36 Epic Things To Do In Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver and North Shore Mountains

There are so many incredible things to do in Vancouver! Squished between the ocean and the North Shore mountains this majestic place is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With this location, it’s no surprise that the city is jam packed with epic things to do!  The biggest challenge in visiting Vancouver is picking the best things to do in the limited time you have. Fortunately that’s why I wrote this post, to help you pack your time in Vancouver with the highest percentage of truly awesome activities.

That means we’re going to gloss over the boring stuff, like fighting with cruise ship passengers for a photo of Gastown’s steam clock. We’re also going to gloss over the token tourist punch card items, like pushing through the hoards at the overpriced Capilano suspension bridge.  So, if you’re planning a trip to Vancouver and looking for some truly epic things to do, you’ve come to the right spot!  

I should also note that I’m not a travel blogger that visited the city once, I lived there for years and subsequently developed a strong opinion on the best things you should do on a trip to Vancouver.  These epic things to do  are the same recommendations  that I’ve given to some of my closest friends.

 Let’s dive in!

Revolver Coffee Vancouver

1. Indulge in Epic Coffee

Maybe you’re tired from your long flight or drive into Vancouver or you’re worn out from the other epic things to do on this list. Fear not! Vancouver’s fantastic suite of coffee roasters and coffee shops will get you wired up fast. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the city’s obsession with great coffee is almost on par with its obsession with another plant based intoxicant…

Here’s a few solid places to get your caffeine fix:

Revolver – This coffee shop on the edge of Gastown exudes a Brooklyn-esqe charm. They serve a curated selection of beans from around the world.

Nemesis -Located near Revolver, this light spot excludes a modern feel with polished concrete floors, light wood accents, and big windows. They also have several other locations in the city, including the Polygon Art Gallery in North Vancouver. 

Matchstick – With 5 beautifully designed cafes across the city, Matchstick offers delicious house roasted coffee and baked goods.

Elysian – A bit of a puritan coffee shop with fantastic coffee and 1 or 2 types of baked goods. If you’re into a minimalist aesthetic this is your spot. If you like drinks with caramel, this isn’t your vibe at all.  Don’t even dare asking if they have wi-fi… 

JJ Bean – a Vancouver institution that started in Granville island market and worked its way across the lower mainland. Despite their omnipresence they have excellent coffee with a great selection of roasts. 

Biking the North Shore Vancouver

2. Bike the North Shore

This item is likely top thing on your Vancouver to do list if you came to Vancouver with a death wish alongside this epic to do list.  Mountain biking was essentially born on Vancouver’s north shore! The trails are devilishly challenging and many are downright terrifying. Accomplished mountain bikers frequently find themselves pushed to a new level on the green level runs, psychically shaking on the blues, and fearing for their lives on the blacks. I don’t even know who rides the double blacks out here… If this sounds like your cup of adrenaline, check out endless biking they have top-tier rentals, tours and even lessons so you can learn how to ride these trails without leaving in a body bag.

3. Check Out Vancouver’s Incredible Beer Scene

If you like beer, delicious craft beer, Vancouver is pretty much a shoe-in to become one of your favorite cities to knock back a cold one in. There are over 48 craft breweries in this town, making it next to impossible for a mere mortal to visit them all in one trip. Don’t go to Granville Island Brewing or Stanley Park Brewing; they’re simply masquerading as cute microbrews, and are owned by major beer conglomerates Molson and Anheuser-Busch InBev respectively. A couple of my personal favorite microbrews to check out are:

R & B Brewing – One of Vancouver’s original microbrews. R & B has a relaxed environment with awesome beers and pizza.

33 Acres – Always felt like the “cool” micro brewery leaning on a real west coast minimalist design where you drink great beer. This spot is like the person that was cool in high school, somehow stayed cool in college, but now they’re in their late twenties and maybe they’re losing the cool factor, but maybe not? Awesome beer though.  

Howe Sound Brewing – If you make the trek out to Squamish this is the spot to go after a big day of adventuring that is synonymous with Squamish. They even have an inn attached, should you get a little carried away… 

If you’re itching for an easy way to see multiple breweries, check out Vancouver Brewary Tours, but inquire if they plan on making stops at Red Truck (fake micro), Big Rock (fake micro) or electric bicycle (people either love this place or hate it as they make some pretty weird beer…).

Crown Mountain Hike in Vancouver

4. Climb Crown Mountain in North Vancouver

Looking across Vancouver harbor and to the North Shore mountains several prominent peaks catch your eye: the two sand castle looking bulges, the Lions, and the crown looking mountain to the North. If you’re looking for an adventure, have come equipped with the required gear for an intense hike and are comfortable with hiking and scrambling, Crown Mountain provides unprecedented views of Greater Vancouver, Mount Baker, and the Coast mountains. This hike is accessed from the top of Grouse Mountain which can be reached via Gondola or by hiking the Grouse Grind or BCMC up. From the top of Grouse to Crown mountain it’s a 10km round trip, with over 850m of elevation gain. If you’re looking for a walk in the park, go to Stanley Park, if you’re looking for an epic thing to do in Vancouver, summit the crown. 

5. Watch Live Music with a Drink at Guilt & Co.

For people itching to party it up until 4am on a Tuesday night Vancouver may leave you wanting… Fortunately, for those that lean towards a good cocktail in a quaint setting there are a few great options to choose from, perhaps none better than Guilt & Co. Hidden underneath the banal Local, this charming little live music and cocktail den delights visitors with 2 live shows a night.  Check their site for the show schedule.

6. Visit One of Canada’s Best Cocktail Bars

Dark and moody, the Keefer Bar. is an apothecary themed bar mixing up over 25 unique cocktails. Since it opened the Keefer Bar continuously rakes in awards as one of the best cocktail bars in Canada.  A reservation is required, it’s a popular spot. 

Medina Waffles
Image Source & Credit: Medina

7. Go for Brunch

Make sure you’re well nourished for all these epic list things to do by starting with an early brunch! Here are a few great options: 

Medina – A Vancouver brunch favorite. Make sure to try the Liège Style Waffles. 

The Belgard Kitchen – Located in the beautifully restored historic settlement brunch here is worthwhile for the aesthetic alone. 

The Acorn – For an incredible vegetarian and vegan brunch check out this storied Vancouver restaurant which offers a weekend brunch from 10 am to 2pm. 

Jam Cafe –  People line for hours to brunch at Jam. If the lines short it’s worthwhile, but no brunch is worthy of a 2 hour wait. 

MeeT – Epic Vegan brunch options. 

What about OEB? Yes, OEB breakfast has invaded Vancouver. Sure, they have great brunch options, but you can also find them in numerous other locations across Canada and the United States. 

8. Escape to Deep Cove

I absolutely love Deep Cove. This little community with a tiny strip of shops and a marina is only  17km from downtown Vancouver, but feels like a thousand miles away! Grab a coffee from Cafe Orso, a donut from the ever popular Honey Donuts, or have dinner on the patio near the water at Arm’s Reach Bistro. It took me an hour to find parking here once, so come early, bike, or take public transit. Also note that unfortunately, the popular walk to the Quarry Rock viewpoint remains closed at this time.

9. Kayak from Deep Cove

Tagging onto the last point. Deep Cove offers incredible exploration from the water and there is no better way to do it than from a kayak. Deep Cove Kayak offers tours, courses, and rentals for kayaking as well as a number of options for SUP Boarding. If you thought deep cove felt like a million miles away from the city, just wait until you get out on the water exploring Indian arm. 

10. Dine at Tacofino, a Vancouver Institution

Tacofino started as a food truck in the surftown of Tofino on Vancouver Island and quickly spread to Vancouver. Today, you’ll find 5 Tacofinos spread out across the city, each with their own individual flair.  Inspired by the surfside BBQ’s around the world, these restaurants pull off their goal of making you feel like you’re having a surfside recharge while enjoying their epic food. 

Minami Vancouver
Photo Credit Minami

11. Sit Down for Incredible Sushi

People often say Vancouver has some of the best Sushi outside of Japan. Who are these people? I dunno, but I think they’re onto something. If you love Sushi check out these spots: 

Minami – Upscale bouji sushi, but if you’re looking for a splurge this is the spot. 

Toshi Sushi – Compact little sushi shop. This place takes the cake for authentic japanese sushi.

