Vancouver Hidden Gem Alert: Capilano River Regional Park

Photo credit: janheuninck | Flickr

Photo credit: janheuninck | Flickr

It seems strange to call Capilano River Regional Park a hidden gem.  The park is just minutes from downtown in North Vancouver.  And it also happens to be right next door to one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Yet this gorgeously wild park is regularly overlooked, even by locals.  Straddling the Capilano River, it offers great hiking through old growth forest, stunning views of the river as it winds through Capilano Canyon and plenty of hidden waterholes along the way for a quick dip.  And, even on beautiful summer days, it’s rarely crowded.

I explored the park over the weekend, starting at the Cleveland Dam entrance, off of Capilano Road.  Here, the 79-metre tall Cleveland Dam holds back Capilano Lake, which provides approximately 40 percent of the Lower Mainland’s drinking water. A concrete path crosses over the lip of the dam, offering spectacular views of the lake and coastal mountains on one side and terrifying views of water pouring deep down into the Capilano Canyon on the other.

Numerous trails parallel both banks of the river as it flows from the lake down through Capilano Canyon.  They’re all short, and in an hour or two you can explore much of the park.  I wandered along the Giant Fir trail on the western bank, passing through primeval looking forest filled with some of the last old growth trees in the area.  The largest of which is “Grandpa Capilano,” an enormous fir tree, some 2.4 metres in diameter, that predates Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

Next, I picked up the scenic Coho Loop, which skirts the edge of the canyon, offering great views of the river far below.  I couldn’t resist a short detour here to the Capilano Salmon Hatchery, a Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans facility nestled in the park. Free to visit, the hatchery helps rear hundreds of thousands of Coho, Chinook and Steelhead salmon.  The highlight for most visitors are the eye-level fish ladders, where you can watch the salmon leap from one pool to the next on their journey upstream.

Back on the trail, I followed the Chinook Loop, climbing high above the river’s eastern bank.  After working up a sweat on the hot afternoon, I took a promising-looking side trail, which led down a steep slope before opening up to a calm stretch of river.

I wandered out into what felt like a protected sanctuary.  Giant old growth trees rose on all sides, while the icy cold Capilano River flowed gently through.  The sun slanted down, warming smooth boulders along the water’s edge.  The best part: I was just minutes from downtown Vancouver, and there was no one else around.

Anyone else a fan of Capilano River Regional Park? Let us know below. 

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

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