FREE Vancouver Activities

With Summer arrives ample opportunities for FREE activities in Vancouver, hopefully the rain has finally subsided and you can get out and enjoy what Vancouver does best, the great outdoors. You don’t need a big budget visiting Vancouver (living there is a different matter), especially when you are car camping and cooking your own meals, here are some free activities to get you excited.

Stanley Park
Surprisingly, bigger than Central Park in NYC; Stanley park has excellent hiking trails as well as the Sea Wall to walk around, giving you stunning views of the surrounding mountains and North Vancouver. Hike around Beaver Lake and through the trees, if you want to splash out to $4.50/hour you could hire a bike to cycle your way along the Sea Wall. Parking is steep at $13 per day in the summer and it fills up rapidly, it is best to leave your car outside of downtown and take transit.

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Kitsilano
Spend a sunny day lazing on the beach or walk along the shore and be staggered by the landscape both urban and wild. Swim at the giant (137m long) outdoor swimming pool at the reasonable cost of $6.50, it is cold but nowhere near as much as the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of benches along the sea front; Vancouverites take barbecuing seriously, making it the perfect place for a beach picnic.

Granville Island
Start with a wander around the market, if you are on a budget it is hard to resist all the vibrant foods on offer (watch out for the gulls if you eat outside). Walk along the front and take in the essence of the city, there are routes leading to Scienceworld in the East and Kitsilano in the West, you can walk as far as you’re inclined. If you have the money to spare, splash out on a beer at Granville Island Brewery; and if not take a beer to so called ‘Beer Island’ aka ‘Habitat Island’.

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Granville Island

Pacific Spirit Park
Here, there is a spiritual feeling incomparable with any other place in Vancouver – Pacific Spirit feels less like a park and more like an enchanted forest. Some would say it is even better on a rainy day as you are ensconced by trees and can enjoy the calm of a hike. When you are this far-out West you might as well take a trip to Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s famous nudist beach, for a walk or sunbathing.

The Grouse Grind
Test the limits of your fitness with the grueling right of passage that is the Grouse Grind. Open from late May until October, join locals and tourists alike to climb the 2.9km ascent to the peak of Grouse Mountain. Once at the top you can see birds of prey and delight in the tongue-in-cheek lumberjack show. You aren’t officially supposed to descend the Grouse Grind, but there are alternate ways down, or it is worth paying the $10 for the cable car after the exhausting incline. Take the free shuttle to Grouse Mountain from Canada Place, don’t forget to check the schedule.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of hikes on the North Shore and many more parks to be visited; this list is a starting point if you only have a few days. Wishing you sunshine in Canada’s rainiest city.

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Visit Kootenay National Park

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In the cluster of National Parks that border Alberta and British Columbia it is easy to overlook Kootenay, it may not be as big and as bold a Banff or Jasper, but it should be judged on its own virtues.

Campgrounds are far quieter and often as well kept as the larger National Parks, you will usually be able to use a fire pit and pit toilets as well as a bench. Similarly to other Canadian parks, not all sites have drinking water, so ensure you are fully stocked, have some kind of filtration or purifying tablets. Expect fewer crowds, 2017 may be the time to visit due to the free ‘Discovery Pass’ which will undoubtedly send swarms to the bigger parks.

The landscape is unlike any of the surrounding parks, ravaged by wildfires there are acres of burnt out trees that make for interesting viewing, giving the park a Jurassic era feel. Lightning could strike at any time during the summer months, setting the park ablaze once more, encouraging a refreshment of new growth.

You can hike to glaciers, see azure rivers carving through rock canyons and visit the Paint Pots. The Paint Pots are iron rich and staining the surrounding earth in ochre hues, the pigment is of significance to many First Nations in the area.

Keep a lookout for Bighorn Sheep, you may need a set of binoculars to view them up high on the mountainside, their horns are a wonderful sight.

Wildflowers are in abundance between the burnt-out trees, the Indian Paintbrushes are stunning and add a splash of colour in the summer months. Fireweed is bountiful and beautiful; the landscape post forest fire is a sight of pure contrasts and nature of the best kind.

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7 best FREE campgrounds in British Columbia.

BC makes it easy for campers like you, there are hundreds of free campsites waiting to be used. Most have a pit toilet, grills, benches and a stream or lake at minimum. Some have boat launches, fishing docks and maybe even a slide. As always, pack out your garbage and belongings, leave the area pristine for the next traveler. Here is a list of my personal favourite campgrounds and recreation areas.

waitabitWaitabit Creek GPS: 51.501376, -117.184148 Golden

Pit toilet, river, grill, bench

Situated between Glacier and Yoho National Parks just before Golden, this campground is a small slice of paradise in the summer sunshine and a gateway into the larger parks. The water runs azure and glacier cold, carving through the landscape. The ground is dusty which could be a problem in days of dry wind, but otherwise it is a perfect resting spot. Hang your camping shower from a tree and brave the cold water to get clean, then sit and relax conserving your energy for hiking in the National Parks.

Lasalle Lakes GPS: 53.52322, -120.68035 Mcbride

Pit toilet, lake, grill, bench, boat launch

En route to Prince George from Mt Robson National park with wonderful sites on the beach. Fish or swim in the lake, you could head out to the dock in the middle and rest there. Avoid weekends if you can, there are excellent mountain bike trails nearby so groups come to stay. In August you may be lucky enough to witness the migration of thousands of tiny, black frogs; be careful not to step on them.

 Inga lakeInga Lake. GPS: 56.61790, -121.63547. Fort St. John

Pit toilet, lake, grill, bench, boat launch

Heading through Northern BC to Fort St. John, you will find Inga Lake Campground. The track to the site is full of potholes, so take care when driving a car that isn’t four-wheel drive. Sunset over the lake is something special it takes on a magical quality as mist rises from the water surface. Drink wine, play cards and cook on the grill as evening rolls in, maybe even try to catch a fish or two; it’s a place you will find utter tranquility.

DSC_0425Bulkley River. GPS: 54.601154, -126.85178 Smithers

Pit toilet, hut, books, information, fire ring

As you pull off Highway 16 you will find the small hut with a grass area to park at the front. An absolute gem of a sleeping spot for a rainy day, you can stay inside the hut so no sheltering in the car in bad weather. Be sure to sign the visitor log, and possibly write a thank you note to the volunteers that upkeep the shelter.

Clements.jpgClements Lake. GPS: 56.048656, -129.90194 Stewart

Pit toilet, lake, grill, bench, beach

Simply stunning. An astounding spot to pitch up on your way to Hyder, Alaska for bear viewing during salmon spawning season. In the sun, you are able to see the mountains that surround and you are encircled by glaciers along the road. The site is also beautiful in the rain, the clouds roll across the mountains, teasing you with a glance of scenery every few minutes.

EdwardsEdwards Lake. GPS: 49.097443, -115.10434

Porta-potty, lake, grill, slide

On your way South to the USA border, crossing into Montana, you will find Edwards Lake campground. There are no fixed sites, you can park anywhere in the large grassy area. Best to use specific directions from the Allstays Camp and Tent app to find the site, as it is tucked away. The lake has a slide in the centre, which you can swim out to and slide into the water (which is breathtakingly cold).

 BeaverfootBeaverfoot Road. GPS: 51.238343, -116.65594 Yoho National Park

This isn’t exactly a campsite per say, more a good place to stop for the night outside of Yoho National Park. A fellow traveler and cyclist directed us here, it helped avoid paying the park campground fee for one more night. There are some pit toilets over the river, it is basic, but beside the river and just before the park boundary. If you get to the toll booth you have gone too far, turn around heading towards Golden, drive under the bridge towards the river.