Canada (Alberta & British Columbia)
Itinerary: Banff National Park – Yoho National Park – Icefields Parkway – Jasper National Park – Mount Robson Provincial Park – Wells Gray Provincial Park – Sea to Sky Highway to Vancouver Island – Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – Vancouver
In May/June 2019 I visited Canada for the first time. I then traveled for two weeks through the provinces of Ontario and Québec, in the east of the country. I already knew then that I would visit Canada again one day, to travel through the allegedly beautiful western part of the country. Three years later, the time has come. I will be traveling around the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia for about three weeks. A trip I have been planning to take for a long time. My expectations are high.
Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia) and part of the British Commonwealth, with the British Queen as head of state. The country is so large that the distance between the west and the east of Canada is greater than the distance from the east to Europe. While the east of what is now Canada was colonized by Great Britain and France in the sixteenth century, the first Europeans did not arrive on the western side of the continent until the late seventeenth century. Until then, the area was inhabited by the Aboriginal People of North America, also known as the First People or First Nations.
Western Canada means Rocky Mountains. Together with their American namesakes, the Canadian Rockies form one long mountain range on the North American continent. It started forming about two hundred million years ago, as a result of the collision between two tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. Over millions of years, those tectonic plates interacted to create three mountain ranges that run parallel to each other from north to south: the Western Main Ranges, the Eastern Main Ranges, and the Front Ranges.
The Canadian Rockies (larger and higher than the American ones) mark the so-called Continental Divide: on the west side of the Continental Divide river water flows to the Pacific, on the east it flows to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a huge area with mountains, forests, canyons, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes. Much of it is a protected nature reserve,part of national and provincial parks and registered on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Banff National Park – Banff area
On Saturday afternoon at 12:30 am local time I arrive at Calgary International Airport. I quickly clear customs, collect my luggage, and then I’m told I’ve been selected for a sample covid-19 test. A dubious honour, which also makes the start of this journey a bit tensive (luckily the result is negative). After collecting my rental car for the next few weeks, I drive along a stretch of Highway 201 to Highway 1, better known as the Trans Canada Highway, which cuts across Canada, connecting all ten provinces, from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Pacific coast in the west.
West of Calgary, the Trans Canada Highway cuts through the hilly landscape of Kananaskis Country, and the mountains of the Canadian Rockies loom right in front of me. It’s always an impressive sight to drive towards such a mountain range. In 1887 Canada’s first national park was formed here: Rocky Mountains National Park, later named after the Scottish Banffshire. Banff National Park is Canada’s most popular scenic area and is visited by five million people each year. At the entrance I purchase a Discovery Pass (if you stay more than seven days in a national park, a Discovery Pass is cheaper than buying separate tickets). Once I have arrived in the town of Banff, I first check in at my hostel and then I go into the town. I pop into the Visitor Center and get groceries.
The next morning I am still a bit jet lagged. Outside it’s cloudy, but dry. After breakfast, it’s a few minutes’ drive to the start of the Tunnel Mountain trail. This trail zigzags up Tunnel Mountain for 2.5 km, mostly through coniferous forest. Along the way, there are views of Banff and the surrounding mountains, which are partly shrouded in clouds. Higher up the mountain (the top of Tunnel Mountain is at almost 1,700 meters) you have beautiful views of the Bow Valley and the imposing, almost three thousand meter high Mount Rundle.
It’s still very quiet in the morning. On the way there I don’t meet anyone, only on the way back there are a few other hikers on their way up. After an hour and a quarter, I’m back down and continue on, past Surprise Corner (where a rapid in the Bow River is somewhat over-enthusiastically called Bow Falls), to the starting point of the Sundance Canyon trail, southwest of Banff. The trail follows the course of the Bow River for the first 3.7 kilometers (unfortunately on a paved path). On the other side of the river, mountains tower above the pine trees. After about 2.5 km, along a tributary of the Bow River, is a really beautiful point, with views over the swamp and mountain peaks on the other side, still partly covered with snow, which reflect in the water. A really beautiful place (and a perfect lunch spot on the way back).
