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Day Trips around Vancouver

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Once one has settled in the Vancouver area, or even when one is on holiday here, the matter of day trips comes up. If you have a family, it becomes even more important. So I thought I'd slowly build up a little compendium of such trips here as folks do them. Please feel free to contribute. I'll be digging through my pictures to see if I can put a few nice ones together.

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1. The tulips at La Conner, Washington

Yesterday, 9 April, the sun was out in force. We had agreed in the family that, if the weather clears after this three-week bout of inclement weather, we'd be out the door and down to the USA to see the tulips at La Conner. Digin had done a nice job of showing these before somewhere, though it seems the thread has erased (One still remains). So here it is....( I thought I'd keep it bigger)


One can check on the internet to see which fields of flowers are in bloom. See HERE.

On the way there we took the Chuckanut (I kid you not) Highway along the Washington coast through Larrabee State park. The following is a representative shot in the Park. It is not as spectacular as the Sea-to-Sky Highway at Vancouver, but it is nonetheless very pretty (and the road is more winding and narrow):


As to La Conner itself...I gave up! The traffic was unbelievable. We were stationary at crossing after crossing on those country roads for 10-15 minutes at a time. The whole place was a nightmare. I finally turned around and escaped back up the LaConner road to Anacortes where we got some food three hours late. We won't be gong back any time soon. Maybe digin has some pictures of La Conner itself.

The map shows whereall the places are:


La Conner is more or less where the red balloon is. Look this up on

The grey line across the map through Sumas, White Rock and Tsawwassen is the US-Canadian border

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2. The Sea-to-Sky Route to Whistler

Whistler is probably the major world tourist attraction near Vancouver. It is generally recognised as THE major ski resort in North America. Fact is, I would not know as I have zero interest in skiing.

However, I DO LOVE the road to Whistler on any other occasion than Friday afternoons. The traffic to the place can be downright scary...and the road is is like Chapman's Peak drive with N1 traffic. SO, if you intend doing this trip, try off-peak periods...and try to avoid bad weather.

The first thing of note along the way is simply the views soon after passing Horseshoe Bay, the ferry terminal at the western end of the Vancouver North shore. These are some of the most beautiful you will ever see:


Along the way, there are two small Provincial Parks, both on the seaside of the road. Shortly before arriving in Squamish, at the head of the Howe Sound, one gains some altitude and, on this little plateux, one finds the Shannon Falls:


A kilometre or two further one finds the Stawamus Chief...the second biggest granite monolithic rock on the continent of North America. The biggest is El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California:


Looking back from the highlands on the way to Whistler, one can see the Stawamus Chief looming over Squamish.


Before looking at Whistler, it is the worth the effort just taking a look at where it is. The next picture is a satellite shot of Southwestern BC. It shows Vancouver, Whistler, Comox on Vancouver Island and Campbell River on the island. The impressive Pemberton Icefields, just to the northwest of Whistler are clearly visble in this mid-summer shot. The ice/snow on the famous Rockies is considerably less impressive...take look on and see for yourself. Further northwest towards Bella Coola the Icefileds are even more scary, as you can see. Both areas show clear glaciers.


Whistler itself is every inch the upmarket resort. If you go there, have money ready...lots of it. On the other hand, you can ski basically up to your lodge and the take a dip in a heated pool:


On the way up to the top in the gondola, one gets superb views of the surrounding mountains and of the ski slopes


So, if you are moving to Vancouver, don't wait too long before doing this trip.

The Map:


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I've now added two more pictures to the above description of the Whistler trip, having just been there over the last three days again.

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I have heard many people talking about Whistler being the place to be for skiing in Canada. Is this really true? Please give me some indication to what you term as "expensive", besides the accommodation. We have recently returned from a trip to the USA and was really amazed at how cheap everything was. South Africa is @!$%@ expensive (excuse my French). We are planning a ski-trip next year and looking at these pictures, oh my, i't so beautiful. When is the best time for a ski holiday in Vancouver?


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I have heard many people talking about Whistler being the place to be for skiing in Canada. Is this really true?

Definitely. There are very few places where you can get an 7km top to tail green run with some impressive scenery to boot. Whistler also has milder temperatures at the top and much less fog than most other ski-hills (like Big White). The combo of scenery, almost always good conditions and a large variety of runs make it very hard to beat.

Please give me some indication to what you term as "expensive", besides the accommodation. We have recently returned from a trip to the USA and was really amazed at how cheap everything was.

