Vancouver outdoor activities

Days out in Vancouver don’t get much more exciting than a trip up Grouse Mountain, an all-year-round entertainment paradise that mixes the wildness of the great outdoors with opportunities for family fun and learning.  It takes only 15 minutes from downtown heading north to get to this amazing attraction, and I found it hard to cram everything it has to offer into one day.

Skyride Gondola

This does exactly what it says, taking you on a 1,100 meter climb into the sky over a mountainside covered in pine trees. The whole cityscape below opens up, as well as nearby peaks, inlets and bays, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf Islands. You’re in the wilderness but civilization is spread out beneath.

Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge for Endangered Wildlife is a conservation centre right at the top of the mountain, where research and education go hand in hand. It’s fascinating to explore conservation issues through its interpretative programs and find out more about wildlife and plants that are at risk. Spread over five acres, it’s home to a large habitat for Timber Wolves and for two orphaned Grizzly Bears.

Eye of the Wind

A gigantic wind turbine is the setting for a viewing pod accessed by elevator, some 20 storeys high. As the blades slowly turn, visitors get stunning views of the city and surrounding area, including the harbor and the Coastal Mountains.

Theatre in the Sky

Here’s a chance to learn more about the wildlife of Grouse Mountain, with an HD electronic cinema showing fascinating films about eagles, Grizzly Bears and the latest addition, a Barn Owl called Tyto and work underway to save another species, the Northern Spotted Owl.

Winter calls

When the snows come, Grouse Mountain acts as a magnet for skiers and snowboarders, hikers with snowshoes and ice skaters. There are trails for novices up to the highly experienced, and it’s easy to rent equipment and to have lessons to get into the swing of winter sports activities.

Outside of winter there are opportunities to go ziplining or do the famous “Grouse Grind” a steep climb to an 850 meter elevation that really does test the stamina!

Vancouver, music and vacation

Taking a vacation in a city like Vancouver, with so many things to see or do, can get a little on the expensive side if you’re not careful. Of course if money is no object then spend away, but for those of us who sometimes like to hold back a little it’s great to find something free that’s also of really high quality.

Just such an event is a month or so of music called The Toque Sessions, CBC’s annual showcase for some of the finest locally based musicians and bands. It’s been running for five years now and sessions are usually from the back end of January to the end of February. CBC has an eclectic line-up for the sessions, a diverse range of styles that this year included blues, jazz, indie, pop, folk and metal at CBC Studio 1 on Hamilton Street.

Studio 1 used to be home to the CBC Radio Orchestra for dozens of years and is now a top location for concerts and broadcasts for CBC Vancouver. It’s reckoned to be one of the best studio sound stages that isn’t in Toronto or way down in Hollywood, California.

What I like about gigs there is that it’s really intimate – you’re right up close to the performers because the studio only has a capacity of around 120-130. Now, I don’t mind big stadium gigs but you can feel a little isolated if you’re way back from the stage. In Studio 1 you can feel the music almost as if you’re at home with a state-of-the-art sound system – except you’ve got the musicians in the room!

Explaining the wide range of musical styles at the sessions, one of the producers responsible for setting up the 5th series, Jon Siddall, said: “We have a really broad taste in music so there’s a little bit of every flavor. If you come to every session, you can experience them all.”

Just remember that if you want to go the sessions are every Thursday and Friday evening, but get there early because space is limited and, after all, everyone likes a free concert!

Vancouver Pride

Vancouver is, in my opinion, a great city to visit at any time of year. The sights and events in the city are always worth the trip, but even so, the buzz in the city sometimes gets a bad rap in comparison to, say, Toronto. This is certainly not the case when Pride is in town, and whatever your persuasion, the Pride events over the summer can be full of fun.

What’s on for Pride

The highlight of Vancouver Pride is the annual parade, but this is by no means the only thing going on in the city in relation to Pride. On different dates throughout late July and early August, Pride events take place at various venues downtown. Some of these events require tickets, such as the Legacy Awards with its related silent auction. There are also, however, plenty of free events, and whether you happen to be gay or just gay-friendly, the Pride Run and Walk, followed by a picnic in Stanley Park, is a lively event. In 2013, the event will take place on July 27th, and I can hardly think of a better way of spending a sunny summer’s day in Vancouver than with a picnic and a social buzz like the one that’s around at this time. Similarly, the raising of the flag for Pride Week, on the lawn at the City Hall on July 29th, is an open event that is likely to draw a lot of attention.

Although Vancouver is a gay-friendly city at all times of year, Pride Week is the peak, and the Pride Pavilion at the Central Library on Georgia Street provides a natural focus for anyone seeking information on the most up-to-date news concerning the scheduales.

Parties and parade

Pride Weekend is a time that I certainly like to be in the city, to see the full richness of diversity. There are, apparently, more visitors than inhabitants in Vancouver when it comes to Pride. This adds extra flavor to, for example, the Davie Street Party, which has both an all-ages area and a zone especially for ages 19 and upwards. Davie Village then also hosts a fund-raising breakfast to follow up on the party festivities.

The jewel in the crown, however, is the parade, which takes place on the same day as the festival and market. The festival opens on Sunset Beach an hour before the parade and goes on afterwards with music and performances. The parade itself is not to be missed, as it is one of the biggest in the world, and the 2013 parade, on August 4th, will mark the 35th anniversary of Vancouver Pride. The parade starts off on Robson Street and ends up at the festival site on Sunset Beach. The parade is judged, and if, like me, you get a kick out of competition, it can be fun to guess the winner yourself. The parade now has civic status in Vancouver and is a valued part of the city’s calendar, in recognition of the vibrancy of the event at an international level.

Sea Safari

If your idea of fun is a thrilling ride on the ocean wave, then Sewell’s Sea Safari is the ‘must do’ experience on a visit to Vancouver. It’s an adrenaline-rush journey from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver in a 30ft rigid hull inflatable boat, given amazing power by twin Verado Mercury 4-stroke outboard motors, custom designed to reach really high speeds.

Horseshoe Bay is about a half hour drive from Downtown and the adventure starts when you put on a Mustang Integrity suit for comfort and safety. Then it’s into the boat and you can sense the power throbbing under the engine covers as they start up. It’s at that point you realize you’re in for the trip of a lifetime.

From Horseshoe Bay the boat heads up the eastern side of the Howe Sound, past Bowyer Island to the west and then heading for Anvil Island. There a rapid turn takes you down to tiny Christie Island and then Pam Island, where harbor seals can usually be seen together with a bald eagle or two soaring lazily above. From there, the boat races south out into Georgia Sound, turning towards Vancouver and offering stunning view of the city.

During the trip the outstanding natural beauty of the British Columbia coastline emerges from the spray, with steep cliffs tumbling down to the water and the chance to explore caves hollowed out by the sea. One of my favorite moments, apart from spotting seals and other wildlife, was on the return to Horseshoe Bay where there was a chance to see some of the spectacular waterfront houses that line the West Vancouver shore.

It doesn’t matter if the sea is calm or rough, the boats are designed for comfort and safety. You’ll get wet and bounce a around a little, but that’s all part of the fun, and kids just absolutely love it.

As well as the two-hour Sea Safari, there are options to choose other packages, including the safari followed by dinner at the Boathouse Restaurant and an exciting ride back to Vancouver in a seaplane.