Vancouver is one of Canada’s most popular destinations to visit in the summer months, for good reason. Just a 45-minute drive from the U.S. border with Washington state, Vancouver sits in one of the most temperate locations in Canada. This is a city that’s easy on the eyes in addition to being a cultural center with an urban feel.
The lifestyle in Vancouver is centered around the outdoors, and the locals here are exuberant about their beautiful city. Much of the shoreline that hugs the city and wraps around the famous Stanley Park is accessible by beach path, with excellent access to the water for paddlers from almost any public beach. If you happen to be here in late June, keep your eye out for the Dragon Boat Festival—it’s a unique sight that locals and visitors alike gather to watch.
Vancouver is a port city, and provides an entrance for international cargo ships, many of which travel from Asia and spend days sitting in Burrard Inlet, patiently waiting for their turn to unload and chug away. Aside from adding to the trade and commerce in Vancouver, these ships also make great photos facing west, especially in the evenings! If you’re looking for activities during your time off the water, check out Daily Hive Vancouver—there’s always something happening!
Dip your paddle in the salty west coast waters at Granville Island, Jericho Beach, False Creek, Yaletown, Stanley Park, or Deep Cove. There’s a place to kayak in Vancouver everywhere you turn.
[This article is part of the The Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide To Vancouver. Find all the resources you need to plan an adventure-filled trip to the city of Vancouver.]
You might have to make some tough choices if you’re not visiting Vancouver for long as kayaking opportunities here are bountiful—it’s a good problem to have! Vancouver has an extensive coastline on the Pacific Ocean and, as such, nearly all kayaking from Vancouver proper is sea kayaking.
Kayaking Deep Cove is a Vancouver classic; ask any local and it’ll be on the top of their must-do list. Day trips meander along the coast with views of Stanley Park, Vancouver Harbour, and North Vancouver, and overnight trips will take you up Indian Arm.
Coastal Vancouver is home to an incredible array of biodiversity; it fascinates nearly everyone who has the chance to experience its charm and intrigue, and is the location of countless scientific studies and explorations. From marine life like seals and sea lions that are nearly always visible lounging on rocks, bellowing calls, and sunning themselves, to more elusive dolphins and whales, to land-dwelling creatures like eagles, bears, deer, wolves, and sea birds, the ecology of this area is vast and majestic.
- Single kayaks: $39 per two hours; $99 per day; $139 per two days
- Double kayaks: $59 per two hours; $135 per day; $189 per two days
Almost any beach in Vancouver provides paddlers with stunning sunset views. Head out from Jericho or Granville Island for the best views in Vancouver while you play among the sailboats, cargo ships, and plenty of other paddlers out for an evening tour.
If you’re staying downtown, there are a couple of rental companies that operate out of the Yaletown area as well. While this is less popular than the other side of the bay for outfitters, it’s a quick jaunt (safely obeying navigational rules) across the bay or up the shoreline toward Sunset Beach and Stanley Park. Once you get out into the channel, facing west the only thing between you and Japan is Vancouver Island!
- Single kayak: $39 to $85
- Double kayak: $59 to $115
- Single kayak: $25 per hour
- Double kayak: $35 per hour
- Single kayak: $20 per hour
- Double kayak: $30 per hour
- Single kayak: $20 per hour
- Double kayak: $30 per hour
Glacier kayaking is next-level in all respects—price included. Trips are customizable and vary by season according to permits to access British Columbia’s crown land, but generally are in the $5,000-range. You’ll fly out of YVR Airport in Vancouver or nearby Abbotsford, BC and into the Coast Mountains where you’ll kayak in channels of aquamarine glacial meltwater. This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!
- Prices TBD for the 2020 season
Kayaking at night will give you the opportunity to see the ocean in an entirely different way—watch the kelp sway, paddle through the green glow from your kayak lights, and watch the Pacific Ocean sunset give way to inky indigo skies as you take in the quieter city from the water.
- Single kayak: $85
- Double kayak: $105
Kayaking Vancouver Island
Kayaking on Vancouver Island is a special experience. You’ll be in awe of the cliffside scenery and coastal islands as you dip your paddle in the Pacific Ocean by Victoria, or paddle the rugged coast further north from Tofino or Ucluelet. Sea kayaking is peaceful, meditative and beginner-friendly, but be prepared to battle some choppy waves, current and wind if need be— this is nearly open ocean, so conditions can vary quickly and drastically. It’s true what they say about island life; the pace of things is slower here, so get ready to relax!
- Single kayak: $43 per two hours
- Double kayak: $64 per two hours
- $40 to $90 per day
- $60 to $100 per day
- Multi-day rates available
Kayaking with whales
If all of the natural wonders of the Vancouver area already mentioned weren’t enough to draw you in, kayaking with orcas and other whales should do it! Few things give you perspective on your size and place in the animal kingdom like seeing a marine creature the size of a whale from atop your kayak. Vancouver Island is a great spot for these tours; while you may happen upon a pod of orcas or a humpback whale on your own, guiding companies use radios to communicate the location of whales in the area, so they’ll have the best scoop on where you’re most likely to see these giants of the sea.
Most whale-watching sea kayak tours are multi-day because it’s tough for guiding companies to guarantee a sighting by kayak. Even motorized whale watching tours aren’t 100% guaranteed, but most companies will give you a discount, or a free trip if yours is a complete bust.
- Three-day tour: $500 to $560 per person
Sea kayaking dominates in this area due to the availability of coastline and the abundance of marine wildlife, but if river kayaking is what you’re after, they have that, too!
The Chilliwack River is home to incredible kayaking and fishing. While the water levels get high in the winter due to rainfall, you can kayak here year-round given the right conditions.
Vancouver Island river kayaking is a bit more temperamental. Most rivers in this spot are flash rivers—great whitewater kayaking opportunities, but only right after heavy rainfall. The Cowichan River is a local favorite.
If you head to Vancouver Island for the river kayaking and the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s always the very adventurous option of tidal kayaking! This is a very niche activity, and not for the inexperienced or faint of heart, so only head out onto tidal surf waves if you’re a very experienced whitewater paddler and are familiar with tidal waters, or if you are with a local guide.
What to wear
Vancouver has a temperate climate; if you’re coming from the United States, it’s akin to the weather in Seattle or Portland. It can be wet, so pack trusty rain gear and wear layers no matter the time of year. Go with a base layer, insulating mid-layer, and waterproof outer layer, and you’ll be happy no matter the weather!
Sturdy shoes that keep your feet safe from rocks, barnacles, shells and other potential hazards on the ocean floor are a must. There are some incredible sandy beaches in the Vancouver area to launch your kayak from, but there are also lots of rocky spots that will quickly scrape up your feet.
When to go
There are endless opportunities for exploring in Vancouver and you’ll see paddlers out year-round. Visitors, however, would be best sticking to sunnier summer months, as the winters can see rain nearly every day. Pack for warm rain during the summer months as well; while there are plenty of sunny stretches, it can get damp in July and August.
Bring your rain gear, learn your umbrella etiquette (just in case), prepare to meet relentlessly outdoorsy locals on your adventures, make sure your phone and camera are charged—you can’t miss with a paddling trip in this dazzling city!