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Tam McTavish | 03.12.2018

As cities go, Vancouver, BC, is a pretty spectacular place for adventurous folks to live, especially if your stoke is getting outside. There are hundreds of trails, endless kilometers of coastline, and mountains everywhere. Vancouver has it all. And yet, if you’re like me when I first moved back to Vancouver after five years of being away, finding places to go was surprisingly tricky. Constantly changing conditions, snow in the winter, and the paradox of becoming overwhelmed by just how much this wonderful stretch of coast offers made it hard for me to find or choose what to do.

Now that I’m a bit more familiar with where to go, I’ve been throwing up adventures on Outdoor Project and elsewhere. There is so much more to cover, however. And more information can help give you ideas about where to go and also provide you with a little more guidance about when, or whether, to head out. But there is so much going on here that even the number of resources can be daunting. With that in mind, here's a quick shortcut that will point you toward some of the best resources for adventuring in the Vancouver area. Consider this the beta on where to get your beta.

Conditions

  • Webcams: When conditions change quickly on the coast, sometimes just looking out the window is the best way to gauge whats going on. But it is even better if you can look out someone else's window. There are heaps of webcams scattered across southwest BC. Ski hills and traffic cameras are great resources. Grouse, Seymour, Whistler, Coquihalla, and many more have cameras. Even Vancouver has multiple cams.
  • Mountain Weather Forecast: This is the easiest of the tools to use. Type in the name of the peak you are heading to or near and get a five-day forecast specific to elevations. The temperatures are generally a little off, but they give you a pretty solid idea of what to expect in terms of wind, precipitation, and general temperature.
  • Avalanche.ca: If you’re planning a trip in winter, this should always be your first port of call. The map tool is incredibly detailed, and the reports are good, especially the Details section. Look for the black icons, too, as they can be excellent records. There is also a forecast section that gives excellent, well-informed ideas of what is happening with the snow.
  • Mountain Condition Report: This system is unfortunately underused, but it is a great system. It differentiates between professional and amateur conditions reports, which is rather handy. It also breaks regions down and is provides conditions for all seasons.
  • SpotWx: A tricky one to use at first, SpotWX quickly became my favorite forecasting tool. Dropping a pin on the map displays a variety of Canadian and American models used to predict the weather. The charts show weather over time, and they have the benefit of being oriented to your destination (not just the weather in the closest township). In general, SpotWX is accurate about 60% of the time, though it’s pretty much spot on for clear days, or heavy storms.
  • Atmos.Washington.edu: This is one for the real weather geeks out there. This weather map offers a good glimpse of the various weather systems that are approaching our coast. You can watch the storms develop and the predictions of where they will go. Not super user friendly, but still good if you’re curious about expanding your weather knowledge

Social Media

  • South Coast Touring: Very active groups, a mix of ski shots, conditions, gear talk and politics.
  • West Coast Ice: Very condition oriented with lots of trip reports and plenty of photos.
  • Club Tread: By internet standards this is a venerable institution with an older format, but it’s got excellent information and many good detailed first-hand accounts. Many people regularly post trip reports of their adventures here, though less and less these days because the format has become increasingly difficult to use compared to alternative methods. If you use this site, be sure to add your own photos in to help other folks. It’s a give-and-take system. Check out their conditions thread to find photos and write-ups on how the trails are looking.
  • North Shore Rescue: The search and rescue operations are really good to follow if you don’t already. Hearing about accidents and being aware of what is getting folks into trouble is a great place to start for figuring out what mistakes to avoid. It’s also got plenty of the usual condition reports.
  • Instagram: Using hashtags or location tags for the area you’re going to is great way to find information. Beware, there are many folks who post retrospectively, so it's always a good call to double-check their profiles. 

