Stanley Park is one of the highlights of Vancouver. What?! What could possibly be so special about a park? The thing is that Stanley Park is not “just a park”. It’s Vancouver’s first and largest urban park, and one of the best ones all over the world. Big words, I know. But I have my reasons to say this, and if you have doubts, simply read on, because this post is all about the best things to do in Stanley Park.
Other great things to do in Vancouver:
Stanley Park is a wild, green oasis in the heart of Vancouver
Vancouver has many green spaces, and it’s a city that’s connected to nature – the ocean and the mountains. But Stanley Park has its own corner in the heart of every local, and it’s a major tourist attraction, too.
It has its own island, surrounded by ocean waters of Burrard Inlet and English Bay. It has rainforests, beaches, lakes, wildlife, cultural landmarks, Canada’s largest aquarium and wonderful views of both Downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains. Cars can access the park, but the access is limited, most areas are for pedestrians and bikers. You find about 27 km of paved and dirt trails in Stanley Park.
You can access the park from the west neighborhood of Downtown Vancouver or from North Vancouver through the Lion’s Gate Bridge. (Be warned though, this bridge is often congested.)
1. Walk or bike the Stanley Park Seawall
The most spectacular trail in the park is the Seawall. It’s a 10 km loop around the park, with ocean and beach views, views of the city, Lion’s Gate Bridge and the North Shore Mountains. Yes, your impression is correct: it offers stunning views all the way!
It has some famous viewpoints, but really, the full loop is well worth doing if you have the time. (Bike!) Brockton Point has a great view of the downtown skyline, Siwash Rock is the absolute best romantic sunset spot, and I also like the section that runs underneath Lion’s Gate Bridge (this is also the best place to see seals in the water, so keep your eyes open). Even as a local, I can’t get bored of this loop. You can bike it within an hour. My progress with a toddler who likes pushing his own stroller is usually significantly slower, but it’s one of those places where I don’t mind being slow.
Biking the Seawall is one of the most popular Stanley Park activities for first time visitors. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one or sign up for a guided biking tour in Stanley Park.
2. Visit the Vancouver Aquarium
Vancouver Aquarium offers about 30 exhibits, ranging from tropical habitats to the Arctic. It has specific exhibits about ocean life in British Columbia. The outside pools of the seals and sea otters are everyone’s favorite, and you can also see them from underwater. Feeding time is exciting, and the employees kindly answer any question you have about the animals. The aquarium is committed to research and rescue, and they keep no whales or dolphins.
3. Enjoy the beach
Not very creatively named, but Second Beach and Third Beach are among the best beaches in Vancouver. They don’t feel like city beaches and they don’t face the downtown either. You get views of Howe Sound and the North Shore, and beautiful ocean sunsets. However, if you visit in the summer, be warned that sunset can be after 10 pm, so you’ll have a long day if you decide to wait for it. We enjoyed more sunsets in fall and winter, but much more bright, sunny days in summer.
Swimming in the ocean is not for everyone (definitely not for me!), because ocean temperatures never get pleasant. July average water temperature is 17°C, and it can warm up to 20°C during very hot periods in July and August. It’s not for comfortable swimming, but locals often swim, anyway, and you can see lots of children playing in the shallow water at low tide.
Second Beach or Third Beach? Second Beach has more facilities (washrooms, concession stand, heated outdoor pool, playgrounds), but Third Beach is larger and offers better views.
Side note: are you looking for First Beach? You won’t find it. It’s called English Bay Beach, and it’s just outside of Stanley Park. It’s nice, too. Surely, the beaches are numbered to avoid confusion. 🙂
4. Get lost in the forest
Prefer the forest to the beach? No problem. If you take one of the trails that lead through the central forested area of the park, you can easily forget being in a city. Like Bridle Path starting from Second Beach and taking you to Prospect Point. You can see the oldest trees on Siwash Rock Trail, Third Beach Trail and north of Beaver Lake on Lake Trail.
The forest trails give you a taste of how this peninsula looked centuries ago, and the dense forest gives shelter from the rain – or from the heat during the short summer.
5. Ride the Stanley Park Train
You can’t go wrong with this if you’re visiting with kids. The 2 km track through the forest with the Miniature Train takes about 15 minutes. It’s especially magical at Christmas time when the route is illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights, but it offers special rides at Easter and Halloween, as well.
6. Swim in a heated outdoor pool by the ocean
Do you think 17°C is not an ideal water temperature for swimming? Good news for you: Stanley Park has a heated outdoor pool, the Second Beach Pool, where you can enjoy ocean views from the water. It also has a children’s area with waterslides. This pool is seasonal, only open in the summer.
7. Visit the Stanley Park Totem Poles
Nine totem poles were brought to Brockton Point from Haida Gwaii, on the central coast of British Columbia. The most recent one was carved by a member of the Squamish Nation. These totem poles are beautiful, but they also offer a way to connect with the history and culture of the First Nation. They all tell a story – of a family, a person or a nation. They’re memorials or representations of important events. You can read about each one on the information boards.