12. Eat the Best Fish and Chips in Vancouver

Are there more idyllic spots to grab Fish and Chips then from a fish mounger off main street? Probably, but not will you find better tasting and more sustainably sourced fish than at the Fish Counter. This little spot inside the fish shop is quite literally a counter, but they serve the best fish and chips in the city. The fish can be made with either Halibut, Pacific cod, Wild Salmon, or Lingcod. They even offer a gluten-free batter with a dedicated gluten-free frier for any celiac travelers in the group. The founders have been instrumental in starting numerous conservation efforts, including the Ocean Wise seafood label. 

13. Sample Vancouver’s Best Ice Cream

You wouldn’t think a city that averages over 2351 mm (92.6 inches) of rain per year would be so into ice cream, but it is! Check out Rain or Shine ice cream or Earnest Ice Cream. I don’t typically have a sweet tooth, but when one of these shops opened up a block from my old house, it spelt big trouble for me. I shamelessly devoured double waffle cones daily for a week before reigning myself in… It’s not something I’m proud of, but I now can truly attest to the quality of their cream. Enjoy!

Nemesis Coffee

14. Indulge on Incredible Pastries and Baked Goods

If you’re a fan of delectable baked goods, you’re in luck, Vancouver has a plenty of incredible spots to indulge including: 

Small Victory- This cafe and bakery whips up incredible croissants, cakes, and quiches. The almond croissant used to be a personal favourite indulgence of mine util turning plant-based ruined my fun. They have 3 locations around Vancouver.

49th Parallel  & Lucky’s Donuts – Don’t let the omnipresence of Tim Hortons turn you off donuts, try Lucky’s donuts at one of the Parallel 49 locations. They even offer a gluten-free/vegan donut so everyone can indulge!  

Best Gluten-Free and/or Vegan Bakeries in Vancouver

If you’re looking for a bakery with plenty of gluten-free or vegan options in Vancouver, fear not there are plenty of great options. Check these ones out:

Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery – 100% gluten-free bakery with many vegan, nut-free, and dairy free options.

Gluten Free Epicurean  – 100% gluten-free bakery offering breads, cakes, frozen meals and mixes.  

Level V Bakery – 100% Vegan bakery that offers everything from almond croissants to wedding cakes. Delicious! 

15. Experience Epic Plant-Based Food in Vancouver

A few years ago I gave up eating animals and things that came from animals, but don’t worry I’m not going to go all annoying vegan on you. I am going to tell you about a couple awesome vegan restaurants to check out in Vancouver, if you’re vegan, veg or simply plant-curious.

Meet– What a pun! This place whips up incredibly homestyle, hangover destroying favorites on the off chance you had a few too many at Keefer bar. Burgers, poutine, and brunch all 100% plant-based, this is vegan comfort food at its finest.

Virtuous Pie – This place took two of the best foods, pizza and ice-cream, and made them 100% plant-based with the mission of creating food that tastes great, is good for your body and supports a healthy planet. Sounds like a good reason to feel good about eating pizza and ice cream!

The Acorn – This award-winning vegetable forward restaurant crafts imaginative, seasonal plates with premium ingredients from the local foraging and farming community. A chefs tasting menu is offered here for an elevated dining experience.

Wreck Beach Vancouver

16. Spend Time at the Beach, But Maybe Not Kits Beach

Before I moved to Vancouver, I always heard the mystical name Kits Beach and envisioned it as the beach to visit in Vancouver.  Sadly, not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice.  I thoroughly enjoyed running along it on my daily jogs, but there are far better beaches to visit in Vancouver! Check out Third beach in Stanley Park, Spanish Banks, or Wreck Beach. Wreck beach is one of the nicest beaches in Vancouver and offers incredible views across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Wreck Beach is also North America’s largest naturist beach, making it likely Vancouver island isn’t the only view you’ll see on your visit here… Don’t worry, clothed people are equally welcome here.

17. Purchase Your Own Nimbus 2000 and Explore Granville Island Market

I bet you never thought you’d get excited about going broom shopping?  With Granville Islands Broom Co. that’s exactly what will happen! Brave the crowds at the ever popular Granville Island and stop in to purchase your own beautiful and functional Shaker Style broom. Maybe you’re into quidditch or maybe you’re into cleaning, either way you’ll be enthralled with your new broom.  When you’re finished explore Granville Island Market, eat a bagel at the ever popular Siegel’s Bagels, grab a coffee at the original JJ bean location, and then take a quick look at the vegetables and other market vendors (Gourmet pickles anyone?). Granville Island can get jammed with other vegetable admiring tourists, so consider yourself warned. 

18. Experience Vancouver's Bud Culture

Vancouver is a bit like North America’s Amsterdam. There are lots of bikes and lots of weed. Well before marijuana was legalized in Canada, it was readily available at numerous brick-and-mortar stores throughout the city that managed to tippy-toe around the law. Since Marijuana’s legalization in Canada you’ll barely walk a block without coming across a dispensary. Take a pop into one, even if you’re simply curious about BC’s most famous export. In many, the experience feels more akin to perusing a luxury retailer than tucking into a pot shop.

19. Circumnavigate the Stanley Park Seawall by Bike

Biking around the Stanley Park Seawall is a particularly wonderful way to take in the sublime beauty of Vancouver’s surrounding oceans, trees, and mountains. Unfortunately, every other tourist in the city seems to think so too, including the ones that haven’t ridden bicycles for the last several decades. This is a remarkably beautiful thing to do in the city, but if you’re visiting Vancouver during the peak summer season, try to do it early in the morning or in the late afternoon to beat the crowds. Don’t bother with renting a bike from the innumerable number of bike shops in Yaletown, Coal Harbour and False creek, just download the app and rent a Shaw Mobi bike. Going this route gives you the option of being able to terminate your rental at one of the many stations throughout the city as opposed to having to return to the bike shop you rented from.  I’ll be honest, I made a point of biking this loop a couple times a year even after doing it dozens of times. It’s really that nice, despite sometimes feeling as backed up as an LA freeway.  Checkout this map for directional guidance as bikes are only allowed to travel counter-clockwise.

20. Go to Pitch and Putt at Stanley Park

Maybe you’re an avid golfer. Maybe you’re a total hack that likes to bat the ball around with friends over a couple drinks (that’s me). Whatever camp you fall into, you’re sure to love Stanley Park Pitch and Putt. Situated in the heart of Stanley Park near English Bay, Pitch and Putt features 18 mini holes ranging in distance from 40 to 100 yards. The course is first-come, first-served, so stop in during your exploration of the park and play a few holes. It can back up at times, but you’re under no obligation to complete the entire thing and multiple opportunities present themselves to opt out early. 

21. Enjoy the Ultimate in West Coast Relaxation at Willow Stream Spa

If all the epic things to do on this list have worn out and you’re looking to relax, visit the Willow Stream Spa. For those that don’t feel up to making the drive out to Scandinave Spa in Whistler, the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel provides the ultimate in relaxation in Vancouver. The steam room, sauna, and terrace with North Shore Mountain views consistently propel the Willow Stream Spa to its spot as one of the best spas in the world. 

Penguins at the Vancouver Aquarium

22. Make an Informed Decision on Visiting the Aquarium

In the past, no trip to Vancouver would have been complete without a stop at the Vancouver Aquarium.  Situated in an idyllic location in the heart of Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium is Canada’s largest aquarium and lets you get up close and personal with sea otters, sea lions, and penguins. Awesome, right? Well, that depends on which camp you fall into. For years Vancouver Aquarium was owned and managed by Ocean Wise, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, Coivd-19 devastated the aquariums finances and Ocean Wise was forced to sell Vancouver Aquarium to a for profit theme park operator, Herschend Enterprises. Make your own decision and decide what works with your moral compass, but I believe that the world’s best Zoos are those like the San Diego zoo that function as non profits and focus all their energy on animal welfare and conservation as opposed to to cost-cutting and profit maximization. Your call. 

the raven and the first men at MOA vancouver

23. Visit the Museum of Anthropology

Vancouver is situated on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. To learn more about the incredible cultures and history of the indigenous people of the pacific northwest, make sure to visit the Museum of Anthropology. Situated on the University of British Columbia campus, the building itself is a site to behold. Designed by the world-renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, this stunning glass and concrete building sits perched above the western most point of Vancouver overlooking the Strait of Georgia. The immaculate landscaped grounds include multiple Haida Houses constructed with the aid of famed Haida artist Bill Reid to replicate a 19th century Haida village. 

Inside, the spectacular Great Hall area displays Northwest Coast sculptures, textiles, bentwood boxes, canoes, poles, house posts and carved figures dating from the 19th century.  The museum features an unparalleled collection of artifacts from the original cultures pacific northwest and the world’s largest collection of works by Haida artist Bill Read, including his famous sculpture The Raven and the First Men. 

