Vancouver Hidden Gem Alert: Seymour Demonstration Forest

Photo credit: Skip the Filler | Flickr

Photo credit: Skip the Filler | Flickr

It’s hard to believe that minutes from the noise and chaos of downtown Vancouver is an alternate, carbon-free civilization inhabited only by cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians.  But it’s no dream: It’s North Vancouver’s Seymour Demonstration Forest.

This 5,668-hectare park, formally known as the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, is actually a bit difficult to find, which may explain why it’s stayed relatively off-the-radar all these years.  Google Maps isn’t much help (though searching “Rice Lake” will get you close).  Directions online sound a bit like an old treasure hunt:  “Head toward Capilano College and drive straight past the main gate to the campus. Keep right on driving, past the riding stables and cemetery.”

But it’s worth hunting down.  You’ll know you’re on the right path when you start hitting speed bumps every 50 metres.  The road makes its way through thick forest and past a mysterious-looking building called the LSCR Waste Stream Diversion Facility before dead-ending at a gravel parking lot.  Here, you’ll notice every single car has a bike rack mounted on it.

This is because the main draw of the park is the Seymour Valley Trailway: a 10-kilometre-long paved path that threads its way through one of the most gorgeous – and bike-friendly – stretches of forest in the area.  Over the weekend, I hopped on my bike and explored the trail for the first time.

The Trailway seems to have been designed by some enlightened urban planner who just knew that, one day, Vancouverites would need a tranquil, restorative, strikingly beautiful getaway from the city.  The wide asphalt path starts near Rice Lake, which is popular among families and picnickers.  It rises gently as you leave the last traces of civilization behind, and the noises of the city are replaced by the noises of the forest – and the noises of dozens of cyclists and rollerbladers who flock to this spot on sunny weekends.

Photo credit: JoshNV | Flickr

Photo credit: JoshNV | Flickr

The trail has its share of hills and valleys – nothing too strenuous, just enough to give the novice cyclist a good mix of exhilaration on the downhill stretches and desperation on a few big climbs.  But the real draw is the scenery.  One moment, you’re cruising gently through groves of second-growth evergreens, whose trunks line the pathway like columns of an ancient temple.  The next, you’re pumping through dark, quiet forest, spotting the brilliant red crest from a red-headed woodpecker or meeting the incredulous gaze of an owl. (At least, that’s what happened to me.)

And the whole time you’re inching closer to Seymour Lake, the reservoir tucked at the base of the North Shore mountains that provides much of Vancouver’s drinking water.   At the end of kilometre 10, the trail gives way to a gravel path.  Take the left fork and you’ll enter what feels like an enchanted forest.  Old growth red cedars tower above, dripping with thick, green moss.  A network of wooden bridges winds over creeks and tributaries and to the edge of the Seymour River, apparently a popular swimming spot on hot days.

Continue to the end of the trail and there’s even a remote fish hatchery hidden away in the forest.  Further on, the imposing concrete dam of Seymour Lake announces the end of the ride.  There’s a gazebo nearby that offers a nice view of the water and the mountains, which seem to rise almost vertically from the shores, a living green wall cut through with the silver threads of small creeks.

The Seymour Valley Trailway should be accessible to cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and fitness levels.  On bike, at a leisurely pace with plenty of sightseeing along the way, the roundtrip takes around two hours.

Anyone a fan of the Seymour Demonstration Forest? Let us know below. 

For more updates on hidden gems in Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.  

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