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9 Best Day Trips from Vancouver

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9 Best Day Trips from Vancouver

Few cities combine culture and natural beauty as artfully as the city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. A cosmopolitan city nestled against the snowcapped Coast Mountains on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver attracts around 8 million visitors each year. The city boasts an engaging assortment of world-class museums, theaters, art galleries and great seafood restaurants, but it’s the waterfront trails, urban beaches and scenic harbor that differentiate Vancouver from other metropolitan destinations.

Map of day trips from Vancouver

Map of day trips from Vancouver© OpenStreetMap contributors © MapTiler © Touropia

With so many opportunities for recreation within the city, visitors don’t have to leave Vancouver to enjoy outdoor activities, but the natural wonders that lie just outside the city’s boundaries are too good to miss. These day trips from Vancouver are sure to enrich any visit to Canada’s third-largest metropolitan region.

9. Harrison Hot Springs

Harrison Hot Springsflickr/Ruth and Dave

Located east of Vancouver in the southern tip of Harrison Lake in Fraser Valley is the small village of Harrison Hot Springs, a resort area that has been enticing day-trippers for more than 100 years. Taking the waters is the main attraction in this lakeside city, and there are both indoor and outdoor mineral soaks in a range of warm and cozy temperatures to enjoy. Other activities include boating on the lake, golfing and hiking. North of the city is the nearby Sasquatch Provincial Park where visitors can fish or canoe on one the park’s many pocket lakes.

Getting to Harrison Hot Springs

  • To get to Harrison Hot Springs by car from Vancouver is very easy; the Trans-Canada Highway will take you most of the way there. Just head east out of the city on the highway and stay on it until just before Bridal Falls. At exit 135, turn off onto the 9, then follow it all the way north until you get to Harrison Hot Springs. All in all, the drive should take you around an hour and 40 minutes.

8. Squamish

Squamishflickr/keepitsurreal

An hour’s drive north from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway takes day-trippers to the city known as Canada’s outdoor recreation capital. Located at the northern tip of Howe Sound, the small town of Squamish offers easy access to some spectacular scenery and an exciting mix of outdoor adventures. With more than 300 climbing routes, the monolithic Stawamus Chief is a can’t-miss activity for rock climbers, and for sightseers, the view of the sky-high Shannon Falls crashing into the Howe Sound offers an unforgettable experience. New to Squamish is the Sea-to-Sky Gondola that whisks visitors to a lodge and restaurant located between the Chief and the Falls.

Getting to Squamish

  • From the Waterfront Station in Vancouver, direct shuttle buses can whisk you to the adventure playground of Squamish in just an hour and a half. A round trip costs $30, and you need to book your seat on the bus in advance to guarantee a place, as there are only a few that leave each day.
  • By car, it takes just an hour to get to Squamish from Vancouver. It is almost impossible to get lost, as you simply need to stick on Highway 99 that runs between the two. After having taken in its spectacular scenery and fun outdoor activities, you could continue driving on for half-an-hour to nearby Whistler, which is also well worth visiting.
  • If you’re after an exhilarating and unforgettable experience, you may want to join a tour that takes you white water rafting on the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers. With an expert guide accompanying you, you’ll shoot down the rapids through beautiful scenery with amazing wildlife all around you. When you emerge tired but happy at the other end, you’ll want to do it all over again. See trip reviews & prices.

7. Steveston

Stevestonflickr/michaelgwinters

Salmon fishing has played a significant role in the Vancouver region throughout its long history, and that tradition is still celebrated in the historic village of Steveston located at the mouth of the Fraser River. Now part of the city of Richmond, the community remains an active fishing port, boasting more than 600 boats, some of which operate whale watching excursions. Steveston’s waterfront boardwalk is a great spot to take in the scenery and enjoy the catch of the day. Often used as a filming location, Steveston attracts fans of television shows like “Once Upon a Time,” “The X-Files” and “Stargate SG-1” as well.

Getting to Steveston

  • By public transport, it takes just under an hour to get to Steveston from Downtown Vancouver. Simply hop on the Canada Line to Richmond Brighouse Station and take either the 406 or 407 bus to Steveston. Once you alight at Steveston, you’ll find its alluring waterfront just a short walk away.
  • Another option is to drive there yourself; it only takes half-an-hour to get to Steveston with your own transport. Just head south out of Vancouver on Highway 99. After 20 minutes, take the exit towards Richmond. After this, you want to take No 2 Road; this will take you all the way to Steveston. On the way back, you could always stop off at Richmond to check out what the coastal city has to offer.

