Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC: Part II

About 2 years ago I compiled a list of my Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC. At the time I’d hiked about 40 trails and narrowed it down to my top 10 favourite trails. Some of those trails would definitely still be in my top 10 hikes, but since then, I’ve surpassed 100 trails and decided it was time to compile a new list! I haven’t included any of the hikes from the first list, so check out that post if you want to see my original list, but this list features even more awesome trails! All photos taken by yours truly.

#10 Lightning Lakes – I’m a little bit obsessed with EC Manning Provincial Park (as you’ll soon see from this post) and what I love about Lightning Lakes is that it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. The entire Lightning Lakes Chain Trail is actually 24km long and travels through the valley past 4 different lakes, but I’ve actually only done shorter loop around the first two lakes (but I’d love to do the whole trail someday). But I love this trail because it is pretty flat, so it makes for a great beginner trail and because there’s multiple lakes, you can customize it to whatever length you want. It has the most gorgeous views of the blue lakes and the surrounding mountains, as well as it’s a great place to swim and hang out in the summer. Me and my friends go every year to chill and BBQ at the first lake. (24km, no elevation gain, you decide the time and length!)

#9 Dam Mountain and Thunderbird Ridge – Located at the top of Grouse Mountain, I’ve never explored these trails in the summer, but I had a blast when I snowshoed them in the winter. It’s annoying to have to pay the gondola fee to get up Grouse Mountain, but on a clear day with a fresh snowfall, this hike has the most gorgeous views looking out into the Metro Vancouver watershed. It’s an easy enough trail – a lot of people just snowshoe up to Dam Mountain and then turn around, but I’d recommend going the extra 2km along Thunderbird Ridge. I also have to say that I ran into some equipment issues (personal equipment) and the Grouse Mountain staff were so helpful in resolving them! (7km, 250m elevation gain, 3 hours)

#8 Ring Lake – Ring Lake would probably rank even higher on this list had it not been right in the middle of wildfire season when I went there. But even with the insane amount of smoke in the area, I still loved this hike and am now dying to go back at a clearer time of year. Ring Lake is located in the Callaghan Valley and is a very low traffic trail. The gravel road to get to the trailhead is a little dicey (I’d recommend high clearance) and it is in grizzly country, but it’s a great area to explore if you want to escape the crowds. It is a steep trail up to the top because most of the elevation gain is in the second half of the trail, but the views at Ring lake are fantastic. The only issue right now is that one of the bridges is out right before the lake and you can’t cross it in high flows, so I would definitely recommend visiting in August or September. Even if you don’t make it to the top though, it’s worth visiting for the berries and alpine meadows located just past Conflict Lake. (20km, 500m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#7 Flatiron/Needle Peak – Flatiron and Needle Peak share most of the same trail, but split towards the end with Flatiron one way and Needle Peak the other. I think you could easily do them both in a day, but there was snow when I went a few weeks ago (early October). so we decided to skip steep Needle Peak. But this hike still blew me away! It does have significant elevation gain, but I liked it a lot because after an initial push through the forest (45-60 mins), the rest of the hike is along the ridge looking up at Needle Peak. Flatiron continues on to a lake that would probably be great for swimming in the summer and boasts great views looking down on the Coquihalla. Breathtaking on a clear day, but bring a sweater, it’s cold up there! (11km, 800m elevation gain, 6 hours)

#6 Frosty Mountain – The second hike from Manning Park on my list, I did a multi-day trip along the PCT and up Frosty Mountain (but you can do this one in a day). It’s definitely a steep hike, but the views are just amazing! my favourite part is the section running from what I call the “fake summit” to the actual summit, which goes right along the ridge up the peak with 360 degree views. I’ve heard awesome things about this trail in the Fall as well because the larch trees all turn bright yellow and make for some really vibrant pictures! (22km, 1150m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#5 Mount Price – A theme with my favourite hikes is that they tend to be some of the less crowded hikes. I did a 3 night trip through Garibaldi Park back in 2016 and hiked both Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. My friend hadn’t been and asked me to join her for another 3 nighter, so I decided to switch things up and try out some new hikes while we were up there. While she was climbing Black Tusk (not a favourite of mine), I decided to hike the much less popular Mount Price. What a great decision because this hike is unreal! It’s basically Panorama Ridge, but on the other side of the lake and with hardly any people. It’s not a popular trail, so it’s not well maintained and does include a very dubious and steep hike up the side of Clanker Peak and then Mount Price, but the views from Mount Price are totally unreal! It has a very large summit, so I explored up there for over an hour without getting the least bit bored. It has great views across Garibaldi Lake of Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge, but it also has views looking back at the glacier and Mount Garibaldi. It was a tough hike, but ranks high on my list. (11km roundtrip from Garibaldi Lake, 600m elevation gain, 7 hours)

