Tag Archives: British Columbia

Winter camping at red heather campground in Garibaldi Provincial Park

Winter Camping at Red Heather Campground

Red Heather campground near Squamish provides a winter wonderland for backcountry campers. The proximity of Red Heather Hut offers added peace of mind, as you can seek refuge if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Camping at Red Heather campground

If you’re familiar with outdoor pursuits in Squamish, British Columbia, then you’ve almost certainly heard of Red Heather Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s a popular destination for ski tourers, split boarders and snowshoers. The hut itself is just an emergency shelter; you can’t sleep in it (unless you need to) but you can warm your cockles in front of the fire. You can also pitch a tent nearby and enjoy the snowy delights of Garibaldi Provincial Park for as long as you like.

There are several backcountry campgrounds in Garibaldi, but Red Heather is a good winter option for a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s the first camping area that you come to, assuming that you park at the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. It’s just 5km from the upper lot, so you don’t have to haul your winter tent too far uphill.

Secondly, you have the security of Red Heather Hut right next door. While the hut isn’t for overnight stays, you can go inside to organise your gear, warm up in front of the fire and cook your dinner. This adds a bit of luxury, not to mention the comfort of knowing that you can retreat to the hut, if that winter sleeping bag isn’t as warm as it says.

Finally, you can use Red Heather as a base, from which you can strike out further into the backcountry. Ski tourers and split boarders can do a few laps off of Paul’s Ridge and Round Mountain before bedding down for the night. Snowshoers can head up to the ridge to enjoy the spectacular views across Garibaldi Provincial Park and the Tantalus Range (assuming it’s a clear day!)

Camping at Red Heather campground
Leaving the tent for a few laps of Round Mountain

What you need to know before you go

If you’re planning a winter camping trip to Red Heather campground, then here’s what you need to know before go.

Driving and parking

Park at the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. The access road is a narrow mountain road that’s often packed with snow and ice near the top. Winter tires (or mud and snow tires) are a must and 4WD is recommended.

There are two parking lots: an upper lot and a lower lot. If you want to access the upper parking lot (which is where the trailhead starts) then you’ll need snow chains. You can be fined if you drive past the chain-up area without chains installed.

If you don’t have chains then you can park at the lower lot and walk up. However, park rangers have been known to wait further down the road and turn away vehicles without snow chains. This will be a nuisance, as you’ll either need to go and buy some, or you’ll have to park a considerable distance from the trailhead.

Fees and permits

You don’t need a permit to enter Garibaldi Provincial Park during winter, but if you plan on staying the night, you must buy a backcountry camping permit advance of your trip. This applies, even if you’re sleeping in your own tent. You can purchase a permit on Discover Camping. Camping without a permit carries a fine.

Hiking up

The trailhead starts from the upper parking lot. There’s an outhouse here if you need.

The trail itself is narrow and tree-lined. There are no views en route, aside from a clearing at around the halfway mark from which you can see across Squamish. It’s uphill all the way until you reach the meadow, where the trail flattens out. A little further along you’ll find Red Heather Hut tucked into the trees on your right. In terms of navigation, the first part of the trail is extremely easy to follow. Later on, it opens up slightly and you’ll need to follow the orange marker poles.

The distance between the upper parking lot and Red Heather Hut is 5km. It takes between one and two hours, depending on how quickly you move.

Where to camp

Red heather campground is in the immediate vicinity of Red Heather Hut. It’s an alpine meadow and the area is relatively flat. There are no designated pitches or tent pads, so can choose your own camp site. Bear in mind that the hut has a heavy footfall, particularly at weekends. The glades behind the hut offer greater privacy on a busy weekend.

Winter camping at Red Heather campground
Winter camping at Red Heather campground

Red Heather Hut

You’re not allowed to sleep inside the hut, unless it’s an emergency. However, you are permitted to use the facilities. Inside, you’ll find two picnic benches and a wood burner. There’s a wood pile just outside the front door, along with an axe for chopping. The wood supply has to last the entire winter, so be conservative. There’s also a two-ring propane stove and a sink for grey water. You will need to melt snow for drinking water, which should be boiled and/or treated.

If you’re camping nearby, you may want to leave certain items inside the hut, although you do so at your own risk. Hooks line the walls so you can hang up bags, clothing and equipment. But be warned: there are lots of mice, so be sure that any food is tightly concealed.

Just beyond the hut is an outhouse which the rangers typically keep well-stocked with toilet paper.