6. Vancouver Whale Watching

Vancouver Whale Watchingflickr/Rob Hurson

For many visitors to Vancouver, no trip to the city can be complete without going whale watching, and the only way to do this is with a guided tour. With so much incredible marine life residing in the glistening waters of British Columbia, guests are likely to see orcas, sea lions, and more, all up close in their natural habitat. Minke, gray whales and humpbacks can also been spotted at various times of the year. Seeing these majestic creatures is an unforgettable experience, and the views on offer of the surrounding islands and waterways are just as spectacular.

Take a Whale Watching Tour

  • Whale watching adventures around Vancouver range from leisurely three-hour cruises in comfortable covered boats to exhilarating rides in inflatable Zodiacs. Departure points include Victoria, Steveston and downtown Vancouver. See trip reviews & prices.

5. Grouse Mountain

Grouse Mountain© dreamstime

Located just outside of Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is a popular year-round outdoor destination, with hiking in the summer and great skiing in the winter. Any season of the year, a tramway whisks visitors to the top of the mountain where they’ll see awe-inspiring views. The resort also boasts a wildlife refuge, complete with bears, wolves and interpretive programs. Equally enjoyable is a lumberjack show where visitors can watch lumberjacks competitively chop, saw and roll logs. And if you get tired of all that, there’s always the view of Vancouver laid out below.

Getting to Grouse Mountain

  • To get to Grouse Mountain from Vancouver by public transport takes no time at all. Simply hop on a SeaBus from Waterfront Station, and in 15 minutes you’ll find yourself at Lonsdale Quay Station. From here, it is only a short ride on bus 236 to Grouse Mountain.
  • Driving is just as quick and affords you the luxury of exploring some of the surrounding sights, such as the awe-inspiring Capilano Suspension Bridge. To get to Grouse Mountain takes just 20 minutes. All you need to do is head out of Vancouver over Lion’s Gate Bridge and follow Capilano Road north, following signs to Grouse Mountain. Once you arrive, you’ll need to park and take the Skyride up to the summit of the mountain.
  • Many people who want to visit Grouse Mountain opt to take a guided tour; this is one of the best ways to explore all the area’s most impressive sights. Not only will you enjoy breathtaking views from the summit of the mountain, but you can walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge and enjoy a canopy walk through the rainforest that blankets the mountainside. See trip reviews & prices.

4. Bowen Island

Bowen Islandflickr/aparticulate

Located just a short ferry or water taxi ride to the northwest of Vancouver, Bowen Island is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, particularly when the weather is warm and sunny. Relaxing at one of the island’s many sandy beaches is the favorite activity here, but the small forested island offers plenty of hiking and mountain biking opportunities as well. A challenging climb up to the top of Mount Garner rewards hikers with gorgeous views. Shops close to the ferry landing in Snug Cove feature art, jewelry and crafts made by local artisans.

Getting to Bowen Island

  • To get to Bowen Island by public transport, you first need to take either the 250 or 257 bus from Downtown Vancouver; this will take you to Horseshoe Bay. The bus takes about 40 minutes, and once you arrive at the ferry terminal, you’ll find that a ferry departs once an hour to Bowen Island. The ferry takes just 20 minutes, and once you arrive at Snug Cove on Bowen Island, you can either explore the rest of the island by express bus or stroll amongst the spectacular scenery. See trip reviews & prices.

3. Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

Some of the most popular excursions from Vancouver are day trips across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island where the Butchart Gardens is a favorite destination. Portland cement magnate Robert Butchart operated a quarry here in the early 1900s, and when the quarry was exhausted, he and his wife Jennie turned the pit into a series of themed gardens. Remnants of the old quarry can still be viewed in the walls of the Sunken Garden. Vancouver’s mild climate means that there are flowers in bloom the year round, and the estate’s fountains, sculptures, totem poles and carousel are enjoyable in every season.

