Updated: Nov 29, 2022
We’ve all been there: it’s a beautiful winter day, and you’re curled up in a blanket with a hot beverage, watching the sunlight glint off the snow. Your dog puts their head on your knee and heaves a sigh. Suddenly, it’s there: the urge to go for a hike. But the winter days are short, and you’re not sure if you feel like tackling a short, forested trail, or a steep snowy mountain, or if those trails allow dogs on or off-leash, or what you need to bring for you or your pup, and by the time you’ve decided and gotten yourself and your pup sorted, there are only a few hours left until sunset!
Winter daylight hours can be tricky like that, but we’re here to help: we’ve made a list of dog-friendly trails and hikes and categorized them by the amount of snow they receive and difficulty they might pose, so when the urge to hike strikes next time, you’ll be prepared to dash out the door.
Things To Know Before You Go
Bring the 10 Essentials: Whether you’re out for one hour or six, each of these 10 items could literally save you and your dog’s life. Since it all fits into a small day bag, you can pack a quick ditch kit to grab and go whenever the occasion arises. We can’t emphasize enough how important each of these items are; even a short hike with limited cell service can pose significant hazards with a broken or sprained ankle—it could be hours before anyone comes to rescue you, and you probably haven’t trained your pup to get help, Lassie-style. Some of these items can be indispensable in ways you might not think of—we don’t often associate sun protection as something we’ll need on winter excursions, for example, but snow-blindness is a real thing, so pack your sunnies.
Make a Trip Plan and Stick With It: Tell someone you trust (who isn’t coming hiking with you) where you’re going and when you plan on being back. Let them know if you decide to take a different route or stay out longer! If you don’t have cell service, it’s best to stick to the originally planned route. Again, this is an easy step to overlook when you’re going for a quick hike—but that’s often when people get in trouble! You can also download the Trip Plan App by AdventureSmart to make the whole process quick and easy.
Know Where You Are and Where You’re Going: Download an offline map or print one out and bring it with you in a ziplock bag if you don’t trust your phone battery on longer, colder hikes. Even relatively urban areas can be a maze of paths; if you have a limited amount of daylight for your afternoon adventure, you don’t want to get stuck out late by taking the wrong turn!
Your Pup’s Essentials: Just like your regular dog walks, you’ll need your dog’s leash (even for off-leash trails) and poop bags. In addition, bring a collapsible bowl and some snacks for your dog so they can join in on water breaks! If your dog is more of a wild-and-free drinker, make sure they’re only drinking from moving water, and steer them away from standing puddles and ponds. Remember to offer your dog water every 30 to 45 minutes.
Situational Awareness: One of the great joys of hiking is the serenity of the forest—but don’t let that lull you into complacency. Bears should be hibernating in the winter, but some go to bed late, and some wake up early in the spring—and cougars don’t hibernate at all. Pay attention to scat and markings in the snow, and put your dog back on leash if you suspect something is lurking in the trees.
Park Signage: PLEASE observe and obey park signage and seasonal changes to dog walking trails—they can change at any time!
Trash Bags (optional): Be the hero every hiker wishes would frequent their local trails. You’ve probably heard of Leave No Trace (aka pack it in, pack it out), but have you heard of Beyond Leave No Trace? It’s when you pack out any trash you find on your trail, even if you weren’t the one to leave it! Listen, if you practice BLNT, you’re truly a cut above the rest. We don’t deserve you, but by golly, everyone appreciates you.
So you’re packed, and your dog is prepped and no doubt tap dancing at the door. Where are you going first?
Low Snow Hikes
Deep, fluffy, and snowy trails can be gorgeous, but it’s not always what we’re looking for! These trails tend to receive less snow than others, so if you don’t want to drag out your snow pants from the back of the closet (or find one of those dog booties that always seem to wander away on their own), then these are the trails for you!
1. Cypress Falls: West Vancouver
A quick and easy hike in West Vancouver, Cypress Falls is situated in a dense, lush, and old rainforest, which means it receives a relatively small amount of snow compared to more exposed hikes. As a bonus, you don’t need to worry about a foggy day limiting the view since you’re hiking to a waterfall tucked deep in the trees. This is a great trail for everyone, but beginners especially: because it’s short and without much elevation gain, you can test out your dog’s (and your own) hiking ability without committing to a full day of hiking.
What should I bring?: Even if the trail stays snow-free, it’ll likely be muddy, so waterproof hiking boots will make your hike just that much more pleasant. If it’s still snowy, definitely bring micro or nanospikes, as the trail can get slippery!
