Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver

April 24, 2008

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So you want to get away. And you want to make it last more than a day, though probably not for as long as you’d like. But a weekend — be it two or three days — is better than no break at all, especially when contentment lies just a short journey from home. Your reward is a comfy bed, tasty food, and as little or as much adventure as you’re inclined. That’s exactly what the destinations in Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver are designed to do.

After years of combing B.C. in search of the best outdoors attractions and activities, I’ve amassed a filing cabinet or two of notes to drawn on when narrowing the focus of this book to those special destinations perfectly suited to a quick break, where, no matter what the weather, you can relax in comfort without busting your budget or returning home more stressed than when you started.

My intention with this guide is to suggest places where you can enjoy as soft or as challenging an experience as you wish. You’re the boss of you. Want to ski or ride a bike? It’s all here. Want to relax in a spa or picnic by a river? I’m with you on that, too. And while I can’t help recommending special places where you might want to camp overnight under the stars, my emphasis is predominantly on setting you up with a roof over your head that’s a little more waterproof than a tent, and with room service to boot. Where the only inflatable air mattresses are the ones by the heated pool. Where the margaritas are always freshly squeezed, and where the menus feature the best in local flavours.

Each of the destinations in this guide are within a maximum five-hour drive of Vancouver, including ferry travel where necessary. Most are much closer than that but it hardly seems fair to exclude regions such as the Okanagan which, with a little advance planning, some astute schedule juggling, and a jump on rush-hour traffic, you can reach within the stated time frame.

Pull-out sections in each chapter offer specific tips on maximizing your down time after a minimum of travel. I also include suggestions as to both the best and the less-appealing aspects of each locale: when and where to go, or not, as the case may be. For car-free city dwellers, detailed transit information, including telephone numbers and Web sites, is listed. Wherever suitable, wheelchair access is also noted .

Bottom line: enjoy yourself. Life’s better than you think, and nowhere more so than close to home. Slow travel, anyone?

Excerpt: Vernon and Environs

Silver Star Mountain Resort

Of all three major Okanagan mountain resorts, Silver Star does the best job of reinventing itself from winter to summer. Not only does the village host the Okanagan Summer Wine Festival in mid-August, one of the high points of the year, it welcomes mountain bike riders onto its chairlifts as soon as trails dry out in June. Ask bike enthusiasts in the region for their opinion and the uniform response will be that Silver Star’s bike park rocks. That goes equally for both easy riders and hard core bombers alike.
If you haven’t been here before on a bike, I recommend a quick reconnaissance along a mostly-level paved trail which leads from the village across Vance Creek and intersects with numerous single-track trails which lace through the forest and across open slopes. One of the rewards of exploring the paved route is the cooling shade provided on hot days. Given that this is a wooded environment, come prepared with insect repellant until later in the summer.
Once you’ve gotten a feel for the bike park, pick a trail that suits your ability and energy level and start ripping. Trails are well marked and all lead to the bottom of the Comet Six-Pack Express chairlift where you can start all over again. One of my favourite mellow routes is Cabin Trail, a blend of paved and hardpacked dirt that rises and falls as it loops its way around mid-mountain. An unexpected reward is the sight of alpine wildflowers which bloom profusely from mid-July to mid-August. If there’s a downside to witnessing the cavalcade of colour from blue lupine and red paintbrush, it’s that biting insects are just as much drawn to the blossoms as those on two wheels. Mountain wildflower tours are offered July to September (250-545-7446www.outdoordiscoveries.com; Monday to Saturday afternoons) as well as bears and berries tours (Thursday to Saturday mornings). For those hikers who prefer to ride up and hike down, the Summit Chair runs with you in mind.

Note: The best places to stay here are the condominiums in the Knoll neighbourhood, where Victorian Gaslight replica homes are decorated in four or five exterior hues and trimmed with cookie-cutter moulding. For reservations, visit www.staraccom.com.

Bugaboos Bakery Café (Silver Star Resort) Affable Dutch baker Frank Berkers rolls a combo of cinnamon-and-sugar in croissant dough. The ambrosial results are a masterful achievement. Daily soupsFrank Berkers bakes the best cinnamon buns of any resort in B.C. and espressos rank right up there with the best as well.

The Whistler Book

April 24, 2008

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The Whistler Book is written with the outdoor adventurer in mind. And while every chapter details the activities best suited to each locale within the Sea to Sky corridor, the focus is squarely on those outings most likely to bring family and friends together regardless of individual ability. After all, it’s not just how good you are, it’s how much fun you’re having that’s important.