**** The Great Hall is closed for seismic upgrades until 2023. ***

24. Skip the Grouse Grind, Do BCMC or Neither

So many recommendations for things to do in Vancouver include hiking the Grouse Grind. I’m not sure why…  It’s a hike predominantly in the trees, that’s unbelievably busy, that’s only real claim to fame is gaining close to 800M of elevation in 2.5 KM and referring to itself as “mother nature’s stairmaster”. If you’re hiking it to skip paying the gondola fee to hike something worthwhile like Crown Mountain, ok. If not, skip it. If you insist on picking a subpar hike for the only reason of obtaining bragging rights, go for the BCMC. It starts from the same trailhead and also gains a ton of elevation in a short period of time to end up at the top of Grouse Mountain. It’s still busy, but not quite as busy. 

If you are dying for elevation gain, consider hiking to Eagle Bluffs from Horseshoe Bay, or drive out to Squamish and do the Chief, a very busy but worthwhile hike. 

Ski Cypress Mountain

25. Ski the Local Mountains

This post is about the best things to do in Vancouver and the immediate vicinity, so, unfortunately, I can’t add have a super epic day skiing at Whistler to this list! That said, somehow Vancouver is absurdly privileged and endowed with 3 local mountains all within eyesight of downtown! If you’d like to get out on the slopes,  but can’t sacrifice an entire day or an entire paycheck to visit Whistler, head out to Cypress, Grouse, or Seymour. Of the three, Cypress Mountain would be my top choice. 

trail run

26. Go for a Run, on a Trail, in a Park or up a Mountain

Vancouver’s mild climate, incredible geography, and unparalleled pathway system make it a runners paradise. Road runners head to the 22km (13.7 miles) Seawall which runs from Coal Harbour all the way around Stanley Park and False Creek to Kitsalano Beach. This flat path is the perfect track for stretching your legs, with scenery so gorgeous the distance flies by. I ran my first half-marathon here completely by accident, I just got distracted by the views. If you’re up for something more rustic take a run through the trails in Stanley Park or Pacific Spirit Regional Park. If you’re an avid trail runner, Vancouver offers plenty of options to push your limits.  The rugged and stunningly scenic 26 KM Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT) is the ultimate confidence builder. For something less ambitious, run the first part of the HSCT to St. Marks Summit or run the 14 km to Norvan Falls in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. 

View from the campsite at magnesia meadows

27. Go Backpacking

Vancouver is a hikers paradise, so naturally, it’s also incredible for backpacking and spending a night or two in the wilderness.

If you’re new to backpacking, cut your teeth by hiking into Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This 11 KM hike with 600 M of elevation gain takes you into a well equipped backcountry campsite with 35 tent platforms, a day-use shelter, and pit toilet facilities.  The trail follows a beautiful ridge before coming to the campsite which offers stunning mountain scenery. Reservations are required here and it’s a popular spot, so book your site well ahead of time.  

If you’re an experienced backpacker, the Howe Sound Crest trail is an incredible  backpacking trip only minutes from Vancouver. Starting from the base of Cypress Mountain, you traverse the spine of mountains that tower above the city and parallel the Howe Sound. This is a rugged trip with no amenities or designated campsites, so if you have to google what digging a cathole means, this trip isn’t for you, at least not yet.  

Porteau Cove Provincial Park

28. Go Car Camping

If backpacking isn’t your thing, but you love spending a night under the stars, go car camping! Porteau Cove is one of the most beautiful car camping sites you’ll find anywhere. Backing right onto the Howe Sound with incredible views to the mountains across the water, this campsite is the best outdoor adventure commercial made manifest.  Better yet, it is only 45 minutes down the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver. So bring your tent, or rent a campervan for some of the best oceanside camping you’ll find anywhere. Make a reservation early, Porteau Cove fills up months in advance!

29. Go Scuba Diving

At first thought you might not think of Vancouver as a premier scuba diving destination, but guess again! British Columbia was named the #1 diving destination in North America by Scuba Diving Magazine.  Incredible biodiversity and vibrant life make this area a divers paradise. Check out the diving locker and consider taking a dry-suit course, the diving’s beautiful, but not exactly tropical.  

30. Take a Day or Half-Day Trip to Bowen Island

Only a 20 minute ferry ride from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay, Bowen Island is the perfect day or half-day destination. The island features over 20 km of hiking trails with epic views of the surrounding Howe Sound, including the climb to the island’s high point, Mt. Gardner. If you’re hiked out, explore Bowen Island by bike (or e-bike), go sea kayaking, or play 9-holes of golf. Fuel up for your adventure with coffee, lunch, or breakfast at the Snug

Dr. Dun Yat-Sen Garden Vancouver

31. Visit Dr. Dun Yat-Sen Garden

Mere blocks from Vancouver’s notorious and dystopian Downtown Eastside, lies Chinatown and the tranquility of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. This authentic representation of Ming Dynasty-era tradition was the first of its kind outside of China and features numerous winding paths, rocks, water lily-covered ponds, and a pagoda. It’s a remarkably peaceful place to sit and read or watch the Koi fish assuming they’re not being terrorized by a rogue river otter.

32. Visit Science World or Send the Kids to Space

The unmissable silver golf ball looking building along the False Creek segment of the Sea Wall is home to Vancouver Science World. This is an amazing place to ditch your spouse with your young aspiring scientists while you enjoy a few hours of bliss at the spa, a brewery, or yoga. That said, the frequency of awesome exhibits here ( T- Rex : The Ultimate Predator anyone?) make it likely that you may find yourself equally entertained. They even offer frequent adult nights for those looking to explore their inner scientist sans children and with music and adult beverages. 

For another kid friendly science oriented activity check out the  H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in the UFO shaped building not far from the Kits Beach area. 

33. Dine at One of Vancouver’s Finest Restaurants

If you’re looking for an earth shattering culinary experience, Vancouver has plenty of options to satiate your palate. From rich Quebecouis inspired cuisine to premium farm to table, and innovative Thai, there is no shortage of remarkable restaurants to experience. Check out this list of 7 restaurants to try in Vancouver written by Michelin, the same company responsible for both the coveted Michelin star restaurant guide and of course the car tires. 

34. Go to an Awesome Pool

Remember how I mentioned earlier that  you should skip Kits beach? Well, I sorta lied. Although you may wish to skip the beach for the aforementioned reasons, you should definitely visit the Kitsilano Pool if you’re looking for an exceptional place to perfect your front crawl! Backing onto the ocean, this saltwater pool delivers epic views of the North Shore Mountains and downtown Vancouver without the risk of Ecoli that seems to show up in the ocean here from time-to-time.  The Second Beach Pool in Stanley park is another terrific option that delivers a similar ambience.

35. Work on Your Yoga Practice

Vancouver’s love for Yoga spawned the stretchy pants and athleisure apparel movement that spread across the world. So, it’s only fitting that there are plenty of terrific spots to work on your yoga practice. Here are couple great places to check out:

Modo Yoga (East Vancouver or North Vancouver) – These studios offer some of the best Yoga classes I’ve taken anywhere. Classes here do a marvelous job of fusing the traditional elements of yoga practice with a challenging workout (more relaxing classes are also offered).  Both studios also offer a weekly Karma donation based class (typically $5). 

Free Outdoor Yoga (summer months) – The big stretchy pant empire company, Lululemon, frequently offers free outdoor yoga classes during the summer months. So, if you’re interested, do a quick search for free outdoor yoga Vancouver for the where and when.

lonsdale quay

36. Take the Sea Bus to Lower Lonsdale and Explore the Area

Being surrounded by water, you may feel yourself called to book an overpriced dinner-on-a-boat trip just to eat mediocre food with an ocean view. Don’t waste your time. If you’re itching to see Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver from the water, board the Seabus from waterfront station and take it across to Lonsdale Quay. You’ll be treated to epic views of Vancouver harbour and downtown Vancouver along the way. Better yet, a ticket costs $3.10 one-way. Once you get across you’ll have the opportunity to explore the Lonsdale Quay market, a smaller and much less touristy version of Granville Island market. The adjacent Lower Lonsdale neighborhood is also worth exploring with numerous decent restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and of course, multiple breweries. 

Where to Stay in Vancouver

Backpackers Budget

Accommodation in Vancouver can be expensive, especially during the peak summer months. If you’re travelling on a budget or are looking to meet fellow travellers check out the following hostels:

HI Hostel Downtown Vancouver–  Daily planned activities, a rooftop patio, and convenient Yaletown location make this a great choice. 

