Most hikes go to a mountain top, a lake or a viewpoint. Those hikes are great, but sometimes you want something different. Something a little unusual. Something off-the-beaten path. Or even something even a little bit weird. Well don’t worry: I got you! I’ve got a list of 15 unusual hikes near Vancouver. These hikes are definitely not ordinary. They visit abandoned places, take in a bit of history, let you see some wildlife and visit some enormous trees. I can guarantee you that each of them has an interesting destination. If you’re sick of the same old hikes you’ve seen on social media, try one of these instead.
Explore World War II Military Gun Emplacements
Did you know that during World War II the Canadian military prepared to defend Vancouver from Japanese submarines? Thankfully the subs never showed up. There’s still some interesting left-over war infrastructure out at UBC. Take trails 3 or 4 down to Tower Beach to see two abandoned search light towers, now heavily covered in graffiti. Or walk the trails behind the Museum of Anthropology to see the remains of some gun emplacements, complete with locked doors to underground bunkers. Bring a copy of the Pacific Spirit Park map so you can make a 2.5km loop to see both the towers and the gun emplacements. You can find more info about the military history of the area on Scout Vancouver. I’ve got more info about this hike in my guide to coastal hiking in Vancouver.
Walk Amongst Migrating Birds
The Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta has nearly 5km of trails that pass by numerous ponds and wetlands. If you visit in the spring or fall you can see many different types of migrating birds including the huge (and slightly intimidating Sandhill Cranes). You can also climb up the viewing tower or hide in one of the bird blinds to get an alternative perspective. It costs $5 to visit the sanctuary and they also sell bird seed if you want to feed the ducks. Find more information on the Reifel Bird Sanctuary website. The quiet roads on Westham Island leading up to the sanctuary also make a great bike ride. See my recommended bike route.
Visit a Thousand Year Old Fir Tree
Did you know that just a few hundred meters above the fancy houses in West Vancouver’s British Properties neighbourhood there’s an absolutely huge tree? The Hollyburn Fir is over 10 meters around, measures 44 meters tall and is estimated to be about 1000 years old! You can find it at the intersection of the Brewis and Crossover Trails on Lower Hollyburn. If you only want to see the fir it’s just over a kilometre from the Millstream Road trailhead via the Millstream and Brewis trails. But a way better idea is to follow the route for West Vancouver’s Lawson Creek Heritage Walk that passes by a number of historic sites.
Hike Amongst the Cutest Cabins
Up near the cross country ski area at Cypress Mountain there are nearly 100 private cabins nestled in the forest. These off-the-grid cabins have no running water or electricity and have to be accessed on foot. Most were built in the 1920s and 1930s. You can read more about the cabins (and see some awesome historical photos) on the Hollyburn Heritage website. To find the cabins, park at the cross country ski area, then take the Hollyburn trail to the Hollyburn Lodge. Turn right onto any of the trails leading downhill from the lodge and you’ll soon spot lots of cabins. There are tons of trails in the area and it’s easy to get turned around so make sure you bring a map. The Cypress Provincial Park map has some of the trails but the Trail Venture’s BC North Shore Trail map is way better. Note: All of these cabins are private property so please stay on the trails and respect the cabin owner’s privacy.
Visit a Cold War Plane Crash
If you’ve ever skied at Cypress Mountain, you might know that there’s a run called T-33. But did you know it’s named after the Royal Canadian Navy T-33 jet that crashed there during a training run in 1963? It was the height of the Cold War so until the plane was found, there was a lot of speculation about whether the Russians were involved. (Spoiler: they weren’t.) Remains of the jet are still on the mountain, along with a plaque commemorating the two crew members who perished. You can read more about the crash on the Cypress Mountain website. If you just want to visit the crash site you can do it as part of a hike up Mount Strachan. Vancouver Trails has a good route description for a loop hike that takes in some of the lesser travelled trails in the area and passes by the crash.
Poop in Vancouver’s Most Beautiful Outhouse
There are a lot of outhouses on the trails around Vancouver, and most of them are… not awesome. However, the outhouse at West Vancouver’s Whyte Lake is actually quite beautiful. Constructed out of sturdy cedar, it has a metal roof and even a small window to let in natural light. The best part is the dutch door that lets you close the bottom half while leaving the top half open to enjoy the view of the surrounding forest. The outhouse usually not stocked, so I advise you to BYO toilet paper. It’s a short 5km round trip hike to Whyte Lake. You can find directions on Vancouver Trails.
Crawl Through a Hidden Tunnel
History is all over the place on the North Shore. One such relic of the past is a short, cramped tunnel alongside the Fisherman’s Trail. Apparently there used to be a water pipe along this trail and instead of going around a rocky headland, they decided to blast right through it. Today the pipe is gone but a wet and muddy tunnel still goes through the rocks. The tunnel is about 20 meters long and you’ll have to crouch to go through it. To find it, park in the main lot at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve and take the Twin Bridges trail downhill to the site of the former bridge. Turn left and follow the Fisherman’s trail up river for a few hundred meters. Look for the entrance to the tunnel on your left about 2.5km after the parking lot. Either retrace your steps back to your car or continue following the Fisherman’s Trail to the Homestead Trail to make a loop. Other routes are possible too – make your own using the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve Trail Map.