Red Heather Hut
The back of Red Heather Hut

What about summer camping?

You can only camp at Red Heather during the winter months. Currently, this means between the dates of December 1 to April 30. Check the BC Parks website for up-to-date information. A camping permit is required.

The hut is open year-round as a warming hut and an emergency shelter. The wood stove should only be used in winter.

Activities nearby

This is a very popular winter recreation spot. Hikers and snowshoers typically head to Red Heather Hut before making the return journey. Ski tourers and split boarders enjoy the backcountry terrain around Round Mountain and Paul’s Ridge. It’s also possible to continue along the winter trail towards Elfin Lakes Shelter, which is 6km past Red Heather Hut. Winter camping is permitted at Elfin Lakes, and sleeping is allowed in the hut if you have a reservation. More challenging terrain can be found beyond Elfin Lakes.


There’s sign near the start of the trailhead indicating that you are entering into avalanche terrain. You should carry a beacon, probe and shovel (and know how to use them). The trail to the hut is often considered low risk, but there are sinkholes and creeks, so be sure to stick to the path and operate a buddy system.

Woman looks across blue lake and Brunswick Mountain

15 Weekend Adventures Near Vancouver

You don’t have to travel far from Vancouver to get your fix of the great outdoors. It’s so easy, in fact, that you can have some pretty incredible micro-adventures in the space of a weekend – no vacation required.

So pack your bags on a Friday afternoon and head out into the wilds with these 15 weekend getaways near Vancouver. You’ll be home for dinner on Sunday.

1. Kayak the Indian Arm

Launch a kayak from Deep Cove and paddle the length of the Indian Arm, an 18km-long fjord. At the end you’ll find a gorgeous waterfall called Granite Falls, as well as a couple of rustic campsites that are free of charge. Sea-faring vessels can be rented from Deep Cove Kayak Centre.

Related: Overnight Kayak Trip Up the Indian Arm.

Kayaking on the sea
Kayaking up the Indian Arm

2. Go backcountry camping in Seymour Provincial Park

With the North Shore Mountain on Vancouver’s doorstep, those wanting to sleep under the stars have plenty of options. Seymour Provincial Park is a good place to start, with backcountry camping allowed north of Brockton Point. During the winter months, snowshoe or ski tour to the First Pump and set up camp. The snow usually melts come late July, allowing for overnight trips to Elsay Lake.

3. Hike the Howe Sound Crest Trail

The Howe Sound Crest Trail is a 29km thru-hike from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Road (or vice versa). It’s a physical challenge and involves scaling up and down various peaks, including St Mark’s Summit, Mount Unnecessary and The Lions. The reward? Stunning scenery and some of the best views around.

Related: Hiking the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

Woman hikes through alpine meadow with purple backpack
The Howe Sound Crest Trail

4. Go hut hopping in Tetrahedron Provincial Park

Get a ferry to Langdale and head over to Tetrahedron Provincial Park on the Sunshine Coast. Leave civilisation behind by hiking, snowshoeing or ski touring between four backcountry cabins. Mount Steele is the preferred destination for most, but you could devise a route to visit all four, should you want to.

Related: Hiking in Tetrahedron Provincial Park.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
Edwards Lake cabin

5. Kayak the Sechelt Inlet

Staying with the Sunshine Coast, did you know there are nine marine access camping sites along the Sechelt Inlet – all of which are completely free to use? Rent a kayak from Pedals and Paddles, load up with supplies and zig-zag your way along the coast. Your itinerary can be dictated by the number of nights you have and the amount of energy you want to expend.

Related: Kayaking the Sechelt Inlet

Red tent on the shores of a calm inlet
Camping at Tzoonie Narrows

6. Bikepack to Galiano Island

Galiano Island is a bikepacking hotspot amongst Vancouverites, and with good reason. It’s just a short ferry journey from Tsawwassen, and the quiet roads and modest hills are ideal for touring on two wheels. Pitch a tent at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park or Dionisio Point Provincial Park. Then kick back and enjoy island life.