Is it off-leash?: Yes! But since this is a popular trail with other hikers and dog walkers, and the trail can be narrow along a steep canyon drop-off in some areas, be prepared to call your dog back or have them practice heeling next to you.
Give me numbers!: This hike is just under 3 km roundtrip; it takes a little less than 1.5 hours on average, with just over 100m of elevation—though there’s an optional short, steep push to the upper falls at the end to bulk it out a bit.
2. Whyte Lake: West Vancouver
If you’re easing into hiking with your dog, this is the perfect trail to build off of from Cypress Falls. Located near Horseshoe bay, they have a lot of similarities: Whyte Lake is also an excellent hike for when it’s overcast and a little drizzly, and you’re sure that any potential viewpoints would be blocked by the fog anyways. It’s a gorgeous example of what a lush Pacific temperate rainforest can look like, even in the winter! You’ll stay within the trees and next to Nelson creek for most of the trail before popping out at a small, quaint lake. This is a great hike to take when you just need a quick outing and to breathe in the quiet forest but aren’t necessarily looking for a stunning, sweeping vista. The trail’s first leg can be steep for some, so pace yourself and your pooch!
What should I bring?: Waterproof boots will be important for this one, as the trail can get muddy at any time of the year. Microspikes will be useful too, as the compacted snow and ice on the wooden boardwalks can make spike-less navigation tricky. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to leave an old towel in the car, so you can wipe down your mucky pup when you’re done!
Is it off-leash?: Unfortunately, no.
Give me numbers!: The standard route is around 5km, but if you’re up for a little more, there are extension trails around the lake; you gain about 160–200m in elevation, though it often comes in the form of rolling trails. It usually takes about 2 hours to complete.
3. Norvan Falls: North Vancouver
When the North Shore gets a bit of snow, and the temperatures drop, head to Norvan Falls for some winter wonderland magic. This trail is a nice option if you want to be out for the whole day but don’t feel like summiting a mountain! While you won’t gain much elevation, the length alone classifies this as an intermediate hike, but the falls—frozen, if you’re lucky!—make it worth the while. Norvan Falls can be a heavily trafficked trail, but you’ll find you’ll get more and more 1-on-1 time with your dog the farther you get from the parking lot.
What should I bring?: We highly recommend bringing micro or nanospikes on this trail, as the wooden bridges and other trail areas can get extremely slippery. You wouldn’t look out of place with hiking poles for extra balance, either!
Is it off-leash?: Yes, but only on the lower trail. It’s also single track in some areas, so you might need to call your pup back to your side if you run into other hikers and dog walkers.
Give me numbers!: With only 195m of elevation gain over 14km, this hike is mostly about endurance rather than climbing ability. Expect to be on the trail for around 5 hours.
Beginner Snowshoeing Trails
When you want the full winter mountain experience without getting in over your head (so to speak), these pup-friendly trails can ease you both into snowshoeing while still providing stunning lookouts and that magical quiet that only comes from snow-laden trees. Since you’ll be tromping through the snow, waterproof boots will be a must on the rest of the hikes listed here!
4. Dog Mountain: North Vancouver, Mount Seymour
No dog-friendly Vancouver hiking guide would be complete without mentioning Dog Mountain! Originally named because it looks like the profile of a St. Bernard, nowadays Dog Mountain is more closely associated with having so many happy pups bounding through its trails. While this is the go-to beginner snowshoe trail, if there’s no new snow and the trail is packed down well enough, you can often fare better with just a pair of microspikes rather than full snowshoes. Be warned: this is possibly the most popular trail in Vancouver and the surrounding areas, so plan to start early in the day if you’re going on a weekend or holiday.
What should I bring?: You will need a (free!) day pass from BC Parks for either the morning (7:00 am–Noon) or afternoon (Noon–4:00 pm). Check out this link to reserve your pass. You’ll need your microspikes or snowshoes (if you don’t have your own snowshoes, you can rent them at the Mt. Seymour ski resort across the street from the trailhead, but we’ll be honest: unless it snowed a lot the night before, you’ll be better off with microspikes on this trail). Your pup might benefit from shoes, so don’t forget to pack their booties and maybe a little bit of insulation for them if they’re shorter-haired (or just shorter in general). Hiking poles and extra layers might make this trail more enjoyable too.
Is it off-leash?: In a somewhat counter-intuitive move, given the mountain’s name, dogs must be on-leash for this trail.
Give me numbers!: With only 165m of elevation over 4.5km, you might be skeptical about the potential for stunning lookouts, but don’t worry: the peak is at just over 1000m, so on a clear day, you’ll not only get a good view of Vancouver and the lower mainland but all the way out to Mt. Baker as well. This trail usually takes around 2 hours to complete, though it could be longer if you end up transfixed by the view at the top!
