Snowshoeing is such a wonderful way to spend a winter day and it’s one of the few ways to itch that summit scratch during the snowy months. The places that advertise snowshoeing are usually the ones that charge you to use the trails so I thought I would highlight a few that are free. These are some of my favorites that extend from North Vancouver to Pemberton and Manning Park, I hope you enjoy!
Please be aware that a lot of these trails are in the backcountry and are not maintained. The elements can affect you a lot faster in the winter than in the summer and it is easy to get lost when the trail is covered in snow. It is incredibly important to go prepared with proper clothing, food, water, a map, avalanche warnings, and letting someone know where you are.
In general, be aware of other people who may be sharing these trails. Avoid walking on ski trails as these are often made specifically for Nordic skiiers. Watch for backcountry skiers and snowboarders coming downhill on some of these trails as well.
To rent snowshoes I would recommend going to MEC, where they are about $15/day. A lot of the ski resorts will rent snowshoes out as well; however, a lot of the time they are more expensive, and/or they are in a bundled package with a snowshoe pass which you may not need.
If you think you are going to go snowshoeing more than once you can buy a new pair starting at about $100. Make sure you do your research before you buy and check what size you should get and that the straps are made for your shoe size (I made this mistake with my first set, thinking it was one size fits all, it is SO much easier with the proper size).
Also, check craigslist, Kijiji, or any kind of local buy/sell group, there are almost always good quality snowshoes listed for sale (be sure you try to do a little research and make sure people aren’t asking for way too much money). People either buy the wrong size (like me) or try snowshoeing once or twice and decide snowshoeing isn’t for them. Buying secondhand is always my preference.
Another tip, ask your friends and family, you would be shocked how many people have snowshoes laying around in a basement or garage that they never use.
You can also get microspikes for hikes during shoulder season or very well tracked out hikes. These usually go for about $50 or $60, there are cheaper ones but try to get ones that are better quality so that the straps don’t break.
Free Snowshoe Trails Close to Vancouver
1. Hollyburn Mountain, Cypress Mountain
Hollyburn Mountain is a 7km trail with 400m of elevation gain at Cypress Mountain. This trail starts with a nice soft incline and right as your confidence is building and you think this will be a nice easy walk in the park you hit a point of the trail where it turns straight upwards and you think ‘am I even supposed to keep going from here?’ well, you are.
The last kilometer or so is very tough. People often opt to slide down the hill on their butts rather than try to navigate the traverse without tripping and falling! (Be sure to wear waterproof pants or bring something to slide on so that you don’t get super wet).
The top has great views of the surrounding mountains and sea and it is good for a workout. I would rate this trail somewhere between moderate and hard since the majority of the hike is moderate until the end.
Please note that there is a specific winter snowshoe route for Hollyburn that is different from the summer trail. Also, this trail starts at the Nordic/tubing center which is different than the ski resort further up the road.
2. Dog Mountain, Mount Seymour
This 5.5km out and back trail on Mount Seymour with minimal elevation gain is very popular which means it could be completely tracked out and you might only need microspikes rather than snowshoes.
If it is tracked out there will be muddy spots and big jutting out roots and rocks so watch your step. The best advice I can give is to go prepared and consider what the recent conditions have been while choosing footwear.
The end views are of Vancouver and the ocean and the way there is quite beautiful as you will wander around small frozen ponds and big trees coved in snow. I consider this to be an easy snowshoe, but others may consider it to be moderate. This trail begins at the Mount Seymour ski area.
3. Mount Seymour First Peak, Mount Seymour
The Mount Seymour hike is very popular in the summer but did you know you can do it in the winter too? 7km and 500m elevation gain will lead you to big views of Vancouver and the surrounding mountains on a clear day.
This is a moderate to hard snowshoe to the first peak but worth the effort. After a snowfall, the trail will be nearly invisible and easy to lose so download a map before going and keep a keen eye out for trail markers. It is possible to do all three peaks but it can get quite steep and dangerous and I wouldn’t recommend it.
