10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Vancouver
Within easy reach of Vancouver are some of British Columbia's most interesting and beautiful destinations. Quaint island towns and the provincial capital of Victoria are just a ferry ride away. A drive up the famous Sea-to-Sky-Highway leads past Squamish and up to the renowned ski resort of Whistler, one of the venues of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Inland, towards the Fraser Valley, are Bridal Veil Falls; Fort Langley National Historic Site; and Harrison Hot Springs, known for its hot pools, beach, and small-town atmosphere. For those who want to venture over the border to the USA, Mount Baker is a short drive away, with hiking in summer and skiing in winter.
The scenic drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99), is enough to make a day trip to Whistler worthwhile. The views out over Howe Sound, and the scenery all along this stretch of highway are outstanding. At the end of the drive is the famous ski resort town of Whistler; a year-round destination with golf, skiing, hiking, shopping, and dining. In the summer, this is a wonderful place to wander the streets, go for a hike, mountain bike, or play a round of golf. In winter, the town has a completely different feel, with an electric atmosphere, as skiers from around the world descend on this world-class ski resort to hit the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. And for non-skiers, the Peak-2-Peak gondola is a great way to see the mountains in both summer and winter. Without traffic, the drive time to Whistler is about an hour and a half, but heavy traffic, particularly around Vancouver, can add time to the trip.
Less than a two-hour ferry ride from Vancouver is the province's capital city of Victoria. This quaint seaside city, with its compact city center, is the perfect place to explore on foot. The waterfront is graced by the historic Empress Hotel, famous for its afternoon tea service. Visitors can stroll along the Inner Harbour to see street performers, relax on a park bench, or admire the city's parliament buildings. One of the big highlights, just outside the city, is the stunning Butchart Gardens. Set in what was once an old quarry, this is a year-round attraction, with particularly fabulous displays from early spring until late fall. Victoria is also home to the Royal British Columbia Museum, one of Canada's finest museums of natural and cultural history.
Visitors can walk on or take their car on the ferry to Victoria. During peak times, and particularly around holidays, there can be long line for cars wanting to board the ferries, so travelers should plan accordingly.
On the drive from Vancouver to Whistler, along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Squamish is an easy and fun day trip from Vancouver that is often overlooked by travelers. Just under a one-hour drive from Vancouver, the town is picturesquely set at the far end of Howe Sound, before the road climbs up into the mountains. While this was once a town with seemingly little reason to stop, over the years, it has gradually developed into a popular destination, offering plenty of reasons to spend some time here. One of the area's most popular new additions is the scenic Sea-to-Sky Gondola, and at the top of the ride, the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, both with fabulous views over the surroundings.
Outdoor recreation rules the day in this town, and rock climbers flock here to climb the sheer cliff walls. The giant granite monolith known as Stawamus Chief mountain is an incredible site and one of the main climbing areas in this region. There are also great mountain biking trails, hiking trails, and camping, with eight provincial parks in the Squamish area.
Shannon Falls, just two kilometers south of Squamish, is also worth a stop. This is the third highest waterfalls in BC, dropping 335 meters, and the easy access makes it very popular. Short hiking trails in the area run through the forest and there are picnic facilities on site. Visitors can also see the falls from the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.
4 Harrison Hot Springs
Just over an hour and a half drive from Vancouver, the small town of Harrison Hot Springs is a great escape from the city. Nestled between forest-covered mountains on the shores of beautiful Harrison Lake, this resort town is known for its hot springs but has much more on offer than just warm pools. For a soak in the spring-fed water, visitors can stop by the public pool in the center of town or the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa. During the summer months, many people come here to enjoy the beautiful beach that runs all along the town's waterfront, looking out to the islands and mountains across Harrison Lake. The area is well developed for tourists, with a diverse range of activities available, including golf, hiking, boat tours, fishing, and more.
5 Salt Spring Island
A trip to Salt Spring Island on a sunny day is a perfect get-away from Vancouver. Ferries leave Vancouver from Tsawwassen and land at Long Harbour on Salt Spring Island. The best option for day trips is to catch a non-stop ferry if possible, although in winter the options may be limited. Salt Spring is a quirky island, with small farms and artists' studios spread around the island. Visitors can stop in at some of these family-run farms to sample and buy cheese and other specialty items, or pop into a studio to see an artist at work. The main town is Ganges, a pleasant waterfront community, with restaurants, shops, and galleries. On Saturdays, during the summer months, Ganges hosts a popular market, where locals sell their crafts and other goods.
6 Mount Baker, Washington
On clear days in Vancouver, you can see the glimmering snow-capped peak of Mount Baker in the distance. Despite its obvious presence, few people think to make the day trip to explore the mountain up close. Those who do will find quaint towns on the approach, nearby hiking trails in the summer, and great skiing in the winter. Numerous hikes in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest surrounding Mt. Baker offer access to gorgeous mountain scenery, with alpine lakes and incredible wildflower displays in the late summer. In winter, Mt. Baker receives incredible amounts of snow, typically ranging from 16 to 20 meters. In 1998/99 the mountain set the record for the most snowfall in a single season in the USA with a total of 1,140 inches, almost 29 meters. The drive from Vancouver takes under 2.5 hours, but drive times can vary depending on wait times at the Canada-US border.
7 Fort Langley National Historic Site
About an hour's drive east of Vancouver is the old Hudson's Bay Company fur trading post of Fort Langley, established in 1827. The fort was the site of much activity in the 1800s, from the fur traders to the Fraser River gold rush in 1857, and the establishment of the colony of British Columbia. Today at the site, visitors can explore the history of the fort, see the 1800s come to life with interpreters and demonstrations, and try their luck panning for gold. The fort is open year-round and is a popular family attraction.
8 Bridal Falls and Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park
The town of Bridal Falls lies east of Chilliwack, about an-hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver. The most famous site in the area is the 60-meter-high Bridal Veil Falls, in the provincial park of the same name. This is a day use area, where people can enjoy a picnic and walk to the base of the falls. In winter, if the temperature plunges, the falls turn to ice and take on a completely different appearance. Also worth checking out, depending on the time of year, are the 32-acre Minter Gardens, the Bridal Falls Waterpark, and the trails and bird watching opportunities found in the Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park.
9 Britannia Mining Museum
Just off the Sea-to-Sky-Highway, about 45 minutes from Vancouver, is the Britannia Mining Museum, a National Historic Site of Canada. This tiered, twenty-story building has been an impossible-to-miss landmark along the highway for decades, but between 2005 and 2010, the building underwent massive restoration work and changed its name from the BC Museum of Mining to the Britannia Mining Museum. The museum is the site of the former Britannia Mine, and visitors can see some of the original equipment from the early 20th century, pan for gold, or take an underground tour.
10 Hell's Gate Airtram
From spring until fall, the Hell's Gate Airtram takes visitors out over the raging waters of the Fraser River in a tram connecting both sides of the canyon. Hell's Gate is uniquely located at a narrowing in the Fraser River, where the fast-flowing water is forced through a section only 33 meters wide, creating a churning spectacle of white water. The aerial tram covers a distance of 152 meters, dropping visitors on the opposite side of the river, where there is a restaurant, gift shop, an area for gold panning, and an information center. There is also a suspension bridge that crosses the river here. The drive to Hell's Gate is very scenic and part of the attraction of this day trip, which takes between 2.5 and three hours each way.