After walking for 3.7 km you come to a one and a half kilometer long loop trail through a narrow gorge, where a river flows down between the granite rocks with pine trees. This part is more climbing and descending, but very beautiful. After about three hours I have completed the nine kilometers in total. For my third hike, I drive around Banff to Johnson Lake, on the east side of town. A three-kilometer trail runs around the lake. Not very special, but the view of the almost three thousand meter high Cascade Mountain in particular is magnificent.
As I drive back to Banff, suddenly there are cars on the roadside left and right and people are looking into an open meadow to my right. There must be something to see there, I think, and I park my car along the road as well. And indeed: about a hundred meters away, a mother Grizzly with two cubs grazes. The mother has seen the car and the people, but apparently sees no danger in it. What a splendid sight! A Grizzly with cubs on my first day in Canada, this day couldn’t have ended better.
Banff National Park – Lake Louise area
The next morning I leave Banff at half past six. There are two routes that lead from Banff to Lake Louise 58 kilometers to the north: Highway 1, the Trans Canada Highway, or Highway 1A, more commonly known as the Bow Valley Parkway. Mountains rise high into the sky (and clouds) on either side of both roads, and the waters of the Bow River flow between the two roads. The Bow Valley Parkway is the more scenic of the two. The southern part is closed between March and June (to give the wildlife some rest), so I first take the Trans Canada Highway for a while, up to Castle Junction. There I turn right towards Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon is a narrow gorge where the waters of Johnston Creek flow down from the mountains. The area is covered with dense coniferous forests. The Johnston Canyon trail is 2.5 kilometers (one way) and ascends gradually, along Johnston Creek. Along the way you will pass two waterfalls: the Lower Falls and finally the Upper Falls. The last one is especially beautiful. The water plunges thirty meters down.
After the two-hour walk (and coffee at the local bistro) I drive north on the Bow Valley Parkway. The Parkway is a quiet two-lane road, with a speed limit of sixty kilometers per hour, so you can enjoy the area at a slow pace. I stop a few times at scenic lookout points: at Castle Mountain (largely shrouded in clouds), at Storm Mountain, with the green Bow River in the foreground, and at Morrant’s Curve.
In the early afternoon I arrive at Lake Louise Village. My hotel for the coming nights is located a bit outside the village, a stone’s throw from the lake from which the village takes its name: Lake Louise. From my hotel I walk down to the lake, where there are quite a few other visitors. Lake Louise is the pride of Banff National Park and breathtakingly beautiful (provided you are able to ignore the huge hotel Chateau Lake Louise, which stands on the lakeshore). The clear blue water of the lake is still partly covered with a thin layer of ice. Beyond that rise the mountains: Fairview Mountain, Mount Lefroy, Mount Victoria, and the Victoria Glacier. The Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail runs two miles along the elongated lake. The entire route you have the same beautiful view, but always from a different angle. Furtheron there is no more ice and the water is clear turquoise in color. Picture perfect.
Lake Louise turns out not to be the only lake worth seeing. The next morning I drive early to Moraine Lake, fourteen kilometers south of Lake Louise. A two-lane road winds up through the mountains. It’s a few degrees above zero and there are snow remnants on the left and right of the road. At eight a.m. I arrive at Moraine Lake. There are only a few other visitors. Moraine Lake is incredibly beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful than Lake Louise. Despite it being June the lake still largely frozen and covered with snow. As a result, it’s not as beautiful as turquoise as you see in many photos, but that does not make it any less impressive. On the other side of the lake, massive granite mountains rise into the sky as a natural backdrop. What an amazingly beautiful place.
Along the pine-covered shore of the lake (because of the snow it’s not entirely clear where exactly the shore ends and the lake begins) is a one-and-a-half-kilometer trail. I walk down this trail for a while, sometimes sinking up to my ankles in the snow. A little further away there is no one around. It’s dead quiet and that makes Lake Moraine a truly magical place early in the morning. (It’s usually very busy later in the day, so if you want to enjoy the peace and quiet, it’s advisable to go early in the morning.)