Guidebooks

  • 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia: The classic guidebook for Vancouver hikers. Packed with all the information you could possibly desire, it offers everything from day hikes to overnight weekend trips and even a few slightly longer journeys. With well-known locales to some really off-the-beaten-path spots, it’s a great place to start exploring.
  • Active Vancouver by Roy Jantzen: This book has heaps of creative ideas for all types of Vancouver-based trips. If your idea of fun is more about exploration than slogs and suffering, and driving a minimum of three hours every weekend doesn’t sound like a good time, this is a great book for you.
  • 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver: Not limited to just hiking, this book profiles a host of excursions from hikes, kayak trips, exploratory missions, river floats and more. For someone looking for all-around adventure inspiration and who wants to go places others might not have heard of yet, it’s a great place to start.
  • Snowshoe Trails In SW BC: This is a great list of places to explore on snowshoes. It has mostly easier trails with a couple of options for steeper trails that require more avalanche experience. 
  • Scrambles In SouthWest British Columbia: For those looking to go further than just a hike, this splendid book covers a huge list of non technical peaks within day and overnight trips of Vancouver. Matt Gunn’s unusual attention to detail and ability to see things from a less experienced perspective make this a valuable edition for anyone looking to explore that much further on the coast.
  • Vancouver Trail Running: This book includes a superb collection of short trails. All the routes are also within the GVA. Everything from cruisey paved seawall runs, to lung busting hill climbs on the North Shore. Even if you’re just using it for short urban hikes, or exploration it’s a superb guidebook.
  • Vancouver Rock Climbs: A mix of sport crags, bouldering areas, some deep water soloing, and even a few alpine climbs are all packed into this book. The majority of climbs are found on the North Shore, but the diversity is surprising. Proof that you don’t need to go to Squamish for your rock fix.
  • Alpine Select of Southwest British Columbia: This book is generally not most people's first buy. Nearly all the routes in this book require glacier navigation, rock climbing, and crevasse rescue skills. And that’s just for the beginner routes. But if you’ve taken the courses and have an experienced mentor, this can be a great place to gain inspiration for some of the best mountaineering objectives near Vancouver.
  • On The Coast by John Baldwin: The encyclopedia of ski touring, it covers everything from beginner slopes, yo-yos, big tours, steep couloirs and traverses. A wonderful and comprehensive resource.
  • Squamish Select: THE climbing guidebook for Squamish. Trad, top-roping, sport, and multi-pitch for all your roped climbing needs.
  • Squamish Bouldering: Grab your pad and head out for some pebble wrestling. 
  • Squamish Hiking: Quickdraws superb style carries this detailed book that offers great day and overnight trips from Squamish to Whistler.
  • Wild Coast: A rather comprehensive list of kayak and hiking trips on Vancouver Island. Often tough to do on a weekend, it's a grab for long weekends or summer excursions. 

Online Guides

  • Outdoor Project: Of course. Check here for adventures in within 75 miles of Vancouver.
  • Vancouver Trails: A superbly done website with heaps of good info. It also has a great list of trails that can be accessed by public transit. Very handy.
  • ClubTread Trip Report Forums: Very often when researching info on specific trails you’re likely to stumble onto this group. The old-school forum style doesn’t make it especially user friendly, but the photos, while dull, often provide the best possible information on where and when to go.
  • Steven Song: Steven Song is likely the most prolific peak bagger in Vancouver, if not Canada. He’s normally knocking off a summit or two every week and disrupting the idea that snowshoes are “slow”shoes. His blog has excellent trip reports with detailed images from hundreds of trips. Beware, though. Steven is very experienced and has an exceptionally high risk tolerance. Many of his winter routes are done in extremely dangerous fashion, and he avoids discussing avalanche conditions much on his site to avoid confusing people. Normally conditions change too fast to be guaranteed week after week. So just because he does something does not mean that it is low risk. His reports are written under the idea the reader has many years of experience. Take his advice with a grain of salt, or find someone whose been around a little more for advice.
  • Varsity Outdoor Club Wiki: A little hard to navigate, but once you start to piece it together it’s a wealth of information and resources. Superb trip ideas, detailed reports on less visited locals, this is a great resource to check out.

Finding Partners

It’s not always easy to find the right people to do things. Sometimes your buds don’t have the right experience level, or you’re new to town and looking for those outdoor friends. So here are some great options for linking up with other people to get outside with. 

  • BC Mountaineering Club: Despite the name, BCMC runs plenty of hikes and scrambling trips for all levels of ability. If you're willing to take groups out, a quick interview and proof of first-aid is all you need if you want to host trips of your own so that partners will flock to you. For those with midweek days off, BCMC tends to have the most trips.
  • Alpine Club of Canada: Much like the BCMC, these guys have plenty of trips for a variety of ability levels.
  • Varsity Outdoor Club: The VOC is a very old UBC-based club with a younger membership. You need not be a UBC student to join, and the trips are open to all.  
  • Meetup.com: With nearly 30 different outdoor meetup groups, you can pretty much take your pick of what to do. Unlike the clubs, there are no formal skills required to lead trips, and you do get a very mixed group list. Generally this is a pretty low level experience, and the pace is slower. If you're looking for more relaxed trips, this is a great place to look. 
  • Facebook Groups: There are heaps of facebook groups for a variety of interests. Vancouver Hiking, Vancouver Trails, Squamish Climbers, South Coast Touring, and West Coast Ice are all groups that you can find people to go exploring with.

Gear

There is no shortage of gear to buy in Vancouver. MEC, Valhalla, Alpine Start, and Ecco Outdoors all provide decent advice and plenty of options. Ecomarine kayaks has superb options for folks on the water. But what if you don't own or want to drop a ton of money on gear?

  • MEC rents tents, sleeping bags and pads, snowshoes, mountaineering gear, avalanche gear, ski touring setups, whitewater and touring kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and rock shoes. 
  • Escape Route arranges touring packages and rents demo skis.
  • ACC, VOC and BCMC often rent gear to trip leaders. You can often ask within clubs to borrow gear if you need it. In my experience, it's pretty easy to get what you need in most cases. 

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