Between the waterways, mountains and mild temperatures, Vancouver offers endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The trick is tearing yourself away from its ever-multiplying restaurants and shops. But put on your sneakers, grab your rain poncho. It’s time to go outside.
Tourism Vancouver arranged and hosted some of the following experiences for me during a recent visit.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge, a long-time family favorite, is accessible to people of all ages, as long as they can handle a moderate amount of stairs and aren’t too scared of heights. Built in 1889, the 450-foot bridge over the Capilano River is an engineering marvel. It manages to be both very touristy and extremely relaxing.
I took the free shuttle bus from Canada Place on a Wednesday morning at 9. I wouldn’t recommend going any later, because it’s rush hour on the suspension bridge by 11.
This attraction’s theme is learning about the forest, and seeing it in different ways. In addition to traversing the long, bouncy span, you can explore shorter tree-to-tree bridges up in the canopy, with viewing platforms around each tree. Short educational signs tell visitors about a forest feature, such as the barred owl, whose cry sounds like “Who cooks for you all?”
Visitors can venture onto the Cliffwalk, a pathway bolted to the cliff face and jutting out over the river. I heard one nervous person advise another, “Don’t look down.” However, that’s the whole point.
Talking Trees Walk
Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s best known attractions. It’s been a park since 1888. But it’s the heart of the homeland for the native Squamish people. If you want to learn more about Canada’s First Nations culture, take a walk through the park with Candace Campo.
Candace owns Talaysay Tours, a small company that offers walking, canoeing and kayaking tours centered on First Nations culture. I joined her and one other traveler for the daily Stanley Park tour. We strolled down park trails, stopping to learn about the nutritional and healing uses of different plants. From green shoots in spring to roots and stems in fall, plants were a crucial supplement to a diet rich in fish, shellfish, seal and other protein and fat-packed marine animals. We sampled citrusy yellow pine needles from the western hemlock, and learned how to make fruit rollups from summer berries. Candace explained how plants were enlisted for all kinds of utilitarian purposes. “Skunk cabbage leaves were like our wax paper, and ferns were like our paper towels.”
Unlike some tour guides, Candace seems perfectly comfortable with periods of silence. I enjoyed hearing her talk about plants and culture, and I also enjoyed walking silently with her. This was a lovely way to slow down and really look at plants and think about their relationship to people. The tour lasts 1.5 hours and it’s a short bus or taxi ride from downtown.
If you prefer a challenging uphill climb over a walk in the park, the Grouse Grind is that rare hike that’s all uphill. Hikers ascend 2,800 feet in 1.8 miles, then take the gondola back down Grouse Mountain. You can take a free Grouse Mountain shuttle from Canada Place in downtown Vancouver.
For more personalized service, book a personal guide with Musette Tours. The small tour company also contracts with the Loden Hotel, providing their WanderFIT program. Says co-owner Thomas Eleizegui, “At hotels, I see people going to the gym on a beautiful day. What’s better than going outside?” Instead, WanderFIT provides the personal service of driving guests to a trailhead and accompanying them on the hike. They also offer bike tours.
I was staying at the Loden Hotel, so I decided to try the WanderFIT program. Thomas met me at 7:30 a.m. in the lobby and drove me to the base of Grouse Mountain. He’s a very fit—and, fortunately, very patient—ex bike-racer who accompanied me as I huffed and puffed my way up the Grouse Grind. Oh, the thumping heart! The ragged breath! This was a more serious climb than I’d expected. But as co-owner of Musette Tours and the bike-themed Musette Caffé, Eleizegui was a nonjudgmental professional, willing to take as many breaks as I needed.
An hour and forty minutes after beginning the trek up, we summited and were rewarded by views of…grizzly bears bobbing for apples! Two resident grizzlies, orphaned as babies, live in a very large enclosure atop the mountain. Visitors can watch them play and forage. There’s also nature movies, a zipline course, gift shop and café at the top.
Deep Cove Kayak Centre
My little kayaking group got lucky with a sunny, warm September afternoon for our adventure with Deep Cove Kayak Centre. James Hawes, a young UK transplant, led three other ladies and me as we paddled around the fjord. You can also just rent a kayak, but James enriched the paddling experience with commentary on history, geography, and pointing out wildlife.
James steered us toward pilings where we saw baby seals, one of the world’s most adorable creatures, and showed us where to see clusters of purple sea stars. He showed us 1800 year-old petroglyphs of crabs, and a very modern house with a helipad. However, we did not see the cougar lounging on a rock that another kayaker spotted that day. After our paddle, I saw a photo on her phone of the cougar hanging out on a big rock, staring right back at her.
The water was pleasantly cold and full of moon jellyfish, big and white and supposedly stingless. These kayaks have a rudder system, so are easy to steer using foot pedals. This three-hour tour was well-paced. James imparted historic and natural science information at strategic moments, giving us breaks from paddling. And he brought a bag of locally famous Honey’s donuts for a snack break on a beach.
Fairmont Waterfront Bee Tour
What if you are seriously pressed for time and can’t get out of downtown Vancouver? Consider taking a tour of the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel’s rooftop gardens and beehives. This complimentary tour happens every day at 3 pm, and is open to hotel guests and the general public.
Bee butler Michael King or another member of the hotel’s bee team show off their contribution to the city’s pollination corridor in this 30-45 minute tour.
I was fortunate enough to be escorted by Michael King himself. His real job is manager of health, safety and security at the Fairmont Waterfront. But when the hotel added four beehives nine years ago, he added “bee butler” to his title.
The Fairmont Waterfront was the first of the hotel chain to install beehives. Now twenty-two Fairmont hotels around the world have bee hotels, and 17 have hives on or near the property.
Tour participants will get to look inside an observation hive to see busy bees at work. “They’re doing the bee dance,” Michael said as we watched the striped gyrations. Their movements communicate vital information to other bees, such as the distance and direction they traveled, and what they found when they got there.
The bee movement is big in Vancouver. The Fairmont partners with Hives for Humanity, a nonprofit that educates some of Vancouver’s underprivileged citizens in working with gardens and beehives. A pollination corridor includes bee habitats in most of the city’s greenspaces. Even the Vancouver police department hosts four beehives.
Gardeners and insect aficionados will enjoy this tour.