A day adult ski-pass comes out to about CA$60 in peak season (late Dec/early Jan). Rentals (skis + boots) about CA$40 a day. Food seems ok priced for a resort - you can get a main course for CA$12-18 at a reasonable place. Little things are expensive on the mountain itself (a 500ml bottle of water costs $3!), but stock up down below at a supermarket and things work out ok.

If you a BC resident, you can get an EDGE card which gets you 10 - 20% off just about anything. You also get some good discounts on longer stays (3 days or more) if you book by end-November.

We are planning a ski-trip next year and looking at these pictures, oh my, i't so beautiful. When is the best time for a ski holiday in Vancouver?

Pretty much any time from January to April (April could be Whistler only) depending on what you prefer. Jan is more powder but colder conditions (and possibly limited visibility). April brings more spring-like ski conditions, but with some absolutely gorgeous days where it can reach 25 degrees of more on the summit.

Edited by digin

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Thanks so much Digin. <_< I really appreciate you answering my questions. I'm from South Africa, unfortunately not a BC resident...yet. Hope to be in the very near future.

April seems to be a good month for skiing in Whistler. I would hopefully see the Northern Lights, which is one of those "must do's" on my list and catch the first glimpses of Spring?......right? When is rainy season in Vancouver?


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April seems to be a good month for skiing in Whistler.

Provided we have enough snow (unlike this Winter) April is one of the nicest months for skiing in Whistler, especially if we have a couple of clear days after a crisp snowfall. On a good day, you can go skiing and swimming in the lake on the same day!

However, if you are planning far ahead, I'd consider late Jan/early Feb as a good time as well. If you can book in November (this applies to non-residents as well), you can get some good deals.

March / April can always be dicey - in good years you can ski peak to valley - in bad years, you will pretty much only have peak to mid-mountain.

I would hopefully see the Northern Lights

I'm not an expert on Northern Lights, but you typically don't see them from Whistler. You have to go further north. And I think the best time is more around the equinoxes (March or September). Perhaps Harry can help me out on this one.

...catch the first glimpses of Spring?......right?

Yes. If you come during April - definitely may catch a cherry blossom in bloom. Going to Skagit Valley in the USA to see the tulips is also a must.

When is rainy season in Vancouver?

It rains pretty much all year round here, with a large drop-off during June, July and August. However, our rain is mild and pretty wind-free, which means rain rarely stops anything here. People still hike and cycle in the rain here. Also, it seldom rains constantly for an entire day, and you will see people hanging around coffeeshops waiting for a "break", then continuing what they were doing.

Edited by digin

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Most years, in the first week of October, we see the Northern Lights from Kelowna. But it's not a spectacular display from there, as Kelowna is very overcast from about October until the end of March. You can see a few light colours in the sky, though.

I'm told (though I haven't experienced this first-hand) that the best places in Canada to go for an aurora experience are up north (i.e. North of Prince George) and in the prairies; I'm told Saskatchewan gives a pretty spectacular display, as it's very clear, and also flat (so unlike Kelowna, you don't get mountains in the way).

If you're looking for skiing, I'd recommend going a bit inland (like to Kelowna; admittedly, there's some bias there :D ). Big White is great from December to April. Silver Star in Vernon is a little more accessible (i.e. road is a quite a bit better). But if you're just making a trip to Vancouver, this will be out of the way; these are about four hours from Vancouver, and the Coquihalla (that's the highway that connects Kelowna to Vancouver) is often impassable or even closed during periods over the winter. Indeed, that will be a nerve-wrecking trip if it's your first on snow. But, if you're flying, Kelowna is a $90.00, one-hour flight from Vancouver.

And those rates are about accurate for Big White, Silver Star, and Crystal Mountain, too.

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3. The Hurley Pass and Bridge River Road to Lillooet

Monday, 22 August 2005, our son was to have taken a chartered bus to a holiday farm on the southern end of the Chilcotin Plateau. That would be the high and dry country just east of the Coastal Mountains in Central BC. This would be essentially where one would end up if one kept going northwest from the Okanagan.

The females of the family, however, convinced me to take him there by car instead, a day earlier. A quick look at the map revealed that the "scenic route” would be to go via Whistler and Pemberton and then over the Hurley Pass on a Forestry Service road that is closed in winter. From there the road goes to Gold Bridge. To return we'd go from Gold Bridge to Lillooet on a road that is shown on the map as largely paved.

So, at 9am we left Vancouver. It actually took us until 2:45 PM to get him to the farm 20 km beyond Gold Bridge. Leaving there about 30 minutes later, we arrived home via Lillooet, Lytton and Hope on Highway 1 at 11pm on the dot! So, this is definitely the upper limit of a plausible day trip. 14 hours there and back.

