Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC

I feel like I haven’t been in BC long enough to be advising anyone on hiking, but it’s become a favourite pastime of mine and since I moved here I’ve done 42 hikes (I counted!), so I’m going to share some of my favourites. (all photos taken my me!)



#10 Garibaldi Lake – I’m starting with Garibaldi Lake because it is easily one of the most popular day hikes and it was my first major hike (15+ km). I was totally blown away by the view at Garibaldi Lake, which both deepened my love of the outdoors and inspired me to take up backcountry camping this summer. The downside to this hike is that the trail to the lake is a bit of a slog. It starts with 6km of switchbacks, but the view at the end is phenomenal! (18km, 800m gain, 7 hours)



#9 Joffre Lakes – Another super popular hike – the best part about Joffre Lakes for me is that, unlike Garibaldi Lake, the entire hike is incredibly gorgeous! The scenery is so amazing throughout the entire hike, it’s almost overwhelming. What’s definitely overwhelming though is the crowds. Everyone knows this a relatively easy hike for the payoff and it’s been heavily marketed to tourists. I think it’s great to see so many people out enjoying the beautiful landscapes, but it does take away from the backcountry feel. I’d recommend doing on a weekday if possible. (11km, 350m gain, 5 hours)



#8 Hollyburn Mountain – I’ve only gone snowshoeing on Hollyburn Mountain, but it was so much fun! It’s a pretty steep walk up to the top, but it’s not a long distance. The steep ascent is worth it though because then you can participate in the fun tradition of sliding back down the whole thing on your bum, So make sure to bring a garbage bag with you! The view from the top looking out into the watershed is beautiful! (10km, 400m gain, 4 hours)



#7 Wedgemount Lake – Located just past Whistler, this is tough, steep hike. I did this as an overnighter and was totally pooped by the time we made it to the lake. There’s a breathtaking view of the valley as you make your way up to Wedgemount and a beautiful view of the lake from the top. It’s a scramble up to the top though, so expect to spend the better part of an hour climbing up loose rock. The highlight of Wedgemount for me though is the glacier, which is another 20-30 minute walk from the lake. (14km, 1200m gain, 7 hours)



#6 Elfin Lakes – The second most popular hike after Garibaldi Lake, which I just completed this past weekend. It’s a long trail at 22km, but it’s one of the easier hikes on the list. The trail is extremely well maintained and fairly easy along the entire length. It was pretty foggy on the day I visited, so I didn’t get the best view of the surrounding mountains, but there’s a beautiful walk along the ridge on the way there and a hut you can stay in overnight, which is super popular during the winter. (22km, 600m gain, 6 hours)



#5 Tenquille Lake – This is a tough one to get to without 4WD, which significantly shortens the hike along the service road, but has a beautiful view during the last few kilometers of the hike. This was my first foray into backcountry hiking and we camped overnight at the lake, which I would highly recommend! The views around the lake are incredible and I’d love to go back and explore more around the area. I was too early for most of the alpine flowers, but still got to see a few in the meadow! (14km, 6 hours)



#4 Semaphore Lakes – A short drive from Tenquille Lake, but the trailhead is much more easily accessible. It’s a short hike (which is nice if you’re trying backcountry for the first time), but it’s pretty steep, so don’t be deceived by the 3km length. The view at the top is amazing though and this is one place where it’s easy to escape the crowds (maybe I shouldn’t be boasting about it?). There’s several lakes to explore and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful snow-capped peaks and glaciers! (5km, 300m gain, 3 hours)



#3 Three Brothers Mountain– This hike is located in Manning Park and is part of the Heather Trail. We hiked the first 10 kilometres of the trail to climb up Three Brothers Mountain. What I loved about this hike is that it’s scenic the entire way, made even more amazing during late July/early August, when the meadows are covered in thousands of wildflowers. You do most of the elevation gain on the way up to the trailhead, so it’s not a difficult hike, just long. My favourite part was hiking along the ridge of Three Brothers Mountain with a 360 degree view all around! (21km, 500m gain, 6 hours)



#2 Brandywine Meadows/Mountain – Another hike that is made much easier with a 4WD, this was one of my favourites due to the incredibly low volume of people. I think we saw about 5 people the entire day, which is in stark contrast to most of the trails. The hike to the meadows is very short if you take 4WD the whole way up, so we decided to extend our hike up Brandywine Mountain where I stood on my first glacier! The view of the valley from the top is breathtaking. (12km, 1200m gain, 5 hours)



