Alicia-Rae Olafsson's Top 3 Vancouver Watering Holes
Nothing says Canadian summer quite like a swim in a crisp, natural watering hole. Our hometown of Vancouver has some of the most unique places to take a dip in the Pacific Northwest. Make the most of summer and take a dip into one of these three watering holes…
But first, meet Alicia-Rae. Alicia-Rae is a Vancouver-based (born and raised) travel writer and copywriter—when she’s not locked down in beautiful British Columbia (hey they are much worse places to be stuck during a global pandemic) she’s jumping into cold water for thrills in places like Antarctica and the Norwegian Arctic, diving in Fiji and Belize, and hiking through mystical places like Jordan and Palestine. Left on Friday fits seamlessly into her active, adventurous lifestyle (not to mention being super packable and versatile for swimming, hiking, and workouts). Her favourite suits are equally The Sunday Suit and the Hi Dive Top paired with the Hi Tide Bottom. For now, you’ll find her searching out the best swimming holes, taking road trips, discovering new hikes, camp spots, and local adventures. Follow along on Instagram and check out her website.
Let's jump in!
From turquoise and emerald glacier-fed lakes to a hidden away hot spring conveniently situated next to a rushing river (hello natural cryotherapy), and one of the longest saltwater pools in Canada overlooking the majestic North Shore mountains, it won’t take us much convincing to have you planning your next trip up north (when it’s safe to do so, of course). I might be biased—it’s home after all—but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t fall in love during their first visit.
After our long, dreary, wet winters, Vancouver summers are fairly short-lived (June to September) so us locals are wired to pack as much into those four months of bliss as possible. Thankfully there’s no shortage of stunning places to soak both in the city, and not too far outside—if you’re up for any kind of adventure, big or small. Make the most of the rest of the summer and take a dip into one of these five watering holes. We’ve got the suits—just add water.
Ps. I highly recommend packing a couple of cold drinks (hit up a local brewery or distillery—there are plenty, check here), snacks, sunscreen, and an inflatable (we love Dreamboats—the built-in coolers and cup holders are a total game-changer) to each of these places (apart from Kitsilano Pool—no floaties allowed, but you can take it out in the ocean right out front).
Mystery Lake, Mount Seymour, North Vancouver
Not quite as mysterious as its name suggests, Mystery Lake is easily accessed from the parking lot of Mount Seymour Provincial Park—just a 45-minute drive outside the city. If you are up for a short hike (3km round trip with 150m elevation gain) this lake is surprisingly not that busy—likely because you can’t drive right up to it. The water isn’t ice cold, and on a hot summer’s day, it’s perfect spot to spend a day swimming, picnicking around the expansive shoreline surrounded by lush temperate rainforest, floating solo or with family and friends. Keep an eye out for small salamanders that dart around in the shallow areas of the lake (don’t worry, they’re harmless—just don’t step on them). There are plenty of flat areas to lie out towels, many rocks in and around the lake to sprawl across and work on your tan, and if you feel like getting in more of a hike, there are many trails that run throughout Mount Seymour that lead from there. Note: Watch out for bears during the summer months—mamas and their cubs tend to frequent the area.
Time from the city: 45-minute drive from downtown Vancouver
How to get there: From the parking lot at Mount Seymour, walk to the end where the wooden park map is. You’ll see the ski lift and from there a wooden post with a green sign pointing you in the direction of Mystery Lake.
Where to hit up happy hour: After a long day in the sunshine, head over to Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers. The mushroom and goat cheese flatbread, drizzled with balsamic reduction is delicious and fresh, and pairs perfectly with the jalapeno cilantro Caesar made with their house-made gin or vodka. Find up to date opening hours here.
COVID-19 note: as of July 22, day-use pass reservations are required for Mount Seymour's upper mountain trails including the Seymour Main Trail, Mystery Lake Trail, and the Dog Mountain Trail. For more information, check out the BC Parks website.
