Adventure between dramatic coastlines, lush rainforests, alpine mountain summits, and gargantuan trees.
British Columbia encompasses all types of ecosystems including one-fifth of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforests. It also houses over 40,000 islands and is covered with mountains. It is truly an otherworldly place.
There aren’t many places where you can surf, climb a mountain, and ski all in one day, but that’s the norm in British Columbia (often simply called BC). It’s why there are so many thrill seekers and adventurers on the West Coast of Canada.
To get the most out of your visit, you can drive a campervan and road trip across the province. Or you can simply stay in the big city of Vancouver and eat yourself silly with cheap sushi.
But the best way to truly experience British Columbia is to hit the trail on your own two feet. The hikes below are some of the best in the province.
1. Stawamus Chief
Why you should go: sit atop the second-largest granite monolith in the world.
Length: 3.7 miles
Elevation gain: 2,145 feet
The gigantic, looming rock over Highway 99 (aka the Sea-to-Sky Highway) in Squamish is unmistakable. Colloquially named “The Chief”, this hike is not for the faint of heart.
The Chief is a rock climber’s haven and a must-do if that’s the type of adventure you yearn for. However, you can also hike up the back side of it without having to strap yourself into ropes and harnesses.
The trail up is relentlessly steep, so don’t expect an easy hike just because it’s one of the shorter ones on this list. But once you make it, the views are breathtaking. You can see for miles up and down Howe Sound with its deep blue waters shimmering in the sunlight.
Pro Tip: Bring trekking poles for your hike down. Your knees will thank you later.
2. Black Tusk
Why you should go: to see one of the most geologically unique places on Earth.
Length: 16 miles
Elevation gain: 5,775 feet
Scientists are still puzzling over this geologic phenomenon. They know the iconic Black Tusk is a remnant of a former volcano and, as such, is made up of various materials including pumice, volcanic ash, and hardened lava.
But what they don’t know is what part of the volcano it was once a part of. They think that it might’ve been a “conduit for lava within a cinder-rich volcano”, with only its hardened core remaining.
Regardless of the parent material, the hike up to the Black Tusk within Garibaldi Provincial Park is mesmerizing. The trail is long and hard, but most epic trails usually are. The trail ends at the base of the Black Tusk where the path is full of loose rocks and potentially dangerous. Pay extra attention to where your plant your feet along this section.
Related read: The 8 Best Glamping Spots in British Columbia, Canada
3. Helmcken Falls Rim Trail
Why you should go: a lot of bang for very little buck.
Length: 5.0 miles
Elevation gain: 650 feet
Of the seven waterfalls along Murtle River, Helmcken Falls is by far the most dramatic. It falls 463 feet into a dark bowl, flanked by towering cliffs that are blanketed with pine and fir trees. The trail is a moderate walk with minimal elevation gain, so it’s doable for most abilities.
You end your adventure at the falls, which can also be accessed by a short quarter-mile trail from the upper parking lot within Wells Gray Provincial Park. With towering cliffs, emerald trees, and a stunning waterfall, this is a must for locals and visitors alike.
4. Keyhole Hot Springs
Why you should go: soak tired feet after a big day of adventuring.
Length: 2.5 miles
Elevation gain: 500 feet
The road to Keyhole Hot Springs is an adventure in and of itself. The parking lot is located 26 miles down the Lillooet North Forest service road – those 26 miles take almost an hour to traverse thanks to narrow, winding roads. You’ll even pass through 15-foot walls on either side of the road.
Once you make it to the trailhead, the well-marked hike is quick and relatively flat. There are several small pools formed by rocks recovered from the Lillooet River.
During the week, this place is usually less busy and you’ll likely have your pick of the pools. Weekends are busier, but people are constantly in and out of the area, so space normally opens up.
5. Saint Marks Summit
Why you should go: an epic view of Howe Sound that will leave you speechless.
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Length: 6.0 miles
Elevation gain: 1,850 feet
Located within Cypress Provincial Park, the hike up Saint Marks Summit is stunning. You start the trail at Cypress Mountain in the parking lot in front of the Lodge. The hike brings you along the Howe Sound Crest Trail, a 16-mile point-to-point trail from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove.
The trail meanders through old-growth forests and lush ferns and at the summit, you’re greeted by a large cliff that showcases sweeping views of Howe Sound. Get your cameras ready, because you’ll be snapping pics.
6. Joffre Lakes
Why you should go: it’s the bluest water you’ll ever see.
Length: 4.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
Average hikers can easily walk the trail up to Joffre Lakes, it’s one of the more popular trails within the provincial park. Almost immediately, you’ll hit a junction where you can go straight, to the Lower Joffre Lake overlook, or head right, up to the other lakes.
I suggest heading toward the other lakes and hitting the lower one at the end of your hike.
About a mile-and-a-half into the hike, you’ll reach the second lake. Mount Currie towers in the background for those Instagram-worthy photos. If you feel like it, you can take the short (but very steep) path to the uppermost lake. You’ll pass by Joffre Falls on your way and take in the view of the middle lake from above.
Pro tip: Stay overnight (permit required) if possible since it’ll be a lot less crowded in the early morning hours and late evenings.
7. Panorama Ridge
Why you should go: it’s the single best view of Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Length: 17.5 miles
Elevation gain: 5,250 feet
Words really can’t describe the view you’ll get when you take the hike up Panorama Ridge within Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Awestruck, breathless, mystified…no word seems to best fit the feeling you get when you reach the summit. It can only be experienced in person. Once you do it, you’ll understand why. If you only do one hike while visiting British Columbia, make sure it’s this one.
It’s not an easy hike and is best done as a backpacking excursion. It can be done as a day trip, but you have to start very early to complete the whole thing in time. Backpacking there also means you get to experience the area without all the crowds.
If you’re lucky, you might see a soaring falcon hunting for food.
8. Elfin Lakes
Why you should go: swim in an alpine lake.
Length: 12.5 mile
Elevation gain: 2,650 feet
Despite the long hike, the trail to Elfin Lakes is one of the most popular in the province. It’s the perfect hike for a hot, summer day. When you reach the lakes after the 6-mile slog, you’re allowed to swim in the larger of the two lakes.
There’s no better way to cool off after a long hike than by hopping in a pristine forest lake. Late summer and early autumn are also great times to make the hike because you can see the red heather blooming along the trail.
Related read: When is the Best Time to Visit Banff National Park?
9. Wedgemount Lake
Why you should go: there’s a possibility to explore some ice caves.
Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation gain: 4,300 feet
To put it bluntly, heading up to Wedgemount Lake is gruesome. It’s fairly flat for the first half-mile but after that, and for the following two miles, it’s nothing but up. You won’t get a reprieve (and there’s even a scramble right at the end) until you reach the campground. But when you get there, the turquoise color of the lake makes it all worth it.
You can camp around the lake and there is even a hut you can reserve. Make sure to book well in advance as the area is very popular. If you do snag a campsite, you’ll be able to explore the area even more. Hike up Wedge Mountain (mountaineering equipment needed) or explore the Wedgemount Glacier!
10. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Why you should go: face your fear of heights and walk 230 feet up in the air across a canyon.
Length: 1.0 miles
Elevation gain: 250 feet
What used to only cost ten cents now costs over $60. But admission into Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is well worth the pricey ticket. You can walk through the enchanting rainforest, including the famous bridge that spans 460 feet across the Capilano River, which is seen in every photo of the forest.
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