Related: Bike Touring Galiano Island.

woman sits on rock at sunset
Looking at the coastal mountains from Dionisio Point

7. Go camping in the Sea to Sky corridor

Highway 99 is famous for being one of the most scenic drives in Canada. It’s also billed as the gateway to adventure. Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton offer ample opportunities for hiking, climbing, mountain biking, fishing, horse riding, kite-surfing and skiing. Choose an activity (or two) and combine it with a spot of car camping. Front country sites include:

  • Porteau Cove Provincial Park (Porteau Cove)
  • Mamquam River Campground (Squamish)
  • Cat Lake Recreation Site (Squamish)
  • Cal-Cheak Recreation Site (Whistler)
  • Nairn Falls Provincial Park (Pemberton)
  • Owl Creek Recreation Site (Pemberton)
  • Twin One Creek, Lizzie Bay and Driftwood Bay (on the shores of Lillooet Lake near Pemberton)
Woman hiking towards glacier in sunshine
Hiking to Iceberg Lake, Whistler

8. Get a cabin on Bowen Island

Gallivanting around the great outdoors can be exhausting. For some downtime, rent a cosy cabin and enjoy the old-world charm of Bowen Island. Stretch the legs by taking a stroll around Killarney Lake. For views, hike to Dorman Point or the summit of Mount Gardner, which is snow-free for most of the year. On a clear day, the sunsets from Cape Roger Curtis lighthouse are a real treat.

Dog sits on snowy mountaintop
The summit of Mount Gardner on Bowen Island

9. Cycle and hike to Paton Peak

Paton Peak is located in the shadow of Coliseum Mountain and has beautiful views across the Seymour Lake Watershed. Come prepared to spend the night on the plateau, where you’ll see the lights of downtown Vancouver twinkling beneath you. But here’s the catch: you have to cycle nearly 10km along the Seymour Valley Trailway to the trailhead, making for a multi-disciplinary excursion into the backcountry.

Woman sits on edge of cliff and looks over lake and tree covered mountains
Paton Peak

10. Hike to (and camp at) Garibaldi Lake

Garibaldi Lake is high on the tourist to-do list, so if you’re in search of solitude, you probably won’t find it here. Even so, this is one of those bucket list destinations that you might be keen to tick off. Be sure to make a reservation at Garibaldi Lake campground. If you have the energy, you can set up your tent before continuing on to Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge.

Blue alpine lake surrounded by snowy peaks
Garibaldi Lake

11. Explore Manning Provincial Park

Manning Provincial Park is an adventure playground, regardless of the season. In summer, frolic amongst the wildflowers and swim in the lakes. In autumn, hike to see the golden larches on Frosty Mountain. Come winter, choose between downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There are campsites dotted across the park, including front country, backcountry and winter campsites.

Woman looks across mountain range
Manning Provincial Park

12. Go mountain biking on the Sunshine Coast

While there’s no shortage of trails on the North Shore, a mountain biking trip to the Sunshine Coast makes for a fun weekend, especially if you want to visit Coast Gravity Park. The campground at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park is a good base. Located on the shores of the Sechelt Inlet, you can head straight to the beach after your ride for a refreshing dip.

If you have a bit more time…

Sometimes a weekend isn’t quite long enough. The following suggestions are best if you have just one or two more days to spare.

13. Surf on Vancouver Island

Ah Tofino. Vancouver Island’s prime surf destination is a long way to go for a weekend trip, but is ideal for a long weekend or short break. Catch some waves, breathe in the salty sea air and amble along the vast sandy beaches. Guaranteed to refresh the soul.

Related: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Tofino.

Woman on top of hill looks across sandy beach and sea with waves rolling in
Cox’s Bay, Tofino

14. Go mountain biking in the Chilcotins

The South Chilcotin Ranges are a backcountry mountain biking mecca. Weave your way down dusty single track, through alpine meadows and along mountain passes. Get a helping hand with the ascent by booking a float plane with Tyax Adventures. They’ll either drop you at Warner Lake or Spruce Lake. You can begin your pedal from there.

Woman on mountain bike
Mountain biking in the South Chilcotins

15. Hike a section of the Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 180km hut-to-hut hiking trail on the northern Sunshine Coast. The whole thing takes about eight days to complete. If you don’t have that much time, pick a section and enjoy one or two nights on the trail. Inland Lake to Confederation Lake is good option, as is Saltery Bay to Fairview Hut.

In theory this could be done in a weekend. However, the journey to the northern Sunshine Coast is a fair distance from the mainland, so it might be a bit of a squeeze.

Related: My Brief Encounter with the Sunshine Coast Trail.

View of Confederation Lake hut from the lake
Confederation Lake hut

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10 BC Adventures to Plan This Year

10 BC Adventures to Put in the Diary

With the new year looming, it’s time to start planning what the next 12 months have in store. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s 10 adventures to put on your to-do list.

