But one park that consistently manages to stay off the radar altogether is Pacific Spirit Regional Park.
Located on Point Grey, on the city’s West side, Pacific Spirit consists of nearly 2,000-acres of forests and beach (including notoriously clothing-optional Wreck Beach). It’s a massive urban nature preserve that sits right on the doorstep of the University of British Columbia, with more than 70 kilometres of walking paths, as well as bike and horse trails.
Yet because Pacific Spirit is a bit outside of downtown, and because it doesn’t necessarily boast the jaw-dropping views or manicured gardens of the city’s other big parks, it’s easily overlooked – and sometimes completely forgotten.
I checked out Pacific Spirit Regional Park for the first time over the weekend. Parking at Spanish Banks Beach, I hopped on the first trail I saw, the Spanish Trail, which climbs steeply inland into the forest. Like almost all of the trails within the park, it’s wide and covered with gravel – equally suitable for walkers and bikers.
You immediately get a sense of the rugged terrain that once covered Vancouver. The trail climbs the edge of a steep gorge, grown thick with mixed undergrowth. I huffed it up to the top, passing a steady traffic of dog walkers and bike riders along the way. Still, the woods were unexpectedly peaceful and quiet – a very different experience from a stroll through Stanley Park.
The trail crosses Chancellor Boulevard, one of the main roads leading to the University of British Columbia, before levelling out. Here, the undergrowth disappears, giving way to an airy cathedral of evergreen trees. A wooden pathway then leads deep into a bog, studded with the skeletons of thousands of long-dead trees. I crossed through, listening to the chorus of frogs and enjoying the spring sun that filtered through. An enormous bald eagle screeched down from the top of a tree, harassing me as I made my way out of this section of forest.
Here’s where the typical nature experience gets interesting. The trail leads directly to a leafy residential neighbourhood of prim, very expensive-looking homes. I followed the street, ducked through a row of hedges and found myself on the UBC campus. Students in flip-flops, weighed down with backpacks, trudged between UBC’s grim pastiche of grey concrete buildings. I followed a stream of coeds into the student union and grabbed a snack from the vending machines before continuing on my way.
To complete my short loop through Pacific Spirit, I connected with the Salish Trail, which plunges down a dense, heavily forested gorge and back to the coast. It spit me out at the far western end of Spanish Banks. I took to the beach, soaking up the views of the giant container ships waiting in the harbour and the distant downtown skyline.
In typical Vancouver fashion, the beachside path was soon swarmed with lululemon-clad runners, people walking dogs of all shapes and sizes, retirees shuffling along bundled against the spring breeze and bike riders zipping by. In other words, I was officially out of the forest and back in the big city.
But I’ll definitely return to Pacific Spirit Regional Park. It’s not exactly postcard material or even a must-see. But in a city characterized by epic scenery and outsized landmarks, it stands out for its ordinariness, a quiet refuge enjoyed by the few who know it.
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