The first picture shows the Tantalus mountains to the west of the Squamish-Whistler road, just north of Squamish. Most people usually just go charging past this lot and hardly notice it. So, you may have to dodge the often insane traffic of pleasure seekers, few of whom care to see something pretty about nature.


Having escaped the insanities of Whistler and stopped at Pemberton (much nicer) for teatime, we drove up the Lillooet River Valley, which stretches northwest from Pemberton. The river does not go anywhere near the town of Lillooet, by the way. It actually feeds the huge Harrisson Lake between Chilliwack and Hope, which, in turn, drains into the Fraser at Harrisson Mills. This is extremely pretty and serene farming country....flat as a pancake with high mountains either side. The river runs along the foot of the northeastern mountains, and the valley is dotted with its beautiful original cottonwoods.


Some distance along the road, there is a small sign that announces a Forestry Service Road and some scribbles indicating that it might just be the road to Gold Bridge. Along with it comes a warning that the road is not maintained. One follows this across the valley for about a km and then it turns into a gravel road that immediately starts scaling the side of the mountain in a series of switchbacks, called the Hurley Pass. Near the top one can stop and get a rather impressive view of the Lillooet Valley below:


Looking a bit more towards the west, one sees the perimeter of the very scary Pemberton Icefield, which is usually out of view from pretty much anywhere. A look on the map or on, will show that there are serious glaciers up there.


Cresting the pass, the mountains to the West of the road come in all manner of colours. The following picture, taken on top of the mountains, captures the look and feel of the entire area. It would be the front page shot I'd put on this trip.


Closer up, the sheer ruggedness of the mountains becomes obvious:


As one approaches Gold Bridge, one gets a view of Downton Lake to the north through the trees, characterised by the sharp bend. It shows beautifully on You cannot miss it, because of its distinctive shape. It is another shot I rather like, but I don't quite know why. It just works for me. Somehow the secretive lake has a mystical feel to it.


The next stop is the metropolis of Gold Bridge. Look more closely!!


Here we got to Carpenter Lake, which is created by the Terzaghi Dam, way, way, way further down this valley. We traveled about 15km along the northern edge of the dam. here we turned off and rose sharply up the mountainside to go up to the plateau that the holiday farm is on. I share this single picture of the Coastal Mountains we had crossed earlier, as seen over a dam at the farm.


Having dropped off our son, we set off back down to Carpenter Lake. As we descended, I took this photo:


There then followed a long trip along the north shore of Carpenter Lake. eventually we reached the Tergazhi Dam. It was a remarkably small gravel/rock dam, considering the sheer volume of water behind it. A gravel road crosses the crest of the 55-metre-high, 365-metre-wide dam and leads over Mission Mountain to Shalath and Seton Portage. Two four-kilometre-long tunnels carry the water through Mission Mountain to the turbines at Shalath. We did not turn off to see this, because we DID NOT KNOW. It is weirdly difficult in BC to get genuine tourist information. I'd have loved seeing those turbines.

At this point the road became a gravel road again and proceeded into a narrow gorge in the mountain along the Bridge River (or what remained of it). I stopped to take a picture for Cathy and Pierre in Nanaimo, because this was the closest thing to Seweweekspoort that I had yet seen outside SA, though, unlike in SA, we never crossed the river.


As the gorge opened up, we approached the Yalakom River, entering from the Northwest. at this point we were driving along an immense natural landslide. After crossing the Yalakom the road went up a tight switchback. When we reached the top, I stopped to take the following picture, looking back.


A kilometer or so further we came across Horseshoe Canyon. I am staggered that this is not presented as more of a tourist "must see" spot. I thought it was incredible. The road runs all along the rim of this canyon, which is a huge gravel-erosion feature. One can physically see it on the satellite image of the area, if you know where to look.


At this point the road was not too good and very dusty. All the vehicles coming past were First Nations folks with the typical truck. They were not particularly friendly. One kid managed a perfunctory wave, but looked away while waving. This is First Nations Territory...patently less arable than the Transkei, as "homelands" go, actually. The picture shows the quality of the road..that slide on the left is hundreds of feet high and very active indeed. It is pretty obvious that this road gets damaged regularly.


The next stop was the confluence of the Bridge River and the mighty Fraser. This is a favourite First Nations Salmon Catch area. The picture shows their efforts at that confluence.


The next stop was Lillooet and dinner, which was rather early, because we were not too sure what was available at Lytton, which had not quite impressed us in the past. The Fraser produces rather striking views along this stretch. Yes, that is our road up ahead in the last shot!

