Don’t be offended if someone tells you to take a hike when you’re in Vancouver – exploring the city’s beautiful backyard is a favourite weekend activity in British Columbia, especially when the snow begins to melt on the mountains and the wild flowers start to bloom.
Whilst you’ll find easily-accessible hikes of varying degrees of difficulty within a short drive of Vancouver, if you want to get to the backcountry and beyond it’s time to call in the choppers for a heli-hiking adventure.
It’s not just adventurous skiers that get the heli treatment – take a ride into the Coast Mountains close to Vancouver and you’ll discover a whole new world of hidden glaciers, ice-blue lakes and mountainous hikes that can be explored on two feet: no skis needed.
Black Tusk Helicopter Inc operates heli-hiking tours to Echo Lake in association with Coast Mountain Guides. The heli-drop sets off from Squamish airport and heads up to the old hanging glacial valley of Echo Lake to enjoy ridge hiking with sweeping views of Howe Sound below. Although you’re a short distance from civilization, you’ll feel on top of the world – dropping in by helicopter gives a whole other sense of solitude.
Black Tusk also run heli-hikes whisk walkers up to glacial-blue lakes that stay frozen until around June. After the melt, the colours are incredibly intense as glacial silt lends an aquamarine hue and the sunshine picks up the bright colours to create Technicolour backdrops for holiday snaps.
Rocky terrain and high altitudes make most hikes of moderate to challenging level, but tours tend to include water, lunch, certified first-aid trained guides, and hiking equipment such as boots and crampons if needed. Dress in layers as it can get cold up in the mountains and near the glaciers, but you’ll work up a sweat scrambling up rocks and hiking across rough terrain.
There are also various heli-hiking adventures on offer to the Pemberton Ice Cap, which is one of the largest southern ice caps in North America, and in some places the ice is believed to be up to one and a half kilometres thick. A challenging heli-hike here involves abseiling, glacier walking and ridge hiking, but it’s worth it for the incredible views of the vast landscape – the journey itself is an adventure as the helicopter soars over the huge icefield, which appears to stretch to the horizon.
Many heli-hiking trips fly from Squamish, which is only a 45-minute drive from Vancouver along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. The drive winds from Vancouver along Howe Sound with the Coast Mountains as a backdrop and views across to Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast. Continue on the Sea to Sky Highway from Squamish and you’ll reach the resort of Whistler.
Renowned for its excellent skiing and winter adventures, Whistler village also makes an ideal base for enjoying spring and summer hiking. The Municipal Heliport is in the centre of town and Blackcomb Aviation flies from here, offering a less-challenging option for heli-hikers.
Alpine picnics are four-hour long trips that include an easy, intermediate or harder hike depending on the group’s ability level, with the focus being a gourmet mountaintop picnic. Although easier on the legs, the alpine picnic hikes are just as impressive for the eyes, with a scenic flight up to the picnic spot giving a bird’s eye view of Whistler’s mountains and lakes.
If one heli-hike is not enough you can head inland to the Columbia Mountains, where Canadian Mountain Holidays has been offering heli-hiking holidays for 35 years. With options of two to six day trips based out of a wilderness lodge in the mountains, the heli-hike tours take visitors to Alpine valleys carpeted with wild flowers, past ancient glaciers and fly over untouched lakes. Various hikes can be arranged, from a leisurely stroll through the meadows to a challenging multi-day adventure.
British Columbia is home to some of the world’s most famous heli-hiking spots – flying into the Bugaboos is on many hiker’s wish lists as the peaks are considered some of the most inaccessible in all of Canada. Canadian Mountain Holidays flies into the Bugaboos on heli-hikes, including photography-themed trips that give visitors the chance to capture the beauty of the spire-like peaks. Named for a term of disappointment uttered by gold-diggers looking for their fortune, the Bugaboos now have quite the opposite effect on travellers, especially when viewed from a helicopter en route to some of the country’s most inaccessible terrain.
Combining the thrill of a helicopter flightseeing tour amongst some of the world’s greatest scenery with a hike in places that very few get to tread makes for an adventurous way to see BC from the land and sky.
Have you been heli-hiking in British Columbia? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Amy Watkins