To that end, my wish is that this book should lead readers to places of tranquility and reflection that offer a thousandfold reward for the effort spent in reaching them. Just one note of caution: No matter how sunny the forecast, mountains create their own weather. So hopefully you haven’t worn cotton, which, when wet, leaches heat much faster than it can be replaced, and you’ve packed an extra layer or two of warm, waterproof clothing. Always let someone know where you plan to explore and when you expect to return, and travel equipped for any eventuality. Enjoy.

Book Excerpt

Callaghan Valley

The Callaghan Valley, site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Nordic ski events, lies 5 km (3 mi.) southeast of Whistler, well within sight of Whistler Mountain’s west side. Although parts of the valley have been logged, much of the old-growth forest at higher elevations remains intact. And rising above the valley on its west side are the snowy summits of Brandywine, Cayley and Powder mountains. Callaghan Creek flows down to join the Cheakamus River close to Highway 99 from its headwaters–a turquoise jewel of a lake at the foot of Mount Callaghan.

The Callaghan Lake Road

The Callaghan Lake Road provides an excellent vista of the mountains on the west side of Whistler Valley for drivers and passengers alike, but perhaps the most compelling reason for travelling even partway up is the view on the return trip. To the east is Black Tusk, which stands alone before you as you descend back into the valley. Comparable to similar views from the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb, this is one of the most panoramic vantage points from which to admire this snaggletooth.

The roads climbs along the north side of a spacious valley past a series of clear-cut blocks, some close to the road, others hidden away, for 15 km (9.3 mi) until it arrives at the shores of Callaghan Lake. Along the way, just before the road crosses a small bridge over Madeley Creek at the 7-km (4.3-mi) point, there is a turnoff to the left that leads to a small recreation site beside Alexander Falls with a captivating viewpoint of the falls and valley. On the west side of the Callaghan Lake Road, just across the bridge above Alexander Falls, is where the Whistler Olympic Park sits. One of the best times to stop here is near sundown, when the evening light plays over the snow domes of the Pacific Range peaks to the west: Brandywine Mountain at the southern end (the highest at 2,227 m/7,300 ft), Mount Cayley in the middle and Powder Mountain to the north. This range separates the Squamish Valley from the wide Callaghan Valley spread out below you.

Callaghan Country Wilderness Adventures (604-938-0616; callaghancountry.com) operates a backcountry lodge and private cross-country trails to the west of Callaghan Lake Road. A 12.5-km (7.8-mi) trail leads from the Alexander Falls area to the lodge which sits tucked away in the shadow of Powder Mountain, the Solitude Glacier and Mount Callaghan itself. At an elevation of 1,370 m (4495 ft), walled in by snowfields and glaciers, the upper Callaghan Valley enjoys a reputation as an icebox in winter – a sure-fire guarantee of dry, fluffy powder snow, ideal for both cross-country skiing and alpine touring. A more typical Coast Mountain scene is hard to conjure up, just as the lodge itself – so tucked away in the woods that on approach it always seems to spring unannounced from the landscape–epitomizes the unique architectural style that has evolved locally since the 1940s, epitomized by Alta Lake Hostel in Whistler and Diamond Head Lodge in Squamish.

c. Jack Christie

52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver

April 24, 2008

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Welcome to the new face of Day Trips in the 21st century. When the first edition of Day Trips from Vancouver appeared almost two decades ago, it helped steer Lower Mainlanders in search of quick access to the neighbouring outdoors. What we’ve set out to accomplish with 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver is to further refine the manner in which information is presented. Key data to help with decision-making now appears at the outset of each chapter. This will allow readers to quickly determine which destination best suits the amount of time at their disposal and the activities they most enjoy.

In the past 15 years, the number of both local parks and recreational interests has soared; the amount of leisure time many of us have to enjoy the outdoors has not kept pace. Thus it’s more imperative than ever that this time-honoured guide help readers become better organized and informed. With this in mind, distances to destinations appear at the opening of each chapter. These are calculated from the bridges that link Vancouver with the North Shore and Richmond, or from the city’s eastern boundary with Burnaby.

Readers will also be able to tell at a glance which activities are best suited to each destination. Since Day Trips from Vancouver first appeared, in-line skating, mountain biking, kayaking and snowboarding have grown steadily in popularity, as have the more gentle pastimes of birding and nature observation. Our purpose with this current edition is to provide readers with the most detailed descriptions of trails and pathways suited to each of these pursuits. For car-free city dwellers, detailed transit information, including telephone numbers and Web sites, is listed. Wherever suitable, wheelchair access is also noted at the beginning of each chapter.