After getting coffee and a few groceries in Lake Louise Village, I start the Lake Agnes trail. It meanders from Lake Louise up the mountainside between the pine trees. The first part is easy to do, but as I get higher, there are more snow remnants on the trail. Some pieces are very slippery. Through the trees you can see the turquoise water of Lake Louise below. After 2.5 kilometers of climbing I come to Mirror Lake. The small lake is still frozen and therefore does not reflect the Big Beehive, the mountain in the background. From Mirror Lake it’s still an eight hundred meter climb to Lake Agnes. This lake is still frozen as well. There’s also Lake Agnes Teahouse; a weird place for a tea house. After this, the descent begins, slowly and carefully, trying not to slip. Three hours after starting the trail, I’m back at Lake Louise. There I rest for a while, while, tired but satisfied, enjoying the view of the lake one last time.
Yoho National Park
On the west side of Banff National Park, on the other side of the Continental Divide, is Yoho National Park. Founded in 1911, the park (Yoho means “miracle” in the native language) is Canada’s second-largest national park after Banff. Yoho National Park is not only on the other side of the Continental Divide, but also in another province: British Columbia, the province that confidently calls itself “the best place on earth”.
From Lake Louise Village it’s a 45 minute drive to Yoho. As in many places, the Trans Canada Highway runs largely parallel to the Trans Canada Railway, the railroad that predates the road and played an important role in opening up western Canada. Very long freight trains that seem to never end running down the tracks. You can easily spend ten minutes at a railway crossing when a train like that comes by.
The Trans Canada Highway crosses the Kicking Horse Pass and then plunges into the Yoho Valley. A side road on the north side will bring you to Emerald Lake. The emerald-colored lake (hence the name) is beautifully situated between the mountains of the Canadian Rockies. Here too, the mountain slopes are covered with pine trees. The place is not at all inferior to the larger and much more famous Banff. There is a five kilometer trail around Emerald Lake, a beautiful walk with beautiful views of the lake. The path is quite flat, but the second half is quite muddy and the last part goes uphill for a while. Despite the fact that the trail is only five kilometers, it takes me two hours.
When I drive back, and raindrops fall from the thick gray clouds, suddenly a black bear is walking on the side of the road. He or she (no idea if it’s male or female) doesn’t care that motorists stop to take pictures. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to a wild bear: the animal is three meters away from my car. Beautiful and very impressive.
Highway 93, better known as the Icefields Parkway, runs from Lake Louise to Jasper. On Thursday I explore the first part of this road, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. And rightly so in my opinion: driving down the two-lane Icefields Parkway you get a sense of how vast the Canadian Rockies are. One imposing mountain after another, seemingly endless forests, turquoise lakes; it’s an incredibly beautiful decor.
Soon I pass Herbert Lake, where the row of mountain peaks in the background reflects picture perfectly in the water. A little further is Bow Lake, which is still completely frozen over. With the snowcapped mountains in the background, Bow Lake offers a wintery picture even in June. I expect the same when I get to Bow Summit a little later. A short, but snowy and occasionally treacherous trail leads here to Peyto Lake. But this lake is no longer frozen. The view from Peyto Lake Lookout is breathtakingly beautiful. A large lake of impossibly clear turquoise water sits in a wooded valley that stretches as far as the eye can see. And all surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Truly magnificent.
I drive further to Waterfowl Lake, where I want to walk the trail to Chephren Lake. But it turns out to be so muddy (no snow here), that I turn around. Back in Lake Louise I take a walk of just over an hour through the forest (part Tramline trail and part Louise Creek trail). Before I hit the road again the next morning, I get coffee and lunch at the Trailhead Café in Lake Louise (recommended). Then I turn back onto the Icefields Parkway. The weather is not as nice as the day before: it will remain changeable throughout the day.
The Icefields Parkway crosses two mountain passes: the one at Bow Summit and the Sunwapta Pass. In between, the road rises and falls, and with it the climate changes time and again; from subalpine on the higher parts to mountain climate around, for example, Saskatchewan Crossing. Highway 93 crosses the Saskatchewan River here. The Sunwapta Pass is located at 2,023 meters above sea level and is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway. It’s cold and there’s a fierce wind blowing. From the Sunwapta Pass, the Icefields Parkway follows the Sunwapte River and the mountain pass also forms the boundary between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
Just past Sunwapta Pass is the Athabasca glacier. This is one of six glaciers in the Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Northern Hemisphere after the Arctic. You don’t see much of that ice field, by the way, for that you would have to fly over it in clear weather. The Athabasca Glacier, which has shortened by a mile over the past century, doesn’t really impress me (since I’ve seen the glaciers in Patagonia in southern Argentina, no other glacier impresses me anymore…).