This trail begins at the Mount Seymour ski area.
4. Brockton Peak, Mount Seymour
This trail is only 4km, and has 250m of elevation gain, which will get your workout in for the day. The top has views of the city and of the mountains on a clear day.
This peak is on the way to Mount Seymour’s first peak (listed above) and is a great choice if you choose not to go all the way to the first peak or have less time. Be sure to download a map as signage can be a little vague on Mount Seymour.
5. Bowen Lookout, Cypress Mountain
Bowen Lookout and Yew Lake Loop is a nice easy 4.5km snowshoe with only 150m of elevation gain at Cypress Mountain. In the summer Bowen Lookout is a pit stop on the way to one of Vancouver’s most popular hikes: St Marks Summit, you can continue on to this popular lookout and make your own way but I wouldn’t recommend it in the winter. A nice gradual slope through the forest will get you to this viewpoint of the city. The view is partially obstructed, but the walk in the snowy forest makes for a nice getaway. This trail begins at the Cypress Mountain ski area.
6. Black Mountain and Cabin Lake, Cypress Mountain
Black Mountain and Cabin Lake is a nice moderate hike at Cypress Mountain, the next step up in difficulty from the Bowen Lookout trail. 6km and 350m of elevation gain will take you through the forest and past frozen lakes with views of Vancouver and the ocean. You can choose to stop at Cabin Lake or continue around the Black Mountain Loop for a little extra forest time. This trail begins at the Cypress Mountain ski area. See full guide here.
7. Eagleridge Bluffs, Cypress Mountain
A very popular hike in the summer this trail is unmaintained and unmarked for the winter so please proceed with caution and be well prepared if you choose to take this trail, especially after a new snowfall.
This trail is 8.5km and has 430m of elevation gain (much of which you will have to tackle on your return trip, unfortunately). This trail follows the Black Mountain trail until you reach the junction for Eagle Bluffs. See my full guide here.
8. Elfin Lakes, Squamish
This is probably one of the best snowshoes in the Vancouver area in my opinion. This 20km round trip trail has an 800-meter elevation gain but due to its nice gradual incline, it only takes moderate effort.
The first 5km or so will take you along a wider path that has tall trees on either side and a gradual slope but not much for views until you reach Red Heather Hut (a nice little warming hut if you need a break from the cold). After that, you emerge from the forest and can start seeing some massive mountain views.
2Make sure you keep an eye on your map and trail markers after you leave the forest to ensure you are on the right path. Another 5km will bring you to Elfin Lakes where there are a warming hut and a shelter with bare bunk beds that can be your home overnight if you choose to make this a two-day excursion (Elfin Shelter is currently closed due to COVID-19).
On a clear day, you will be greeted by sweeping mountain views and on any day you will be greeted by very friendly Whiskey Jacks (say hello, but don’t feed them). I would say this is the best effort to reward snowshoe on this list.
Please note that getting here will likely require a 4wd or a car with good winter tires. The last kilometer or two of the road often REQUIRES chains so make sure you pack them or be prepared to add some distance to your hike if you have to park below. The hike starts at the Diamondhead parking lot so make sure that is where your GPS is taking you.
9. Garibaldi Lake/Taylor Meadows, Squamish
Similar to Elfin Lakes in many ways, this 18km trail takes you up a trail through the forest nearly 1000m in elevation gain and you will be greeted by a large blue lake (frozen over in the winter) and a warming hut.
You can also make your way to Taylor Meadows. As you are beginning to peak the trail splits. You can follow left to Taylor Meadows and Right to Garibaldi Lake. It is possible to go to Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake by turning this part of the trail into a loop. Look for the trail to converge again at the far end of both campsites.
This hike starts at the Rubble Creek parking lot. This parking lot is not far off the road and is paved, though there is always a chance for snow so be prepared.
A little further away:
Whistler (Just under 2-hour drive north from Vancouver)
There are lots of snowshoe trails in and around Whistler, I have highlighted a few here but check out their website for even more options.