Samesun Vancouver – This hostel consistently ranks as the best overall hostel stay in Vancouver.  Complementary breakfast and the attached Beaver Taphouse  with cheap food and social gatherings make this a backpackers favourite. 

Cambie Hostel – Lively atmosphere in the heart of Gastown. The patio bar here is always a great spot for a beer with good company. 

Mid Range

EXchange Hotel Vancouver –  Located in the heart of downtown this historic building in the home of the original Vancouver stock Exchange and is Vancouver’s first LEED™ Platinum Heritage Conversion. Exceptional service and great rooms adorn this character hotel. The perfect blend of style, comfort, and value that feels boutique without the boutique price. 

Hyatt Regency Vancouver – If the EXchange is fully booked or pricing high, this Hyatt offers exceptional service in a convenient location for a consistently great stay.  

Luxury

the Loden – Consistently ranking as one of the best boutique hotels in the country , the Loden prides itself in its personalized service, high-end amenities and being a central, quiet oasis within the city.

L’Hermitage Hotel –  One of Vancouver’s most elegant Boutique hotels, L’Hermitage is located in the heart of Vancouver’s  shopping, financial and entertainment district, and steps from Canada Place. This 60-room, luxury, boutique property combines Parisian chic and West Coast sophistication.

Skytrain in Vancouver

How to Get Around Vancouver

Vancouver is an incredibly easy city to get around in with highly efficient public transit and bike infrastructure (protected bike lanes). Rent a mobi bike, use the skytrain, or grab a Lyft or Uber. The skytrain runs directly from downtown Vancouver to YVR airport making airport access a breeze. 

If you’re planning on exploring more outside the city itself,  a car rental from YVR airport is extremely convenient, but parking and traffic can be problematic in certain areas of the city and times of day. Alternatively, short term car sharing apps EVO and Modo operate here, but require registration well in advance as drivers abstracts are usually required to register.

What to Pack for Vancouver - don't forget these things

Vancouver get’s a lot of rain, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the city and tackling this list of things to do just just dress for it.  If you’re properly dressed, you’ll find yourself becoming a local, undeterred by the seemingly endless drizzle. Make sure to include the following on your packing list for Vancouver:

A rainproof shell jacket – Umbrellas are bulky, require a hand to hold them and you forget them everywhere (at least I do). Get a solid jacket with a hood and you’ll be all good, like the Patagonia Torrentshell (mens/womens).

Footwear for rainy days – Sneakers are great for sunny days, but a pair of Blundstones are the perfect footwear for exploring Vancouver and avoiding the dreaded soggy shoe. 

Merino Wool Socks – Even if they get wet, they stay warm. I’m a huge fan of darn tough socks. They’re guaranteed for life, so say goodbye to holes.

Whatever you do, don't forget travel insurance

I broke my collarbone mountain biking while traveling in 2019 and racked up emergency medical bills in excess of $15,000. Fortunately, it was completely covered by my travel insurance! Whatever you do, don’t forget your travel insurance!  World Nomads offers the best coverage and customer service for travelers.  Hopefully you never need to make a claim, but if you do you’ll be beyond happy you were prepared!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this post helps with you decide on a few epic things to do during your time in Vancouver!  I’m convinced that you’ll fall head over heels for this town with its breathtaking scenery, temperate climate, and incredible things to do. If you don’t,  it might be a you thing. 

What’s on your list of epic things to do in Vancouver? Anything you’ve done in Vancouver and loved that I missed? 

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Rockwall Trail | The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Rockwall

View along the Rockwall Trail towards Floe Lake.

The Rockwall Trail is one of the Canadian Rockies’ premier backpacking trips. For 55km you’ll be treated to a seemingly unending supply of sublime Rocky Mountain scenery. You’ll camp near glacier-clad Floe Lake, hear the torrent of water crashing down from 300m+ high Helmet Falls, and be left awestruck by the Rockwall itself, an incredible expanse of 1000ft cliffs arranged almost unbroken for 30km.

Traversing three high passes in Kootenay National Park, the Rockwall delivers over 2,500 m meters of quad-burning elevation gain and over that amount of knee-crunching descent. Fortunately, five established campsites make daily mileage manageable for backpackers looking to space the hike out over a longer period of time. 

Your biggest challenge in backpacking the Rockwall is likely to be obtaining a permit and finding a way to escape the crowds on this popular hike.  Fortunately, you’ve come to the right spot!  This comprehensive guide was built on my own experience hiking the Rockwall and includes multiple itinerary options for planning your own adventure. I also reveal how I managed to hike the first 40 km without crossing paths with another hiker, while snagging a permit only days before starting my hike. 

So without further ado, let’s dive in.

Here’s a summary of the information you’ll find in this guide:

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Need to Know for Hiking the Rockwall Trail

Days Required: 2-5
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 54 km (34 miles)
Elevation Gain: 2,500 m ( 8, 000 ft)
Elevation Loss: 2,600 m (8, 500 ft)
Permit Required: Yes, campsites must be booked and book up fast
Designated Campsites: Yes
Navigation: Easy, well marked and maintained trail
Food Storage: Provided bear boxes
Best Campsite: Floe Lake
Worst Campsite: Helmet/Ochre Junction

Patrol Cabin on the Rockwall Trail near Helmet Falls

Things You’ll Love About This Hike

    • Sublime Rocky Mountain scenery.
    • Established campsites with bear lockers (no need to carry a bear canister), tent pads, outhouses, and tables for cooking/eating.
    • Numerous campsites allow for flexibility on trip duration and daily mileage.
    • Chance to see Rocky Mountain mega fauna (moose, grizzly bears, and mountain goats).

Things You Won’t Love About This Hike

    • Lack of solitude during peak season with large campsites.
    • Competitive permit process that requires advance trip planning during peak season.
    • 13 km shuttle required between the starting trailhead and ending trailhead.
    • Most campsites lack dynamic views from the tent pads.

How to get a permit for the Rockwall trail

Trekking the Rockwall Trail is such a memorable backpacking trip that your biggest challenge is likely to be securing the right to do it. Reservations for many dates/campsites along the Rockwall book up days after Parks Canada opens the reservation system (usually at the end of January) and no permits are allocated for walk-ups. If you’re planning on doing this trek during peak season, set a reminder and plan ahead to avoid missing out.

To get a permit for the Rockwall Trail you can either call Parks Canada at 1-877-737-3783 or use the online system for Kootenay National Park.

You must start by selecting your starting trailhead, either:

    • Paint Pots Trailhead – if heading North to South
    • Floe Lake Trailhead- if heading South to North

After picking your starting trailhead you’ll select the campsites you’ll stay at each night. For help with that, refer to the itinerary section below.

Hiker on the Rockwall trail between Helmet Falls and Tumbling Creek

When to Hike the Rockwall

The Rockwall Trail is best hiked between early-mid July and mid September. Any earlier and the passes can still be snowbound and sections can be subject to avalanche danger. Later season trips provide a means to beat the crowds and gain booking flexibility. The downside is that the days get shorter, the nights get colder, and there is a significant chance of early season storms disrupting or canceling your hike all together.

My recommendation on when to hike it

I hiked the Rockwall in early October snow-free, but the nights were chilly (woke up to significant frost) and we used up the majority of daylight hours to complete the Rockwall in 2 nights. If you get lucky with weather and are prepared for the potential of cold-weather/snow, fall can be the perfect time to take this trip and you’ll experience solitude unlike any other time of year. We hiked the first 40 km before encountering another group, camped alone at Tumbling Creek, and shared Floe lake with only 4 other parties.  With demand for reservations falling off significantly after the middle of September,  it’s possible to reserve a permit the day before starting a trip (especially during the week). If you are prepared for the challenges of late season hiking, this is the way to go, so keep your eyes glued to the forecast and make a last minute decision. You might end up having this incredible hike all to yourself!  

How to Get to the Trailheads - Shuttles & Transportation

The Rockwall Trail starts from either Floe Lake Trailhead or Paint Pots Trailhead in Kootenay National Park, approximately 50 km from Banff (Paint Pots) and 175 km from the city of Calgary. The Floe Lake and Paint Pots trailheads are 13 km apart on the Kootenay Parkway Highway 93, making transportation between trailheads a required annoyance. Your options for dealing with this are as follows:

 

    • Take 2 cars and leave one at each trailhead.
    • Hitchhike. If you’re electing this option, the best bet is to start your trip with the hitchhike. You get it over with and are more likely to get picked up as you look all fresh and clean! Consider making a small sign on a piece of paper that says “Hiker: only going 13 km” (helps take the edge off by helping drivers realize that even if you’re a weirdo, they won’t be stuck with you for long).
    • Bet on your social skills and charm (busy season only). Meet someone on the trail or at the parking lot that will drive you to your car. Bring desirable backpacking bribes (think dessert, candy, pocket cocktails) to help lubricate negotiations.
    • Convince a friend, spouse, parent, or lover to drop you off and pick you up! Just make sure you arrange all the details in advance as there is no cell service!

