Road Trips

Top 6 One Day Vancouver Road Trips to Feed The Soul

Craving the open road? Top 6 day trips from Vancouver that will feed the soul and not the credit card.

By Laurie Izzy Wheels.ca

May 8, 2015 13 min. read

Article was updated 8 years ago

Join the Conversation (2)

De-stress and reconnect with nature on affordable day trips from Vancouver

If you crave the open road but are on a budget, consider one of these top 6 day trips from Vancouver to the alpine, the canyons or the coast.

Vancouver's backyard offers an array of natural wonders and lucky for us, the natural world is full of health benefits for humans.  Why not pack a lunch, some snacks,  your favourite music and head out for a day of exploring on the open road? If you have a kayak or mountain bike, strap that to the car too just in case.  You never want to miss out on the chance to paddle a fjord or join a trail amidst the canyons or cliffs of the Pacific Northwest.

fjord on a vancouver road trip, BC

Ever heard "a change is as good as a rest?"  It translates to doing something different in order to become refreshed and rejuvenated.  We live within a busy system of work, family and financial responsibilities and all too often we forget to stop the car and smell the pine trees.

Although Vancouver is a beautiful seaside city with lots to do, Stanley Park, Granville Market and the Museum of Vancouver are all urban activities.
Related: Road Tripping on Vancouver Island in a Lincoln

Studies have shown that time spent in a natural environment can boost human health and wellness by reducing stress and improving your state of mind.  Have you heard of nature therapy?   No doctor's visit and no prescription required.  All you have to do is get away from the hustle, concrete and traffic for a little while to reap the mental, emotional and physical benefits from The Power of Nature.

Lucky for us,  the West Coast has heaps of nature in every direction.  They don't call this Super Natural British Columbia for nothing.

Whether you have kids or none, are solo or paired up,  or want to hang out with your BFF but aren't sure what to do,  we've compiled a pretty cool list of fun and affordable one day road trips commutable from Vancouver to get you closer to the natural beauty that surrounds you.  What are you waiting for?

  1. Deep Cove, North Vancouver

Deep Cove, North Vancouver, BC

It's about 18km or a 30 minute car ride from downtown Vancouver to Deep Cove. There's ample parking on side streets or public parking lots within walking distance of Panorama and Deep Cove Parks by way of the village.

Follow the sidewalk from Panorama Park and wander over to the Quarry Rock Hike trail located just beyond the public waterfront.  The hike will take about 90 minutes give or take your pace,  and be sure to dress in layers and bring solid shoes to climb with.  Although not treacherous, the trail is a hearty trek amongst exposed tree roots, rocks with a 100 meter ascend.  This picturesque hiking trail will get the blood pumping but well worth the effort once you're at the top.  Bring a backpack with water and snacks so you can refuel while you absorb the view and celebrate your accomplishment.

View from Quarry Rock Hike trail, BC

If you want to trade your hiking legs in for sea legs for the second half of the day, you can rent a kayak, stand up paddle board, canoe or go out on guided tour from a local rental spot in Deep Cove.

Check out the Deep Cove Visitor Information page for a guide of other things to do while you're there.

  1. Waterfall and Easy Walk Tour, Sea to Sky Corridor

Who doesn't love a good waterfall?  Artists paint them, photographers capture them and the rest of us marvel in awe at them.  Did you know your body is made up of roughly the same percentage of water to body mass as the earth's water to land percentage?  No wonder we feel so at peace near the water.

This day trip takes you to three Provincial Parks with no admission fees, accessible trails, loads of picnic space and breathtaking scenery both on and off the highway.

Head out of Vancouver towards Whistler on Highway 99N for 45 minutes to Shannon Falls Provincial Park located just south of Squamish.

Shannon Falls, British Columbia

The Sea to Sky Highway is ranked as one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  Once you've parked the car follow the paved trail to reach the viewing area for the third tallest waterfall in B.C. You can access walking trails or boardwalks a short walk from the parking lot. Unless you're a seasoned hiker with hours of time on your hands,  I wouldn't venture to any trails marked Stawamus Chief if you're intent on road tripping. The Chief is a standalone, serious 11km hike with an elevation gain of 600m and not for the faint of heart or anyone without serious footwear. Or,  you can always throw caution to the wind and give it a go if you're prepared. Be sure to check out the reviews and comments from those who have tackled it, don't hike it alone and for heaven's sake bring water and hiking boots.

