on the left and Berg Lake to the right.
The trailhead is near Valemount, a 7 hour drive from Vancouver.
The Berg Lake trail itself is 46 km return, and the Mumm Basin Trail is an additional 9 km and 468 metres of elevation gain. It is wise to plan for at least 2 nights, though we did it in 3 and wish we had an extra days to also the Snowbird Pass trail on the other side of the valley.
Note that to hike the Berg Lake Trail it is mandatory to have reservations for the campgrounds. Don’t believe the reviews – the Robson Pass campground is much nicer than the Berg Lake campground, as is Kinney Lake and Emperor Falls over Whitehorn.
For the ideal trip my suggestion would be day 1 drive to Mount Robson, hike in to camp at Kinney Lake. Day 2 hike to camp at Robson Pass. Then on Day 3 hike Snowbird Pass and camp at Robson Pass again. Day 4 hike Mumm Basin Trail and out to Kinney Lake campground. Then on Day 5 hike out and drive home. There is also an option to take a helicopter in, or just have your gear helied in if you want to save time and/or effort. It’s surprising not that expensive either!
5. Elfin Lakes
Elfin Lakes is the hike I take all my active visitors to BC on. While it’s a long hike (22 km return), people with a moderate fitness level can do it quite easily in the summer months when there isn’t snow (July-Sept usually).
The trailhead is in Squamish, only a 45 minute drive from Vancouver, and it has incredible views pretty much the whole way.
The elevation gain is only 620 metres over 22 kms so it’s not very steep overall. It can be done in about 5 hours if you don’t stop much and hike quite fast, but the average hiker will take about 7 hours as the views are too incredible to not stop to take a zillion photos. It is also long so a nice rest at the end is also welcome.
When it’s really hot out, a dip in the lake (not the drinking one!) is nice. There is a hut and camping platforms if you want to make it an overnight trip, but bring a tent as the hut is pretty much always busy and you need a reservation year-round to use it. It makes a great winter snowshoe as well, but it takes much, much longer.
Again, this is in Garibaldi Provincial Park (can you tell I love this park?) so dogs are not permitted. Rangers patrol a lot and will escort you out, and ticket you if you put up a fuss.
Looking for other hut hikes? Check out this post!
6. Skyline Trail Loop
The Skyline Trail loop is phenomenal. The views are simply breathtaking from the moment you drive up to the trailhead. Located in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State in the USA, it is a 5.5 hour drive from Vancouver. The trailhead is accessed by the Paradise Inn in the Paradise/Longmire area. You can stay at the Inn, or you can camp at one of the three campsites within the park but you’ll need a reservation as they book up fast. There are other campsites outside the park and not too far away, but they too get busy. It is a very popular area. The Skyline Trail loop is a 9 km trail, climbing 442 metres. The first part of it is even wheelchair and stroller accessible.
7. Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
The Lake O’Hara Loop AKA Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is my perfect example of how a perception of a trail is totally altered by the weather. I ventured over to Yoho National Park a few years ago to spend Labour Day weekend exploring. Being early September, I expected blue skies, sunshine and clear trails. What I found instead was a winter wonderland! In the pic above you can see various points – on top is what I expected based on other people’s photos, and below is what we encountered. One day I will go back to find some sunshine, but it was still pretty incredible even with all the snow.
The trailhead is accessed near the Lake O’Hara Lodge, which you need to book a bus to get to, or hike up a long logging road. To get to the bus stop/logging road is a 9 hour drive from Vancouver. The circuit is about 9km and takes about 5 hours because there are a lot of ledges and steep shale sections where you can’t walk very fast and need to use your hands to navigate around. Space is limited at the campground at Lake O’Hara so you’ll need to reserve a spot the day reservations open (3 months prior to your arrival date). Learn more about this incredible place here on the Parks Canada website.
8. Wedgemount Lake
Wedgemount Lake is hard. Let me repeat. It is HARD. This hike is definitely worth the pain, but it is not for beginner hikers unless you are super fit. It climbs 1160 metres over 7 km (the trail is 14 km return). A lot of it you need to almost scramble, so it is a little nerve-racking for people like me with a fear of heights and perhaps some mild vertigo. I did it as a dayhike and I don’t know if I could bring myself to carry a heavy overnight pack not just because of the steepness, but because I would be worried it would throw me off balance and I would tumble down the face of the mountain.
I also would not do it when it’s wet, and definitely not a chance in the snow. Have I scared you yet? Sorry! I just want you to be aware. It is totally doable though, even for a scaredy-cat like me. And it is DEFINITELY worth it. It is STUNNING. I’ll repeat that one too. STUNNING. Oh, it’s just past Whistler, about a 2 hour drive from Vancouver. Google it. Lots of info out there.
9. Joffre Lakes
No list of awesome hiking trails near the Lower Mainland are complete without mentioning Joffre Lakes. Note that if you’re one of those people who hates hiking trails with lots of other people around, don’t do this hike, or do it mid-week and do it early. I’m not an elitist like that though and know that almost always, things are popular because they are awesome, and who doesn’t want to experience awesome? So go. This trail is awesome. Busy, but awesome.
It’s amazing year-round. It’s at high elevation though so if you’re looking for a dry, snow-free trail, you typically have a small window from about late July to mid September. Yes, there is snow in June. All the way to the parking lot most years. Believe me, I tried. And yes, you need microspikes unless you’re happy taking two steps forward and 20 back. It’s not terribly steep, but too steep to make it up in runners if there is snow on the ground.
There are three lakes. The first (middle picture) is an easy 10 minute stroll from the parking lot. The second (last pic) an hour later, and the third and final – and most beautiful (top pic) – is 5.5 km and 370 metres from the trailhead. Access the trailhead a 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver off the Duffy Lake Rd near Mount Currie (past Pemberton).
And yes, you can swim in the top lake, but it’s damn cold. Glaciers tend to do that. Go figure. Be sure to bring a towel.
10. Elk Mountain
Elk Thurston Mountain is my favourite hike out in the Fraser Valley. Near Chilliwack, this trail is 14.6 km round trip and climbs 996 metres. So it’s pretty steep. A good heart-pumper for sure. Oddly I don’t have any photos that do this hike justice, but trust me, it’s stunning. It looks very different than hikes along the Sea to Sky. It looks like the Swiss Alps. It’s kind of ridiculous how beautiful it is. Definitely add this one to your list.
I’m heading to Mount Assiniboine in August to do an epic 57 km hike from Sunshine Village out to Mt Shark via Citadel and Wonder passes. Stay tuned for pics and info!
Get the stats for these and other incredible hikes in southwestern BC and beyond here.
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