5. Dinkey Peak: North Vancouver, Mount Seymour
Maybe you’ve arrived at Dog Mountain and seen it overrun, or maybe you’re just coming off Dog Mountain and you and your pup are still full of energy! In either case, Dinkey Peak can be a great add-on or a short stand-alone hike to fill an extra hour if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. The route will take you up a short trail to a small loop which takes you to Dinkey Peak and a second, smaller trail that brings you to another peak, First Lake Overlook, facing west. The trail to First Lake Overlook is notoriously sneaky in the snow, especially if no one has visited it since the last snowfall, so keep your eyes peeled!
What should I bring?: Similar to Dog Mountain, you can probably get away with only microspikes on this trail if there isn’t any fresh snow; if you’re doing this trail by itself, you probably won’t need much more than your 10 essentials and any outerwear your pup needs for the snow.
Is it off-leash?: Unfortunately not!
Give me numbers!: This route only takes an hour to complete, but with 96m of elevation gain over 2.4km, you might be surprised when it’s a little steeper (though not by much!) than Dog Mountain.
6. Discovery Snowshoe Trails: North Vancouver, Mount Seymour
So you’ve slammed up Dog Mountain and found a love for snowshoeing, and now you need more. Fortunately, Mount Seymour has plenty of snowshoeing trails across from the trailhead to Dog Mountain, ranging from greens to black diamonds. Since they all intersect and cross over, you can keep threading through new loops until you and your pup have had enough—just don’t forget you still have to climb back up to the parking lot!
What should I bring?: Snowshoes are mandatory on these trails, so bring your own or rent some from the resort when you pick up your trail pass. Don’t forget your dog’s booties and jacket if they need them, and remember to pick up a trail map from the resort or download it on your phone so you can plot your route.
Is it off-leash?: Regrettably, no.
Give me numbers!: These trails range from 2.3km to 4.5km and take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours to complete. Give yourself lots of time on the mountain to explore and take surprise detours if you and your four-legged hiking buddy are up for it!
7. Bowen Lookout: West Vancouver
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “Is this just walking with snow? Where’s that uphill workout?” We’ve got you: when you’re ready to ramp it up, give Bowen Lookout in Cypress Provincial Park a go. It’s a quick hike, but don’t judge it by its first section: you’ll meander over relatively flat ground for the first kilometre until the real climb begins, and it’s switchback city. Fortunately, it’s not a long ascent, but it’s steep enough to get a good sweat going. Your reward? A stunning view of Howe Sound, Bowen Island, and the Sunshine Coast. While this is still a moderately popular snowshoe hike in the lower mainland, you’ll find it’s less busy than Dog Mountain or Hollyburn Peak.
What should I bring?: You’ll need to grab a (free) pass from Black Mountain Lodge. Bring your snowshoes and your pup’s booties. Some hikers who frequent the area also recommend bringing a crazy carpet to ride some of the chutes on the way down through the switchback section, especially if your dog wants to bound through some deeper snow with you! Just make sure there’s no one on the trail below you.
Is it off-leash?: This is an on-leash trail, but don’t be surprised if you run into other snowshoers with their pups who choose to disregard that.
Give me numbers!: With 110m of elevation over just about 3.5km, this is still classified as a beginner’s hike, but if you or your dog are new to snowshoeing or cardio, remember to pace yourself and take in the view. This trail takes about 2 hours to complete.
Moderate Snowshoeing Trails
If you’ve breezed through all the above snowy hikes already and you’re looking to step up your game (pun intended), then here are two options for moderate snowshoeing excursions. One tests your ability to steadily ascend, and the other tests your (and your dogs’!) endurance.
8. Black Mountain: West Vancouver
If you’ve already explored Bowen Lookout, then the start of Black Mountain will be familiar to you. The trailhead is at the same place as Bowen Lookout’s, though you’ll turn left this time instead of right—and that’s about where the similarities to Bowen end. Don’t expect an easy start: this trail starts with a relentless ascent and doesn’t stop until you reach the junction for the loop around a couple of lakes (which will appear as snowy fields in the winter months). Go right at the junction to get to the summit faster!
What should I bring?: You’ll need to grab another backcountry access pass from Black Mountain lodge. If there’s been a fresh dump of snow right before you plan to conquer this peak, then we recommend snowshoes; if it hasn’t snowed in a while, then you can probably get away with microspikes, as the trail will likely be compacted. Dog booties, your pup’s jacket, and their collapsible bowl and extra water will all make this hike doable. Remember to offer your pup water every half hour or so, as you may not be immediately aware of how hard they’re working on this ascent.
