Category: Outdoor

Widgeon creek paddle and hike

Last weekend we decided to rent a canoe on the Pitt River, just NE of Vancouver. I thought it’d just be for a brief paddle, but little did I know that this is actually one of the best daytrips in the Vancouver area! You rent a canoe from Ayla canoes (rather pricey at $50/day, but it includes life jackets etc.), and paddle across the Pitt River into Widgeon slough and up Widgeon creek, in Pinecone Burke Provincial Park. After about an hour’s leasurely paddle you reach a small campsite. Beach the canoe and walk for about an hour or so to a small waterfall. The creek along the way has gorgeous clear blue water. The falls are great for a picnic. Stroll back, and paddle back to the rental area.

Especially for visitors it’s a great introduction to the area: an easy paddle with stunning mountains as a backdrop, and and easy hike. You could camp at the campsite if you wanted. Highly recommended.

West Coast Trail tops adventures in Canada’s National Parks

The fame of the West Coast Trail as Canada’s greatest trail has been strengthened in a recent “Best of…” article in Explore Magazine. Pacific Rim National Park received a first place in the adventure section of the article, because of the trail. The authors call the trail the “crème de la hiking crème” of Canada’s trails, and refer to it as one of the world’s great adventures. They describe the treachery of the trail when it rains, combined with the 200-rung stairs, the cable cars and suspension bridges as … Perfect. Couldn’t agree more. But when it’s sunny, it is pure bliss!

Best National parks in Canada

Yet another best-of list. This time in Explore, June 2007, an opinionated list of the best national parks in the country. The authors created five categories, adventure, scenery, wildlife, natural science, and history. In each of the categories, they listed the top ten parks. Some parks scored high in many of the categories, so I decided to I rank the results and see which were the top parks in Canada. I gave first place got 10 points, second place 9 points, etc. Maximum number of points would be 50 (first place in all five categories).

And the winners are….

  1. Gwaii Haanas 29 points. Top rankings: First place in history, fourth in adventure and scenery. Also got sixth in natural science.
  2. Quttinirpaaq 27. Top rankings: First in wildlife, sixth in scenery, eighth in natural science, and second in history.
  3. Yoho 21. First in Scenery and natural science, tenth in history.
  4. Banff 18. Got rankings in four of five categories.
  5. Gros Morne 16.
  6. Grasslands 14.
  7. Wood Buffalo 11.
  8. Kluane 10.
  9. Jasper 10.
  10. Pacific Rim 10. First in Adventure (because of the West Coast Trail).
  11. Nahanni 9.
  12. Fundy 9.
  13. Torngat Mountains 8.
  14. Auyuittuq 8.
  15. Point Pelee 8.
  16. Kejimkujik 8.
  17. Prince Albert 7.
  18. Aulavik 6.
  19. Fathom Five 6.
  20. Pukaskwa 6.
  21. Bruce Peninsula 6.
  22. Ivvavik 5.
  23. Prince Edward Island 4.
  24. Wapusk 4.
  25. Mingan archipelago 3.
  26. Kootenay 2.
  27. Cape Breton Highlands 2.
  28. Saguenay 2.
  29. Forillon 2.
  30. Kouchibougac 1.

No park got ranked in all five categories, but the winners are clear: Gwaii Haanas (Queen Charlotte Islands, BC) and Quttinirpaaq (northern Ellismere Island) blow the competition out of the water. Both had rankings in four out of five categories. Others don’t even come close. And no wonder, they are supposedly amazing. So they have promptly moved to the top of my places to go in Canada, even beating out the Torngat mountains. Check out this trip by Black Feather into Quttinirpaaq park – where do I sign up?

Great to see that two newer and lesser-known parks came out on top. I suspect that 95% of Canadians has never heard of either of them.

Banff is still close to the top, but again is beaten by its lesser-known neighbour, Yoho. I agree that Yoho has some stunning scenery, and of course the world-famous Burgess shale. At least all provinces are represented in the list, but four are in each BC and Alberta (Wood Buffalo is in Alberta/NWT, but they mention the Athabasca delta, which is in Alberta) – goes to show these provinces have some stunning scenery!

Torngat Mountains National Park

Canadian Geographic of May/June 2007 has a great arcticle by the first visitors to Torngat Mountains National park in Labrador, Canada’s newest national park. The article includes an online in-depth backgrounder. This is definitely a must-visit park, if one can manage the polar bears, who seem to be as thick as rabbits in the park.

I see Labrador as one of Canada’s hottest new destinations – I’ll have to find a way to get there. There is much more to do there.

Community trails

While most famous hiking trails require multi-day treks, some of the more successful ones are local multi-use community trails. Vancouver’s Stanley Park Seawall and Victoria’s Galloping Goose are great examples of hyper-popular trails. There are some lesser-known gems too:

  • The 10 km Seymour Valley Trailway is amazing. Running up the Seymour valley, it is a wide, paved trail, excellent for young bikers. Tip: got to the end, park your bike and hike through some beautiful stands of old-growth forest.
  • Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail. A true community trail, which is becoming a tourist draw. Even in the rain, lots of visitors walk it. Good views of the ocean, a lighthouse. lots of eagles, and a sealion haul-out are some of the attractions. You can either walk a short 2km loop, ro do the entire 8km trail. The success of this trail should be a great example for other communities.
  • Now the BC government has announced a new 35 km trail in North Vancouver. That should be an amazing draw for the north shore.