#1 Panorama Ridge – Definitely tops my list as one of the all-around best hikes. If you’re super intense, you can do Panorama as a 30km round-trip day hike, but we opted instead to camp at Garibaldi Lake overnight. Like I said, the hike to Garibaldi Lake is kind of boring until you reach the lake, but Panorama Ridge is scenic the whole way. You spend the first half of the hike looking out at the ridge, then you have an excellent view of Black Tusk until you reach the top where you are rewarded with the most amazing view of Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding mountains. (15km, 600m gain, 6 hours)

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Back to the Mountains

I’d intended for this to be my last blog post on the trip, but it turns out I had a lot to say on the Panama Canal, so I’ve split it into two blog posts, one for each of our last two stops: Boquete and Panama City.

After we left Bocas the weather improved and we didn’t see much rain for the rest of the trip. We took a shuttle bus from Bocas to Boquete, which is located in the mountains about midway between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, but still near the Costa Rican border.


I really liked Boquete and wished we had more time to spend there. The drive through the mountains is incredible; Boquete is located in a valley with the Rio Caldera flowing through the city and is surrounded by rolling green mountains. We didn’t have too much planned for Boquete, but we found a company that set us up on a tour for our first day there.

Boquete is a great area for wildlife lovers and hikers. It’s also known as one of the best locations to see the Resplendent Quetzal – a rare and beautiful bird. We went hiking along the Pipeline Trail on our first morning, which is named for the natural spring water that is piped down along the trail to the city. Our guide was a Panamanian named John who turned out to be one of the best guides to go with if you want to see quetzals. He’s actually writing a book on them and is excellent and seeing and hearing them. He can even do the quetzal call and near the end of the hike, a quetzal actually responded to his imitation of their call!


We started off at a pretty slow pace, observing and identifying the many birds that hang out in the valley. Eventually we picked up the pace to get higher up in the mountains in hopes of spotting the quetzal. In the end it didn’t take too long and John spotted two male quetzals for us! They were quite close and I got some great pictures of them on my camera and on my phone through John’s scope. Even Emily, who maintains she has no interest in birds, was impressed with the quetzal.

In the afternoon we visited the Cangilones de Gualaca, also known as the “mini-canyon”, which is a popular swimming spot among the locals. The canyon was formed where the river cuts through the rock in the dry season. In the wet season the water level can rise so high that the canyon becomes completely covered, so we were there at the perfect time. There’s a little waterfall at the start of the canyon and it’s very deep, so you can jump into the water pretty much anywhere throughout the canyon.


The bigger challenge is getting back out of the canyon. Some of the locals are great rock climbers, but even though we tried several times, Emily and I had no luck climbing out of the canyon. As Emily said, it’s too much work for vacation anyways, so we were forced to swim the entire length of the canyon anytime we wanted to get out. There were a few locals around since it was a Saturday, but we were the only tourists and had a great time relaxing in the canyon. A few of the local kids took an interest in us and Emily’s go-pro, but they were very disappointed it didn’t have a screen and they couldn’t see their photos.

On our second day in Boquete we struck out on our own. We decided to do a short hike to the lost waterfalls, which goes up the river to three separate waterfalls. The trail is not well maintained beyond the first two waterfalls, but we decided to do it anyways and were in quite a state when we finished. It climbs up and down pretty steeply and Emily got totally covered in mud. The waterfalls were very beautiful though and I personally loved the mountain vistas.


Our visit to Boquete reminded me that as pretty as beaches are, I really love the mountains. I guess that’s the Vancouverite in me coming out. Boquete had the most beautiful rolling green hills and I wish we had a car so that we could explore the area further. We also enjoyed that it was cooler up in the mountains and we even cooled down enough to hop in the Jacuzzi at our hotel in the evening, which is a great way to relax after hiking!


From Boquete we took a bus to David, one of Panama’s larger cities, where we caught our only domestic flight to Panama City. It’s only a short flight, but it was quite the experience! From the airport we could see rain and lightning off in the distance. It reached us just after we boarded the plane and we had a huge lightning show as we sat on the tarmac waiting to take off.