10. Brandywine Falls, Whistler
This is just a tiny hike out to Brandywine Falls. This is a very popular tourist attraction in the summer but is nearly empty in the winter. It is a great stop off on your way to Whistler for a little 1km trek that has almost no elevation gain. The cascading falls are nearly frozen in the winter making for a stunning view.
Make sure you keep a keen eye out for it on the drive because the parking lot is not plowed in the winter and may be hard to spot.
I have heard various reports about people not being able to park nearby at all due to snowplow activity so I would recommend checking out recent reports before you go and parking and walking from the Whistler Bungee Jump as an alternative.
11. Wedgemount Lake, Whistler
This snowshoe might be the most challenging on the list. It is an 18km round trip with 1200m of elevation gain. It is very challenging and slow-going and the way up doesn’t have much scenery to keep you inspired; however, when you reach the top you will be rewarded with a gorgeous blue lake (frozen in the winter), beautiful craggy mountains on all sides, and you can trek just a bit further to the Wedge Glacier.
Likely, you will have this gorgeous space to yourself due to the difficulty of this trail in the winter. There is a cute little warming hut that you will surely want to use after your adrenaline from the trek starts to wear off, and you can choose to stay overnight in the (very small) loft if you so choose.
The parking lot is on the Wedge Creek Forest Road, just north of Whistler. There is a chance that the last kilometer or two of the forest road may be unpassable due to snow in the middle of winter, though you can park below and walk the last bit of the road instead.
Keep a map with you, though this trail has markers, they may be easy to miss due to heavy snowfall.
12. Whistler Train Wreck, Whistler
A fun and easy snowshoe at just 5km with almost no elevation gain. This trail takes you past an old train wreck in the forest near Whistler. The train has been graffitied with all sorts of cool murals to wonder at.
The trainwreck is the main attraction but you travel along a beautiful river and through a forest that is especially magical in the winter. Another highlight of this hike is that is accessible by bus from Whistler Village making it possible for everyone to reach.
13. Joffre Lakes, Pemberton
Joffre Lakes is an incredibly popular and famous hike due to its stunning blue lakes that are accessed by a relatively easy trail (well, in comparison to other alpine lakes trails that is) and accessibility. At 11km round trip and only 400m of elevation gain, this is a high reward to effort trail.
A 1.5-hour drive north from Whistler will lead you to a parking lot just off the road. The trail will likely be well tracked out due to popularity so it shouldn’t be too hard to follow, but always go prepared with a map and proper gear.
East of Vancouver
The Majority of this section is dedicated to Manning Park, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver, which might be a stretch for a day trip for some people, especially in the winter, but it has some amazing trails and views and would make for an excellent mini-vacation from the city, especially if you decide to stay overnight. For anyone reading this that lives in the Fraser Valley, this is absolutely where you want to go for a day-trip snowshoe adventure.
There are lots of snowshoe trails in Manning Park, some of which require you to pay a small snowshoe trail fee, these I have not included on this list. I have listed a few trail highlights here but check out their website for even more options.
14. Elk Mountain, Chilliwack
This is an 8km trail with 750m of elevation gain. There is a good chance you will not need your snowshoes or microspikes until you are halfway through the trail so I would recommend bringing some straps or bungee cords to secure your shoes to your pack with until they are needed.
The snow is usually packed down by other visitors so you would probably be fine to just throw your microspikes in your pack instead if that is easier.
It is a steep climb at the beginning but you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Baker and the Northern Cascades. Be sure you go on a sunny day to ensure you don’t miss out on the gorgeous views, but be aware that you will likely have some company on the trail on any nice winter day, especially on the weekend.
15. Windy Joe, Manning Park
At 16km and 500m of elevation gain, this is a harder trail but worth it for beautiful mountain views and the fire lookout at the top. There are signs for Windy Mountain and the trail is pretty easy to follow as it is wide and an old road in some places, but come prepared with a map as you never know when fresh snow may hide the trail.
