What to Expect When Hiking in the Vancouver Area

The area around Vancouver is a hiker’s heaven. From tranquil beaches to forests full of ancient trees, to high alpine, we really have it all. Much of the hiking here is wild, rugged and surprisingly remote, even though you are right beside a major city! The guide will help you know what to expect when you come hiking in Vancouver, so you can stay safe and have fun in our local mountains.

Weather and Conditions:

Brandywine rain

Rapidly changing weather at Brandywine Meadows.

The weather varies dramatically in Vancouver, and can change in an instant. It is not unusual to experience rain, hail, wind and sun all in the same day. On the trail, that means you must be prepared to encounter any weather. Ensure that you have a rain and wind layer at all times—even in summer—as well as sun protection and a warm layer in case it gets chilly. Many trails will have snow near the top into July, so wear study waterproof footwear, bring a change of socks, and consider trekking poles.

Route Finding and Trails:

Trail to Upper Shannon Falls

Trail to Upper Shannon Falls

Popular hiking routes in Vancouver are well marked with trail markers, signs and flagging tape on trees. However, less travelled routes are often grown over and missing markers, which makes route finding difficult. Even on well marked trails, it is possible to get disoriented and lost, so it is always safer (and more fun!) to go hiking with another person, or group. Always tell a responsible person where you plan to go, when you expect to be back, and who to call if you do not return.

Wildlife:

Vancouver area is home to many animals, ranging from small birds and squirrels to black bears and cougars. Don’t be deterred by the presence of bears; the key is to know what to do in the event that you encounter a bear or cougar on the trail. What follows is the current accepted practices about how to deal with bears and cougars; nothing is guaranteed, and you accept all risk if you choose to go out in wilderness areas.

Bears: The black bears that live around Vancouver are much smaller and less aggressive than grizzly bears, but must still be treated with caution. Always make noise when you hike to avoid startling a bear and to give them time to leave the area. As cute as cubs are, never approach a mother bear with babies. If you do encounter a bear, back away slowly, facing the bear. When entering a wilderness area, you should scan for signs of bear activity, such as piles of scat and claw marks on trees.

Cougar: You are less likely to encounter a cougar in the Vancouver area than a black bear, however, there are cougar sightings every year, as well as attacks on humans. The first thing to do if you encounter a cougar is to pick up any children or dogs you have with you. Cougars will attack smaller prey first. If the cougar approaches you aggressively, raise your backpack above your head to make you appear bigger and stronger, and yell loudly. The idea to to convince the cougar that you are too powerful an opponent for it to attack. Always report all cougar sightings.

Facilities:

While many popular hiking areas offer garbage cans and outhouses, as soon as you’re off the beaten trail you will not find these facilities. Therefore, if you want to explore some of our more remote trails, some planning is in order. If you’re outside and need to go to the bathroom, you must ensure that you are away from any streams or other water sources, and bury any waste and toilet paper. Any garbage you bring into the wilderness must come back out with you. If you pack it in, pack it out. This includes apples cores and other biodegradable material. Apples, bananas and the like do not grow in our forests, and their remnants should not be left there. With our cold climate, these items do not break down as fast as you might believe, and it is not good for bears and other animals to eat these foods.

Terrain:

Most of the hikes in North Vancouver involve a considerable amount of steep uphill. Be sure to account for this when planning your day. You need to allow ample time to be back by dark, and to bring enough food and water. Most hiking websites include some statistics for elevation and grade.

This article is intended only as a suggestion of some factors to consider when planning to hike in the Vancouver area. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety and wellbeing. With a little research and planning, you can have a safe and rewarding time in Vancouver’s local wilderness. Happy exploring!

For part two of preparing for your visit to the wilds of BC, check out: Recommended Gear for Hiking in the Vancouver Area.