If you’re lucky you can also spot wildlife along the Icefields Parkway. On the way I see a young elk, a deer, a somewhat hidden black bear and a group of four mountain goats, who see no problem in standing in the middle of the road, despite the cars approaching at high speed. A large truck can barely dodge them.
After a short stop at Athabasca Falls, I take Highway 93a, the old Parkway route, which runs through dense forest. In the course of the afternoon I arrive in the town of Jasper, where the weather is now beautiful. Jasper is a small village with a relaxed atmosphere and it feels less touristy than Banff. I get groceries and then I drive to my place to stay for the next few days: a cabin forty minutes east of Jasper.
Jasper National Park
On my first day in Jasper National Park I first drive down the Maligne Lake Road (where I immediately encounter an elk along the way). Before you get to Maligne Lake, you drive past Medicine Lake. This lake is not fed by a river, but by water that rises from underground caves and fills the lake. In the summer, the water also drains through those caves and the water level in the lake drops. Medicine Lake is surrounded by pine trees, a wide swath of which appears to have suffered a forest fire.
The road ends at Maligne Lake, the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies. The lake is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, with Mount Charlton and Mount Unwin on the horizon. I walk the short trail along the lake to the Mary Schäffer Viewpoint, but the lake doesn’t really impress, maybe because it’s cloudy. I drink coffee overlooking the lake and then drive to Maligne Canyon, which is a popular spot just like the lake of the same name. It’s quite busy. The Maligne River has carved a fifty meter deep, but very narrow gorge here. The water of the river still roars through the rocks, like “liquid sandpaper”, as an information board aptly puts it.
After a short rainshower at the end of the morning, it clears up and the weather will be beautiful for the rest of the day. Back near Jasper, I drive to Lake Edith and Lake Annette, two adjacent lakes that were once part of one large lake. I especially like Lake Annette. The azure waters are set amid pine forest, with the snowcapped peaks of Mount Edith Cavell, Signal Mountain and Pyramid Mountain beyond. I walk the trail around Lake Annette and sit on the shore of Lake Edith for a while to enjoy the view.
As if I haven’t done enough for the day, I’m off to Old Fort Point next. Here you can walk a more than six kilometers long trail, with a few steep climbs. But they are worth it, because from a number of higher points there are amazing views over the valley through which the Athabasca River and the Miette River flow. You can see for miles, with endless forests and mountain peaks on the horizon here too. What the beautiful surrounding. On the way back, as a bonus to this already great day, I spot two grizzlies close to the road.
The next day I take it very easy. In the morning I visit Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake near Jasper. The afternoon I spend reading and relaxing after the last active days.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
On Monday morning I leave Jasper National Park via Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway. I soon enter Mount Robson Provincial Park. However, the first thing I see is not Mount Robson, but a black bear by the side of the road. Along the way I also see a wolf in a flash, but it has already gone before I can take a picture. Mount Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 meters. It’s an impressive mountain, which stands out solitary amidst the surrounding peaks against the blue sky.
After my stop at Mount Robson I leave the Canadian Rockies behind me. Highway 5, the Yellowhead Highway South, runs south parallel to the North Thompson River, through the mountainous region of the Monashee Mountains. The mountains here are considerably less high and numerous than in the Rockies. It’s a long drive, about which there is not much more to say. It is cloudy and rainy when, after a 320-kilometer drive, I arrive in Clearwater, my overnight stay and base for Wells Gray Provincial Park the next day.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a large conservation area with mountains, dense forests, trails and some beautiful waterfalls. A 42 kilometer long road largely follows the course of the Clearwater River, after that 42 kilometer the road continues unpaved.