Is it off-leash?: No.
Give me numbers!: With approximately 360m of elevation to climb over 6 km, this trail takes the average snowshoer about 2.5–3 hours to complete.
9. Ski Callaghan: Whistler Olympic Park
Sometimes the joy from a winter outing doesn’t come from the challenging ascents and picturesque views—sometimes, all you need is a happy dog running free in the snow. If all of these on-leash trails are bringing you down, then we’ve included this outside-Vancouver network of off-leash trails just for you. There are 7 off-leash snowshoe trails (and 2 on-leash) in a wide variety of difficulties and lengths, and 11 pup-friendly cross-country skiing trails, in case you’re getting tired of snowshoeing!
What should I bring?: You’ll need to buy a ticket (the ticket booth is at the entrance to the park, but you can also buy online—an adult snowshoeing ticket will cost $16.50 at the time of writing this article, and your dog will cost $6.75); bring your snowshoes or cross country skis, or rent them from the resort. Bring lots of snacks (for you and your canine companion!) and extra water. Since the dog-friendly trails aren’t lit at night, bring a headlamp for you and a collar light for your dog in case your snowy trail exploration takes you into the twilight hours.
Is it off-leash?: Yes! The trails are well marked as to which are off-leash or dog-friendly, so pay attention and make sure you don’t wander on to any that aren’t.
Give me numbers!: There are a combined total of 50 km of dog-friendly cross-country or snowshoe trails, so this is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of trail system! Plan to spend the whole day up here to get your money’s worth (and to make sure your dog sleeps soundly the entire way home!).
Big Winter Hikes
You’ve sneered at Cypress Falls, rolled your eyes at Dog Mountain, and scoffed at Whistler Olympic Park. Your dog has a closet full of winter booties, doggles, and you’ve upcycled your old Arc’teryx into your dog’s new winter coat. You’re the serious hiker, the mountaineer of your group, and these hikes are for you. (Just kidding—these hikes are for anyone who wants a real workout with a stunning reward waiting for you at the top!)
10.Hollyburn Mountain: West Vancouver, Cypress Mountain
Popular but with good reason, you can find the trailhead to Hollyburn mountain at the Cypress Nordic Ski area. The trail starts with a steady but gentle ascent and a relaxing meander through the forest, but the final kilometre will push you and your dog up a steep and strenuous climb to the peak. Your reward will be an unbeatable view of the Lions and the surrounding mountain range.
What should I bring?: Snowshoes and poles if you have them, but again, you might be able to get away with microspikes if there isn’t too much new snow and the trail is packed down. Bring a lunch and plenty of snacks and water for you and your dog. While this trail is adjacent to the Cypress Nordic Ski area, it is a BC park, requiring no permit.
Is it off-leash?: No—as with all dog-friendly BC parks, these are on-leash trails only.
Give me numbers!: With over 400m of elevation over 7 km, this trail will take you anywhere between 4–5 hours at a moderate pace.
11.Pump Peak: North Vancouver, Mount Seymour
The trail to Pump Peak is wide and well-trafficked, and if there’s no new snow, then—like so many trails on this list—you can get away with microspikes or crampons instead of snowshoes. Don’t confuse well-trafficked with easy: the final third of this trail can be steep and icy, so take your time and make sure you and your dog are up for the push. Go slow and steady up this section because you’ll need your breath when you get to the top, and it’s taken away from you: the lower mainland spread out below you like a map, and around you in all other directions, an endless sea of snowy mountains. While it is possible to reach the other two peaks of Mt Seymour from this trail, by doing so, you enter into complex avalanche terrain, which is definitely not a place for your pup!
What should I bring?: Either microspikes or crampons will be necessary for this trail, if only in the last third. We’d recommend bringing dog booties as well, just in case you notice snowballs forming between their toes! As always, bring lots of water and snacks for you and your pup. You do not need a permit for this trail.
Is it off-leash?: No.
Give me numbers!: Similar to Hollyburn, this trail is about 7 km with 400m of elevation but can be done in 3–4 hours.
Always More to Explore
Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a magical, natural place Vancouver can be, especially when you’re stuck in the dreary city and slushy suburbs. Escaping to the mountains is one of the major benefits of living in the lower mainland, so don’t be shy when it comes to exploring Vancouver's backyard. Remember to make friends on the trail, and you might just get some good recommendations for your next winter excursion! Not into winter hiking? We’ve got you! For some of our favourite all-year-round parks, check out our blog on 12 of the best off-leash dog parks in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland!
What’s your favourite place to experience winter with your dog? Let us know by tagging us in your photos at @reddogbluekat on Instagram!