For the City Slicker: Kitsilano Pool, Vancouver
While this is not quite a ‘natural’ swimming hole, it’s about as close to nature as an outdoor pool gets—its waters are replenished by the changing of the tide. Kits Pool is an institution. It’s the city’s only heated saltwater pool, and the longest in North America. It’s quite literally built atop the sea, overlooking the North Shore mountains and forest-fringed, glimmering Pacific Ocean. Sitting at 137m long, one length is the equivalent of 5.5 regular 25m lengths of a standard pool (almost three times the length of an Olympic pool). Swim some laps, lounge in the sun, frolic in the waterpark (because, why not?). There’s nothing more quintessentially Vancouver than spending a day at Kitsilano Beach and pool. There are also tennis courts, a basketball court, volleyball nets, and kayak and SUP rentals available from Vancouver Water Adventures.
How to get there: Head to Kitsilano, you can’t miss it. 2305 Cornwall Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1B6.
Where to hit up happy hour: There are endless options around Kits beach for happy hour, but our all-time favourite has, and always will be, Nook. Their freshly-baked focaccia and meatballs are simply divine, as are their pizzas, salads, and plates of pasta—all of them made with natural, local ingredients. They also make a mean Negroni—the perfect cocktail any time of year—and they have, in my opinion, one of the best wine lists in the hood. Bonus, there’s now a decent-sized outdoor patio complete with Aperol Spritz umbrellas, and plenty of people watching thanks to its location right next to the beach. The newly opened The Cider House
COVID-19 note: Kitsilano pool reopened on July 13, but with new rules and regulations as well as new safety guidelines set in place. You’ll need to purchase your tickets online here for a time slot on the following day. We recommend booking first thing in the morning—reservations open at 9:30 am. Casual swimmers can book a 90-minute swim block, while lap swimmers can book for a 45-minute swim session.
For the Adventurer: Sloquet Hot Springs, Pemberton
This one isn’t for the faint of heart—it’s down a very long, bumpy gravel forest service road. But what’s a visit to Vancouver without a little outdoor adventure and dirt road? I promise this one is well worth the trek. Sloquet Hot Springs is a true, naturally beautiful hidden treasure, rivaling hot springs in Iceland, Italy, and elsewhere in the world. Located in the traditional territory of the Xa’xtsa First Nation who have been using the hot springs for generations, and still to this day perform spiritual and cleansing ceremonies—the magic is palpable. This is true, deep wilderness relaxation at its finest. The springs are a series of man-made pools fed by an extremely hot, natural waterfall. They run from the waterfall down to the very edge of the Sloquet River, making it the perfect spot to do some hot and cold therapy on your tired muscles (since there’s so much adventure and hiking to be had in these parts).
How to get there: Access to Sloquet from the north is via the in-SHUCK-ch Forest Service Road, which is an active logging road. Access from the south is via Sts’ailes FSR (formerly Harrison West FSR). Turn at the Sasquatch Inn. This is another Forest Service Road. Upon arrival at the parking lot, you’ll pay the attendant $5/per person to spend the day, and if you’re hoping to snag a camp spot so you’re not driving half of the day, it’s $15 per group of six per night. It’s just a five-minute walk from the parking lot and campsite to the springs, down a dark and quickly descending trail. I highly recommend spending the night in Pemberton, Whistler, or at the campsite to maximize your time in this beautiful part of the world.
Where to hit up happy hour: Depending on what kind of happy hour you’re looking for—this is the country after all—I recommend making a stop at both Pemberton Distillery, where they distill famous Pemberton potato into the world's only organic potato vodka, gin, absinthe, schnapps, as well as organic whisky and brandy from locally grown grains and fruits. Pemberton Brewing Co. is also a must, with the ultimate summer beverage: U-Pick Strawberry Pale Ale
Don’t miss a visit to North Arm Farm for some incredible baking, farm-fresh produce, u-pick berries. It’s a great place to stop by pre-hot spring excursion to get a sandwich and coffee to go. The breakfast wrap is the ultimate fuel for a long day on the road.
COVID-19 note: The campsite at Sloquet is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions—but things are changing quickly so stay up to date on their website here.
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