Incredible and easy winter hiking in Vancouver

Grey skies and rainy days conspire to keep many Vancouverites cooped up indoors during the winter months.  There is a solution for cabin fever, however: Just look up.

The North Shore mountains, just across the Lions Gate Bridge from downtown, offer an outdoor playground during the winter months – and not just for skiers. Well maintained trails on Cypress, Grouse and Seymour Mountains give hikers and snowshoers a chance to stretch their legs in pristine alpine forest.

Among the best routes for beginners looking for an easy hike is the Dog Mountain Trail on Mt. Seymour, which is 5 kilometres round-trip and takes about two hours to complete.  I checked out the trail over the weekend, on a day when downtown Vancouver was blanketed in fog.

Up at the 935-metre base of Mt. Seymour in North Vancouver, however, the sun was shining bright and it was a balmy 9 degrees Celsius.  After parking amid skiers and snowboarders, I made my way to the trailhead, marked by a B.C. Parks sign in the northwest corner of the parking lot.

The trail starts parallel to one of Seymour’s ski runs, before taking a sharp left and diving into thick woodland.  On Saturday, it was busy with groups of snowshoers and plain old hikers making their way over a surface of well packed snow.  Overhead, light filtered in through the branches of massive, second-growth evergreens.

The terrain is relatively flat, which makes Dog Mountain an easier option compared to other alpine hikes, which tend to involve a lot more vertical. Still, gnarled tree roots and icy patches made negotiating the trail a bit difficult in spots.

After about a kilometre of walking, I reached an opening in the forest – the white, frozen surface of First Lake.  Groups were having picnics along the shore and soaking up the winter wonderland – mounds of sparkling white snow under a brilliant blue sky.

The trail continues on and begins a gentle ascent of the mountain.  The terrain is a bit rougher here, requiring some careful footwork on the uphill stretches and the occasional butt slide through the snow on downhill sections.  But the scenery is exceptional.  Clear winter streams slice through the snow, while squirrels race along the trunks of towering evergreens.

After another kilometre, the trail enters a final uphill stretch before opening dramatically to the overview on Dog Mountain. I climbed a rocky outcrop to take in what must be one of the most amazing views in the Lower Mainland.

Looking south and west all I could see was a continuous blanket of cloud far below, the fog that had socked in Vancouver for the last week.  It looked like one big pillow, nestling against the North Shore mountains and stretching all the way to Vancouver Island, obscuring the entire city of Vancouver beneath.  I was happy to be above it.

The Dog Mountain Trail on Mt. Seymour is 5 kilometres roundtrip and considered easy-intermediate (but definitely not child’s play in wintry weather). A detailed description can be found on Vancouver Trails.  

Photo credit: iwona_kellie | Flickr


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