Vancouver Part 1: The Great Outdoors

In part one of our five-part series, we’re focusing in on one of Vancouver’s most distinctive aspects: its spectacular natural setting. Here are 25 ways to enjoy the city’s proximity to dramatic mountains, turquoise inlets, thick forests and the Pacific Ocean.

1. Scuba dive in Porteau Cove

Yes, scuba dive. It might surprise you to learn that British Columbia has several famed dive spots, including Porteau Cove, just 38 kilometres (24 miles) north of Vancouver. Three wrecked vessels create artificial reefs, which are home to octopus, anemones and harbour seals. Get all the details by reading our blog post here.

2. Join a game of volleyball at Jericho Beach

National Geographic named Vancouver one of the Top 10 Beach Cities in the World. There are many to choose from, but we like Jericho for its easygoing vibe, its knockout city-and-mountain views, its great sunset-watching potential and the option to put up a net for a game of beach volleyball.

3. Feel dwarfed by the enormity of Stanley Park

Integral to Vancouver’s reputation as one of the most spectacular cities in the world is Stanley Park. There are plenty of ways to explore this lusciously green, 1,000-acre peninsula, but we especially love the sensation of being dwarfed by the massive cedar trees. Hike among these gentle giants or find one with a hollowed-out section to stand inside for a fun photo op.

4. Hike the Grouse Grind — and then brag about it

If you want a real challenge, or at least a serious workout, try the Grouse Grind, a 2.9-kilometre (3,700-foot) trail straight up to the top of Grouse Mountain. And when we say straight up, we mean it! If you make it to the top and back, you’ve definitely earned some bragging rights. Find more great hikes here.

5. Take a mini cruise

The False Creek Ferries and rainbow-painted Aquabus ferries that operate in False Creek between Yaletown and Granville Island are a fun way to get some fresh air, a tour of the creek and refreshing views of the city skyline and beyond. You can hop between neighbourhoods and check out attractions such as Granville Island Public Market and Science World British Columbia.

6. Get lost at Queen Elizabeth Park

A fabulous, 360-degree view of the city and surroundings is reason enough to visit Queen Elizabeth Park. But it also boasts expansive public gardens, an outdoor arboretum and recreational opportunities including golf (and disc golf), tennis and lawn bowling. Perhaps its biggest attraction is the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a dome that features more than 100 types of birds and a variety of plant life. Bring a picnic and while away an entire afternoon.

7. Hit the ski slopes and be back in time for happy hour

Just 20-30 minutes from Vancouver’s city centre are Cypress and Grouse Mountains. Here you’ll find plenty of runs for a variety of levels of skiing and riding — all amid gorgeous alpine terrain and close enough to Vancouver to be back in time for a late-afternoon or early-evening cocktail.

8. Walk the cedar maze at VanDusen Botanical Garden

A maze walled by 1,000 pyramidal cedars is just one of dozens of reasons to check out VanDusen Botanical Garden. Set against the distant backdrop of the North Shore mountains, the garden offers a series of small, specialized gardens. View hundreds of rhododrenon varieties, stroll the peaceful Asian plant collection or visit the wishing fountain in the Children’s Garden.

9. Walk on air 70 metres above the Capilano River

Just 20 minutes from downtown, the Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 137 metres (450 feet) across the Capilano River, 70 vertiginous metres (230 feet) below. Check out the new Cliffwalk, where suspended walkways jut out from the granite cliff. In some sections, glass is all that separates you from the canyon below.

10. See why nature is the best stage of all

Vanier Park becomes a stage each June when the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival opens for the summer, drawing people from all backgrounds to check out Shakespeare’s works in one of the most beautiful settings around. Theatre Under the Stars also puts on outdoor performances of family-oriented musicals in Stanley Park at the Malkin Bowl, where the audience is seated on the park lawn beneath the open night sky.

11. Paddle into another world

Few kayaking trips are more memorable than those that venture into the Indian Arm. You’ll come across century-old hydroelectric stations and even older aboriginal pictographs, but the main draw of the trip is the majesty of this glacial fjord and its cascading waterfalls, brilliant sunsets, lounging seals and sea lions.

12. Cruise the Inside Passage

Vancouver is the perfect gateway to Alaska’s rugged and dazzling scenery. In fact, the Vancouver to Alaska route is the third most popular in the world. Seven to 14-day Alaska cruises typically depart from Canada Place, and although each cruise line features a slightly different itinerary, passengers experience the same beauty and awe in places such as the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Yakutat Bay.