Which direction should you hike the Rockwall Trail?

The Rockwall can be hiked:

    •  North to South starting at Paint Pots trailhead and ending at Floe Lake trailhead, or
    •  South to North starting at Paint Pots and ending at Floe Lake trailhead.

Quite frankly, you should be happy if you get a permit going either direction given how hard it is to snag sites. The hike is awesome no matter how you do it! Floe Lake tends to be the most popular campsite and as a result your itinerary may be dictated by the available dates for camping here.  

I hiked the Rockwall North to South and if I had to choose I’d do that again. Doing it this way lets you enjoy camping at Floe Lake on your last night. Floe Lake is the pièce de résistance of the Rockwall campsites, and enjoying sunrise here is an epic way to cap your trip.

How long does it take to hike the Rockwall?

The Rockwall can be backpacked in 2-5 days depending on how much mileage you’d like to cover each day. In my opinion the sweet spot for hiking the Rockwall is 2-3 nights for reasonably conditioned hikers who are mindful of their pack weight.  You’ll start early and typically finish in the later afternoon. You’ll have full days of hiking, but leave plenty of time for photos, snack breaks, and lunch.  If you’re someone that likes slow mornings or lazing around camp in the afternoon, go for 4 nights – that’ll be perfect. 

The shorter you go for, the more important it is to be cognizant of your pack weight and what you’re packing (see the what to pack section). Pack weight makes a huge difference in your enjoyment levels during long days on the trail.

Rockwall Trail Sections

The Rockwall Trail is best thought of as 5 unique sections. Here’s a quick breakdown of each section described for a North to South trip (Paint Pots to Floe Lake Trailhead). If you’re going South to North, use your imagination and remember uphill changes to downhill!  😉

Helmet Falls in Kootenay National Park

Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls - 14.2 km

14.2 KM - 500 M elevation gain / 200 M elevation loss

The opening section of the Rockwall takes you through lush forest until you pass the Helmet-Ochre junction campground at 8.2 km.  Shortly after Helmet-Ochre Campground the trail swiftly gains elevation for about a kilometer before continuing at a more gradual pace up to the Helmet Falls Campground.  By the time you reach this campground, you’re 14 km into your trip and starting to get a real taste of some of the scenery to come! The campground is situated between the tributaries of Helmet Creek and 350m Helmet Falls crashes down in the distance. Take a breath, soak it all in, and taste that mountain air with an essence of waterfall mist! Yum!  A short side trip takes you closer to the base of the falls for a closer look. Stay here for the night if it’s on the itinerary, if not, proceed to the next level.

Heading towards Rockwall Pass

Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek over Rockwall Pass- 12.3 KM

12.3 KM - 700 M elevation gain / 500 M elevation loss

After departing the Helmet Creek Campground the trail begins an ascent, climbing over 400m in just over 3 km to Limestone Summit.  This hard work gives you your first close-up of the incredible Rockwall. Take it in and enjoy. Erosive forces have been working relentlessly for millennia  to create this view for you and your Instagram followers!  Show ‘em some love and savor it! After your climb, you’ll descend towards the south fork of Helmet Creek before climbing again to Rockwall Pass and eventually passing the junction for Wolverine Pass where a short side trip leads to the border of Kootenay National Park. The scenery along this section is absolutely stunning as you view the Rockwall, alpine meadows and glaciers. Shortly after the junction you’ll make a short but steep descent down to Tumbling Creek Campground with views towards Tumbling Glacier and the Rockwall along the way. The campground is in the trees near the creek. 

views to tumbling glacier on the way to Tumbling Pass

Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek over Tumbling Pass - 7.9 km

7.9 KM - 400 M elevation gain / 700 M elevation loss

After departing the campground and crossing Tumbling Creek, you’ll fire up the ol’ pegs and begin your ascent up to Tumbling pass gaining 350m in 2.5 km. Go legs go! Walking through subalpine forest, you’ll have views of Tumbling Glacier. After reaching the height of the pass you’ll descend through a boulder meadow before following numerous switchbacks alongside tributaries fed from the glacier above, fording the water on numerous occasions. As you descend and hear the roar of Numa Creek grow louder, shrubbery begins to surround the trail. Make lots of noise here to avoid sneaking up on a bear enjoying the buffet of berries that can be found in this section. After walking through some lush vegetation that makes you feel as if you’re hiking in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll arrive at Numa Creek Campsite. 

Numa Pass at the height of the Rockwall Trail

Numa Creek to Floe Lake over Numa Pass - 9.2 km

9.4 KM - 800 M elevation gain / 300 M elevation loss

From Numa Creek Campsite, you’ll cross a log bridge over Numa Creek and hike through lush vegetation adjoining multiple avalanche chutes before beginning the climb to Numa Pass, the highest point on the Rockwall Trail. The ascent to Numa Pass is strenuous with 800m of elevation gain in under 7 km. As you near the top the landscape changes from alpine forest to a barren alpine tundra. From Numa Pass incredible vistas greet your weary legs including a glimpse of Mt. Temple to the North. After taking in the view from the pass, continue down through the alpine as you wind through larch glades and seasonal wildflower meadows, noticing as Floe Lake comes closer into view below you.  Once you reach Floe Lake there are a couple of frequently occupied tent pads near the water, unfortunately the  other sites lack the same view out to the lake. Fortunately, the cooking area is set adjacent to the lake and provides great consolation. Don’t forget to set your alarm, sunrise here is a spectacle to behold!

Floe Lake on the Rockwall Trail

Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead - 10.5 km

9.4 KM - 150 M elevation gain / 900 M elevation loss

After walking for several hundred meters through the subalpine forest surrounding the magnificent Floe Lake, the trail drops sharply for the next 2.5 km, quickly losing 400m.  For the final 8 km you’ll find yourself walking through the remnants of the substantial forest fire that burned through Kootenay National Park in 2003. Heed extra caution on windy days as some of these trees have precarious leans to them. Take note of the incredible regrowth that has already occurred in this burned area and observe the significant logjams that have funneled their way into the valley and Floe Creek below. To wrap the hike you’ll walk alongside a beautiful canyon eroded by the Vermillion River, before crossing to the Floe Lake Trailhead. Give your hiking companions (if applicable) a high five! You did it!!  

View along the Rockwall Trail towards Floe Lake.

Rockwall Itinerary Options

Here’s your Rockwall itinerary buffet! No matter your time or desired mileage level there should be an itinerary that suits your palate.  I’ve also indicated which day you’re likely to find the most challenging. 

Campsites on the Rockwall Trail

To make your reservation for hiking the Rockwall you’ll need to select a campsite for each night. There are 5 campsites along the Rockwall Trail.  Listed in order from North to South they are:

    • Helmet-Ochre Junction Campground*
    • Helmet Falls Campground
    • Tumbling Creek Campground
    • Numa Creek Campground
    • Floe Lake Campground

*None of the below itineraries include the Helment-Ochre Junction Campground. In my opinion, staying at this site provides limited benefit as Helmet Falls to the Paint Pots Trailhead is not a challenge for most hikers looking to complete the Rockwall in its entirety. In a pinch, those looking to spend 4 nights on the trail could use this site as a substitute for Helmet Falls if that was booked. 

Rockwall Trail in 1 Night /2 Days

Crazy?? Maybe! But trail runners slay this dragon of hike in a day. So, the Rockwall Trail is doable as a 1 night / 2 day backpacking trip if that’s all your schedule affords. To make this happen, you’ll need to travel light and be comfortable hiking 30 km+ days with significant elevation changes. Your pack weight should be under 20 lbs. I’d also suggest doing this early in the season (July) so that the long daylight hours are on your side and you can hike from dawn to dusk if needed. 

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, time to pick your poison:

Starting at Paint Pots Trailhead

Option 1
    • Day 1: Paint Pots Trailhead to Tumbling Creek (26.5 km) 
    • Day 2: Tumbling Creek to Floe Lake Trailhead (27.6 km) – Hardest Day

Notes: This option splits the mileage evenly between the two days with Day 2 being significantly more challenging as you’ll combine both Tumbling Pass and Numa Pass in one day before making the knee-crunching descent from Floe Lake to the parking lot.