Choosing which destinations to include was a difficult assignment. After all, there are hundreds of trails, lakes and picnic sites alone scattered throughout the Lower Mainland. The number of provincial, regional and municipal parks continues to grow. 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver isn’t intended to be the most exhaustive guide to our region. It does aim to be the most comprehensive look at 19 provincial parks, 17 regional parks, 31 municipal parks and recreation trails, 5 conservation regions, 2 BC Hydro recreation sites, 2 Parks Canada national historic sites, 3 B.C. Forest Service interpretive forests, plus one outstanding county park in nearby Washington state for good measure. How did we decide? Simple. These are the places we return to time after time, season after season, and which reward us with new approaches and fresh prospects year after year.

Book Excerpt

Ladner Harbour

Old Ladner predates the establishment of Vancouver by almost two decades. Walk the town’s core – about the size of Yaletown – and look for the imposing Leary home on Georgia Street, built in 1884. Pass the Delta Museum and Archives, housed in the restored Tudor-style former municipal hall erected in 1912. Marvel at its extensive front stairs, a signal of how high flood waters once rose here before a network of dikes bought peace of mind.

At best, Chisholm Street – Ladner’s two-block-long riverfront drive – yields only half a view of the scale on which heritage businesses, like Massey’s Marine Supply Store, were constructed. And zero perspective on the harbour itself. Which is why it pays to take to the water in order to truly appreciate structures like the Seven Seas Fish Plant whose massive wooden pilings surmount the harbour.

Of course, the height of the tide will also affect your perspective, as will the Fraser’s motion, particularly if you decide to be a little more adventurous and head out of the harbour to explore nearby Ladner Marsh or any of the dozen or so islands that grip the muddy South Arm in a loose choke hold where river meets ocean.

If you don’t own a kayak or a canoe, head for the little kiosk perched on the Elliott Street dock where you can arranges boat tours and paddle sport rentals with Kaymaran Adventure Tours. Racks of kayaks and canoes on a floating concrete dock moored to the pier attest to the flourishing appearance of a new breed of watercraft in Ladner. Under an arrangement with the Corporation of Delta, Kaymaran installed the dock and staircase in 2005, a move that greatly improves public access to the harbour. For hungry or thirsty paddlers, it sits in convenient proximity to two neighbouring watering holes as well – Speed’s Pub and Sharkey’s Seafood Bar & Grille (sharkeys.bc.ca) – whose walls are adorned with vintage photographs and memorabilia from Ladner’s fishing heydays when as many as 16 canneries operated locally.

The new dock on Ladner’s inner harbour isn’t the only place to launch and explore the wildlife-rich marshes and waterways on the South Arm. A skipping stone’s throw away on the north side of the harbour across from the municipal wharf sits Ladner Harbour Park, an expansive green space shaded by a towering cottonwood forest. Walking and running trails, a hard-packed beach, picnic tables and playground, plus a walkway with a raised viewing platform on the harbour, proves just as welcoming a way to experience the Fraser estuary, albeit in a more limited context. The park also provides a floating dock from which to launch, though it’s more challenging to access than the one beside the Elliott Street wharf.

No matter where you launch, there’s a jigsaw puzzle of small islands to explore once you leave the harbour and enter Ladner Reach. In all likelihood, the first time you put in here you’ll be content with a simple reconnaissance paddle through Ladner Marsh to test the waters. Once having reconnoitred for an hour or two, you’ll better appreciate the unique lay of the landscape. Each time you return you can sample more of the mystery. Low-slung islands blend into each other as the Fraser’s South Arm spreads its silty fingers among the deposits that its been making here over the past ten millennia since the most recent ice age.

One of the best times to adventure here is at slack high tide when with greater ease you can paddle through tall stands of reeds that ring many of the islands. The swish of the reeds as they brush your boat is a quieting sound. Relax and let the ocean cradle you as if you were one of the majestic mute swans which nest here and along with a host of wildlife call Ladner home.

For information on Kaymaran Adventure Tours, including tours and kayak, canoe and bike rentals, as well as membership in the Ladner Paddling Club, call 604-946-7507 or 604-946-5070, check the Web site kaymarantours.com, or stop by the Elliott Street Wharf or the Ladner Outdoor Store, 4860 Chisholm Street. For daily tide tables, check tides.gc.ca.

Ladner’s Pioneer May Days take place in late May. For a schedule of events, visit ladnermaydays.org. Ladner Village Market Days begin in June and continue on alternate Sundays through August.

The Delta Museum and Archives, 4858 Delta Street, 604-946-9322, is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.