The Bucket List of Overnight Hikes near Vancouver

Written by: Nicole van Zanten

Overnight hiking is something I truly believe everyone should do once in their lives. Setting your own tent, cooking your own food in the woods and waking up in beautiful, crisp fresh air is simply wonderful. There is, of course, safety considerations to be aware of, and registration systems that should be researched individually, by trail or system, ahead of time. Be aware!

I’ve done my fair share of overnight hiking around the Metro Vancouver area and have put together my recommended list of overnight hikes that you might add to your bucket list of hikes in our very own backyard. Whether you’re a beginner to overnight hikes in the area, or an expert who is ready for their next challenge, you’ll find a hike for you on this list.

Here are my favourite hikes with one or two nights of camping:

1. Garibaldi Like

Vancouver to Garibaldi Lake is about a 1.5-2 hour drive, and is one of the most scenic destinations in British Columbia. Garibaldi Lake is a turquoise-coloured lake that is nestled between alpine mountains, and make for a simply amazing area to wake up in. It is a challenging climb to get to the lake itself, with an elevation gain of 820 meters, though it is one of the most beautiful lakes you will ever see.

The beauty of this trail is that it can be completed as an out-and-back in one day, or it can be an overnight hike, depending on your plans.

Reservations are required for all overnight stays, which must be made in advance of arrival.

2. Russet Lake

Russet Lake is a beautiful alpine lake in the backcountry of the Garibaldi Provincial Park. It can be completed in one day without a pack, though taking time to enjoy the scenery is certainly advised, with a full pack. Starting at Whistler Village Gondola then up the Peak 2 Peak Gondola to the summit, you can expect to be on your feet for 25 km with 1870 feet of elevation gain.

There are beautiful vistas that can be seen along the way, so be sure to stop and enjoy the view. Be sure to make your overnight reservation through BC Parks.

3. Joffre Lakes

Joffre Lakes is another beautiful trail that can be done in one day, or done as an overnight stay. It’s a 10 km round trip hike that allows for tenting at the beautiful turquoise upper lake (one look at the lake and you’ll want to stay overnight!) .

There are about 26 sites to camp on within the constraints of the terrain, so it is advised to get to the lake early in the day.

4. Elfin / Opal Cone

Garibaldi Provincial Park is home to so many impressive trails, you would very likely spent months exploring them all. The hike to Opal Cone is one that will take quite some time, however, as it’s quite a long day hike. At 35 km round trip (if starting at the beginning of the trail head), it’s important to start early on this trail.

With that said, depending on where you want to stop for the evening, there are a number of camping options around the Elfin Lakes / Opal Cone area. Elfin Lakes, which is located 11 km from the lot, has an overnight shelter for 33 people. 12 km away is the Elfin Lakes Campground, which has 35 tent platforms. There is also a campground called Rampart Ponds, which is 10 km north of the Effin Lakes shelter (making for the longest hike!) which offers 12 tent platforms.

5. Heather Trail

The Heather Trail in Manning Park is a beautiful multi-day trip that completes a 42 km route, round-trip, with stops along the way. It is a truly beautiful hike that offers rolling hills, beautiful views and meadows to wander through. As a two-day hike, you can divide this trail into a 15 km trip to the base of Brothers and then a second day to Nicomen Lake 11 km further. Or, you can head to Nicomen Lake on day 1, camp overnight and return on day 2 for the adventurous.

My favourite hikes two or more nights of camping:

1. West Coast Trail

Yes, this one requires a bit more of a trip than the others on the list, but it should be on your bucket list as a resident of Vancouver.

The West Coast Trail is one of the most iconic hikes in British Columbia. It’s a 75 km trail that attracts hikers from all around the world. Ladders, bogs and tidal crossings are all part of this 75 km, which are meant to bog hikers down, and certainly did so with me. The average time needed for this trail is 5-7 days, and note that there are plenty of areas and opportunities to stop for an overnight camp. There are even dedicated cabins and a motel at the halfway mark if you so choose.

It’s important to note that you must reserve ahead of time, as spots available on the trail throughout hiking season do fill up. The trail is open from May to October.

2. Juan de Fuca Trail

The Juan de Fuca trail is an amazing backpacking trip that is 47 km long, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Similar to the West Coast Trail in the sense that the trail is difficult and technical in nature, the Juan de Fuca offers remarkable hiking, beauty, marine and wildlife viewing and impressive access to the Pacific Coastline.

Much like the West Coast Trail, hikers opt to backpack the trail in about 3-5 days – although you will see some ‘runners’ who attempt to accomplish this trail in one day, which is simply astounding. It is important to note that this trail is by no means easy, even though 47 km is spread over a multiple day period. Mud, slippery boardwalks, roots and more are almost designed to slow you down. Instead, be sure to take time to enjoy the trail with each and every step you take, and don’t be afraid to take longer versus rushing your experience.

3. North Coast Trail

The North Coast Trail is a 43 km adventure that is both rugged and remote. Starting in Port Hardy, the Cape Scott Water Taxi can drop hikers off at the Shushartie Bay trailhead, and the North Coast Trail Shuttle will pick hikers up at the Cape Scott trailhead. The North Coast Trail is more rugged and off-the-grid than the famous West Coast Trail, so it is important to note that hikers will be faced with steep rope sections that are less than ideal from a grooming standpoint, boardwalks are challenging to navigate, and you very well might walk a pace of one kilometre per hour in some sections. Regardless, this trail offers stunning beaches, grey whales and other wildlife, and remarkable sunrises and sunsets, in one of the quietest places in the world.

4. Sunshine Coast Trail

The Sunshine Coast Trail is a 180 km backcountry hiking experience that runs from Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay. Covering a wide variety of landscapes, from shorelines, creeks and lakes to old forests and mountaintops, hikers come from all around the world to hike this long trail. There are 14 huts along the way, with plenty of public shared space for your adventure. These sections are marked throughout the trail and provide amenities such as picnic tables, fire pits, outhouses, sleeping areas and more.

This is one of my favourite resources to plan stops along the way, as it provides details on what is included within every hut on the trail. The Sunshine Coast website has also provided recommendations on how to divide your trail experience here.

Are you ready for an epic adventure? Much like the other hikes on this list, the time to start planning for your overnight hiking adventures is now!

Nicole van Zanten

As a born and raised Vancouverite, Nicole grew up on the most popular of trails, exploring Greater Vancouver, Whistler and the Sunshine Coast on weekend hikes as a child. Her love of the outdoors led her to become a trail runner, recently completing her second 50KM ultra marathon in our own backyard of the North Shore mountains. You can spot her adventuring with her trail runners and dogs on warm, sunny days, finding the next best gem to share with Vancouver Trails.

3 responses to “The Bucket List of Overnight Hikes near Vancouver”

  1. Neta says:

    hey, thanks for the great post!
    Regarding the heather trail, i was wondering if it should be doable in early June in terms of snow (I don’t have any experience with camping in the snow). If so, could you share the exact route you did? The link you posted refers to a 21.5km round trip.

  2. Ryan says:

    Just what I was looking for; thanks!

  3. Michael says:

    Thank you for sharing

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