1. Take a guided tour of the backcountry

Are you eyeing up fresh lines and untracked snow? Consider taking a guided tour of the backcountry. This is the best (and safest) way to get to know a new area. Companies such as Altus Mountains Guides offer backcountry tours of Whistler and Pemberton. If you’re new to backcountry skiing or split-boarding, sign up to an introductory course. Or, take the plunge and book your AST 1+ course.

2. Hunker down in Elfin Lakes shelter

Elfin Lakes shelter is located in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, BC. The hut is open year-round, but really comes into its own during the winter months. Snowshoe or ski tour/split board up to the hut before hunkering down in front of the fire with a hot toddy. From here, you can strike out further into the park, before returning back to base each day. This is a popular destination, so book in advance through Discover Camping.

Man on skis surrounded by snowy trees
Ski touring to Elfin Lakes shelter

3. Enter a trail running race

Want to move faster and lighter in the mountains? Trail running might just be for you. Set yourself a goal by entering a trail running race. There’s something for everyone, from the 12km Cap Crusher in West Vancouver, to the Fat Dog 120 mile race through Skagit Valley and E. C. Manning Provincial Park. For a happy medium, there’s the 21km Loop the Lakes Trail in Squamish.

Want to know more about trail running? Take a look at my Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running.

Woman runs along mountain ridge
Trail running through E.C. Manning Provincial Park

4. Mountain bike on Vancouver’s North Shore

Considered the home of freeride mountain biking, Vancouver’s North Shore mountains are a pilgrimage for riders across the world. The terrain is famously challenging, and you can expect steep, technical descents full of roots, rock rolls and wood features. Beginners can find their flow on trails such as Bobsled and Roadside Attraction (Mount Fromme), Empress Bypass (Mount Seymour), and Richard Juryn (Lower Seymour Conversation Reserve).

5. Complete a thru-hike

Discover how far your two feet can take you by completing a multi-day thru-hike. There are plenty to choose from, including the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island, the Howe Sound Crest Trail near Vancouver, and the Sunshine Coast Trail (on, er, the Sunshine Coast). Nothing beats several days immersed in nature. If you’re thinking about hiking the Juan de Fuca trail, here’s what you need to know.

Woman stands on rock in front of blue lake
Hanover Lake on the Howe Sound Crest Trail

6. Kayak the Sechelt Inlet

Load a kayak with supplies and paddle up the Sechelt Inlet on BC’s Sunshine Coast. You can spend days or even weeks zig-zagging up the coastline, staying at the numerous campsites along the way. From Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, head north and select your route. Campsite options include Piper Point, Oyster Beach, 9 Mile Point, Half Way Beach, Kunichen Point and Tzoonie Narrows. Kayaks can be rented from Pedals and Paddles.

Related: Kayaking the Sechelt Inlet

Nose of yellow kayak surrounded by sea
Paddles at the ready

7. Hike to St Mark’s Summit for sunset

Watching the sun set over the Howe Sound is pastime in itself. St Mark’s Summit in Cypress Provincial Park makes a particularly fine viewing platform. Time your hike so that you reach the summit just as the sun is going down. Take extra layers to protect you from the cooler temperatures and the rabid mosquitoes. You’ll also need a head torch so you can safely make the return journey in the dark.

Woman watches sun set over sea and islands
Watching the sunset from St Mark’s Summit

8. Cycle around the Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are an excellent destination to explore on two wheels – despite the hills! Pack up some panniers, jump on a ferry from Tsawwassen and island-hop between Galiano, Pender, Saturna, Salt Spring and Mayne. Each island has at least one campsite if you prefer to sleep under canvas. If you’re short on time, spend a weekend touring around just one island. Salt Spring is the most populated, while Saturna has a cosy village-vibe.

Read about my time bike touring on Galiano Island and Saturna Island.

9. Go surfing in Tofino

Wait for the summer crowds to disperse before planning a surf trip to Tofino. The swell is consistent and the line-ups are less busy. Just remember a winter wetsuit – the water is always cold. In fact, it’s not just the surf. Here’s 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Tofino.

10. Bikepack the Oregon Timber Trail

It’s not in BC, but if you’re keen to head south of the border, check out the Oregon Timber Trail. At over 660 miles long, it’s described as ‘North America’s premiere long-distance mountain bike route’. As a relatively recent innovation, some sections of the trail are still being developed. This adds to the challenge, so riders should have the necessary experience before embarking on the epic journey.

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail is a 47km hiking trail located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. If you’re thinking about hiking it, here’s what you need to know.