In particular the 61 meter high Spahats Falls and the 137 meter high Helmcken Falls (2.5 times as high as Niagara Falls) are very beautiful. At both falls you also have a beautiful view of the deep gorge through which the Clearwater River flows, with reddish-brown cliffs that rise perpendicularly. The not very high, but ninety meters wide Dawson Falls are impressive because of the enormous amount of water that you can see falling down from close by. Near Dawson Falls, a dirt road meanders to the Green Mountain Lookout, which offers expansive views of the Wells Gray area. On the way back, a black bear crosses the road and quickly disappears into the forest.
In the afternoon I drive to Kamloops, a stopover on the way to Whistler. The mountains give way to hills, the valley through which the North Thomspon River flows widens the closer I get to Kamloops, and forest gives way to agriculture. In the otherwise rather boring Kamloops it’s sunny and 23 degrees. The temperature has not been that high this trip.
Sea to Sky Highway to Vancouver Island
A long drive follows on Wednesday: more than three hundred kilometers from Kamloops to Whistler. The first part I drive down the Trans Canada Highway to the west, a not really special part. After Cache Creek I turn left onto Highway 99. Just past the town of Lillooet is the beautiful Seton Lake. From there, Highway 99 creeps up into the Coastal Mountains. The road follows Cayoosh Creek (which is actually more of a river than a creek) through the beautiful Cayoosh Canyon. The two-lane road winds through valleys, along green mountain slopes, with snow-capped peaks in the distance. It’s a beautiful route that you should drive at your leisure. Further along the route you will pass three more lakes: Duffy Lake, Joffre Lake and Lillooet Lake.
In the afternoon I arrive in Whistler, which is known as one of the best winter sports areas in the world and in 2010 co-hosted the Winter Olympics. In the winter, hundreds of thousands of people come here to ski and snowboard, in the summer you can go hiking and cycling. Whistler is a sprawling resort, nestled at the base of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. There are actually three Whistlers: Whistler Village, Upper Village, and Whistler Creekside.
For me, Whistler is just a place to spend the night. The next morning I drive on again. From Whistler to Vancouver, Highway 99 has – with a sense of drama – been dubbed the Sea to Sky Highway. Given the name, you should actually drive it in the opposite direction, but I just happen to be on my way from Sky to Sea… By the way there is not much to see during the first kilometers; the weather is gray and drizzly. Stopping at viewpoints makes no sense because the clouds ensure that there is no view. At Squamish I stop briefly at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, for a look at the 335 meter high waterfall.
After Squamish, the Sea to Sky Highway runs right past steep rocks on one side and the waters of Howe Sound, an offshoot of the Pacific, on the other. The water means I’ve reached the west coast of Canada. On time I make it to the Horseshoe Bay terminal, where at one p.m. the ferry to Vancouver Island leaves. The crossing takes one hour and forty minutes. When we arrive at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and I drive off the ferry, it’s raining. And it will continue to do so for the rest of the afternoon, although showers and drizzle do alternate.
With a length of 460 kilometers and an average width of eighty kilometers, Vancouver Island is by far the largest of the Canadian islands off the west coast of the country. It’s home to just 750,000 people, most of whom live in and around Victoria, which is not only the island’s largest town, but also the capital of the province of British Columbia. Vancouver Island consists of a mountain range in the centre, hill country to the east, plenty of untouched nature and a rugged coastline to the west, and numerous beaches and outdoor activities that attract visitors to the island.
After a stretch of Highway 19, I turn off to Highway 4, which runs to the west side of Vancouver Island. I stop at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. A beautiful trail of about half an hour leads you through a beautiful and very green forest past two waterfalls (Upper Falls and Lower Falls) in the Little Qualicum River. A little further on is MacMillan Provincial Park, a piece of protected “old growth forest”. In Cathedral Grove there are Douglas firs that are up to seventy meters high and have a circumference of two meters, some of which are a thousand years old.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
From Port Alberni (where I spend the night) the two-lane Highway 4, which is called the Pacific Rim Highway here, meanders through the Mackenzie Mountains. It’s a little under one and a half hours’ drive to the Visitor Center of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This park encompasses a large conservation area on the west side of Vancouver Island. Rainforest, wide beaches (full of washed up logs and shells) and lots of wildlife characterize the area.