Option 2
    • Day 1: Paint Pots Trailhead to Numa Creek (34.4 km) – Hardest Day
    • Day 2: Numa Creek to Floe Lake Trailhead (19.7 km)

Notes: A huge Day 1 is a great way to go as you benefit from fresh legs and guaranteed blister-free feet!  Plus, by doing it this way, you group the two easier passes together (Rockwall Pass and Tumbling Pass). This itinerary also saves the most physically strenuous pass (Numa Creek Campsite to Numa Pass) for the lower mileage day and provides ample time for a lunch stop at Flow Lake prior to making the big descent down to the trailhead.

Starting at Floe Lake Trailhead

Option 1
    • Day 1: Floe Lake Trailhead to Numa Creek (19.7 km)
    • Day 2: Numa Creek to Paint Pots (34.4 km) – Hardest Day

Notes: For a 1-night option going South to North, this is the option that I’d pick as the first day is shorter, but includes a significant amount of elevation delta going directly from the Floe Lake Trailhead to the trail’s high point (Numa Pass) then making the big drop down to Numa Creek. The second day will be long, but the most challenging ascent will come first thing as you grind up Tumbling pass from Numa Creek Campground. The final 14 km from Helmet Falls to the trailhead will fly by. 

Option 2
    • Day 1: Floe Lake Trailhead (27.6 km) to Tumbling Creek – Hardest Day
    • Day 2: Tumbling Creek to Paint Pots Trailhead (26.5 km) 

Notes: Despite evening out the mileage, Day 1 will be brutal on this trip as you ascend the trail’s two longest climbs back-to-back while squishing the epic descent from Numa Pass to Numa Creek in the middle. The upside? Day 2 should feel like a breeze after making the early morning climb from Tumbling creek to Rockwall pass, so you can throw it into cruise all the way down.

hiker crosses Numa Creek on the rockwall trail

Rockwall Trail in 2 Nights/3 Days

Anytime you can fit a trip like the Rockwall into an extended weekend, you go for it right? If that’s your motto and you’re an in-shape backpacker that knows your limits, this is probably the trip length for you. When I hiked the Rockwall this is how I did it (North-South) and if I had a do over, I wouldn’t change a thing! This trip duration makes for a couple full days, but you have ample time to enjoy the views without feeling rushed and you’re left with an easy half-day conclusion to wrap it up. 

Starting at Paint Pots Trailhead

    • Day 1: Paint Pots Trailhead to Tumbling Creek (26.5 km) – Hardest Day
    • Day 2: Tumbling Creek to Floe Lake (17.1 km) 
    • Day 3: Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead (10.5 km)

Notes: This is the exact itinerary that I hiked. Day 1 was long, but manageable. Day 2 felt longer than the mileage would suggest given the significant elevation gain over Tumbling Pass and Numa Pass before reaching Floe Lake. The hike out from Floe Lake flew by in the morning of the last day.

Starting at Floe Lake Trailhead

    • Day 1: Floe Lake Trailhead to Numa Creek (19.7 km) – Tie Hardest
    • Day 2: Numa Creek to Helmet Falls (20.2 km) – Tie Hardest
    • Day 3: Helmet Falls to Paint Pots Trailhead (14.2 km)

Notes: This itinerary has been included as an option, but I don’t recommend this itinerary unless you have no other options for the following reasons:

    1. You have limited time to enjoy the scenery around Floe Lake.
    2. The section from Helmet Falls to the Paint Pots Trailhead isn’t nearly as enjoyable of a denouement as the descent from Floe Lake.
Heading towards Numa Pass on the Rockwall Trail

Rockwall Trail in 3 Nights/4 Days

Completing this hike in 3 nights and 4 days requires one longer day, but allows for plenty of time to relax at campsites and enjoy the Rockwall at a more leisurely pace. Unfortunately, this itinerary is slightly awkward, as you’re still stuck with one longish day that will include two passes. 

Starting at Paint Pots Trailhead

    • Day 1: Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls (14.2 km)
    • Day 2: Helmet Falls to Numa Creek (20.2 km) – Hardest Day
    • Day 3: Numa Creek to Floe Lake (9.3 km)
    • Day 4: Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead (10.5 km)  

Notes: Day 2 will be the most challenging as you combine Rockwall Pass and Tumbling Pass in one day. Both are manageable ascents taken in this direction. You’re likely to find the long descent from Tumbling Pass to Numa Creek tiring at the end of a long day. Day 3 has light mileage, but the ascent to Numa Pass is long and gruelling.

Starting at Floe Lake Trailhead

    • Day 1: Floe Lake Trailhead to Floe Lake (10.5 km)
    • Day 2: Floe Lake to Tumbling Creek (17.1 km) – Hardest Day
    • Day 3: Tumbling Creek to Helmet Falls (12.3 km) 
    • Day 4: Helmet Falls to Paint Pots Trailhead (14.2 km)

Notes: Day 2 will be tough. After making the big descent from Numa Pass to Numa Creek, you’ll make the long and thigh-burning ascent to Tumbling Pass. Day 1 is likely to be the next most challenging as the climb to Floe Lake is significant.

Descending the Floe Lake Trail on the Rockwall

Rockwall Trail in 4 Nights/5 Days

The Rockwall Trail’s incredible scenery is worthwhile sticking around for and with 5 established campsites along the trail, why not make use of them? By going with this itinerary you’ll break all major elevation gains into separate days. This seems to be the most popular way for most backpackers trek the Rockwall. The more relaxed schedule allows you to sleep in a bit and relax at camp after arriving early in the afternoon. If this sounds like the type of adventure you’re looking for, here’s how to make it happen:

Starting at Paint Pots Trailhead:

    • Day 1: Paint Pots Trail Head to Helmet Falls (14.2 km) 
    • Day 2: Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek (12.3 km)
    • Day 3: Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek (7.9 km)
    • Day 4: Numa Creek to Floe Lake (9.3 km) – Toughest Day
    • Day 5: Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead (10.5 km)  

Notes: This itinerary is the standard Rockwall itinerary that many backpackers choose. The climb to Numa Pass on Day 4 is likely to be the most challenging.

Starting at Floe Lake Trailhead

    • Day 1: Floe Lake Trailhead to Floe Lake (10.5 km) – Toughest Day 
    • Day 2: Floe Lake to Numa Creek (9.3 km)
    • Day 3: Numa Creek to Tumbling Creek (7.9 km)
    • Day 4: Tumbling Creek to Helmet Falls (7.9 km)
    • Day 5: Helmet Falls to Paint Pots Trailhead (14.2 km)
  •  
  • Notes: This itinerary is the standard Rockwall itinerary that many backpackers choose. The climb to Floe Lake (Day 1) is likely to be the most challenging, with the climb from Numa Creek to Tumbling pass (Day 3) a close second. 
Vermillion River Canyon by Floe Lake Trailhead

What to Pack for the Rockwall Trail

Big hikes like the Rockwall are a lot more enjoyable the lighter your pack. A lighter backpack helps you cover more ground and more elevation with way less effort, making big days more realistic, not to mention more comfortable.

If you’re new to backpacking, don’t stress out about buying the latest and greatest equipment. Save money and use things you already own that can be repurposed for backpacking, rent gear from your local university, or borrow stuff from a gear-head buddy. Later, when you’ve gained more experience, modify your kit and change out gear as you get a better understanding of what creature comforts you can and can’t live without. With this in mind, here’s some gear suggestions for taking this trip:

Tent

The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2’s unique blend of functionality, livability, weight, and durability have earned high praise since its release a couple of years ago. Big Agnes’s customer service is also second to none!  This tent and the Nemo Dagger OMSO were front runners  when I upgraded my tent set-up this year. 

Ultimately, I  prioritized lightweight and bought the Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 after also considering the MSR Freelite. I would have bought the MSR, but it was sold out at the time. If you never backpack alone and don’t mind the extra weight, most of these tents are also available in 3-person models which are much more comfortable for two.

Backpack

If you’re relatively new to backpacking and building out your kit slowly, there is nothing wrong with using a large-size travel backpack with a decent suspension system and padded hip belt, or borrowing a pack from a friend. This gives you time to decide what features you need and whether or not backpacking (and the gear) is something you’re going to invest in.  When I first started backpacking, I used our Khmer Explorer Travel Set on the West Coast Trail and Sunshine Coast Trail, which worked great despite packing way too much!  

