Adventures, Outdoor
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Road Trip: San Francisco to Vancouver

Renegade camping, forest trails and secret swimming holes

After spending nine months circumnavigating the globe, it only took a few weeks at home before the open road started whispering my name again.

When a friend hopped over from Australia for a visit, it was all the excuse I needed to throw my camping gear in the car and head out in search of adventure.

Our first stop was Outside Lands music festival in foggy Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Summer music festivals are pretty high on my list of fun things to do, and with headliners like The Who, Metallica and Alt-J, the good vibes were in full swing all three days.

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Other favorite sets from the weekend included Khraungbin, Foxygen, Maggie Rogers, Sofi Tukker, Temples, Real Estate and Bleachers.

With our heads still in the clouds, we headed south for a quick dip into Big Sur. Since access via highway one was closed for the season due to winter storm damage, this magical stretch of coastline was practically empty. It felt like we had traveled back in time to a wilder California.

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I’d tell you where we camped but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say Big Sur has no shortage of secret spots for those willing to search for them.

It wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away from the sunshine, empty waves and epic coastal vistas, but the north was beckoning. After a morning surf at Sand Dollar Beach, we hit the road and, after a loooooong drive, finally made camp late that night on a fire road outside the northern California town of Lake Shasta.

In the morning, we hiked to Faery Falls and had this enchanted grotto all to ourselves. Skinny dip, anyone?


The vibe at Lake Shasta was so chilled out, we decided to spent another night there and enjoy a full day at a nearby lake. This was summer vacation, after all.


Our next stop was Crater Lake, which welcomed us with orange, hazy skies and zero visibility over the lake. Hello, fire season in Oregon.


We made camp at another secret spot, then watched from the rim of the crater as the skies miraculously cleared and the stars came out over the lake.

In the morning, we picnicked on the crater rim and took a million panoramic photos. The views were insanely gorgeous and the ultra-blue water took our breath away –literally. It was a vertical hike down to the edge of the lake via Cleetwood Cove Trail, where we dove off the rocks into the freezing water. The lake was so clear and blue it felt like you were floating in the sky instead of swimming.

After Crater Lake, we headed to Smith Rock State Park. With a stealthy location not far outside Bend, Oregon, Smith Rock has jaw-dropping scenery and world-class rock climbing, all tucked into a small area not far off the highway.



We hiked the Misery Ridge Trail for a stunning sunset and eagle’s eye view above the valley, then took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up doing the last hour of the hike in the dark along the River Trail. It was a late night and a long drive before we finally made camp near a lake not far from the Columbia River Gorge.

The next stop was Portland, Oregon for a skate session at the legendary Burnside Skatepark. After so much time in nature, even mellow Portland felt like a chaotic metropolis. We binged on pizza and congratulated ourselves on surviving the “apocaclipse,” our made-up word for the complete mayhem surrounding the upcoming total solar eclipse.


We had planned to stay in Oregon for the eclipse, but the crazy traffic and general insanity surrounding the next day’s cosmic event made us decide to drive straight on to Canada.

Oh, Canada! The landscape grew greener and more mountainous and we rolled north. Since my friend visiting from Australia was actually Canadian, he made a great tour guide for the Canada leg of the trip.

As we drove into Vancouver, the cityscape stretched across inlets and rivers with plenty of green space sprinkled around the tall buildings and historic neighborhoods.

After blissfully hot showers, we soaked up the skyline from a friend’s 25th floor penthouse in downtown Vancouver.

But the fun wasn’t over yet. We spent the next few days exploring the city –taking in the partial solar eclipse from the top of Mount Seymour, riding bicycles to a movie in Stanley Park and sampling the city’s best brunch spots (Yolks gets my vote).

After a few late nights in the city, we were ready to get back to nature. We packed up and hit the road, heading north once again towards Squamish and Pemberton.

My friend insisted it wasn’t a trip to Squamish without a quick jaunt to the top of The Chief, an enormous granite slab overlooking Howe Sound, where the mega-views aren’t for the faint of heart. I was huffing and puffing all the way up –this vertical hike isn’t joking around.


After picking up burritos from Mag’s 99, we cruised to a lake for a picnic lunch with an old friend who was climbing around Squamish and living out of her Chevy Astro van.

Next stop was a potato farm-turned brewery outside of Pemberton, where the valley views were truly gorgeous. That night, we made camp beside a river and woke up in a meadow sprinkled with crab apples, which made a tasty addition to our breakfast.

In the morning, we finally turned the car south and headed back to the ferry port outside of Vancouver, where we floated on over to Vancouver Island for a week of hiking, swimming holes, and even some wake surfing.

Our first stop on Vancouver Island was the Comox Valley, where we sampled the local swimming holes and lounged like lizards on warm rocks beside the river.


Next, we pitched our tent beside Horne Lake, where a friend’s family welcomed us for dinner and even took us for a spin on their wakesurfing boat. That night, we fell asleep under the stars as the boat drifted on the quiet lake.

In the morning, we set out on the road to the west coast of Vancouver Island, making sure to stop in at Cathedral Grove and another swimming hole along the way.




For the return trip back to California, we hit the Pacific coast for a surf, skate and cruise patrol along highway one. Check out my next post, West Coast Road Trip: Tofino, Canada to Santa Cruz, California to see what happened along the way.

Photos: @wizardslivers

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