Shorter hikes

You can access the Juan de Fuca trail at four different trailheads – Botanical Beach, Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach and China Beach. If you’re looking for a day hike, you can park at any of these locations and explore a section of the trail as an out-an-back hike. If you prefer not to turn back on yourself, you could always shuttle cars or catch the West Coast Trail Express back to your vehicle.

For a kids-friendly option, park at China Beach and walk the 2km down to Mystic Beach. To make it longer, carry on to Bear Beach, which is another 7km from Mystic Beach. For something longer still, start at Sombrio Beach and walk all the way to Botanical Beach. From there, get a friend to drive you back to Sombrio or reserve a spot on the West Coast Trail Express from Port Renfrew – just make sure you get to the bus on time!

Bear Beach

Hiking the whole trail

If you want to complete the whole trail, you can do so in one day as a trail run, or as a multi-day hike. The number of days you need is entirely up to you. If you travel quickly, you could do it over two days, spending the night at either Sombrio Beach or Chin Beach. However, this will be a push for many. Also, it would be a shame to rush your way through this beautiful corner of the world.

I hiked it over three nights and four days. I front-loaded the distance, with a long first day followed by three fairly relaxing days. This gave me more beach-chilling time – always a good thing! It also gave me a day each to hike the most difficult sections.

Man lies on beach log next to campfire
Sometimes it’s good to relax!

Camping on the Juan de Fuca trail

There are six campsites to choose from along the way. No reservations are needed. At each you’ll find bear caches and outhouses. You don’t need a permit to hike the trail, but the campsites cost $10 per night, per person. You can pay online before you go, or take cash and use the self-registration envelopes when you’re there.

The trail is open year-round and can be hiked in either direction. If you hike from north to south, the starting point is Botanical Beach (near Port Renfrew) and the end is China Beach (near Jordan River). If you’re going in this direction, you will reach the campsites in the following order –

  • Payzant Creek
  • Little Kuitshe
  • Sombrio Beach
  • Chin Beach
  • Bear Beach
  • Mystic Beach

Payzant Creek and Little Kuitshe campsites are in the forest, so can get muddy. Sombrio Beach and Mystic Beach campsites are often busy, as they are readily accessed from the road, making them popular with non-hikers. Chin Beach can also fill up quickly. Because the campsites are first come, first serve, it’s a good idea to leave early in the morning to bag the best spots.

What’s the trail like?

As you might expect from a coastal hike, the trail is undulating. Most of the flat sections are on the beaches. You may have heard of (or even hiked) the Juan de Fuca’s more famous neighbour, the West Coast Trail. While the West Coast Trail is known for its boardwalks and ladders, the Juan de Fuca trail is known for its technical terrain and relentless elevation change.

Hiking through the forest
And along the beaches

On the trail map, you’ll see that some sections are classed as ‘moderate’, others as either ‘difficult’ or ‘most difficult’. The most difficult section requires you to traverse up and down steep ravines, which can be tiring, especially with a heavy pack on. Thankfully it was fairly dry while I was there, but no doubt it could get very slippery in bad weather. Which brings me on to my next point…

The Juan de Fuca trail is very wet, partly thanks to the number of creeks which pass through it, and partly thanks to its location on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Even at the end of summer there were deep sections of mud. Wet weather gear is a must and gaiters are recommended. The creeks mean you can refill your water pouches whenever you need, although the water should be treated or boiled before drinking.

Here’s how I hiked the Juan de Fuca trail

My boyfriend and I hiked the Juan de Fuca trail at the end of August, opting to go from north to south. Here’s how it went down…

Day 1 – Port Renfrew to Sombrio Beach – 20kms

After sleeping in our car at the Jordan River Regional Park Campground for a night, we got up early and moved the car to the China Beach day use parking lot. Be sure to remove your valuables because break-ins have been known.

I’d reserved a space on the West Coast Trail Express, so waited by the highway for it to arrive at around 8am. I didn’t think it was going to stop, but in fact, it pulls into a rest stop a little further up the road, on the far side of the highway.

After about an hour we reached Port Renfrew. We got off the bus and hiked 2km up the road to the Botanical Beach trailhead, which is the start (or end) of the Juan de Fuca trail. This is a bit of a nuisance, but it’s as close as you can get in the bus. You might want to hitch a lift!

Shortly before Payzant Creek there’s a sign to Providence Cove. This is a lovely spot to have lunch and a swim.