8. Take a picture of Brockton Point Lighthouse
It’s a pretty landmark along the Seawall. It was built in 1914, and it’s not in use today, but it’s a scenic viewpoint and a beloved photo spot.
9. Walk in the Stanley Park Rose Garden
With about 3500 rose bushes, the Stanley Park Rose Garden near the park entrance is worth a stop. It’s free to visit and perfect for a romantic stroll. It’s mainly a summer attraction, but rhododendrons in the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden bloom already around May. If you visit even earlier in the year, you might be lucky to catch the peak of cherry blossom around mid-April. Stanley Park has some cherry tree groves around Lost Lagoon.
10. Keep your eyes open for wildlife
Yes, inside the city. You can see Canadian geese (though you can see them in any park in the city), herons hunting for fish at low tide, harbor seals popping their heads up from the water. Beavers, squirrels, raccoons and even coyotes live in the park. Please, observe them without disturbing them, which means keeping your distance and never ever-ever-ever feed them. Wild animals should stay wild – for their sake and yours, too.
11. Find Lost Lagoon
Lost Lagoon is “lost” not because it’s that hard to find, but because it no longer has connection with the ocean. Once it was part of the Burrard Inlet and dried out at each low tide, but due to road constructions in Stanley Park, it has become landlocked and ceased to be a lagoon. It’s a lovely lake and a nesting ground to many species of birds. There’s a loop trail around it, and you find the Stanley Park Nature House on the way, which displays natural history exhibits and is free to visit.
12. Have a picnic
You find many picnic tables throughout the park that are available on a first-come basis. Some have epic views. Designated picnic sites for large groups need to be reserved. They are all located under picnic shelters and offer facilities like kitchen, water and electricity. There’s one at Prospect Point, Second Beach and two near the Miniature Train.
8 essentials to pack for Vancouver
Waterproof rain jacket: a lightweight, easily packable rain jacket is your best friend when visiting notoriously rainy Vancouver. You don’t want the rain to hold you back from exploring the city and the stunning rainforest trails. Columbia jackets are affordable and effective for the average hiker, here you find them for women and for men. Oh, and don’t bother with an umbrella, more often than not it’s totally useless due to the strong wind.
Waterproof backpack cover: you want to keep all the stuff in your backpack dry even on the rainiest day.
Hats: no matter which season your visit takes place, you’ll probably want some kind of hat. A sun hat (for women and for men) or classic baseball cap (for women and for men) protects you from the sun in the summer, a lightweight beanie keeps you warm between October and April.
Quick-drying, moisture-wicking T-shirts (for women and for men): you’ll likely spend at least part of your time in Vancouver on hiking trails, so a few pieces of technical T-shirts come handy when getting active.
Sweaters: a warm sweater or hoodie is a good idea even in the summer, because evenings get chilly. And it’s not even a question during the colder months. These Columbia fleece jackets (for women and for men) are great as an additional layer both for sightseeing or hiking days.
Waterproof hiking boots: so you’ll go hiking, because the natural attractions are among the highlights of a Vancouver visit. Trails are often muddy due to rain or snow melt, and your waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry and provide good traction. Actually, they come handy even in the city parks in wet weather. This Columbia Newton Ridge Plus is a great option for women, and the Newton Ridge Plus II for men.
Binoculars: a pair of binoculars make your whale-watching or bird watching experience so much better!
Waterproof phone case: whether you’re going kayaking, swimming or boating, or simply want to regularly use your phone outdoors for navigation in rainy weather, a waterproof phone case is insanely practical and requires barely any space in your luggage.
Finally, don’t pack bear spray. You’ll need one for hiking safely near Vancouver, but crossing borders with bear spray in your luggage, or boarding a plane while carrying bear spray is not allowed. You have to buy one once you arrive and dispose of it safely before you leave. Canadian Tire is the straightforward store to get bear spray.
FAQ about visiting Stanley Park
How to get to Stanley Park?
downtown views from Stanley Park
Biking is a fast and convenient way to get around both in Downtown Vancouver and in Stanley Park. If you stay downtown, you can easily walk to the park. If you stay further, you can drive. Unlike in most of the downtown, parking is not such a hassle in Stanley Park, nor very expensive, so you can choose to drive in the park and leave your car there while you walk or bike around. There are several smaller and larger parking lots, and you also find street parking. Any kind of parking is paid parking, but some of the lots offer a daily rate. You can check the parking options here.
You can get to the park by public transport, but there’s no public transport inside the park.
Does Stanley Park have opening hours?
Like any parks in Vancouver, Stanley Park closes overnight. Opening hours are between 6 am and 10 pm.
How much time do you need to visit the park?
I’d rather ask: how much time do you have? Because you can spend several days in Stanley Park if you really want to explore everything. We spent almost a full day only in the aquarium. So I recommend picking a few items from this list based on your interest, the season you visit and the time you have for the park.
Which are the 3 Stanley Park must see if you’re short on time?
I guess the very best things are subjective, but I’d choose biking the Seawall, hanging out at Third Beach and visiting the Totem Poles.