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Urban hikers experience the wild side of Canada’s cities.

From the intensity of Vancouver’s Grouse Grind to laidback Laurie Provincial Park in Halifax, the wilderness is never far from Canada’s urban centres.

29 January 2014
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Suggested tweet: Urban hiking: 7 great adventures on the edge of Canada’s biggest cities http://ow.ly/rODXR #explorecanada

Backcountry is rarely far from your back door in Canada. Cities poised on the edge of nature—from Victoria on the Pacific coast to Halifax on the Atlantic—offer travellers ready access to wilderness, wildlife and exceptional scenery. The best part: being back at your hotel in time for dinner.

Goldstream Provincial Park is justa 20-minute drive from the busy streets of Victoria, British Columbia’s capital on Vancouver Island. This 477-ha (1,179-ac) sanctuary is home to old-growth forests, dramatic waterfalls and—in season—rivers filled with thousands of spawning salmon. Plunge into lush, moss-covered forest via the 1.8-km (1.1-mi) Goldmine Trail. The easy, two-hour round-trip route leads past abandoned gold mines and a dramatic railway trestle on its way to a thundering, 47-m (154-ft) waterfall.

In Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains are just a few minutes’ drive from downtown’s gleaming high rises. A favourite option for adventurers looking for a brief, if intense, hike is the Grouse Grind, also known as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster. The route ascends steeply through pristine Pacific coastal rainforest, climbing 853 m (2,800 ft) in just 2.9 km (1.8 mi). After the approximately 1.5-hour ascent, intrepid hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of Vancouver from the summit, ice-cold beer and drinks at the Grouse Mountain ski resort chalet and an easy ride back down on the Skyride tram.

Further east, on the great Canadian prairies, Saskatoon is home to one of Reader’s Digest’s 10 greatest hikes in Canada, the Meewasin Valley Trail. Hugging the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, the 60-km (37-mi) route— part urban walkway, part nature hike—winds past the city and through manicured parks before ascending to expansive lookouts and wild groves.

Leslie Street Spit, a man-made peninsula on Lake Ontario, can be found on the Toronto waterfront, just minutes from downtown. The spit’s 500-ha (1,236-ac) Tommy Thompson Park embraces everything from cottonwood forests and coastal marshes to lagoons, sand dunes and wildflower meadows. A paved, 5-km (3-mi) one-way path offers glimpses of the city skyline and the open waters of the lake.

In Montréal, visitors can climb up the historic city’s namesake knoll, Mount Royal. The approximately hour-long walk from the downtown entrance of Mount Royal Park on Peel Street rewards with gorgeous views. Designed by Frederick Olmsted, the same planner behind New York’s Central Park, Mount Royal has an extensive network of walking paths and stairways that lead through wooded areas to commanding views of the city below.

Finally, on the eastern seaboard, Laurie Provincial Park is an easy, 30-minute drive from Nova Scotia’s capital of Halifax. Well-maintained trails wind along the shores of Grand Lake, popular with swimmers and daredevil rock jumpers during the summer months. The quiet lakeside setting offers a great place to recharge and experience the wilderness on the edge of one of Canada’s most vibrant cities.

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