It’s no secret that Vancouver is well endowed in the nature department (How many cities boast a 1,000-acre park downtown?). But what sometimes goes unnoticed is how truly rugged the landscape gets almost immediately after you cross the Lions Gate Bridge.
Take Mount Seymour Provincial Park. Rising to 1,449 metres, Mount Seymour is an easy 40-minute drive from downtown in North Vancouver. Known for its skiing, the mountain is also crisscrossed with some spectacular hiking trails that bring you up into dizzying alpine terrain. In a matter of minutes, you can go from the parking lot to a high-altitude wonderland of sheer cliffs and panoramic mountain views.
I found out for myself recently, on a sunny afternoon when temperatures at the ski area parking lot were a balmy 10 degrees Celsius. But while spring was in the air, snow – metres of it – was still in the ground. I struck out on the trail to First Peak, which starts in the far corner of the parking lot, adjacent the chair lift.
Lucky for me, the trail had been packed down hard by throngs of hikers and snowshoers out to enjoy the weather. The first section ascends steeply, paralleling the ski slope and climbing through towering evergreens, their boughs heavy with snow. Many hikers, huffing and puffing up the incline, had stripped down to t-shirts and shorts.
It’s not long before you find yourself in impressive surroundings. One of the first clearings offers unobstructed views of the jagged, snow-capped Coast Mountains, which surround Vancouver and stretch out of sight to the interior. After catching my breath, I pushed on, scrambling up another snowy slope while descending hikers whooshed by on plastic bags and improvised sleds.
Just a half-hour from the parking lot, the civilized world recedes from sight completely – replaced by a polar landscape. Snow and ice stretch in every direction. Towering mountains studded with pines give way to precipitous cliffs. Meanwhile, the narrow trail, marked here with bamboo poles, winds through all of it.
I stopped for a minute to study an avalanche warning sign, which rated the day’s risk as moderate, then fell in line behind a group of hikers for the final climb to First Peak. The trail switches back and forth through knee-deep snow, passing a glimmering mountain bowl of pure white and finally climbing to the summit – marked by a worn wooden sign.
All told, the hike to the top takes just about two hours one-way (3.5 hours round-trip), at a leisurely pace. But it’s hard not to feel worlds away from the city. At the top, you can literally see 360 degrees – the Coast Mountains to the north, the distant profile of Mt. Baker in Washington to the east, Vancouver Island and the Strait of Georgia to the south and west.
The return trip goes a lot quicker – in fact, you can slide your way down much of the snow-covered trail. Before you know it, you’ve left the arctic scenery behind and are back in civilization – a short drive from the bright lights of downtown Vancouver.
For more information on trails and proper safety procedures while hiking in the snow, visit the Mount Seymour Provincial Park website. And always stay on the trail and heed all posted warnings.
Anyone else know a great springtime hike in Vancouver? Please share your thoughts below.
Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond? Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.