Vancouver, British Columbia, is a slice of paradise with snow-capped coastal mountains, old-growth rainforest, and sandy beaches along its shore. It is no surprise that this city, with all its natural beauty, has plenty of parks for all to enjoy.
The five I share here are my favorites. I have hiked the trails, savored a picnic, and spent countless hours exploring the pathways with a dog in tow. These five parks are free, full of stunning landscapes, and the perfect places to kick back and soak up the “back to nature” vibe that Vancouver is known for.
1. Stanley Park
Stanley Park is synonymous with the word Vancouver. In fact, you just can’t visit Vancouver without spending time in Stanley Park. One of Vancouver’s most famous landmarks, Stanley Park is a 1000-acre oasis right in the city’s downtown. Stanley Park’s natural playground consists of the rainforest, with towering Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees, and the sea that laps the shores of the park.
It is easy to spend a full day at Stanley Park. There are almost 17 miles of forest trails perfect for hiking and biking. Keep your eyes open for those enormous 400-year-old trees! Stanley Park also offers restaurants, playgrounds, a swimming pool (open seasonally), a pitch and putt, a 15-minute train ride, and a waterpark.
With all that Stanley Park has to offer, make sure you don’t miss the following three highlights.
The Sea Wall
The Sea Wall, a five-and-a-half-mile paved trail, follows the perimeter of Stanley Park. This flat pathway is perfect for walking, rollerblading, or biking. From the seawall, there are spectacular views of the city, the mountains, the sea, and the freighters waiting to enter the Port of Vancouver. Don’t forget to dilly dally a little on the seawall. Stop at the beaches along the way, sit on a piece of driftwood, or comb the beach for shells.
You can also rent a bike and see the park that way. There are no bike rentals inside Stanley Park, but there are several bike rental shops close to the main entrance on Denman Street between Davie and West Georgia streets.
Stanley Park Totem Poles
In British Columbia, colorful, hand-carved totem poles represent the First Nations cultures. Carved from towering trees, First Nations totem poles tell ancestral stories and record important events through animal and human representations. The Stanley Park Totem Poles are located at Brockton Point in the eastern corner of Stanley Park.
The Vancouver Aquarium
Located in the heart of Stanley Park is The Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium. The Vancouver Aquarium is home to thousands of marine species including dolphins, sea lions, walruses, penguins, and sea otters. Plan to spend at least two to three hours at the Vancouver Aquarium taking in the exhibits or even going behind the scenes. The Vancouver Aquarium is known for its research, conservation efforts, and mission to protect the oceans.
Plan your two-hour stroll along the seawall in the evening, and time it so that you are at Third Beach for sunset.
2. Queen Elizabeth Park
Queen Elizabeth Park is a gem in the heart of Vancouver. Having the highest point in the city, it is worth the trip to enjoy the view of both the mountains and the Vancouver skyline. Queen Elizabeth Park, a former quarry, has dancing fountains that delight spectators both day and night, plenty of green spaces, tennis courts, the Queen Elizabeth Pitch and Putt , and an off-leash dog area. Queen Elizabeth Park is also home to The Bloedel Conservatory, which has 500 tropical plants and over one hundred exotic birds.
The Quarry Gardens are an absolute highlight of this park. There is the Main Quarry Garden and also the North Quarry Garden. Wander along paved pathways amongst stunning blooms, over tiny bridges, and past waterfalls, and you will feel like you have been transported to the countryside.
Plan on spending a minimum of two to three hours at Queen Elizabeth Park to enjoy all that it has to offer.
Plan your visit to Queen Elizabeth Park around a meal or drink at the Seasons in the Park restaurant, which has a stunning view of the city.
3. Pacific Spirit Regional Park
This natural park of dense forest, set along the water in the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands, is a wonderful opportunity to connect to nature. Pacific Spirit Regional Park has approximately 50 miles of forested trails that allow for walking, running, hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. Pacific Spirit Regional Park hugs the coastline for four miles along which the infamous Wreck Beach is found. If you are looking to sunbathe nude on a beautiful beach in Vancouver, this is where to go!
Plan on spending a few hours walking in Pacific Spirit Regional Park along the packed gravel trails; it's rather like paradise. There are trail loops that take you through the temperate rainforest, by the sea, and to the boardwalk around Camosun Bog, an ancient reclaimed peat and bogland.
With its 1,800 acres, Pacific Spirit Regional Park never seems crowded. I spent hours walking the dog I was house sitting along the trails dwarfed by towering Douglas fir trees and marveling at the peace and solitude found in the middle of the city.
Find free parking available along 16th Avenue and entrance to the trails at 16th Avenue and Sasamat Street or 16th Ave and Blanca Street. For a shorter loop, park on Camosun Street and enter the park by the Camosun bog.
4. Lighthouse Park
Situated in West Vancouver, Lighthouse Park is an absolute favorite of locals and visitors. The stunning views of the Strait of Georgia, the Vancouver skyline, Stanley Park, and the historic lighthouse make it a must-visit park.
Even a short visit is well worth the time. If you only have an hour, walk the gravel road from the parking lot to the lighthouse viewpoint. The red and white lighthouse at Point Atkinson that you see today was built in 1912 and replaced the original built in 1874. The lighthouse and station grounds are a National Historic Site of Canada.
Ideally, plan to spend at least a few hours at Lighthouse Park hiking the extensive trails through the old-growth forest. The trees, some of which are hundreds of years old, are absolutely enormous and stretch endlessly skyward. Try hugging a Douglas fir tree and keep your eyes open for Arbutus trees with their red peeling bark.
Pack a picnic and clamber onto the rocky outcrops overlooking the Strait of Georgia. It is easy to relax and lose track of time watching the freighters and the sailboats slip by.
Lighthouse Park is a marvelous place to watch a magical sunset. The lighthouse provides a fabulous foreground for photographers. Sit back and enjoy the views, but bring a flashlight for after the sun has gone down.
5. Lynn Canyon Park
Lynn Canyon Park is yet another spectacular place to enjoy the wonders of the natural world. Cross the narrow Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge with its dramatic views over the canyon 160 feet below. This suspension bridge is not far from the Capilano Suspension Bridge but is less busy and absolutely free. After crossing the bridge, spend some time walking the trails through the temperate rainforest, past the creek, and by the waterfalls. If you turn left after crossing the suspension bridge, you will arrive at the 30 Foot Pool, a delightful and refreshing swimming hole that is very popular in the summer.
Allow time to pop into the Ecology Centre and the Lynn Canyon Cafe. Unfortunately, Lynn Canyon Park is not accessible to people with mobility issues or those who use wheelchairs.
Go early in the morning, as Lynn Canyon is a very popular destination for both locals and visitors. The line up to go over the suspension bridge can get quite long, so the earlier you are there the better!
Looking for a healthy dose of the natural world in Vancouver? Visit any one of these parks and experience Canadian wilderness right in the city!