Vancouver is known for its amazing hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. But there’s so much more than that. Whether you’re not into hiking/skiing or you just want to change things up a bit, here are some outdoor activities in Vancouver (and the surrounding area). I personally did every item in this blog post, and I’ve only included the ones I think are worth the time, effort and money.
In this post, I’ll showcase outdoor activities in Vancouver like:
- Activities in the forest – Gardens, tree walks & suspension bridges
- Activities on the water – Boat tours, kayaking, jet skiing & wake boarding
- Activities in the snow – Snowmobiling & zip lining
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Capilano Suspension Bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vancouver (I suggest getting here early in the morning to avoid the crowds). Yet despite the popularity, I still think it’s worth the visit.
The suspension bridge is 140 m long and 70 m above the Capilano River. In addition to the bridge, the park also has the cliff walk and the treetop walk. The cliff walk is a platform that sits adjacent to a rocky cliff and suspended in the air. The treetop walk is a series of bridges suspended high in the trees, amidst ancient cedars and Douglas fir trees.
And if you visit at night, the bridge and tree walks light up with fairy lights!
Although pricey, I think a flight tour over the North Shore mountains is 100% worth it. A few companies offer flightseeing tours, departing from either Coal Harbour (seaplanes) or Delta (land planes).
We went with a company that departs from Delta and runs flights towards Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park, and flights over Stave Lake and through the North Shore mountains. We went on the Stave Lake flight and it was an incredible two-hour tour. We flew over tropical-looking lakes and glacial rivers; we weaved through mountain valleys and soared impossibly close to the peaks – and we even saw a black bear at the lake. This tour is by an independent operator we found on Airbnb Experiences, and he uses a small four-seater plane that is not a seaplane. You can view his tour here.
Here are some available seaplane tours as well:
- 20-minute seaplane tour of Vancouver
- 30-minute seaplane tour from Vancouver to Whistler
- 1-hour seaplane tour with Alpine Lakes landing
Howe Sound and the Georgia Strait are home to several types of whales – most notably, there are several families of Orca and Humpback whales. Many of the tours depart from Granville Island, and will either take you up through Howe Sound (toward Gibson and the Sunshine Coast) or towards Vancouver Island (Nanaimo).
Here are the tour options:
- Prince of Whales 3-hour Whale Watching Tour (the one we did – departs from Granville)
- Vancouver Whale Watch 3-hour Whale Watching Tour (departs from Richmond)
The companies also have a whale sighting guarantee – so if your tour doesn’t see whales, you can join another tour for free. This actually happened to us. We didn’t see any whales on the first tour, however, on the second tour, we saw two pods of orcas. We could see the tall dorsal fin of the male orcas and we saw several breaches (where the whale jumps out of the water). It was magical!
Indian Arm Boat Tour
Indian Arm is an inlet at the east end of Vancouver that runs to the north. There aren’t roads or hiking trails on either side of the inlet, so the only way to explore the inlet is by boat. Originally, I’d been thinking of sea kayaking down the inlet for a weekend of camping (see ‘Kayaking in Deep Cove’ below). But instead, we took a 3-hour boat tour with a local operator.
The captain of Indian Arm Boat Tours met us as Deep Cove and took us on his covered speed boat. We passed an old hydro plant and made stops at the beautiful Granite Falls (my favourite and the reason I wanted to do the tour) and Steels Falls. It was raining on and off throughout the tour, and despite this, we still had a fantastic time. The area is so magical and looked even more intriguing under a veil of fog and rain clouds.
Since we did a private tour, it was a little pricey. You could go on a similar tour in a larger vessel for less money.
Jet Skiing on Howe Sound
I didn’t think I was going to like jet skiing as much as I did, but boy oh boy, was it fun. We rented jet skis from Granville Island and took them across English Bay, Burrard Inlet and into Howe Sound. We zoomed past Bowen Island and Gambier Island until we reached Pam Rock. At Pam Rock, there was a huge population of sea lions and harbour seals – all set against the backdrop of the mountains.
This is a great way to explore Howe Sound in a more exciting and active way than a boat tour. The sea doos are really easy to operate and there is far less boat traffic in Burrard Bay than I was expecting. It was a great time!
Kayaking at False Creek
If jet skiing is too fast-paced or pricey, there are alternatives on Granville Island. After you’ve grabbed a snack from the market (hello, donuts) head to Vancouver Water Adventures where you’ll be able to rent a kayak. Once you leave the dock, you can paddle through False Creek and under the Burrard and Granville bridges. There are lots of boats (and houseboats) about here.
