Snowshoe Adventures Near Vancouver
I have seen a lot of posts about where to snowshoe near Vancouver and I'll tell you a secret: most of them often don't require snowshoes most of the winter. Low elevation places on the coast rarely have enough snowfall to require snowshoes - a good pair of microspikes are your friend in coastal BC in the winter. Popular trails are often well packed and as long as you aren't the first one out after a snowfall, don't usually require snowshoes.
For those who are looking for a place to strap on some actual snowshoes, I think you will find a few of the ideas below will fit the bill, and a few are occasionally microspike appropriate too (especially when there has been no new snow for a while). Microspikes almost always have a space in my bag in winter, even when choosing lower elevation trails. I almost always pack them when I plan on using snowshoes, because at times spikes are safer and easier to use.
CAUTION: I urge everyone heading out into the mountains in the winter to always check avalanche and weather forecasts take a basic avalanche course so you know what you are getting into and can avoid dangerous situations.
1. E.C. Manning Provincial Park
Manning Park, about 215km east of Vancouver, has many snowshoeing options in light, powdery snow and often very cold temperatures. You can choose to use their paid, easy snowshoe trails (pass required, rentals available, check their website for details), or if you have your own snowshoes, you can snowshoe around Lightning Lake (9km loop, mostly flat), but be careful of warming temperatures and conditions of the ice underneath the snow.
More adventurous snowshoers can tackle Poland Lake (around 16km RT, 665m elev gain), although due to recent changes by Manning Park Resort, this one will be longer, due to disallowing parking in the ski area. The resort has limited parking for backcountry users to the Strawberry Flats parking lot only, and snowshoers are no longer able to use the chair lift. A trail ticket is also required from the Alpine Guest Services building once you enter the ski area. If you do make it to the top of the ski area, you will be rewarded with glorious views of the Hozomeens and surrounding peaks.
There are several other great snowshoeing options around the park like the Windy Joe Trail and Mt Kelly/Nordheim Peak. More details can be found for these trails on AllTrails.
2. Callaghan Valley, Whistler
Callaghan Valley, just south of Whistler, is excellent for beginners and those who prefer mild elevation. Their abundance of fluffy snow makes a fun day out for all ages. The most popular destination for snowshoers is Alexander Falls, a short 2.5km loop from the Callaghan Country Alexander Falls parking area. You can park at the dog parking lot or the Day Lodge if you prefer to add a bit more length to the trails. I usually meander around the connecting trails until I get tired. There are also warming huts around the area where you could return to for lunch or a rest. A ticket ($16.50/adult) is required and they will provide a map with your ticket. Rentals are also available.
There are plenty of other "off trail" winter objectives in the area for advanced winter adventurers. You will also notice that this area is the trailhead for those staying at Journeyman Lodge - accessible by ski, a long snowshoe, or a snowmobile transfer.
3. Hollyburn Mountain, Cypress Mountain
One of the most popular winter hikes in Vancouver is surely Hollyburn Mountain (6.4km RT, 424m elev gain). It is quickly also becoming one of the last options for "free" snowshoeing for those looking for a straightforward, marked snowshoe trail. While Cypress has implemented pay parking in the nordic lot, there are still free spots available along the road.
The first 2km of the trail are relatively easygoing with most of the trail climbing uphill at a moderate incline. The next 1.4km is a steep climb, ending in an even steeper climb up avalanche terrain. The views from the top on a sunny day are spectacular!
Another great moderate level winter hike at Cypress is Black Mountain (6km RT, 365m elev gain) and you can also continue to Eagle Bluffs (8.9km RT, 443m elev gain). This trail starts from the downhill area and requires a special backcountry waiver that you can pick up in the Black Mountain Lodge (free). Parking is now pay parking unless you parking in lot 3b, the furthest one away from the ski area.
4. Brockton Point, Mount Seymour
This is one if my favourite snowshoe trails in the area due to the ease of access and effort to reward ratio, and of course the stunning sunsets! Seymour is making life a little more difficult this year with the implementation of the free day pass to resolve parking issues, but if you pick a weekday or do this after 4pm (night time snowshoeing on this trail is only recommended for those comfortable with the trail and in a group with all the proper gear and knowledge), you should have an easier time of securing a pass.
