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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The view from Baynes Point, Salt Spring Island
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).
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.