#4 Heather Trail – This one is a bit of a repeat from my last list since I included the Three Brothers Mountain in Manning Park, which is the first 11km of the Heather Trail. But I loved the Three Brothers hike so much that I had to go back and do the entire Heather Trail, and I definitely don’t regret it. If you love 360 degree views, the Heather Trail has it, but I personally love it for the alpine meadows. I’ve discovered I have a bit of thing for the alpine meadows (especially when wildflowers are in season) and I love hiking through meadow after meadow, there’s just so much open space and they make me feel like I’m living in the Sound of Music. I also really liked Nicomen Lake on this hike, but it was extremely buggy. The Heather Trail can be done as a through hike or return, we did it as a through hike by combining it with Hope Pass Trail from Nicomen Lake (38km through hike, 1000m elevation gain, 2 day hike)

#3 Cheam Peak – This one makes the list as well because of my recent obsession with meadows. It’s located in the Chilliwack Valley and you definitely need 4WD to get to the trailhead. But despite that, it was still a pretty busy trail because it boasts a great view looking out over the Fraser Valley. However, on the day we did it it was super foggy, so we didn’t actually see this view at all. But it really didn’t bother me and it still tops my list because the views looking back at the valley and the alpine meadows were breath-taking. In my opinion the fog made for some super interesting pictures and we had the most wonderful post hike swim in Spoon Lake, so the fog didn’t deter me at all. I felt like I was in middle earth for this hike, so I was content the whole time and would love to go back! (10km, 650m elevation gain, 5 hours)

#2 Juan de Fuca Trail – Okay, I know the Juan de Fuca is a bit of a stretch for this list, but it is still technically “Southwest BC”, it just involves a bit of travel time to get to the island if you live in the lower mainland. But it was seriously one of the highlights of my hiking experience over the past 5 years and I can’t not include it on this list. The Juan de Fuca is a 50km trail along the south-western coast of Vancouver Island and is known as the “West Coast Trail Lite”. I’ve devoted three whole blog posts to my experience on this trail and it was really unlike any other hike I’ve done before. The ocean speaks to that part of my soul that grew up in Newfoundland and this was my first multi-day through hike, so it felt like more of a journey than any other hike I’ve done before. I’d highly recommend this trail, I’d just say not to underestimate it. It is a very strenuous hike and it definitely kicked my ass, but it was the most rewarding hike I’ve ever done. (50km, 4-5 days)

#1 Skyline Trail/Hozameen Ridge – I had to end this list with one more trail from Manning Park. I really do love this park and I spent a lot of time exploring it over the last 2 years, and the Skyline Trail was definitely the highlight. With the exception of the first 5km, the entire hike runs along the “skyline”. You basically hike along the ridge from mountain to mountain with the most amazing views of the alpine meadows, wildflowers, and mountain range. You can do this trip in a single day if you’re ambitious, either as a through hike or return trip (25km), but we did it as a two night trip, base camping at Mowich Camp. On our second day, we day hiked along Hozameen Ridge to the border monument and the most incredible view looking out at the enormous Hozameen Mountain. I loved every second of this 3 day trip and would recommend to everyone. The first 5km are a pretty consistent incline, but after that, it’s not a difficult trail. (40km, 500m elevation gain, multi-day trip)

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Hue and Hoi An

We’ve officially left northern Vietnam and had about 5 days to explore central Vietnam. We started in Hue, which is known as the imperial city and is cool in that a large part of the city is located within large stone walls surrounded by water.

We upped our hotel game a little bit in central Vietnam and stayed in hotels with pools, which was an awesome relief from the heat. Our first day in Hue was pretty chill and we had some pool time and explored along the river. I started to get my stomach back in Hue and while I was still too beef adverse to try their most popular dish, Bun Bo Hue, I did try Banh Khoai, which is the Hue version of Banh Xeo. Banh Xeo is a crispy pancake filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. It’s slightly different in every city and I’m on a mission to try them all. Its a tie between Hanoi and Hoi An for my favourite, the one is Hoi An is served with a delicious peanut sauce. I also tried Nem Lui in Hue, which is basically a pork skewer that is also served with a peanut sauce.

On our second day in Hue we did a cruise of the Perfume River in a dragon boat. It wasnt my favourite because it was just so hot and the engine on the boat is really loud, but it took us to see Minh Mang tomb, a temple, and Thien Mu Pagoda, which are all located along the river and are pretty neat. There’s a ton of tombs located in Hue for past kings and emperors of the imperial city, but we just visited one. Its enormous though and was heralded as an excellent piece of architecture for its time (1800’s).