Two people making tea on a portable stove on a stone beach
Taking a lunch break at Providence Cove on the Juan de Fuca trail

We had planned to spend the first night at Little Kuitshe, but made good progress so continued on to Sombrio Beach. This is a long first day at over 20kms, but it made the remaining days much more leisurely.

Tent pitched on empty stone beach
Camping at Sombrio Beach

Day 2 – Sombrio Beach to Chin Beach – 8kms

After sheltering from the rain in the morning, we started late and reached our next destination – Chin Beach – in the middle of the afternoon. The delay also meant we caught the tail-end of high tide at Chin Beach, so had to don our sandals and wade through the shallow ocean. Everyone else waited on a rocky outcrop, but I was glad we carried on because by the time we’d put up the tent the campground was full. Better to arrive early on busy weekends!

Woman stares out to sea with red tent in foreground
Camping at Chin Beach

Day 3 – Chin Beach to Bear Beach – 12kms

On day three we hiked as far as Bear Beach, which was my favourite campground. It’s a long beach with sites at both the northern and southern end. In my opinion, the southerly end is better. This is the most difficult section of the hike.

Man stares out to sea
Camping at Bear Beach

Day 4 – Bear Beach to China Beach – 9kms

On the final day we hiked back to the car at the China Beach day use parking lot, although not before a final dunk in the ocean at Mystic Beach. I was glad to finish at my car, rather than worrying about making the bus on time.

Woman swims in sea
Swimming at Mystic Beach

If you’re hiking it in this direction, I would say this is a fairly standard itinerary, as we often saw the same faces at each campground.

What you need to know before you go

If you’re planning on hiking the Juan de Fuca trail, here’s what you need to know before you go –

  • If you don’t have two cars to shuttle then you can book the West Coast Trail Express. It can pick you up at Victoria, Sooke, China Beach, Sombrio Beach, Parkinson Creek or Port Renfrew
  • You don’t need to reserve anything other than the West Coast Trail Express (if using)
  • You don’t need a permit but the campsites are $10 per person, per night
  • Some campsites – particularly Chin Beach and Mystic Beach – fill up quickly, so leave early in the morning to get the best spot
  • Remember to camp above the tideline
  • Certain sections of the trail are cut off at high tide – check the tide times and plan accordingly
  • There are lots of bears in the area – be bear aware
  • The trail is very well-marked and has km markers along the way
  • There is no phone reception in the area
  • Dogs are allowed on the trail
  • It can get very muddy so gaiters are recommended (but not essential)
  • You don’t need to take much water as you can fill up along the way. The water must be boiled or treated before drinking

My thoughts on hiking the Juan de Fuca trail

If you want to try a multi-day thru-hike, the Juan de Fuca trail is a great place to start. At 47kms, the trail isn’t overwhelmingly long, but it still presents challenges. Although there isn’t any cell reception, it also feels quite safe. You aren’t too far from a road and there’s four access points along the way, meaning you can opt out if you need. It’s also much cheaper than the West Coast Trail, for which you need to buy a permit.

Everyone has a different idea of what is ‘difficult’. A trail runner told me that, pound for pound, the Juan de Fuca trail is harder than the West Coast Trail. Why? Because of the terrain. There’s lots of big step-ups and step-downs, logs to clamber over and mud to negotiate. You have to constantly watch your footing, or the tangled web of tree routes will trip you up. And the constant elevation change can be a killer on the joints.

Terrain aside, I didn’t find the hike too difficult. For me, the biggest negative of the Juan de Fuca trail is the proximity of the logging industry. Cutblocks go right up to the trail, and in certain sections the second growth forest looks like it’s dead. But perhaps it’s important to see – that way, we can better appreciate the old growth forests that still remain. And anyway, four days of forest wandering, beach camping and tree hugging is always a joy.

In some sections the cutblock goes right up to the trail
Some of the forest looks like it’s dead

Empty beach

5 Reasons to Visit Tofino

Drive as far west on Vancouver Island as you can possibly go and you’ll find yourself in Tofino – a small coastal town of about 2,000 residents, situated on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

It’s not easy to get to. There’s no public transport, so you must drive, fly, or book yourself onto a private bus. It’s at the very end of the road. Travel any further and you’ll find yourself in the Pacific Ocean.

Yet despite its humble size and remote location, Tofino is high on the tourist to-do list. Why? I can give you five very good reasons.

