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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Make Denali National Park the next stop on your Roadtrip

Every National Park his its own merits and misgivings, Denali National Park wins outright for freedom, escaping the crowds and that feeling of untouched wilderness. These are only achievable if you get off the shuttle bus through the park and hike, there are no routes, you can walk anywhere you like.
Here are the reasons to make Denali a must see on your next road trip:

d2There are no Backcountry Trails
Contrary to how this sounds, there is backcountry available, the novelty being there are no set routes. You choose an area (or areas) with permits available and make your own way around using a topographical map, or gut instinct. You will encounter many natural barriers, rivers, ledges, scrub; you must learn how to cross them and how to camp leaving no trace.

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You won’t see anyone for days
Hiking out in the park is an incredible experience and one that is extremely solitary, likely the only living beings you will see for the entirety of your hike are the caribou, moose and maybe a bear, if you are lucky. Other National Parks, especially in the USA, have a ‘theme park’ feel due to their popularity and accessibility to all.

Backcountry permits are FREE
That’s right, whereas most other National Parks will charge you left, right and center for all types of permit, Denali gives them out for nothing; so long as there is space you can get a permit for the area that appeals to you most. Before you are given the permit you have to watch a film to ensure you know how to be ‘bear aware’ and how to safely cross rivers as Denali has no bridges.

Have the ‘real’ wilderness experience
Following a set route with a well marked path is great fun and how National Parks will usually set up their backcountry, oftentimes you don’t have to do a whole lot of navigating or even consider where you should be camping. Denali allows you the freedom to decide for yourself and sometimes it is inconceivably difficult to know whether you have made the right decision, but ultimately the experience is so rewarding.

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There’s an abundance of wildlife
If you stay on the bus you will likely just see caribou for the entirety of the ride, head out into the wilderness and there are so many creatures from wolves to eagles. Imagine waking up in the morning, opening your tent and seeing moose running past; it is an extraordinary sight to behold.

Endless sunlight
…In the summer that is. Lost? No worries, it will be light until 2 a.m. anyway, so keep on walking. This also messes with your body clock, waking you up in the middle of the night and thinking it is morning; checking the time and realizing you still have hours of sleeping ahead of you.

Are you persuaded yet to make Denali National Park the next stop on your roadtrip? Great! Start planning your route along the Alaska Highway and enjoy the adventure.

 

Backcountry Rookie

DSC_0591Love staying away from the crowd? Eating noodles? Seeing wildlife? Good. Hiking the back country is for you! Multi day hikes enable you to have an authentic camping experience and see parts of the wilderness most tourists would miss. Before you embark on a backpacking adventure it is advisable to have polished your hiking skills by day hiking; getting used to bear country and the physical exertion. The first back country hike I undertook was a solid 4-day trip in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, it was a huge learning curve and an incredible few days. You will meet experienced hikers with all the labels and excellent gear, but you don’t have to feel pressured into buying anything costly, the basics will do. Yes, your backpack will be heavier, but you should give back country a try before you commit to buying better equipment. Here are the corners I cut for so many back-country hikes last year…

The tent was from Canadian Tire, it cost $75 CAD on sale; it wasn’t great and was heavy, but it survived the entire trip. Look on classifieds for bargains or see if any fellow road trippers are looking to sell their gear post trip.

The backpack I hiked with I already used to store clothes in the car, I would take out the clothes and store them in a garbage bag when I needed the backpack for back country.

Hiking Poles are the saviours of your knees while you are out walking, you don’t need to purchase any as you can find a suitable stick on your hike and leave it after for someone else to use.

A sleeping pad at this stage won’t necessarily be for comfort, it is more for a barrier between you and the cold floor. I used an old yoga mat that I had lying around and it did the job.

Sleeping bags do not seem to pack down to small sizes in North America, unless you have a lot of money to spend. My sleeping bag was an MEC branded bag which cost $10 CAD from Value Village, it didn’t come with a bag so I would hike with it wrapped in a garbage bag. There are plenty of second hand sleeping bags out there, make sure you run any purchases through a dryer for 20 minutes to prevent bed bugs.

Rain coats can be found in thrift stores, along with waterproof trousers if you wanted to protect your legs.

Follow my back-country food guide for ideas of lightweight meals on the go.

A water filter or purification tablets are essential for safety, choose whichever method works best for you.

A small gas cooker shouldn’t set you back more than $20 including the gas, plates, bowls and small enough pans can be found at the dollar store.

The priority when you are packing should be safety and survival so always carry a first aid kit, various means of starting a fire (in a waterproof bag), spare batteries for your torch, a map, knife and sunscreen. Keep warm clothing in a garbage bag to prevent it from getting wet in a survival situation. Extra Clif bars or energy gels will be wholly appreciated in emergency situations along with a space blanket. Remember to keep these essentials in your bag for day hikes, as well as an emergency shelter and water purifier.

 

How to stay ‘Bear Aware’

BearWhilst on your travels in North America you may be lucky enough to encounter a bear, if you do see one hopefully it will be from your vehicle or at a distance, but if you run into one on the trails you should be prepared. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible place and know how to use it, follow these tips to stay safe and keep bears wild.

Make noise, especially when walking through areas of brush and trees. Shout or sing as you walk, if a bear hears you coming it will likely leave before you reach it.

If you come across a bear and it is yet to see you, leave the area in the direction you came as quickly and quietly as possible.

If you encounter a black bear at a close range make yourself seem as large as intimidating in possible, if there are a few of you group together wave your poles in the air, speak in a calming appeasing voice and continue facing the bear. Back away from the bear calmly and waving your poles, never turn your back as this can trigger the animal’s predator instinct.

If the bear turns away it may be getting ready to charge at you, this doesn’t mean it wants to fight, it is trying to give a warning that you are invading its territory. If the bear charges at you stand your ground, and deploy the bear spray, shout, throw rocks and act aggressively. If the bear persists you will have to fight, use anything you can; rocks, logs, poles. Shout, stamp your feet and make yourself intimidating.

If a grizzly sow with cubs attacks and makes contact, play dead, get into the foetal position face down with your hands protecting your head and neck. Keep your backpack on as this will add protection, keep your knees wide to prevent the bear from rolling you over. Grizzlies usually attack when they feel threatened, if you are playing dead you are no longer a threat to them and they should leave. You will have to wait in the foetal position until the bear has left the area, be certain the bear has gone before moving and seeking medical attention.

Bears are amazingly intelligent and once they associate humans/ tents/ cars with food they will correlate the two forever. By leaving food around your campground instead of storing it properly you are assisting the bear in it’s demise. National parks usually provide bear proof containers for items or suggest leaving food in a locked car, regulations vary between parks. Don’t leave out any kitchenware or items that contained food and drink as they will still smell interesting to the bears and provoke their curiosity.