The portion of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve that lies between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet is called Long Beach, after the largest beach there. In the Long Beach area you can walk several short trails. My first choice is the Nuu-Chah-Nulth trail. This trail runs from Wickaninnish Beach through the forest to Florencia Bay. The weather is beautiful and sunny and there is hardly anyone else on the trail. For the most part you walk on a boardwalk, the last part there is no boardwalk and the trail is quite muddy. On the beach at the beautiful Florencia Bay I rest for a while and then I walk the trail back. The trail is only five kilometers, but it still takes me almost two hours.
I stop briefly at the Shorepine Bog trail, a short walk through a swampy area, where the pine trees grow very slowly on the wet, mossy bottom. They look a bit like bonsai trees. After this I drive to the end of the peninsula where the village of Ucluelet is located. Here I walk the Lighthouse Loop trail, one of the three routes that together form the Wild Pacific trail. It’s an easy 2.6-kilometer walk on a neat trail that runs through the edge of the forest, and the views of the rugged coast are fantastic. The forest extends to the edge of the Pacific, whose waves crash against the jagged black rocks. A really beautiful area, especially with the sunny weather.
At the end of the afternoon I get some groceries and I check in at my place to stay in Ucluelet, my base on Vancouver Island. The next day (Saturday) it’s cloudy. In the morning I first go to the village for coffee. Then I walk the Rainforest trail, halfway between Ucluelet and Tofino. This trail runs for two kilometers through ancient rainforest. Some red cedar trees are hundreds of years old, the oldest estimated to be more than eight hundred years. Among them grow spruce, conifers, ferns and mosses. It is a nice quiet walk through a quiet forest, except for the birds.
In the afternoon I walk the Willowbrae trail at Ucluelet and then the Half Moon trail. Together about four kilometers. These trails also go through old rainforest and the last one ends at the Half Moon Bay, a semicircular bay as the name suggests. The small waterholes between the rocks are home to all kinds of marine life, including sea anemones, and on the beach is a huge starfish (the size of my two hands together).
On Sunday morning, I take it easy, get some coffee and then walk another part of the Wild Pacific trail, from Brown’s Beach about 2.5 kilometers north and back again. Again, many places with beautiful views over the spectacular Pacific Rim coast. A nice walk. In the afternoon I leave Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and drive back to Port Alberni, also my hub on the way back, from where I drive to Departure Bay in Nanaimo the next morning, for the crossing back to the mainland.
With some delay the ferry leaves for Horseshoe Bay, where we arrive around one p.m. From there it’s a half hour drive to the center of Vancouver. There I hand in the rental car with which I have completed a road trip of 2,667 kilometers. After taking the Skytrain (the local subway) to downtown Vancouver, I check in at my hotel for the next few nights. Then it’s time to head into town.
Vancouver is located in the extreme southwest of the Canadian mainland and is surrounded by water and the mountains of the Coastal Mountains. The city center is located on a peninsula and is surrounded by water on three sides (Burrard Inlet, English Bay and False Creek). To the south and east, and on the north side of Burrard Inlet are the suburbs. The city itself has more than 660,000 inhabitants, the ‘greater Vancouver area’ has a total of more than 2.5 million. This makes Vancouver the largest city in British Columbia, but it’s not the capital, which – as said – is Victoria on Vancouver Island.
Vancouver is a relatively new city, having only been around for about 150 years. For centuries the Salish, one of the First Nations, lived in what is now Vancouver. The first Europeans arrived in the area only at the end of the seventeenth century. In the mid-18th century, there is mention of a small town called Gastown, later renamed Granville (both names live on as Vancouver neighborhoods). Since 1886, after the Canadian Pacific Railway opened up western Canada, the city has been called Vancouver.
What immediately strikes me is that from the very first minute I find Vancouver a very pleasant city, where I quickly feel at home. I’m not sure what causes it, maybe it’s in the air, but I immediately like the place. The streets are spacious and neat, there are a lot of public green spaces, the atmosphere seems friendly, welcoming and relaxed, it immediately feels good.