1. Pacific swell

There’s one thing that Tofino is known for above all else – surfing. Of course, there is so much more to this place than just riding waves. But it’s a big draw (and let’s face it, there isn’t an abundance of world-renowned surf spots in Canada). One local even told me that Tofino has the most consistent swell in the whole of North America. I can’t verify this claim, but if you don a winter wetsuit and paddle out, the Pacific Ocean is sure to provide sooner or later. Top surf beaches include Chesterman’s, Cox’s Bay and Wickaninnish (which is also the closest surf beach if you’re staying down the road in Ucluelet).

2. Rainforest walks

Tofino sits on the tip of the Pacific Rim National Park, offering no less than 511km² of temperate rainforest to explore. It’s thick with old growth trees that have lichen dripping from the branches – a sure sign that you’re breathing fresh rainforest air. There aren’t many mountains to conquer, but there are plenty of easy-to-navigate trails that weave along the coast. The walk from Wickaninnish Beach to Florencia Bay is a good place to start – known as the Nuu Chah Nulth Trail. If you’re craving some elevation, head to Cox’s Bay and hike up the hill at the southern end of the beach. It is a bit of a scramble, but the views at the top are worth it.

Woman looks across forest and sea from high vantage point
The view across Cox’s Bay
Two women look across rainforest from high vantage point
Looking across the rainforest from the top of Cox’s Bay

3. Canadian-sized beaches

My mother-in-law says that everything in Canada is big. Judging by the size of the beaches in Tofino, she might well be right. At low tide, the aptly named Long Beach spans a whopping 16km (10 miles). And there’s plenty of others to choose from, including Chesterman’s Beach, Florencia Bay, Cox’s Bay…and so the list goes on. At each, you’ll find the dense rainforest extends right up to the coastline. When the trees finally give way, you’re met with vast stretches of golden sand, refined over the years by the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. Due to their westerly position, all the beaches enjoy fantastic sunsets.

Man stares out across empty beach
Florencia Bay

4. Nature, nature everywhere

Following the Clayoquot protests of the 1990s, Tofino and the surrounding area was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Having been threatened by the logging industry, it is now a nature lover’s paradise once again. The peninsula is encased by water, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Clayoquot Sound on the other. Sightings of orcas, humpback whales and grey whales are not unusual. Bald eagles rule the sky, while wolves, bears and deer stalk the forest. There is a sense of the wild in Tofino, and thanks to all the trees, the oxygen-rich air is as fresh as can be.

Back of woman in a red kayak on the sea
Exploring the Clayoquot Sound by kayak

5. West Coast living

Tofino is the very epitome of West Coast living. For non-North Americans, this is a difficult concept to explain. It’s a lifestyle; a way of being. It’s a laid-back vibe, where people cycle to the beach, wetsuit on and surfboard strapped to the rack. It’s jaw-dropping sunsets and small, independent eateries which punch above their weight. It’s a hotchpotch of wooden buildings, ranging from rickety wood cabins to grandiose beach-front pads. It’s a place that makes you forget about work and all the chores waiting for you at home. It’s a place you don’t really want to leave.

Man cooks using a beach fire
Preparing dinner post-surf

When to visit

Tofino touts itself as a year-round tourist destination. The summer months are peak season, during which the crowds can be heavy. May and September are quieter, yet still enjoy good weather. If storm watching is your thing, head there in winter. The ocean puts on quite a show.

Where to stay

Tofino is full of holiday rentals, most of which are available to book through websites such as AirBnB and VRBO. There’s something to suit all budgets. For camping, options include Bella Pacifica Campground, MacKenzie Beach RV and Camping, and Long Beach Campground.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try Ucluelet instead (known to the locals as Ukey). It’s at the other end of the peninsula and is a 40 minute drive from Tofino town centre.

What do to

  • Get a surf lesson with Surf Sister or Pacific Surf Co.
  • Book a kayak trip with Tofino Kayaking Company
  • Walk from Wickaninnish Beach to Florencia Bay
  • Drive up Radar Hill and marvel at the views
  • Head to Ukey and walk the Wild Pacific Trail
  • Eat a Tacofino and get a growler from Tofino Brewing Co.
  • Book a boat trip to Hot Springs Cove
  • Have a sunset beach fire on Chesterman’s Beach
  • Book a fishing charter and catch your dinner
View from Mount Erskine

An Active Guide to Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands and is a firm favourite amongst those looking to escape the hubbub of the city. And with good reason. It’s just a short trip from either Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland, but once you step off the ferry, island life quickly kicks in. There’s a decidedly laid-back vibe here, with arts, crafts and food being high on the list of priorities.

