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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Canada’s Hot Springs

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Why visit a hot spring when you are on the road? Well firstly, it’s hard to resist a dip in a hot pool and secondly the temptation of a shower!

With all sorts of Geothermal activity going on underground, Canada has an abundance of hot pools you can visit at reasonable prices; albeit some are a lot better than others, but you should visit and test them to find your favourite. It’s a hard life…

Banff Upper Hot Springs –Banff AB

Delightful to visit after a whole week of hiking and not being able to take a proper shower, let the warm water soothe your muscles and take a shower (they’re communal but better than nothing). You can stay as long as you like for the reasonable price of $6.30, be sure to take your own towel and swimming gear.
Don’t be fooled however, by the serene looking pictures on their website, it is one of the busiest springs you will encounter. Expect it to be rammed to the gills with tourists and small children, unless you choose your timing with care.

Miette Hot Springs- Jasper AB

Take the upward stroll to incredible views following the Sulphur Skyline trail and come back down to see goats profusely licking the salt from the wheels of the tour buses. After that, you can indulge in a relaxing hour in the hot spring. Miette is considerably quieter than Banff Hot Springs, you will have a lot more space to yourself and can flit between the cold and warm pools. It is a snug retreat nestled between the mountains it is a bargain at $6.05. Take a soak, a shower and treat yourself to some campfire cooking in one of the fire pits.

Liard Hot Springs- Liard YK

This is the truest hot spring it feels untouched and organic, like you just happened upon a wonderful heated stream. Soldiers from the US army took respite from constructing the Alaska Highway in the hot pools, it was a pleasing escape from the harsh weather that ensued. Break up your journey through the Yukon along the Alaska Highway and relax for the day at Liard River. To use for the day there is a fee of $5 and the one downside is there are no showers available, but local campsites are friendly and can offer you advice. Sift through the stones and you may be lucky enough to find amethyst amid the rocks.

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Where Should you Sleep for the Night?

thumb_DSC_0986_1024It’s amazing how quickly you adjust to finding places to park overnight and sleep peacefully. Your creativity and ideas will improve with experience, you will learn how to blend in and keep your profile low. Here are some ideas to start your imagination running wild:

Free Campgrounds
If there are any available nearby then use them. Free Campsites and Allstays Camp and Tent can help you search nearby for free campgrounds. The facilities are basic but you will usually end up with a bench, fire pit and a pit toilet at minimum; there is also normally a river or lake for washing up. Check out my posts to find some awesome free campgrounds in British Columbia, Canada and The USA.

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Walmart (or other department stores)
Use the Allstays Walmart App for advice on Walmart’s that allow overnight parking, App users input comments reviewing their experience. Other stores that may allow overnight parking are Camping World and K-Mart, but be sure to check with management wherever possible.

Casinos
Often have parking that can be used overnight, discretion is key and you should try and cook away from the parking lot in a picnic area.

Rest Areas
Usually rest areas have signage for 8-10 hour parking limits, overstaying this time will depend on how regularly the area is patrolled by security. Flying J truck stops often have a separate area for overnight parking of RVs or an area where smaller cars can park for the night.

National Forests
You may find gems of free places to stay in National Forests, often campgrounds are well established with a pit toilet; they are not always easy to access; be sure to check that the area is accessible by road.

BLM
In the USA the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of an abundance of free campgrounds and areas you can stay overnight, use Allstays Camp and Tent for ideas as well as searching BLM on Maps.me.

Churches
Usually have a large and safe parking lot that is fine to stay in, so long as you leave early in the morning; ask whenever possible.

You could also try parks, residential areas without too many houses, or bars and restaurants that will be used to seeing cars left in their parking lot overnight. Keep a look out for signage forbidding overnight parking or only allowing residents to park. Do your cooking away from the area you intend to sleep, picnic areas and parks are usually best for this, to draw little attention to your stay. If you can, do a scout out of the area and decide if it is suitable returning once it is dark.

5 FREE Campgrounds in Western USA

Car camping for free becomes trickier the closer to the coast and large cities you get, but there is still an abundance of free campsites scattered across the Western states. Using them comes down to whether they fit in with your route and if they’re car accessible, be sure to download Allstays Camp and Tent to help you find them, in conjunction with Maps.me. Finding a free campground is such a reward, you can relax, cook dinner and ask fellow travelers for advice. These campgrounds were memorable for all the right reasons

 DSC_0818Lowry Bridge GPS 47.51332, -112.00801 Montana

Pit toilet, river, bench, grill, grizzly bear

The scenery is otherworldly as you drive through Montana, the straight roads cut through the rolling hills of the landscape. Lowry Bridge offers you a resting spot to sit back and appreciate the landscape in peace. There is bear scat around and there have been sightings of a grizzly around the site, Montana is one of the only lower states in which they thrive, you should be extra vigilant with packing away food and cool boxes.

 DSC_0228Mill Canyon Road GPS 38.71268, -109.73934  Utah

Pit toilet, dinosaur footprints

This is a dispersed campground so it feels more a barren area to park up overnight, it can make a good stop on the way to Arches National Park, or Monument Valley heading through Moab. Don’t drive too far along the track, it becomes sandy and you will struggle to escape with a two-wheel drive. You feel the solitude of the desert and can witness a beautiful sunset, before finishing your beer and settling in for the evening. Mill Canyon Road has the added surprise of preserved dinosaur tracks, so don’t leave without seeing these, they are a sight to behold.

Sawtooth Canyon GPS 34.670375, -116.98407 California

Pit toilet, grill, bench, dinosaur sculpture

This worked as a stop en route to Southern California, winds can arise in the area so pick a pitch that has some coverage if possible. Benches and grills are built to be sturdy in concrete, so the facilities feel a little less basic. There is a dinosaur sculpture-come-play area, which is an apt touch, considering the fossils and prints found in surrounding areas. Be sure to look up at the surrounding rocks at dusk, you may just spot some wildlife.

 DSC_0986Tuttle Creek GPS 36.564857, -118.12591 California

$5, Pit toilet, bench, grill, drinking water

Located in Lone Pine, California, right behind the 48 lower state’s tallest peak Mount Whitney and Death Valley to the East, it is an excellent gateway to some of the USA’s best National Parks. Admittedly, the site is not free (it’s $5 per night) but the price is a steal, the campground is surrounded by an extraordinary panorama. You can hike in the area or simply rest before heading elsewhere, whatever your purpose drive slowly through Lone Pine, viewing the saloons against the mountainous backdrop.

DSC_0326 (1)BLM Lands East Zion 37.249128, -112.778939 Utah

There are no facilities at this campground, it is dispersed and not wholly obvious that you are able to overnight park there in the first place. The lack of facilities is remedied by the excellent location close by to Zion National Park, heading from Bryce Canyon. Views across the vermilion sandstone landscape are dazzling at sunset. This site as found using Free Campsites another excellent resource for overnight camping, the website isn’t the most user friendly, but it is full of great information.