Cycling around Stanley Park
There are tons of places to rent bikes in Vancouver, especially around Stanley Park, because it’s such a popular place to cycle. You can either bike on the sea wall, which keeps you at water level, or you can take the road up to Prospector Point.
My personal preference is to bike up to Prospector Point because it offers a nice view and serves gelato in the summer. The climb up is a little tiring, especially if you’re not used to biking. However, you can take it at your own speed and there’s a pretty decent separation from the bikes and cars so as long as you stay to the right, you should be safe.
Grouse Mountain Gondola
Grouse Mountain is a popular place for both hiking and skiing. However, if neither of those are of interest to you, there is still a nice view of the city from the Gondola. At the top of Grouse Mountain, there is an enclosure for two grizzly bears that you can visit. Honestly, I find Grouse Mountain to be a little underwhelming if you’re not using it as a launch pad for hiking. However, lots of people disagree with me on that.
Alternatively, you can skip the gondola and do the Grouse Grind, which is one of the most iconic hikes in Vancouver.
Kayaking at Deep Cove
Deep Cove is situated on Indian Arm, in West Vancouver, and is my favourite place to kayak around the city. You can rent a single or tandem kayak (or a SUP) from Deep Cove Kayak Rentals. They also offer kayaking tours if you’re new to paddling.
Once you leave Deep Cove, you can cross Indian Arm toward Jug Island and Belcarra. Depending on the length of your rental / tour, you could also paddle further north and visit Twin Islands. We only did a two hour rental, so we didn’t have time for Twin Islands. However, Jug Island and Belcarra were really nice. It’s hard to believe that you’re a 25 minute drive from downtown Vancouver – this area is so peaceful and feels so far removed from the city.
Snowmobiling in Whistler
If you think Whistler’s only winter activity is skiing, then I encourage you to try out snowmobiling. There are some multipurpose trails in the mountains surrounding Whistler that are perfect for snowmobiling. It’s a great way to explore the mountains at a quicker pace than snowshoeing or dog sledding. There are a few different snowmobiling in tours in and around Whistler:
- Callaghan Cruiser Snowmobile Tour
- Whistler Wilderness Run Snowmobile Tour
- Mountain Explorer by Snowmobile Tour
We went with the first one, which takes you through the backcountry mountains of the Callaghan Valley. We chose this one because it felt a little more wilderness-y than the others, which were close to Whistler and civilization, though I’m sure any of them would be great.
Tip: If you’re comparing dog sledding with snowmobiling, I highly encourage you to go with snowmobiling (as was recommended by our guide). The dog sled tour covers much less distance and elevation as the snowmobiles – which is understandable as dogs can’t outrun snowmobiles.
UBC Botanical Gardens & Greenwalk
UBC has built a wonderful botanic garden on its campus grouped into two sections. The lower part is mostly forested with tons of beautiful Rhododendrons and the Greenwalk, a series of suspended bridges strung high between trees. The upper part is a more tailored garden; there’s a small greenhouse for cacti, a “nutritious” garden of edible plants, an Asian-inspired garden and more.
Now, in full transparency, UBC’s botanical gardens are not of the same calibre as that of, say, Copenhagen or Victoria, but it is nice nonetheless.
Wakeboarding in Squamish
This is perhaps the most random activity I tried while living in Vancouver. Originally, we’d taken the shuttle out to Squamish to do a hike (The Chief), but we stumbled upon a company offering a promotion on wakeboarding. I’d never tried it before, but my boyfriend was keen to try it.
They set us up with wet suits and then took us out on a boat onto the most northern part of Howe Sound. From here we took turns trying to wakeboard. I was surprisingly good at it, standing up pretty quickly and being able to hold on for a while (that’s me in the photos below!). It was also a ton of fun, especially for someone so accustomed to moving at human-powered paces.
Zip Lining in Whistler
Honestly, zip lining is one of the most underrated activities in Whistler. The tour begins with taking a little buggy some 300 m up a mountain (see the second photo). From there, you fly down four different zip lines to return back to the base. The longest zip line – which is over a kilometre long – takes you from one mountain to another, right over a mountain valley. The second zip line is the fastest due to an aggressive vertical drop – if you tuck your feet in, you could easily reach speeds of 100 km/h! The third zip line is perfect for racing your partner and the fourth brings you back to the base.
As you can see in the photos below, I went zip lining in the winter. It would be great any time of year, but I’m glad I did it in the winter. I think the mountains look more magical with so much snow on them.
Outdoor Activities in Vancouver – Final Thoughts
I hope you’ve found this post useful and have a new bucket list of activities to do in Vancouver! Whether you’re a tourist or local, there are a ton of outdoor things to do in Vancouver that aren’t hiking or skiing. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message on Instagram.
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