Food is a particular passion on Salt Spring, especially of the homegrown, artisan variety. Cheese, coffee, salt, meat, vegetables, baked goods, wine, ale and cider – it can all be found here in abundance. The plethora of markets, roadside stalls, farm shops and independent eateries ensure you can never go far without devouring something totally delectable. All locally grown and produced, of course.

But as I found out on a recent visit, Salt Spring Island also has a few treats in store for the outdoors enthusiast. So, here’s my active guide to Salt Spring Island.


Salt Spring Island is a popular destination for those touring on two wheels. If you visit in the summer months, it won’t be long before you see a Lycra-clad cyclist lugging a pair of panniers up a hillside.

Upon telling a local that I, too, intended to cycle around the island, his eyes widened and a torrent a warnings quickly poured forth. It was too hilly, he said, and too dangerous. The roads don’t have separate cycle lanes and the drivers aren’t particularly accommodating.

Feeling a little deflated, I made my way to Salt Spring Adventure Company and made further enquiries. The staff allayed my fears, saying that while there are hills, you can always get off and push (or rent an e-bike). And yes, you do have to cycle in the hard shoulder, and yes, some of the roads are busy. However, if you are reasonably confident on a bike, and you stick to the quieter roads, you’ll be just fine. So, I rented a bike and off I went.

There are two recommended routes – the northern loop (approximately 35km) and the southern loop (approximately 50km). If you’re keen, you could do the whole thing.

I opted for the northern loop, heading out of Ganges on the Upper Ganges Road, skirting St. Mary’s Lake, peddling to the northern-most tip before heading back along Sunset Drive for a pit-stop at Vesuvius Café. There was one final hill to conquer before reaching Salt Spring Wild Cider, where it was time to relax in the apple orchards while quenching my thirst.

It cannot be denied that some of the hills are real thigh-burners. And some of the roads are unpleasantly busy. But on the whole, it’s a beautiful way to spend a day. The winding country lanes take you through pastoral landscapes where vines grow and cattle lazily munch. During August the hedgerows were bursting with blackberries, and there’s plenty of quaint cafes, farm shops and roadside stalls to keep you fuelled. If it all gets too much, you can always stop in one of the freshwater lakes for a swim.

Three friends sit at a table in an apple orchard

Enjoying a cider after a thigh-burning bike ride


Unless it’s blistering hot outside, sea swimming probably won’t be high on the agenda. The waters surrounding Salt Spring Island are incredibly cold. The warmest waters are up by Vesuvius, but even those are frigid.

But never fear, there is a handful of freshwater lakes around the island, perfect for a dunk. St Mary’s Lake is by far the largest, with Cusheon Lake, Stowell Lake and Weston Lake being other options.

Pebble beach with logs on

Caution – the water is cold!


Baynes Point is the highest point on Salt Spring Island. Standing at 602m, you won’t be scaling any mountains during your visit. Nevertheless, there are some great hikes to be had.

A favourite was the hike to Baynes Point from Burgoyne Bay. The steep, steady climb takes you through the heart of Mount Maxwell Provincial Park, one of the largest contiguous protected areas in the Gulf Islands. When you reach the lookout, you are rewarded with stunning views across the sea to Vancouver Island. You can actually drive to this point, but if you ask me, the rewards are greater if you arrive on two feet!

Another good hike is Mount Erskine. It’s not as long, but the walk through the forest is extremely peaceful, and the views are just as breathtaking (although the mill at Crofton, which can be seen across the water, is a bit of an eyesore!) If you have kids with you, they’ll also love the little fairy doors which are dotted throughout Mount Erskine Provincial Park.

View across the sea from Baynes Point

The view from Baynes Point, Salt Spring Island

Trail running

It often follows that where there’s good hiking, there’s also good trail running! Ruckle Provincial Park is particularly plentiful in that department. I was staying at the campsite, so followed the trail up to Yeo Point and back. There’s not much elevation and there are a few little beaches to stop at for a rest (and a swim, if you can brave the cold water).

Man balances on a log

Exploring at Yeo Point


Kayaking is another popular past-time on Salt Spring Island, although you do need to be wary of the ferry traffic. Kayaks can be rented from Salt Spring Adventure Company and they can offer some top tips on destinations to hit up. Or, you can always go on a guided tour.

I decided to paddle over the Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island, which is a short jaunt from Ganges Harbour. With clear blue waters, a white crushed shell beach and a wooden swing hanging from an arbutus tree, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d landed on a tropical island.

Tree swing on Chocolate Beach

Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island