Start at the Similkameen River Bridge and follow the river for the first 2km to ease into the day, then follow switchbacks up the rest of the mountain.
The fire lookout is not made for overnight camping nor is it a warming hut as it doesn’t have a fireplace; however, upstairs there is a map that tells you the names of all of the surrounding mountains and it’s a great place to escape the elements for a moment.
16. Fat Dog, Manning Park
Fat Dog Trail starts at Cambie Creek Campground and is about a 15km long round trip with a 700m elevation gain. I would rate this trail as moderate to hard, depending on your experience level. It starts in the woods on a wide trail that used to be a forest road but emerges into a big flat plain with mountain views on a clear day.
There isn’t a distinct peak so turn around when you feel ready. Be prepared for the cold and wind at the top as there is little cover from the elements.
17. Cambie Creek Loop, Manning Park
At the same trailhead as Fat Dog (Cambie Creek Campground) you can find Cambie Loop which can either be 2.5 or 5 km depending on the path you choose. It is mostly flat and will take you along a river and through the forest. A great relaxing trail to get outside.
This trail is also used by Nordic skiers so be careful not to step on their tracks.
18. Lightning Lake Loop, Manning Park
This 9km trail with minimal elevation gain will take you along the shoreline of Lightning Lake. Starting at the Lightning Lake Day Use Area you more or less just follow along the side of the lake for a big loop, you can cut across at Rainbow Bridge for a shortened trek.
Though it is easy to follow along the edge of the lake this trail isn’t marked for winter and it is always smart to have a map. This is a great option for a nice long walk in the snow without it being too strenuous.
Bonus: Snowshoe Trails in Fee Areas
1. Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver
Grouse Mountain has plenty of snowshoe trails and some of them are gorgeous, well-groomed, and some are even decorated in lights. The downside of Grouse Mountain is that you have to take the gondola to access any of these trails in the winter and the gondola is a steep $59 per person (2020) plus taxes and parking fees.
There are a lot of other great activities on top of Grouse Mountain like skiing/snowboarding, ice skating, and a cute lodge with various eating and shopping opportunities.
If this sounds like something you would like to partake in please refer to the Grouse Moutain website for further information.
2. Sea to Sky Gondola, Squamish (currently closed due to gondola vandalism)
Much like Grouse Mountain, the Sea to Sky Gondola will take you up into the mountains and you will have the opportunity to explore many different well-maintained snowshoe trails with great views of the mountains, and a lodge with dining options.
The gondola ride costs up to $60 per person (2020) depending on the day of the week and purchasing time. If this sounds like something you would like to do please refer to the Sea to Sky Gondola website for further information.
3. Cypress Lighted Snowshoe, West Vancouver
Cypress Moutain has introduced its own lighted snowshoe path called “Lights to Lodge”. This trail is only open in the evening and leads you through a lighted winter wonderland in the evening to Hollyburn Lodge where you can warm up with hot cocoa or even dinner.
They have other snowshoe trails around too if you want to explore more in the daytime for $16, or $36 to include snowshoes (2020). Double-check the ticket rates on the Cypress website and the areas included before you go as this is a new attraction and things are not completely clear yet.
This adventure starts at the Nordic skiing area, which will be before the ski resort on your way up Cypress Bowl Road.
These are a few of my favorite snowshoe trails near Vancouver; unfortunately, a lot of them are farther out than just the North Shore mountains, and driving to Squamish, Whistler, or E.C. Manning Park may not be feasible.
If you aren’t up for snowshoeing, check out my guide for snow-free hikes near Vancouver here. Have fun and be safe out in the snow!
Let me know if you have any other favorite trails near Vancouver that I didn’t cover here. Happy snowshoeing!
Welcome to Alpine Feeling! My name is Talon, and I am a Vancouver local who loves hiking and all things outdoors. I am here to do my best to provide you with outdoor guides to the Vancouver area and beyond.