From Shannon Falls continue north on the Sea to Sky Highway for 30 minutes or 45km to Brandywine Falls Provincial Park.   The easy 1km trail is clearly marked from the parking area and is easily accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Brandywine Falls, British Columbia

Head the car back down highway 99S towards Vancouver for 45 minutes or 60km to Porteau Cove Provincial Park, south of Squamish by 20km on the shores of Howe Sound.  If you haven't eaten much yet you can set up your picnic on one of the picnic tables along the shore or take a short walk to the rock-lined beaches and pull up a piece of driftwood for the best table in the house.  Keep an eye out for the resident harbour seal who likes to play hide and seek with humans wandering along the shoreline.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park, British Columbia

If you time it right, the sunset from this point on Howe Sound can rival the best of them.  There is a pier you can walk out to for a great photo op and you're likely to see divers as they explore the buried ships just below the surface.  If you have your own sea kayak, it's a popular sheltered spot to launch a paddle along the shoreline.

After your picnic you can walk along the road towards the campground adjacent to the water.  Maybe one of the campers will invite you to share a beverage around the fire pit.   If you keep to the water's edge you'll see a trail at the end of the walk-in campsites that will take you to a sweet look out spot over the water.  Take your binoculars as the Orca's and Pacific White Sided Dolphins sometimes make the trip up the sound as far north as Squamish.

Howe Sound sunset, British Columbia

Check out the Sea to Sky Highway Tourism site for more places of interest along the route from Vancouver to Pemberton.

  1. Gondola Anyone?

The Sea to Sky region boasts two extraordinary gondola experiences that are quite different from one another.  Although they both offer alpine hiking trails and mountain top restaurants with spectacular views, they each have a uniqueness that has to be experienced to be understood.

The Sea to Sky Gondola just outside of Squamish opened in May 2014 and is only a short 45 minute drive from the city of Vancouver whereas Whistler's Peak to Peak Gondola is 90 minutes away.

Whistler's Peak to Peak Gondola offers alpine hiking trails and restaurants on both Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb.  The price of an adult pass from May through September will cost about $50.00.

Once you've arrived at the top of Whistler be sure to wander over to the Peak Express Ride, an open chair-lift that carries you over glaciers and above the tree line where you can explore even more trails on top of the world.

view from top of Whistler, British Columbia

You'll definitely feel the altitude here so pack accordingly and have lots of layers.  When I was there in the month of September it was clear and then a few minutes later we couldn't see more than a few feet thanks to the clouds that rolled in.

Once you've explored the peak, take the open chair back to the roundhouse and hitch a ride on the Peak to Peak over to Blackcomb where you'll experience the highest and longest unsupported span in the world of 4.4km/2.73miles.  If you've packed a lunch or prefer to sample alpine cuisine from Rendezvous Lodge,  you can sit on the open patio at 1860m/6102ft and just take it all in.
More: Road Trip Planner: Top 10 Winter Road Trips in Alberta

The Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish takes you 885m above sea level in just 10 minutes and offers an adult pass for $32.95 online,  $34.95 at the window or you can purchase an annual pass that's valid all year round.

This is a remarkable place, accessible to everyone,  with a remarkable 360 degree view of Squamish, Howe Sound the Coastal Mountains.

Summit Lodge, British Columbia

If you're into hiking,  there are 8 trails branching off from the Summit Lodge, or if you're just up there for a walk simply stroll over to the viewing platform as soon as you get off the gondola to see the best scenery for miles around.   Test your fear of heights as you take a walk across the incredible suspension bridge towards another platform or head to the back country for the whole day.

view from Summit lodge, British Columbia

There are three facilities that offer food and beverage for sale,  but the Summit Restaurant can get pretty busy at lunch time.  You may want to bring your own snack and find a secluded spot to eat as there are no shortage of stellar views.   If you're looking to spend the whole day, check the activity page for more information so you can plan around what you like to do.

  1. Picnic at Bridal Falls, Hot Springs & Heritage Walk at Harrison Hot Springs

If you take Highway #1 East out of downtown Vancouver you'll drive through Burnaby, Surrey, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.  It won't be long before you're gazing at the gorgeous views from deep within the Fraser Valley at  BC's Coastal Mountain range, which boast the highest peaks of any range in Canada and can be seen for the entire 112km or 90minute drive to the first stop.

Bridal Falls Provincial Park is located just off exit 135.  This is a day use park with no camping and offers washroom facilities and lots of picnic spots where you can pack your own fun with a frisbee, a good book, a few lawn chairs and a blanket for the day.  You'll want to walk the loop trail found alongside of the creek to the falls viewpoint at least once while you're there.

Bridal Falls, British Columbia

If you're looking for a different type of fun, you can head to the resort town nearby where you'll find all kinds of family entertainment to do including the Bridal Falls Waterpark.

Harrison Hot Springs is also located off exit 135 and is a place you can enjoy the healing waters of one of B.C.'s wondrous hot springs.  Harrison's Hot Springs are said to bring relief to sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis through the 8 minerals present in the water including: sulphur, iron, magnesia, Epsom salts, iodine, potash and alum.