The River Frogs

It’s spring, so you’re ready to drag out the canoe, raft, or kayak. But how about donning a wetsuit and taking on the rapids of the Richelieu river in Québec? Bring on the Aquafête, an annual celebration of spring in Montérégie, Québec. At the end of April, 2,500 people don their wetsuits and jump into the river, letting the current drag them 2 km downstream. 25,000 people show up to cheer them on.

Snorkeling with salmon

Watching a spawning salmon is a great Canadian tourism product, but Kynoch West Coast Adventures has turned the concept into a great experience, by offering guests to get up close and snorkel with the salmon. To further enhance the experience, biologists are on hand to answer any questions. Their operation near Bella Coola also offers eco-rafting, wildlife viewing and hiking trips, also accompanied by biologists.


Tofino and Ucluelet make for a great weekend getaway, but there is lots more to do. Why not take a trip to Hot Springs Cove and stay on the Innchanter? This luxury floating B&B with a reputation for amazing food is moored just off the coast at the hotsprings. Or, if you’d rather stay in town, you can always get Atleo River air service to fly you there. They’ll drop you off for breakfast and a dip in the pools, before picking you up again, and flying you back to town. Or take your time, and let them fly you to a nearby remote lake for a sumptuous lunch. They offer an endless selection of aerial adventures.
Or, if you are truly adventurous, why don’t you buy the Innchanter and live the good life all year round?

West Coast Weekend

A cousin of mine from Holland came to spend the weekend with me after a conference in Whistler. I decided to give him a solid West Coast experience. What does it look like for a March weekend?

Leave Friday on the ferry to Nanaimo, and drive to Ucluelet. Eat along the way in a small road-side diner near Coombs for a typcial meal of meat, potatoes and salad. Explain the myriad ways to have your steak done, and go through the umpteen choices of salad dressing.

Check into a B&B in Ucluelet. We chose Radfords, which is excellent, but there are many others. Get treated to a delicious breakfast that includes freshly baked muffins.

Book your grey whale watching trip with Jamie’s Whaling Station. Hike the Wild Pacific trail and spot dozens of eagles while waiting for the departure.

Don a survival suit (another Canadian invention!) and head out in a Zodiac. Spot a dozen feeding grey whales at close range, and many seabirds. Make a detour into the Broken Island group and spot large haul-outs of Steller’s and California sealions.

After a short hike on the beach near Ucluelet, wind down in the local pub with view over the harbour. Explain the concept of Hockey Night in Canada while sipping on Vancouver Island microbrews and eating a real burger (rather than one of the fast-food imitations).

The next day, head towards Tofino, stopping at the Pacific Rim National park visitor centre. Walk the rainforest boardwalk, but also take the time for the bog boardwalk. This short hike is just about as impressive as the better known rainforest trail. Watch the surfers at Long Beach.

Migrating grey whalesIn Tofino, convince your guest that watching grey whales from a boat doesn’t do them justice. To really see them, you need to get up in the air. Head down to Atleo River air service, a true family company where the husband flies their Cessna 185 float plane, and his wife tends the tiny office and their young baby. Sign up for a half-hour whale watching flight, and see how large grey whales really are when you see them from 200m up. Watch a large group migrate north. On the way home, fly past a large sealion haul-out. Be amazed at the highlight of the trip: a “raft” of about 50 sea otters looking up at you, floating in a kelp bed.

Drive back to the ferry through the surprisingly high mountain range west of Port Alberni; be lucky and secure the very last spot on the boat. Watch Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoises along the way.

View over Howe SoundThe following day, show that Vancouver is truly a multi-season destination by heading up to Cypress for a morning snowshoe trip on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Enjoy the spectacular views over Howe Sound, and follow yesterday’s route. Point out that it it weren’t for his flight home, we should have gone kayaking in the afternoon.

Return to the city for a pilgrimage to Vancouver’s outdoor icon: the Mountain Equipment Coop. Load up on great outdoor clothing at a fraction of European prices. Arcteryx is one of Europe’s hottest brands, so impress your guest with a stop at their factory store (few people know that it is a Vancouver brand).

Finish the weekend with a quick trip to Burnaby Lake for a glimpse of Canada’s national animal, the beaver.

The result? A very happy cousin who will be back soon with his wife for a much longer trip (and will hopefully convince his friends to do the same).

Tip: if you go to Tofino for spring whale watching, head toUcluelet instead. There the whales feed in nearby sheltered bays, while in Tofino they merely pass by. Moreover, in Tofino you have to go out into the open sea, which can be very rough at this time of year. In Ucluelet, you stay in calmer waters. Besides, Ucluelet is smaller and more authentic.

Canada’s best outdoor towns

No month without a list! The list of the month is Canada’s best towns to live in if you’re into the outdoors, published in Explore, March 2007. The winners:

Rossland, BC
Gold River, BC
Jasper, AB
Dauphin, MB
Parry Sound, ON
Whitehorse, YT
Baie-Saint-Paul, PQ
Sussex, NB
Cornerbrook, NL
Lunenburg, NS

In my opinion, missing are: Canmore AB, Squamish BC, and Tofino/Ucluelet BC. These are all famous for their outdoor activities. But, they’ve been around for a while, so it is nice to see some other towns pop up, especially down east.