If you’ve begun dialing in your backpacking kit and moving towards a lightweight set-up, checkout the Gregory Focal or Women’s specific Facet which at ~2.5lbs provide a great compromise between barebones ultralight packs and the heavier feature-laden packs. 

If you’re ready to go to an extreme level of gram counting, check out the Hyperlite 3400 southwest. It’s 100% waterproof and constructed from ultralight dyneema fabric.

Sleeping Mat

I used to have terrible sleeps in the backcountry until I switched to the Therm-a-Rest. It’s incredibly lightweight, comfortable, and packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. This is probably one of my favorite backpacking items! Try it out. You won’t regret it. Sleep well!

Backpacking Pillow

Yes, you can sleep with a pillow not made of bunched up clothes in the backcountry. Check out the Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe Pillow It packs down ultra small and provides a new level of comfort after long days on the trail.

Sleeping Bag

Patagonia’s sleeping bags are 5 star!!  I received one as a gift several years ago and it kept me cozy during my chilly early October trip on the Rockwall Trail. It’s unbelievably lightweight and packs down small. I found the 30°F / -1°C to be perfect for most outings – if it gets colder you can always layer up! Like all Patagonia products, it’s not cheap, but they stand behind their gear and the quality matches the price point. If you spend a lot of time in colder environments they also make a 20°F / -7°C version.  These bags are a worthwhile splurge!

Water Purification

For purifying water, I’m a huge fan of the Steripen. It’s light, portable and only takes minutes to purify a liter of water in a Nalgene. Press the button, place the pen in your bottle, and stir for a couple minutes!  Make sure to bring tablets as a backup though should you run into any technical problems/dead battery with your Steripen.

Trowel & Toilet Paper

The Rockwall trail feels like luxury with established outhouses at each campsite, that said you need to bring a trowel for digging a cathole in case nature calls at any other time. Follow minimum impact camping principles and be sure to go at least 200m away from any established trails, campsites, or water (creeks, lakes, rivers etc.). Pack out your TP or hang onto it until you reach the next outhouse.

Swiss Army Knife

For fixing gear or cutting food, a swiss army knife is your go-to-everything for backpacking.

Stove & Fuel Canisters

Lightweight, convenient, and reliable, the MSR pocket rocket has been my go-to backpacking stove for years.

Backcountry Cookset

I love the GSI Halulite Microdualist II, two-person cookset. It’s lightweight and I can fit my MSR pocket rocket and a fuel canister inside. Check out the MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit for an all-inclusive solution.

Water Bottle or Reservoir

Nalgenes are always a backcountry favorite. If you’re cutting weight or looking for a way to save a buck, a simple smart water is the go-to for ultralight backpackers. I’ve recently moved to a hydration reservoir as it allows me to stay hydrated continuously without stopping to grab and open a bottle.

Water Container

Extra water storage capacity makes cooking that much easier and camp life more enjoyable, so consider the MSR DromLite Bag V2. It’s also a must for a trip without reliable water sources where hauling more water may be essential.

First Aid Kit

From blisters, to scrapes, and cuts. A first aid kit is an essential item to have.  The pre-built kits from Adventure Medical Kits have served me well on many adventurers. At the end of your trip write down any items you used and replace them so they’re ready for your next adventure.

Hiking Poles

For the grueling passes of the Rockwall, poles make a big difference!  I resisted getting them for years, but take it from a former skeptic, poles are incredible at reducing the strain of long, gruelling descents and providing extra stability on exposed sections. Do yourself a favor and get a pair of poles. For a reliable entry-level option try these Black Diamond Poles or consider upgrading to the carbon fiber to save extra weight.

Bear Spray

When traveling in bear country, Bear Spray is a must. Make sure to remove the packaging and check the expiration date before heading out.

Dry Bag

The Rockwall offers bear storage boxes at every campsite so you can leave your buiky bear can at home! For trips like this, I use a dry bag to store my food, camp cook wear, and toiletries/scented items in for making transportation easy to the bear box and keeping everything nicely organized inside my pack.

Headlamp

The Spot 350 is the way to go with 6 modes including the night vision saving red light! Red light mode takes a minute to get used to, but once you do it’s a total game changer trust me! 

GPS, Compass & Map

Download the GAIA app for maps and gps. I always bring a traditional compass and map as well in the case of technical problems or dead batteries.

Battery Back-up & Charging Cable

Keep your phone charged for photos and gps.

Luxury Items

These items are not necessary, but may be worth it depending on your weight priorities and the distance you plan to cover.

Camp Chair

After a long day on the trail there’s nothing better than finding a nice comfortable spot to rest your weary glutes. The Helinox Chair One is a great option and at just over 1kg, it’s light enough to justify bringing on slower/easier backpacking trips where weight isn’t as big of consideration or for trips from an established base camp.

Hammock

If you’ve never strung up a hammock between two trees deep in the backcountry, you’re missing out! Nothing beats getting horizontal with some great reading material in the pre-dinner hours or taking in an amazing sunset from your own outdoor couch. The ENO Double Nest has room for two and at ½ kg  it’s hardly even a splurge to pack.  P.S. don’t forget the straps to hang it.

Clothing & Accessories

Shell Jacket

An essential piece for wind, rain, and snow. I’ve had great luck with an older version of the MEC Flash Cloud. Also check out the Patagonia Torrentshell  (or Women’s version).

Sun Hat & Winter Hat/Toque

A ball cap or tilly hat keeps your face protected from the intense mountain sun. A toque is great for warming up during chilly mornings or evenings.  Here are a bunch of great options.

Sunglasses

Pack your favorite pair!

Rainpants

Mountain weather can change fast and rain pants are an absolute lifesaver to have in your backpacking kit. Many have the functionality for quickly taking them on and off without removing your shoes/boots and allowing you to stay comfortable even if you get caught in a sudden downpour. If you need a pair, check out the Patagonia Torrentshell in men’s or women’s.  

Convertible Hiking Pants 1-2 Pairs

I never thought I’d see the day I embraced the zip-off. But hey, they’re really the best of both worlds for quickly changing mountain conditions and keeping warm in the evening when the temperature drops. Check out the Quandary Pant for a great option. 

Puff Jacket

I’ve had the Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff® Hoody for years. It’s a perfect multi-functional item for everyday, backpacking, and pretty much anything where you might need a bit of warmth. I’m still looking for an activity it doesn’t work for. They also make the Nano Puff in a women’s version.

Sun Hoodie

When I went backpacking in the Grand Canyon a few years back, I was shocked to see throngs of Arizona Trail thru-hikers wearing hoodies in the 40 C (100F) heat. Turns out they were onto something! A sun hoodie has been one of the best items I’ve added to my backpacking kit. They keep you burn free, are surprisingly cool, and let you get away with leaving the bottle of sunscreen at home. The Sahara Sun Hoodie (men’s/women’s) from REI has served me well or check out these ones from Outdoor Research (men’s / women’s).

Base Layer Top

These Capilene Cool shirts work well for me, but pretty much any athletic quick-dry top will work fine.

Base Layer Bottom

A merino bottom baselayer is perfect for warming up at night or during chilly mornings.

Underwear

Patagonia makes fantastic underwear with quality, durability, and comfort far exceeding Lululemon, and Saxx (I’ve tried both). You decide how many or how few you bring…

They also make women’s underwear, but I am unable to advise on fit, form, function, or durability on this front.

Hiking Socks 3 Pairs

Darn Tough Vermont makes the best hiking socks hands down. They’re guaranteed for life/replaced free of charge. Really!

Gloves

I typically bring a thin weatherproof pair.

Camp Shoes

Crocs are back! Well for backpacking camp shoes they never left… They’re lightweight and ugly as ever. The perfect camp shoe for resting sore feet after a long day in boots/shoes.

Trail Runners or Hiking Boots

When I’m going lightweight I’ll wear trail runners. I’ve had great luck with the La Sportiva Bushido II. When I’m carrying more gear/weight or think I might encounter snow, I’ll wear a larger more traditional hiking boot, like the Scarpa Kailash.

Microspikes (Season Dependent)

Microspikes slip effortlessly over your boots and make walking on snow and ice a breeze.

Low Gaiter (Season and Condition Dependent)

Low gaiters are perfect for keeping rocks, sand, and snow out of your boots.