It was one of the scarier flights I’ve taken and the seatbelt sign remained on for the entire flight. We were in the clouds for most of the flight with flash lightning going off around us every 5-10 seconds. There was a lot of turbulence and the cabin was constantly flashing purple from the lightning outside our window. Occasionally we would climb above the clouds and see them illuminated by the lightning – it was an intense flight and we were certainly happy when we arrived!

Stay tuned for my last post on Panama City and one of our favourite attractions, the Panama Canal.


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Beach Life

I think I can say with full certainty that crossing the border into Panama was one of the most confusing border crossings I’ve ever experienced (except perhaps when I almost went to Nigeria by mistake on my way to Malawi). Between leaving Costa Rica and entering Panama we had to go through 4 checkpoints, pay 2 entry/exit fees, and walk across a rickety bridge connecting the two countries.


From there we got a bus to Almirante and then a boat to Bocas del Toro, where we spent 4 days. The weather was not good to us and about halfway through our boat ride the heavens opened up and we had the most trecherous crossing through the rain. I’ve never been so relieved to have both feet back on solid ground.

Bocas del Toro is an Caribbean archipelago on the far west side of Panama. Its a popular tourist destination for its beautiful golden sand beaches. Bocas was the longest period of time that we remained stationary and we were anxious to do a bit of relaxing after our quick paced tour of Costa Rica.

On our first day we had no plans but to head to the beach. We were staying in Bocas Town on Isla Colon and took a bus early in the morning across the island to go to Starfish Beach. It’s one of the most popular beaches on Isla Colon, but we weren’t sure we were at the right place when we arrived because we were the first people on the beach for the day! We were anticipating rain, so we hadn’t planned to stay the whole day, but the hours kept stretching on and with no sign of rain, we ended up staying all day.


Starfish Beach is named for its calm waters that attract many starfish to the shallows. We went snorkeling and spotted quite a few hanging around. We ate a traditional Panamanian lunch of rice, patacones (fried plantains), and fish on the beach. The fish was red snapper and Emily wasn’t too impressed to have it served to her whole.


We had misgivings about 4 days in Bocas when we saw a full week of thundershowers on the weather forecast, but overall the weather was decent. The sun didn’t come out much, but the rain mostly stayed away. It was so hot that a reprieve from the sun was even kind of nice. The exception was our second day, when we booked a snorkeling tour around the islands.

The tour started off in Dolphin Bay, where the wild dolphins gave us quite the show chasing our boat around the bay. This was followed with snorkeling at Coral Cay, one of the best snorkeling locations in Bocas. We didn’t see much for fish, but there was a lot of coral and it was all very bright and interesting to look at.


The main stop of the tour was to Cayo Zapatillas, which is two small islands that are located out from Bocas and are a protected national park. Most of the pictures I’ve seen of Zapatillas are incredibly beautiful, but they were also all taken on sunny, calm days, so it looked a bit different when we were there. Because it’s wet season and the islands are located in open ocean, the waves were very large and the currents were very strong.

There is a huge amount of natural reef off the islands though, so it was here that we tried snorkel boarding (aka amphibia boarding) for the first time. Its a clear plastic board that is dragged along behind the boat. You hold on and can steer it through the water behind the boat as you look at the reef. We were expecting it to be a goggle disaster (and it was at some points), but it was also a lot of fun and a different take on snorkeling.


Shortly after it poured on us again and we had to take refuge in a little gazebo on the island. Fortunately the rain doesn’t usually stick around too long and it didn’t impede our snorkeling, just our departure since the ocean was pretty rough. It always surprises me how quickly the rain can start, how intense it is, and how quickly the sun comes out again after! We learned to ignore the forecast, which like Newfoundland, means absolutely nothing.

On our last day in Bocas we decided to visit Red Frog Beach and go ziplining. Red Frog Beach is named after the tiny little strawberry poison dart frogs that can be found all over the island. We had a nice morning chilling on the beach before going ziplining.


I’ve gone ziplining a few times, but this course was quite different than other ones I’ve done and had a series of obstacles between each of the ziplines. It included a vertical rappel, two suspension bridges, a Tarzan rope, and the scariest, a tight rope. It was extremely long and high, with only a single rope to hold on to above our heads, I don’t think either of us looked down once!


Sadly our trip is almost over now, but we have two more stops in Boquete and Panama City. See you soon!


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