We also made a visit to the Imperial Citadel. The Imperial City is essentially everything north of the river in Hue, and the citadel is located in the center of the city behind another moat and set of stone walls. It is impressive in its scope and there was a lot to look at and explore, but we were about ready to pass out from heat exhaustion at this point, so we cut our visit a little short and made a beeline back to the pool. We had good timing though because we were in Hue over the weekend and similar to Hanoi, they close down a bunch of the streets to just pedestrians in the evening, so it was lovely to explore after dark.

We left Hue at the crack of dawn to travel to Bach Ma National Park for what would become the highlight of Seth’s trip. As I’m sure most people know, Seth loves birds and is just completing his masters in ecology, so we hired a local ornithologist to take us on a private bird watching tour of Bach Ma, which is supposed to be one of the best places in Vietnam to see birds. It did not disappoint!

I won’t get into the specifics, but we did some heavy birding in the morning and Seth was thrilled to see more than 30 different bird species. It was a great tour for both of us though because the park is very mountainous and gorgeous and I loved admiring the landscapes as much as Seth loved looking for birds. We started with a hike up to the summit of the mountain, which had an amazing view looking down over the coast, and did a hike along the river and several waterfalls in the afternoon.

This one was called the 5 lakes trail and was actually a much more technical trail than I was expecting, but I got to swim in the river under a waterfall, which is pretty much my favourite thing to do! We finished by hiking to Rhodedendron Waterfall, which is a 300 metre high fall crashing down over the mountains. It was neat because we hiked to the top of the waterfall, so while we didnt actually see the waterfall, we had a cool view of the river cascading over the cliff.

It wasnt all fun and games though! Seth and I discovered a new species that we had no idea existed, the land leech. We were so naive to only think there are water leeches, but we quickly learned about land leeches which were constantly trying to climb up our shoes whenever we went through the bush. They are quite gross and I was constantly checking my boots for them and kicking them off before they could make it to my legs. Seth wasnt so lucky though, he had short socks on so they kept sneaking down into his boots and he had to pull 2 or 3 off him over the day. They dont hurt, but they’re nasty little buggers and one left him with a big bruise.

Hoi An stole our heart on the trip though. We’d heard really good things about the ancient town and we were looking forward to having some time to chill. We had our nicest hotel booked in Hoi An and we’d originally planned to do a day trip to some ancient ruins, but we liked the town so much we decided to just hang around the city instead. On our first day we borrowed bikes from our hotel and biked about 5km out to go to the beach. It was another hot, cloudless day, so we enjoyed booking beach chairs, having our food and drinks delivered to us, and hopping in and out of the water. We were very content.

I got the biggest surprise though when we got back to the hotel room because they completely decked our room out with flowers and rose petals. There had been a few flowers the day before, and I was laughing about how extra the hotel was being, when I turned around and found Seth getting down on one knee and pulling a ring box out of his pocket! He totally surprised me but I couldnt have been happier to say yes when he proposed to me with my Mom’s engagement ring (they are both very sneaky!) So Hoi An became our favourite place for very sentamental reasons!

It is a very romantic city though. Every day starting at 3 they close down all the roads to traffic in the ancient town and after dark the entire city is lit by hundreds of paper lanterns! There are boat rides running up and down the river, so we took one to celebrate and see all the lights. It capped off a perfect day.

It wasnt the end of the excitement though. We had a pre-booked street food tour of Hoi An to fit in as well! Fortunately we had both gotten our stomachs back and we were able to eat all the delicious treats on the tour. We started with a proper Banh Mi, which was much better than the one I had in Hanoi and I tried the Hoi An version of the Banh Xeo pancake. There’s a lot of chinese cultural influence in Hoi An as well, so we tried the traditional white rose dumplings and wonton “pizza”. The main course was the most delicious chicken fried rice, and we capped it off with some coconut crackers that are local to Hoi An. We didnt have it on the food tour, but I did try one more local dish, Cau Lau, which was a tasty pork noodle soup.

Sadly our trip is almost over now, but I have one more post about Cat Tien Park and Ho Chi Minh City, so stay tuned!

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Phong Nha

Its been a while since my last update, but things have definitely not been uneventful! I wrote my last post just before boarding the night train from Sapa back to Hanoi and I was feeling on top of the world. But all the eating finally caught up with me and it was a long, rough overnight on the train.

I love trying new foods when I travel and Seth and I were definitely a little more adventurous than normal, thinking the last 4 years in Vancouver had toughened our digestive systems, but it caught up with us in our second week. We’re no strangers to travellers diarrhea, which is to be expected when you’re in a new place with different foods than you’re used to, but i definitely got full fledged food poisoning on the train to Hanoi. We’ve talked to a bunch of people since and everyone has one story about the time they got really sick (for Seth it was Peru, for me Malawi), but now it’s Vietnam for me.