The trail skirts the edge of the resort area and follows the Pump Peak/Mt. Seymour trail to a bump known as Brockton Point (4.3km RT, 295m elev gain). This is the high point before you see the "Avalanche Danger" sign to continue to Pump Peak. If you have a full day and avalanche gear and training, plus an ice axe, etc, then continuing to Pump Peak can be a big reward, but the views from Brockton Point are amazing too.
Perhaps the most popular winter trail at Seymour is Dog Mountain (5.6km RT, 165m elev gain). Personally I have never felt that this one was super worth it (but it is always cloudy at the end when I go), but its easy and great for beginners and active children.
5. Al's Habrich Ridge, Sea to Sky Gondola
This one is a bit of a splurge for winter hiking so save it for a sunny day! Take the Sea to Sky Gondola to the top and you will find the trailhead for Al's Habrich Ridge trail (8.4km RT, 340m elev gain). This trail is moderate and relatively straightforward in winter and maps are available on the Sea to Sky website and app. The trail takes you behind the lodge and through the forest before you make your way along the ridge. The views are pretty spectacular and don't forget to walk over the suspension bridge on your way! Proof of COVID vaccination is required to ride the gondola. You can opt to take the Sea to Summit trail but it is very steep and long and will increase your hike time by 5 hours or so.
6. Thunderbird Ridge, Grouse Mountain
This one is another splurge since Grouse gondola passes are not cheap (unless you have an annual pass), but it's worth doing once in a while. I recommend avoiding busy periods as lines can be very long on weekends and during the holidays. You must show proof of COVID vaccination to ride the gondola. You can opt to take the BCMC trail instead of the gondola when conditions permit, but allow a full day and don't forget your microspikes.
The trail starts from the top of the Grouse Mountain gondola and you can follow signs to the snowshoe grind (4.3km RT, 240m elev gain, a good option if you have limited time or energy, or the weather isn't great). Follow the trail marking poles set out by the resort all the way over Dam Mountain to Thunderbird Ridge (6.4km RT, 368m elev gain) and you will be treated with excellent views on a clear day, even as far as Mount Baker.
7. Artist Point, Mount Baker (WA, USA)
I keep thinking that each trail is my favourite one, but I think I have made a decision - and it's this one! I have only done this trail once, but boy was it incredible. We spent a warm, March day sweating our butts off and stripping down all our layers until I was snowshoeing in a tank top. The views from the top are 11/10 and its worth any hassle at the border.
Despite being in another country, this trailhead is not much further than driving to Chilliwack from Vancouver. The trail starts from Heather Meadows at the Mt Baker Ski Area. From there, there is a marked trail for snowshoers and backcountry skiers to head up to Artist Point (6.5km RT, 300m elev gain). The trail is not especially steep but does traverse avalanche terrain (this area can get over 25 meters of snow per winter season!). The views are good as you are in the alpine with few trees, but the view is the best when you get all the way to the top!
8. Zoa Peak, Coquihalla
The trailhead for this one is off the Coquihalla highway (winter tires and chains are required along this route) at the exit for Falls Lake. The road to Falls Lake is not plowed in the winter so parking is along the road near the on-ramp. You first need to walk 1km to the Falls Lake parking lot and then from there the trail climbs fairly steeply to Zoa Peak (11km RT, 635m elev gain). I recommend stopping at the sub-peak to avoid the worst of the avalanche danger in the winter. The views from the sub-peak are just as spectacular as the true summit, so save that one for summer!
You can also check out nearby snowshoe trails like Falls Lake, Needle Peak, Flatiron, and more.
9. Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi
This one is a long forest road slog in the best of times, but in winter it certainly makes it a long day with limited daylight hours. That being said, on a relatively clear day the views from Red Heather Hut and beyond are pretty wonderful which makes the forested part of the hike worth it. I love the trail to Elfin Lakes (22km RT, 700m elev gain) because it is gradual enough that the length is doable since you don't have any steep climbs and it leaves your stamina for the long day in the snow.
Winter tires and carrying chains are required to access the parking lot in winter and very often there are rangers checking this and turning people back. The trail is also popular with winter campers (permit required). Currently the Elfin Lakes hut is closed due to COVID-19 but it is also a popular winter destination for those not interested in camping in a tent in the winter.
Another popular winter hiking trail/camping spot in Garibaldi Provincial Park is the hike to Garibaldi Lake from the Rubble Creek Trailhead. It's a lot less busy than in the summer, and the winter access across the frozen lake makes it a popular choice for peak baggers and backcountry skiers.