After feeling rejuvenated from the hot springs, why not stretch the legs on the easy 5km heritage walk starting at the Visitor Centr. You can take in some history and culture of the Coastal Salish People who have called the area home for hundreds of years long before the explorers and gold miners found it in the 1800's.  Or, you can drop your boat in and paddle some of Harrison Lake, the largest lake in the southern Coast Mountains.

Harrison Lake, British Columbia

  1. Circle Tour

For those who want to spend a full day out on the open road you can do a complete circle tour that travels East, North, West, South and covers 575km of BC beauty in about 7 hours. I did this road trip on a sunny Sunday in early of March with my snow tires still on , packed food for the day, and other than a tank of gas,  I didn't spend a dime.  There are several BC Parks along the way offering roadside facilities, picnic areas and loads of places to take great photographs.
RELATED: The Lure of the Road Trip

If you've never done this drive it's an absolute must. BC is known for its diverse landscapes and you will get a sample of all of it during your day-long drive within the Coastal Mountain Range, the valley, alongside of canyons, a fjord and more.  In early March I hit temperatures of -2 in the alpine near Joffre Lakes and plus 20 in Lytton. Joffre Lakes, 2 hours north of Squamish,  boasts an incredible 11km hike accessible during July - September and should definitely be on the to-hike list for a full day adventure.

When mapping out your directions from Vancouver,  head East towards Hope but veer North before you get to town and go towards Yale/Lytton on TC 1E.  It's about 3 hours to Lytton, a small town that boasts the warmest climates in Canada as well as the point where the mighty Columbia and Fraser Rivers meet.

Fraser River outside of Lytto, British Columbia

From Lytton continue North on Hwy #12 for about an hour until you see signs for Lillooet and Highway 99/Duffy Lake Road.   You can either bypass Lillooet on 99 towards Pemberton or take a drive through the town before heading West. Lillooet has branded itself with the moniker "Guaranteed Rugged" and lives up to its name with spectacular scenery and an interesting history.

Lillooet Mountain and bridge, British Columbia

Once back on Highway 99 West there are a few things to keep in mind.  This leg of the road trip will take 2 hours and is one of the most magnificent drives within the Province.  As beautiful as it is, make sure you have fuel and check the road conditions. Duffy Lake Road/99W is vulnerable to avalanches, heavy snow and flooding depending on the time of year as well as an abundance of wildlife, so keep an eye out and drive carefully.

Just outside of Lillooet is a spectacular recreation spot called Seton Lake which overlooks one of Canada's freshwater fjords.  There's a spot  to pull off the highway so you can soak up the picture perfect view of the blue-green water or you can drive down the camp road to the beach and picnic area.

Duffy Lake Provincial Park is a great place to drop your board, canoe or kayak in the water before hitting the third and final leg of the drive that will take you through Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and back to Vancouver.  HelloBC offers a Coast Mountain Circle Tour itinerary which spreads the drive out over a week or more, but you can do it in a day if that's all you have to spare.  Oh, and take the binoculars.  Bald eagles can be seen soaring overhead or standing guard from the treetops throughout most of the Duffy Lake drive and the Sea to Sky Highway around Squamish, especially in Brackendale, which boasts one of largest gathering of bald eagles in North America  during the winter nesting season.

  1. The Lower Sunshine Coast

Although the Sunshine Coast is situated northwest of Vancouver by just 10 nautical miles and is classified as part of the mainland, you can't get there by car.  A quick 40 minute ferry ride from the docks at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to the port of Langdale and you'll think you're a million miles from the city.  You can easily explore the lower part of the Sunshine Coast in a day trip from Vancouver.

Once the ferry docks in Langdale drive for ten minutes to reach the town of Gibsons which is famous as the setting of one of Canada's longest running TV series, The Beachcombers.  Grab a coffee and walk along the waterfront or sit down for a spot of organic tea at the 1902 Store and Teahouse on Marine Drive.

Continue along the coastal route to the community of Sechelt, translated as 'a place of shelter from the sea' which is situated on a sandbar just 21 km north of Gibsons.    Trip Advisor rates Porpoise Bay Provincial Park as the number 1 thing to do in the area due to the sandy beaches or if you'd rather not,  you can learn about the life cycle of BC salmon from a visit to the Chapman Creek Hatchery.

Sechelt BC, Porpoise Bay

When it's time to leave the beauty of the Sunshine Coast behind, return to Langdale and the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay.  The last boat leaves as late as 8:20pm, but check ahead to be sure. Then again, if you miss the boat it's not such a bad place to be stranded.
You might also like: Jaunt to Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park




More from Wheels & Partners