I’ll leave out the gory details, but we were supposed to continue on from Hanoi direct to Ha Long Bay, which I was anticipating to be the highlight of the trip. But it quickly became evident that a 4 hour bus ride would not be feasible, so we unfortunately had to cancel our boat cruise of the bay and checked into a hotel in Hanoi instead. It was a hard choice to make, but it was definitely the right decision because I later collapsed in the hotel from what we think was dehydration and low blood sugar and Seth had to take me to the hospital. It was quite scary, but the staff at the hospital were fantastic and they took good care of me and pumped me full of fluids so that I could make a quick recovery and get back on the trip. I did recover relatively fast and we were able to catch our train to Phong Nha on time to get back on track with our itinerary. We just cut out the adventurous eating for a little while after that and there was a lot of yogurt, fruit, and steamed rice.

Phong Nha Ke-Bang is a national park located just outside Dong Ha. It’s a mountainous region known for its extensive network of caves (more than 300) and its karst topography. It’s also extremely gorgeous and had a totally different vibe than the other places we’d visited. Phong Nha is home to the largest cave in the world, Son Doong, and many other caves that make it a popular haunt for spleunkers. But there are 4 easily accessible caves that are frequented by tourists and we visited them all.

We started with its namesake cave, Phong Nha, and the nearby Tien Son Cave. We werent sure what to expect, but we were both really impressived with both caves. Phong Nha is accessible by boat, so we took a cruise on the river that eventually brought us through the cave. There are tons of stalactites and stalagmites throughout the cave, in addition to many birds and bats. Tien Son Cave is located in the same mountain, but at the top instead of the bottom where the river runs through, so we had to climb up about 500 steps to get to Tien Son.

I loved the views of the river and the park on our way up, but boy was it hot. Up until Phong Nha the weather had been a mix of clouds and rain, but that ended when we left Hanoi and it was cloudless, hot, humid days. It was normally around 35 degrees and several days went up to 40 with the humidity. It was rough on us Newfoundlanders, especially since I was still recovering from food poisoning. We both struggled with the heat in week 2, but it was still worth the climb to the top and Tien Son Cave was also gorgeous and it was much cooler in the cave, so that was a relief.

We had to start changing up our routine with the changing weather though. We started taking little siestas in the afternoon in our air conditioned hotel room to get some of our energy back. I’ve been to some hot places, but I can’t recall anywhere where the heat drained my energy so much as it did in Vietnam (I’m sure the sickness didnt help though).

On our second day in Phong Nha we did a full day tour of Paradise Cave and Dark Cave. Paradise Cave is known as one of the jewels of the park. It was only discovered in 2005 by a hunter and then opened to the public in 2011. It’s a 31.4km long cave that boasts some of the most incredible formations. We only visited the first kilometre, but it was breaktaking. In the first kilometre the cave is 30 metres wide on average and up to 80 metres high!

Dark Cave is the more adventurous of the 2 caves. You start with a zipline over the river to get to entrance of the cave and then explore the cave using only headlamps (all the other caves were lit). You walk into the mouth of the cave and then take a narrow side tunnel further into the cave. I dont really like being underground, so I wasnt sure I would like it, but it actually wasnt scary at all and the headlamps illuminate a lot. At the end of the tunnel is a huge mud bath, so we all had a laugh covering ourselves in mud. Then at the end of the tour you do a short kayak back to what the staff refers to as “water sports” but is a series of obstacles and attractions located over the river. Over all it was a great day and cooler since we spent most of it underground and in the water.

Sapa was still the highlight of the trip for me at this point, but Phong Nha was a new highlight for Seth, who had never been caving before, and he really enjoyed it.

Our next stop was Hue, but we decided to do a little stopover to the DMZ along the way. The DMZ is the ‘demilitarized zone’ of Vietnam where the border between the north and the south was created. It’s roughly along the 17th parallel and the border followed the river in that area, so friends and family on either side of the river were cut off from one another and the region was very heavily bombed. We visited the Vinh Moc tunnels and the border museum, walking across the bridge connecting the north to the south.

I knew tunnels were heavily used by Vietnam forces during the war, but I didnt realize that they were also used by communities in the DMZ who were literally forced to move underground to escape the bombing in the area. The Vinh Moc tunnels are a network of tunnels and 94 underground rooms that became home to 600 people! There were 3 levels of tunnels, ranging from 11 to 23 metres in depth. It was pretty unreal, the scope of the tunnels was impressive, especially considering the villagers had no experience in designing or building tunnels, and it’s hard to believe so many people lived in so small a place. The museum was also sobering and had some really interesting photos and artifacts.

We’re on our way to Ho Chi Minh City now, but more on Hue and Hoi An in my next post!

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