Duct Tape (For Repairs and Blisters)

Tooth Brush & Toothpaste

Food

Everyone has different takes and caloric requirements, so I won’t tell you exactly what to bring. I generally avoid the just-add-water meals you find at REI or MEC. They’re overpriced and often don’t rehydrate as you’d like. I usually head to the grocery store and search for things like lentil rice, ramen, or plant-based mac & cheese. They’re basically just add/boil quickly meals. Always re-bag/re-pack this type of food, as there is no reason to carry unnecessary packaging on the trail. I’m also a big fan of the Patagonia provisions soups and chilis

If you’re looking for incredible dehydrated food, check out Food for the Sole. Their salads are some of the best add-water-food I’ve had in the backcountry. 

Final Thoughts on the Rockwall Trail

    •  The Rockwall Trail is unquestionably one the best hikes for scenery that I’ve experienced in the Canadian Rockies. 
    • Go late season to avoid the crowds. 
    • 2.5 days felt like the perfect length. It was 2 full days with early morning starts and late afternoon finishes, but plenty of time for lunch, scenery observation, and snacks. The last day from Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead was an easy half day. 
    • The section from Tumbling Pass to Numa Creek felt like it would be quite hot in peak summer months. 
    • What I’d change hiking it again: Nothing! I was happy with the duration and campsites.   
    • Hike it North to South. Floe Lake is a great place to finish. Sunrise there is spectacular. The final day out is short, yet scenic, and makes for an easy conclusion. 

Your Thoughts on the Rockwall Trail?

Have you hiked the Rockwall Trail? I’d love to hear from you.

Questions about the Rockwall? Drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help! 

Don't miss these adventures

Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter

Man stands on frozen canyon

Banff National Park is what winter dreams are made of. Nestled in the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the town of Banff is surrounded by magical mountain views, snowy outdoor activities, and hot springs to warm up in when your fingers and toes get a bit too frosty. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the snowy season, one trip to Banff is sure to make you fall at least marginally in love with winter. In winter, the quantity of things to do in Banff is nearly limitless and your biggest issue is likely to be finding the time to squeeze them all in!  Here are a few incredible things to do in Banff in winter. 

** Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase we’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you. Just like the travel backpacks we build, we’re very particular about products and we only recommend products, services, or accommodation we trust and use ourselves.***

Banff town at night

Top things to do in Banff in winter

Icewalk Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most famous trails. During the summer months it gets completely overrun with hordes of tourists. This is one of many reasons visiting Johnston Canyon in winter is so incredible. Rent a pair of ice cleats (around $15/day) in Banff (at Banff Adventures) or Canmore (at GearUp), to prevent a nasty slip on the ice (I made the mistake of not having these one year and it made for a dangerous journey) then start your walk on the suspended catwalk cut into the canyon’s cliff. As you work your way up the canyon, you’ll pass snow covered trees and frozen waterfalls. If you’re looking for even more of an adventure, head to Johnston Canyon with a headlamp for one of the night ice walking tours.

Man stands on frozen canyon

Go ice skating on Lake Louise

Lake Louise is incredible any time of year, but there is something especially enchanting about this Banff National Park hot spot when it’s covered in ice and snow. The section of lake nearest to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is cleared daily between December and April, and even lit up in the evenings for night skaters. You can bring a pair of skates from home or rent a pair ($20) at Chateau Ski and Snow. Adding to the magic, is the yearly ice castle built on the rink. Once you’ve gotten your exercise (and your toes, and or fingers, are frozen), head into the Chateau for a warm drink.

Family skates on frozen Lake Louise

Ski Lake Louise, Sunshine, or Norquay

Tourists visiting Banff in winter are more often than not avid skiers. For good reason. The National Park is home to three incredible ski hills within the vicinity of Banff: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Norquay. Each hill has different perks to offer. Norquay offers hourly ski rates (amazing for a quick two hour ski), Sunshine is a family favourite, and Lake Louise is, well world class Lake Louise. These ski resorts continue to get more popular as the years go on, and when you catch a good snow day here, it’s really a good snow day. 

Man skiing with powder

Go tubing at Mount Norquay

While we’re on the topic of Norquay, even if you’re not interested in skiing you won’t want to miss this thrilling adventure. Grab a snow tube, take the magic carpet and spin/slide down one of Mount Norquay’s 8 tubing lanes. It’s a fun and quick activity not far from Banff Townsite. You can find rates for tubing here, starting from $27 CAD for adults in the last hour of the day. 

Cross country ski Two Jack Lake

There are plenty of great trails to go cross country skiing near Banff. You can check in at the visitor center to get the latest trail conditions and recommendations. Two Jack Lake is one of my favourite areas for cross country skiing because it’s close to the townsite and it also gets nice sun rays. You can rent cross country skis in town if you don’t have your own along with you.

Snowy road in Banff

Snowshoe Lake Louise

A new fan favourite activity in the Banff area, snowshoeing is a great way to explore and easy for anyone to do. Lake Louise has a number of great snowshoe trails, and you can rent snowshoes for $13 CAD at the base of the ski resort. Alternatively, take one of Lake Louise’s amazing snowshoe tours where you can be led on an incredible interactive walk.

Person snowshoes with dog

Go for afternoon tea at the Banff Springs

The Banff Springs is simply iconic. There is something about this classic grey building covered in snow and surrounded by white-capped trees and mountains that makes it at its most iconic. After admiring the Banff Springs’ snow covered spires, head inside to warm up over afternoon tea as you admire the mountain views out the large glass windows. At $55 CAD, this is not a cheap outing, but it is a really memorable one. 

Banff Springs hotel in winter

Take a dip in the Banff Hot Springs

Almost as iconic as its mountains, the natural hot springs in Banff National Park are not to be missed. These hot springs get busy, especially on weekends. They’re a great place to warm up and soak your aching ski/snowshoe muscles. An adult ticket costs $8.48 CAD. 

People soak in hot springs

Drive the Icefields Parkway

Some of those frosty winter days, you might just feel like staying warm and relaxing after an overload of outdoor winter activities. This is the day to take a drive on one of Canada’s most beautiful roads – the Icefields Parkway. This stretch of highway goes from Lake Louise towards Jasper, snaking through some of the Rocky Mountains most beautiful sections. It’s a nice way to rest your legs and still soak in some of Banff’s most beautiful sites. If you feel ambitious, you can go all the way to the iconic Columbia Icefields

Road in Icefields Parkway during winter

How to get to Banff

The main center closest to Banff is Calgary, where you can access Banff by Calgary’s International Airport (YYC). From here it’s a 1.5 hour drive/bus ride to Banff townsite.

Where to stay in Banff

Depending on your budget, here are some of the top accommodation choices in Banff:

Best budget places to stay in Banff

If you’re looking for an incredible, rustic experience – head to HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel, just past Lake Louise towards Jasper. With a wood-burning sauna, solar powered systems, and access to trails for winter activities right outside the door, this is the perfect place to experience the joys of Banff in the winter. Each cabin has 6 beds and winter rates are around $30 CAD per bed. 

If you want to be in Banff townsite (and close to all of the night action), Same Sun Hostel is the place to be as a backpacker. No spot in Banff is truly budget friendly, and unfortunately the winter months rule out camping. A dorm bed at Same Sun ranges from $40-50 CAD depending on how many beds are in the room. 

Best midrange places to stay in Banff

Irwin’s is a no-frills, perfectly located midrange spot in Banff. If you pick up a deal, you can get a room here for under $100 CAD per night (which is a steal in Banff). 

Airbnb

Airbnbs are a perfect option for those looking for a cozy find at a lower cost. A number of options are available for around $70 CAD per night, like this one

Best upscale places to stay in Banff

Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs

If you’re really looking to treat yourself, head to the two fanciest places in town:  Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs (rooms starting at $400 CAD per night). Both offer iconic views of the mountains. Choose the Rimrock for nicer rooms, but the Banff Springs for a true castle experience.

Solo cabin with snowy mountain behind

What to pack for a trip to Banff in winter

Layers are the name of the game for a trip to Banff, no matter which season you’re visiting in. Here’s everything you need for your trip:

    • Winter jacket
    • Snow pants
    • Toque
    • Mittens
    • Neck tube 
    • Hand warming packs (these come in handy for a day exploring)
    • A versatile day pack, like our Kiri backpack
    • Water bottle and thermos to put a hot drink in while you’re out exploring – you can pack it in Kiri’s Side Hustle Kit for easy access while you’re on the move
    • A set of long underwear to wear under your outer gear 
    • Warm, moisture wicking socks
    • Sunglasses
    • Sunscreen (the sun is intense when it reflects off the snow)
    • Snow boots with good tread
    • A map (paper or digital)
    • A book to curl up with by the fire after a long day outside