I first walk towards the Waterfront and end up at the Harbor Green Park. With Downtown’s gleaming high-rises in the background, this verdant park overlooks the waters of Burrard Inlet. Along the water is the footpath and bike path that make up the Seawall promenade, which surround almost all of downtown Vancouver and all of Stanley Park. The Seawall is 27 kilometers long and the ideal boulevard to enjoy both the Vancouver skyline and the view over the water while walking or cycling.
Downtown is centered around Robson Street, Burrard Street and Granville Street. Here you will find numerous shops, department stores, shopping centers, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. I walk past the Convention Center and the Digital Orca artwork, to Canada Place. This pavilion, built on the occasion of Expo ’86, now houses a cruise terminal and a hotel.
What is also striking is that among all the modern high-rise buildings there are also several old buildings that have (for the time being) escaped demolition. Amid all the glass and metal suddenly stands a stately building with pillars and friezes, an old red brick building or the old, but still functional, Canadian Pacific Railways train station. They recall a time, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when downtown Vancouver looked very different.
The next day I explore the rest of downtown Vancouver, a city walk of I think about nine kilometers. I walk from my hotel via the Waterfront to Gastown, the place where modern Vancouver was born. Unlike in Downtown, it is not high-rise buildings that dominate here, but brick buildings from the early twentieth century. Gastown is a ‘historic district’ with the oldest buildings in Vancouver, but also a neighborhood with many homeless people and drug addicts. On the corner of Water Street and Gambie Street, you’ll find the Gastown Steam Clock, a classically styled steam-powered clock that, unlike its appearance, dates back to 1977.
After walking around Gastown, I head back to Downtown, down Homer Street, past the Vancouver Public Library and the Yaletown neighborhood, and arrive at False Creek, the waterfront on the south side of downtown. Here too, shiny high-rise buildings with apartments, green parks and a view over the water from the Seawall. I can see myself living here. 🙂
After a cloudy start my last full day in Canada is a beautiful sunny day. Perfect for a walk around and through Stanley Park. Stanley Park is to Vancouver what Central Park is to New York City: a large green park and forest (four square kilometers in size) where you imagine yourself outside the city. Walk into one of the many hiking trails and you’ll feel like you’re taking a walk in the woods in peace, away from the crowds.
The Seawall, eight kilometers long, surrounds Stanley Park. Here you walk along the water’s edge all the time. I walk from the West End neigborhood along the marina to the Seawall. On the first part of the walk you have a fantastic view of the downtown Vancouver skyline. At the Visitor Center are a number of totem poles of the Salish. Up to Brockton Point you look out over Coal Harbor and the harbor of Vancouver, where large seagoing ships come and go. After Brockton Point, the Seawall curves northwest. Here the trail runs past Burrard Inlet and under the Lions Gate Bridge (the high bridge over which Highway 99 heads north out of the city and across which I entered the city). Along the way you will also pass the Girl in Wetsuit statue, a parody of the Copenhagen mermaid statue. The west coast of Stanley Park begins at Prospect Point. Here you look out over the water of the Pacific. I pass Siwash Rock, a solitary rock offshore, with a lone tree on top and source of legends among the Salish. Along the shore I see a sea otter with two young ones.
After walking seven of the eight kilometers around Stanley Park, I turn onto the Tatlow trail, a hiking trail that cuts right through the park, through dense forest of hundreds of years old cedar trees. Like I said, it’s like being out of town for a while. The trail ends at the Lost Lagoon. This lake takes its name from the fact that it once connected to the ocean and dried up at low tide. After going around the Lost Lagoon, I’m back where I started. I walk back along the marina to Harbor Green Park, where I rest from my long walk.
On Thursday morning, I visit the Vancouver Art Gallery, which features a retrospective of female Canadian artists (mainly painters). Then it’s time to head to Vancouver Airport. My nearly three-week tour through western Canada has come to an end. The trip lived up to my high expectations. I have seen a lot, especially a lot of nature and beautiful landscapes. The beautiful and impressive Canadian Rockies were the absolute highlight of the trip and Vancouver was the perfect ending.