I end with these two shots. At Lytton one joins Highway 1. For us it turned dark at that point and no further useful pictures were possible.



I think folks like Cathy and Pierre ought to do this trip at some point, as should Pierre from Fort Mac, who, like myself, has an obvious interest in civil engineering efforts. There are three consecutive turbine systems on that Bridge River on its way to the Fraser...I consider that impressive.

Folks can read more about this trip HERE, as written by someone who grew up there, going the reverse direction.

Google Earth links here will take you to the exact spots on the planet:



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Cathy K

Seems like a beautiful trip Harry, and we'll definitely do it. The family's two vehicles might present a bit of a problem, we have a Ford Windstar and a Mazda Protegé. Do you think either or both can drive on that gravel road?

Now, where is the BC equivalent of Meiringspoort...? When I think of South Afria, my thoughts invariably turn to this most beautiful gorge in the universe. We traveled it in the middle of the night, when silvery moonlight casted a ghostly glimmer over the cliffs and streams. We traveled it at sunrise, while troupes of baboons sunned themselves in the early morning sun, and we did it in midday, when the cooler Garden Route temperatures suddenly changed into the burning heat of the Klein Karoo.

Thank you for sharing this.

NS. Harry, weet jy hoe Seweweekspoort sy naam gekry het?

Cathy K.

Edited by Die Kotzé's

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I'd rather take the Protegé, and I'd do the trip from Lillooet going West. There were some bad ruts in the turns of the switchbacks on the way up the Hurley Pass, but I got quite a few sedans coming down.

I reckon there might be an outcry if anyone blew away the cliffs of anything like Meiringspoort over here, in order to make a road.

Naam: Sewe weke om deur die poort te kom met 'n ossewa, volgens my pa! Ek is seker hy was verkeerd. ;) Hy's gebore naby De Rust en het grootgeraak op Calitzdorp.

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Cathy K

Harry, die mens het gelukkig maar min skietwerk in Meiringspoort gedoen. Ons liewe Vader was daarvoor verantwoordelik, dis so natuurlik soos die Grand Canyon en veroorsaak deur miljoene jare se erosie. Lees meer hier.

Daar word ook vermoed dat Seweweekspoort vernoem is na Rev. Zerwick wat in daai geweste sendelingwerk gedoen het. Die arme boere het hulle vrek gesukkel om sy naam uit te spreek (ons ken daai ene in Kanada ;) ), en toe vervorm hulle dit.

Maar terug na jou dagreise in Kanada!

Cathy K.

Edited by Die Kotzé's

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4. The George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary


On the way there:

Yesterday, Saturday 18 March 2006, the sun was out beautifully, just like last we dropped everything and went out for the morning. This time the wife selected the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. One has to let the ladies decide these matters, otherwise one suffers terribly.On the way there, one goes through Ladner. So, we stopped of along the southern bank of the southern arm of the Fraser River Delta, to take a few pictures of a fishing vessel at Ladner.


From the same point one has a view westwards of the snowclad mountains of Vancouver Island, with the houses on the banks of the south-fork of the Fraser in the foreground.


Some distance outside Ladner, along River Road, there is a turnoff to a one lane bridge across the Fraser to an Island in the delta. On this island one finds the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary:

Just outside the park we stopped and I took this photo of the Vancouver ISland mountians in the distance across the tilled lands of the "Singh Farm"


The Mallard Duck "Snactuary":

The first thing that strikes one on entering the sanctuary, is the huge number of Mallard Ducks around the place:


This little lady was getting worried when every duck in sight followed her. I think the place should be called the "Mallard Duck Snactuary" instead


Now and then, the Mallards actually make a nice picture. I thought this family was just great:


The general feeling of the outer rim of the sanctuary is captured in this following shot. It had that open feeling that I like so much. One gets a bit cramped at Deep Cove:


Nearer the visitor centre one is looking not at the open sea, but more northeastwards at the Vancouver area. The next two shots are, firstly, a wide angle shot of the Coastal Mountains of Vancouver across a leg of the estuary...the second shot being a close-up through the trees in the first picture. One can see the snow-covered mountains through the trees in the second picture



The Canada Geese preferred to forage for themselves......


Of course there is quite a bit of other bird life in the we have a spotted towhee


Spring is a bit late this year, but it was showing in the sanctuary.


Just to round things off...we found the Snow Geese on the farmlands outside the sanctuary!:


To see the sanctuary on Google Earth, click on the attached file. If you don't have Google Earth installed, it is now time you do get works perfectly well, and it costs you nothing.

A big thanks to Hendie, who fixed up our Forum to handle the kmz files today.