13. Visit (and ride) mountain biking’s Holy Land

Vancouver’s North Shore is considered one of the early birthplaces of freestyle mountain biking. With trails of varying complexity through thick forests, you can test your skills in the most beautiful of settings.

14. Drive from sea to sky

For those who like to sit back and take in the scenery from the comfort of your car, the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler is for you. But caution: Along the way, you’ll be drawn out of your car to explore the stunning Shannon Falls near Squamish, the Britannia Mine Museum in Britannia Beach and the bald eagle nesting grounds in Brackendale.

15. Play pro photographer at Lighthouse Beach

Shutterbugs love photogenic Vancouver. There are plenty of picturesque spots to capture, and Lighthouse Beach offers some particularly nice compositions. The park’s temperate rainforest gives way to rocky shoreline and, of course, the red-and-white lighthouse on the horizon.

16. Tour the Stanley Park seawall

It’s easy to see why the seawall is Stanley Park’s most famous feature. It’s an impressive 8.8-kilometre (5.5-mile) paved route that loops around the park and, along with adjoining seaside pathways, connects the park to downtown Vancouver and skirts its entire inner waterfront. Rent a bike, jog or stroll this beautiful pathway to fall in love with some of the best city, sea and forest views.

17. Come nose-to-nose with furry friends on Grouse Mountain

Grouse Mountain’s Refuge for Endangered Wildlife features a five-acre mountaintop habitat that is home to two orphaned grizzly bears and a three-acre timber wolf habitat located at the base of the mountain. Learn the stories of these animals and get a chance to see them up close on your visit to Grouse Mountain.

18. Catch the big one

For some of the world’s best salmon fishing — not to mention world-class trout and deep-sea fishing, as well — visit the pristine rivers, shores and sea waters near Vancouver. While you’re reeling in a massive catch among the fishing hot spots of B.C., you might just find yourself looking up and marveling at the gorgeous natural beauty surrounding you.

19. Practice the art of hanami

Each spring, Vancouver residents pack their sweaters away and are rewarded with one of the world’s most cheerful sites: 37,000 cherry trees bursting with pink and white blooms. Relax among the blooms and practice hanami, the Japanese custom of flower viewing.

20. Splash around in Canada’s longest pool

Kitsilano Beach, or “Kits Beach” to locals, is one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver. The beach is also home to an outdoor saltwater pool, Kitsilano Pool, which at 137 metres (85 feet) is the longest pool in Canada. We love the only-in-Vancouver experience of swimming in a warm pool beside chilly English Bay and looking up to see the North Shore mountains in the distance.

21. See Vancouver from a bird’s-eye view

Floatplanes make a busy port of Coal Harbour, where they can be seen departing and landing all day long. Climb aboard for a unique tour experience that will have you admiring the dense greenery of Stanley Park, rivers flowing into the ocean and islands that dot the waterways surrounding Vancouver — all from a perspective that reveals how the land has been shaped over the millennia.

22. Walk among the treetops of a coastal forest canopy

At the UBC Botanical Garden and Greenheart Canopy Walkway, a series of platforms and suspended walkways allow you an up-close look at grand fir, Douglas fir, western red cedar and maples that make up the forest canopy — as well as a birds-eye perspective on the ferns and foliage below.

23. Delve into the ecology behind Vancouver’ natural beauty

Situated in North Vancouver, Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre offers nature-film screenings, hands-on displays, models about the environment, a puzzle table and summertime nature programs. If you’re daring, you can take a stroll over the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge for a stunning view of the canyon. Though you need not be a kid to enjoy the centre, you can learn more about free and fun things to do with kids.

24. Play in the waves alongside orcas

The cool northern Pacific waters near Vancouver are a miraculous showcase of wildlife, with the orca as the star. Pods of the majestic black-and-white mammals can have up to a hundred or so orcas, and Vancouver outfitters know where to go for up-close encounters. Read our interview with a local whale-watching expert.

25. Lose track of your score on Fraserview Golf Course

Fraserview is often touted as one of the best public golf courses in Canada, partly for its majestic rolling greens and partly for its scenic location overlooking the Fraser River — so beautiful you may forget about your game altogether. Find more surprising public courses here.

For many more lovable tidbits about Vancouver, stay tuned for parts two–five of our 125 Things to Love About Vancouver series.

Read Part One: The Great Outdoors
Read Part Two: The Urban Delights
Read Part Three: Food and Drink
Read Part Four: Local’s Favourites
Read Part Five: Multicultural Experiences