5 Outdoor Adventures for a Vancouver Vacation

You don’t have to go far from Vancouver to find plenty of outdoor adventure. You can explore the rainforest in the city’s Stanley Park, paddle a kayak within sight of the downtown skyline, or hike through the North Shore mountains less than 30 minutes from the city center.

But Vancouver is also the starting point for a wide range of cool experiences around British Columbia, from surfing on Vancouver Island to hiking—by helicopter—in the province’s spectacular eastern mountains.

We’ve rounded up ideas for five great adventures that you can add to your Vancouver visit. Pack your explorer’s spirit and start planning your next trip.

hiker standing near a lake in the Bugaboos of British Columbia
On a CMH heli-hiking trip, a hiker checks out the views of the Bugaboo Spires. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller

Heli-hiking in Eastern British Columbia

Imagine flying by helicopter to remote hiking trails, along snow-topped Canadian mountains high in the clouds. If you’re looking for an epic summer adventure to add to a West Coast trip, look no further. If you’ve heard of heli-skiing—where a helicopter drops you at the top of a mountain of untracked powder—you’ve got the general idea of its summertime cousin. On a heli-hiking trip, a helicopter takes you to remote mountain locations that would be difficult, or impossible, to reach on foot.

CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures is western Canada’s most established heli-ski and heli-hike operator, offering trips based at three of their eastern B.C. lodges. New in 2018 are three-day heli-hiking trips in B.C.’s Cariboo Mountains, within sight of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. You’ll hike past craggy glaciers and along remote mountain ridges, with the helicopter ready to shuttle you to the next trailhead.

Trips include accommodations at comfortable fly-in mountain lodges, all meals and snacks, and daily guided hiking adventures. CMH staff can help you arrange transportation from Vancouver (or Calgary), or you can add on a heli-hiking holiday to a Canadian Rockies road trip.

boats in Tofino harbor
The funky seaside town of Tofino is great for surfing. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Surfing in Tofino

If you don’t think that Canada is a surfing destination, think again. The west coast of Vancouver Island, particularly the funky seaside town of Tofino, draws surfers to its waves year-round.

Novices take to the water in the summer when the ocean is somewhat warmer and the surf gentler. Looking for bigger waves? Don a thick wetsuit and surf Tofino during the “storm-watching” season, when large breakers roll in throughout the winter months.

Several surf schools, including Surf Sister, Pacific Surf School, or The Surf Club at Long Beach Resort, can help get you out into the waves. And Tofino has a surprising number of excellent eateries and fun pubs where you can share stories of your surf adventures.

cyclists riding bikes along kettle valley railway with views of British Columbia
Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Wine-touring in the Okanagan

As you drive east from Vancouver over the Coast Mountain range, the climate changes from the coastal rainforest to a drier, temperate valley. This fertile, lake-filled area known as the Okanagan not only produces much of the Vancouver-area’s fresh fruits and vegetables, but is also western Canada’s largest wine region.

More than 200 wineries line the hills and sunny lakeshores of this “Napa of the North,” which is about a four-hour drive east of Vancouver. For an active adventure among the vines, plan to do your wine touring by bicycle. You can bring your own bike or rent one in the major wine hubs: Kelowna, Penticton, or Osoyoos, or book a guided bike tour. Kelowna-based Monashee Adventure Tours runs several different half-, full-, or multi-day sip-and-cycle tours, and Heatstroke Cycle and Sport organizes cycling tours to the wineries along the Black Sage Bench and the Golden Mile in the South Okanagan’s Oliver-Osoyoos area.

Would you rather wine-tour on your own two feet? Sign up for the springtime Half-Corked Marathon, an annual fun run organized by the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association, with a dozen food and wine stops along the way.

You have to plan ahead if you want to run, jog, or walk the 18-kilometer (11-mile) course. Participants in the popular “half-corked” event are chosen by lottery in the fall and the 2018 race is already full. Dinners and other events during the marathon weekend are still open to the public, though, so check the website for details—and mark your calendar to sign up for next year.

two climbers atop via Ferrata in snowy Whistler
Rest stop on the Via Ferrata in Whistler, BC. Photo © Carolyn B. Heller.

Climbing a Via Ferrata at Whistler

Do you want to try rock climbing but don’t have any experience? Then follow the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway two hours north of Vancouver to Whistler and book a half day on Whistler’s Via Ferrata.

This guided climbing route uses iron rungs built into the mountain to provide handgrips and footholds as you ascend the rock face. It’s a workout, but it’s open to anyone who’s reasonably fit (and not afraid of heights). Your guide can help you through any challenging sections of the course, and the views from your vantage points high over the mountains are spectacular.

You can find several other Via Ferratas in western Canada, including one just an hour’s drive from Vancouver at the Sea-to-Sky Gondola in Squamish, one at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden in eastern British Columbia, and one in the Canadian Rockies, at Banff’s Mt. Norquay.

two snorkelers in the water near a seal in Nanaimo British Columbia
Snorkeling with the seals near Nanaimo, British Columbia. Photo courtesy of Tourism Nanaimo/Ted Kuzemski.

Snorkeling with the Seals in Nanaimo

For a unique wildlife experience, head for the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island’s east coast, a quick ferry trip from Vancouver. A colony of harbor seals lives around tiny Snake Island, a rocky outcropping just 15 minutes by boat from Nanaimo harbor. Sundown Diving operates half-day tours to the island, where you can snorkel with the seals.

The tour starts at the company’s downtown shop, where you’re outfitted with a wetsuit, hood, booties, gloves, and snorkeling gear. Then at the harbor you board a motorboat for the short ride to Snake Island. You jump into the water to swim alongside these large marine creatures, which are surprisingly graceful as they glide through the sea. And even though you’ll feel miles away, you can be back in Vancouver for dinner.

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Surfers walking along the beach, silhouetted by the sun. Pinterest graphic.