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Your photo of the snow geese reminded me of a great book, The Snow Geese by William Fiennes. It is about one of the great annual migratory events of North America – the movement of the snow geese from their wintering grounds in southern Texas to their breeding grounds in Canada along Hudson Bay. His description of the first time he stood in the middle of a large flock as they descend at dusk to rest for the night is absolutely riveting.

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re the northern lights

I grew up in NE BC and they were visible pretty much year round

anyway my grandad came to visit one may/june from south Africa and he was lucky enough to see the northern lights - something he was really wanting to see

living down here though i have never seen them - something i guess one takes for granted when they see them all them time as I did when i lived up there

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Hi Sponger

We live in Manitoba (just south of the Trans Canada Highway, #1) and saw beautiful displays of the northern lights in our first two years (2004 and 2005), but this year we haven't been that fortunate. I am not sure whether there is a decline in their appearances, or whether the novelty has just worn off for us. Upon reading your question, I thought I would do a search on the web, and came across this Norwegian website with questions and answers about the northern lights.

Cloud coverage would obviously also cut in on one's chances to see the lights.

By the way, the pictures on the previous page of this forum are just amazing, thanks, you folks.

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5. The Ferry trip between Vancouver and Victoria

This past weekend we did a Saturday-Sunday trip to Victoria from Vancouver...not quite a Day Trip, but in the same general category. In fact, it certainly can be done in a day. It took us 50 minutes from Deep Cove, at the eastern end of the North Shore, to the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal right on the US Border. We had booked our tickets on-line and had done some prepayment. At the terminal we paid the balance on a credit card and were showed to a position second from the front of lane number 4. Someone else had prepaid and arrived before us. In the event, we were about an hour early. Folks were lining up for their coffee "shot of the morning"...Canadians apparently cannot function without it. I can't even stand the presence of the stuff, let alone having to actually drink it, let alone on my "nugter maag". It is basically "essence of carbon with vague coffee flavouring and caffeine"...basically a legal stimulant drug addiction. But that's just me.


The first important thing is to take a look at the route of the ferry on the map:


The route takes us through the very narrow and dangerous gap between Mayne and Galiano Islands and then past some very pretty smaller islands to Swartz Bay terminal just outside Sidney on Vancouver Island. The first bit is pretty much straight sailing. This shot was taken on the way back, but it gives one the idea:


As one approaches Galiano and Mayne Islands, one sees the US Islands off to the south:


The next thing is the lighthouse off the port bow. The land on the horizon is still Tsawwassen on the mainland:


At this crucial juncture one enters into the narrow strait between Mayne (left/port) and Galiano right/starboard). There can be a pretty bad tidal race in that area and I saw it going through. The next moment, we heard the loud horn of another ferry and it came side-slipping around the inner bit of Mayne island ( on the left). That strait looks awfully narrow when two ferries go through there at the same time:


After this followed a cruise past various islands, big and small. I did not have the heart to cull any of these six shots.







Now and then one got a glimpse of an entirely different kind of life that I shall never have:


Some of the islands have superb mansions on them, such as this one:


Nearer Swartz Bay we had company, floating on the breeze, pacing the ferry so I could get the shot


Off to the north we passed another lighthouse closer to Swartz Bay


Finally, a zoom shot of the (I think, US Olympic) mountains across Vancouver Island, as we come in towards Swartz Bay (Apologies for the pathetic light):


This is a much nicer trip than the Horsehoe Bay to Nanaimo ferry, which largely crosses open ocean. Our next plan will be to visit the smaller Islands, like Saltspring. The ferry service to these islands is excellent and we kept seeing small ferries scuttling back and forth.

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Stunning pictures once again Harry!

Reminds me a little of my ferry trip between the Greek islands, except this looks much nicer than anything I saw in Greece (except MAYBE Santorini :D )

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Cathy K

Harry, thanks for this. We might go that route the next time we visit Vancouver.

Another scenic ferry route is the one between Anacortes in Washington State and Sidney on Vancouver Island.

Anacortes/Sidney ferry route

Saltspring Island is a must! Remember to taste their goats cheese. It's best to go over the weekend when they have their famous morning market.

Take a trip to Mount Maxwell's Baynes Peak for some really spectacular views.

Cathy K.

Edited by Die Kotzé's

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Ingrid Brunkhorst Hurrell

Thank you Harry - most interesting and better than a tourism brochure. :D

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We went to the Minter Gardens on Sunday afternoon. It is situated near Chilliwack, at the foot of Mount Cheam.







See for directions, hours, admission fees, etc.

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