Walk Through an Ancient Cedar
I don’t mean walk among ancient cedars… I actually do mean walk through one. Like, right through the middle. There’s an old, dead cedar snag in North Vancouver’s Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve that has been incorporated into a mountain bike trail… by routing the trail right through the hollow centre of the tree. To find the tree, head for the northwestern loop on the Circuit 8 mountain bike trail. Keep in mind that this is a mountain bike primary trail so watch closely for bikers and be prepared to step off the trail to let them pass. Bring a copy of the LSCR map to help you find your way.
Explore A Graffiti-Covered Train Wreck
In the 1950s several train cars tumbled off the tracks just outside Whistler. They lay forgotten it the forest for years before Whistler locals found them and built a trail to the area. Today you can take an easy hike to see the seven abandoned boxcars, which serve as an informal gallery space for local graffiti artists. While the train cars are the highlight of the hike, the views of the Cheakamus river canyon and the new suspension bridge you get to walk over are reason enough to visit. Get directions for this short 2km hike on Vancouver Trails.
Visit a Ghost Town
Did you know there is a ghost town near Whistler? On the northern shore of Green Lake lies Parkhurst, a logging town that was abandoned in the 1960s. The town once had a few dozen residents, a mill, a store and a school, but very few buildings are still standing today. You can still find tons of “historical garbage”, house ruins and abandoned cars around the site, with the forest growing up all around them. The hike to Parkhurst is about 12km round trip or you can get there by canoeing across Green Lake. Check out Whistler Hiatus for directions.
Hike a Trail Covered in Teapots
Yes you read that right… teapots. The hike up to the top of Teapot Hill near Chilliwack is a popular one with locals. It’s a short 5km hike to the top of a hill where there is a view of Cultus Lake. Over the years hikers have left actual teapots along the trail so try to see how many you can spot as you hike. (I’ve heard there can be as many as 80!) The number of teapots varies since the park rangers clean them up periodically: the broken pots are a hazard to people and pets. As well, many people prefer to see the wilderness in its natural state, rather than have it altered with teapots. Leaving teapots or other objects in the forest is not in line with Leave No Trace principles so please don’t add your own teapots. You can find more info about this hike on the Cultus Lake Provincial Park website.
Hike Through Abandoned Train Tunnels
The Othello Tunnels near Hope were an engineering marvel when they first opened to railway traffic in 1914. And even though they aren’t used for trains anymore, they’re still pretty damn cool. The tunnels are part of the old Kettle Valley Railway. In order to pass through the twisty canyon of the Coquihalla river, 5 tunnels and two bridges were built to keep the train heading straight. Today you can walk right through since they are part of Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. It’s a 3.5km round trip hike to hike through the tunnels and back again. The flat railway grade makes for an easy hike, but you might want flashlights for the tunnel portions. And heads up (literally): the tunnels are closed in the winter to protect hikers from falling rock and ice. Check out the provincial park website before you go to make sure it’s open.
Check Out an Abandoned Train Trestle
You might have heard about the abandoned train tunnels at Othello Tunnels, but did you know that further up the Coquihalla Canyon you can find another relic of the old Kettle Valley Railway? It’s called the Ladner Creek Trestle and it’s a huge steel train bridge that curves high above the river canyon. The wooden decking is all rotted out, so it’s not safe to walk on, but there is a great viewpoint nearby. This 2km hike is short but challenging since it has some steep and unstable sections. For details check out Outdoor Vancouver.
Peer Into a Mine Shaft
You can find evidence of old mines in many places around BC. One of the more accessible sites is on the Skagit River Trail in Manning Provincial Park. This flat trail follows the Skagit River downstream for 16km but you only have to hike 1.5km to find the site of a small abandoned mine from the 1960s. On the short side trail to the mine you’ll pass the remains of the miner’s camp: a flattened cabin (it collapsed under snow in the winter of 2008), and an old 1940s truck that is still in remarkably good shape. You can peer into the boarded up mine shaft next to a waterfall, but please don’t go inside as it isn’t safe. The shaft is unsupported and could collapse at any time. For directions, see the Manning Provincial Park website.
Watch for Wildfires from a Historical Fire Lookout
Back in the days before airplanes and cell service were everywhere, the best way to watch out for wildfires was to station a guy in a tower on top of a mountain all summer and have him look for smoke. There are still old fire lookouts around BC, but the closest one to Vancouver is on the top of Windy Joe Mountain in Manning Provincial Park. The Windy Joe lookout hasn’t been staffed since 1965 but it’s still in great shape thanks to BC Parks. It’s a 16km round trip hike with 800m of elevation gain, but the view from the top is worth the hike. You can climb up into the loft of the fire lookout and get a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. You can get more info about the trail on the Manning Provincial Park website.
So there’s my favourite weird yet wonderful and unusual hikes near Vancouver. Are there any off the beaten path hikes or hidden gems that I missed? Tell me about them in the comments.
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