Getting to Butchart Gardens

  • Lying just to the north of Victoria — which is located on Vancouver Island — the beautiful Butchart Gardens are a bit complicated to get to by public transport, but it is doable if you plan your journey in advance. Firstly, you need to take the Canada Line to Bridgeport in neighboring Richmond, where you should then hop on the 620 bus to Tsawwassen ferry terminal. After this, board an hour and a half-long ferry ride to Swartz Bay, where you can then take the 81 bus to Butchart Gardens. All in all, it should take about three and a half to four hours one way.
  • To drive to Butchart Gardens is a bit quicker; it takes just under three hours, and this option again involves a ferry ride. Head south out of the city on the 99 and follow it to Tsawwassen ferry terminal, where you then drive onto the ferry. Once across the Haro Straits, you need to drive from Swartz Bay to Butchart Gardens; this should only take you 25 minutes. Continue south on Highway 17, then follow signs to Brentwood Bay, where you’ll find more signage directing you to the beautiful gardens. As Victoria is not too far away, it is well worth combining the two into one unforgettable day trip.
  • To avoid driving there yourself or taking public transport, you may want to join a guided tour that takes you to both Victoria and Butchart Gardens. With a knowledgeable guide at your side, you’ll see all Victoria’s main sights and explore the gardens’ impressive floral displays, all without having to worry about how to get there and back. See trip reviews & prices.

2. Whistler

Whistlerflickr/couloir

Perched high in the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver is the popular resort town of Whistler, considered one of the world’s finest ski destinations. The resort can be reached by driving or a train ride along Canada’s most scenic route, the Sea-to-Sky Corridor. Around 2 million people visit Whistler each winter, but with more than 200 trails, the skiable terrain is so expansive that it rarely feels crowded. Thanks to the renovations that took place when Whistler hosted events for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the gondolas, lifts and chair systems that service Whistler and its neighboring mountain Blackcomb are world-class. Skiing and snowboarding are enjoyed well into summer in Whistler, and the area is a popular place for highline hiking during the off season as well.

Getting to Whistler

  • From Downtown Vancouver, there are several different bus companies that run services to Whistler, and buses depart quite regularly. Just head to Vancouver City Center and hop on any bus heading to Whistler. The journey time is usually around two hours. On the way, you’ll pass through some lovely scenery, with breathtaking views of Horseshoe Bay on offer.
  • Another option is to drive there yourself, and the directions couldn’t be simpler to follow. All you need to do is head north out of Vancouver and stay on Highway 99, which runs directly to Whistler. The drive takes about an hour and a half and passes through some beautiful scenery, with towering mountains to the right of you and glistening water to the left. As the adventure town of Squamish isn’t too far from Whistler, you could always combine the two into one trip if you have time.
  • To make the most of your time in this gorgeous part of Canada, you may want to take a guided tour that includes stops at Whistler, Squamish, and the stunning Shannon Falls. The spectacular scenery is breathtaking, and guests can opt to zip line, snowmobile, or hike their way through the incredible landscapes. See trip reviews & prices.

1. Victoria

#1 of Day Trips From Vancouver

Located on the southern end of Vancouver Island, the capital city of British Columbia has enough sights and attractions to warrant several day trips from Vancouver. Most of the 4 million people who visit Victoria each year head for the Inner Harbour first. Ferry tours of the rocky-shored harbor offer picturesque views of the waterfront and the Old Town district beyond it. The historic city center boasts several buildings that date to the 1840s, including the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. With more than 7 million objects ranging from First Nation artifacts to items related to the city’s gold rush days, the Royal British Columbia Museum is well worth an extended visit.

Getting to Victoria

  • Although getting to the provincial capital by public transport from Vancouver is quite time consuming, it does involve a lovely ferry ride amidst some stunning scenery, so the journey should pass by in no time at all. Firstly, you want to get to Bridgeport Station, which is located on the outskirts of Vancouver in Richmond. Here, hop on the 620 and take a 45-minute bus journey to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, where you then take an hour and a half ferry ride to Swartz Bay. The hour-long 70 or 72 bus will then take you the final stretch of the journey to Victoria. All in all, the trip takes around four hours one-way, so you really need to plan your route before setting off.
  • Driving is a bit quicker; it takes three hours and 15 minutes, although you will still have to take a ferry part of the way. Head south out of Vancouver on Highway 99 and stay on it until you see signs to Tsawwassen ferry terminal. You then need to load your car onto the ferry, which takes you to Swartz Bay. Once you disembark, continue south on the 17; this will take you all the way to Victoria. During weekends, it is a good idea to book a place for your vehicle on the ferry, as it can get quite busy.
  • If neither of these options suit you, you may be better off taking a guided tour to Victoria. With the transport side of things taken care of, you can sit back and relax, take in the beautiful scenery, and enjoy the marvelous sights once you arrive in Victoria. Free time allows you to explore the city at your leisure, and a visit around the wonderful Butchart Gardens makes for a lovely end to a fabulous day out. See trip reviews & prices.