Health & Wellness,  Travel

Capilano River Park Hike | Vancouver

Winter in Vancouver is very rainy and grey, a fact I’ve come to accept. So when the sun came out on weekday off work, it was time to make the most of it. A lot of the higher altitude hikes are covered in snow at this time of year, but I’ve found plenty of low level options that are ice-free. This time, I decided on a hike in Capilano River Regional Park, in North Vancouver, just a bus ride from Downtown. There are a few hiking routes through the park, and I opted for this 2 hour circuit.

Capilano River Park hike featured photo - North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Cleveland Dam

Capilano River Park has a few entry and exit points, but after assessing the bus route options, I decided to head to the Cleveland Dam to start my hike. The dam creates a large reservoir behind it, which I later learned created controversy when the land was flooded, especially among the First Nations people. This is true of many dams, as I’ve been learning on my Environmental Studies course. But the powerful water plummeting down the dam does provide electricity for a good portion of Vancouver.

The reservoir sits in a valley between several mountains and with their winter snow capped peaks, it made for a very quintessentially Canadian view. Mountains and lakes are what I picture when I think of the Canadian outdoors, though this was less turquoise than the glacial lakes I’ve seen in photos. Still a stunning view though, even on a cloudier day! The beginning of my route then took me straight across the top of the dam, where you can see the water tumbling into the canyon below.

Through the Forest

Fortunately, the rest of the hike didn’t rely on sunshine for its views. Instead, I followed a well-worn, clearly marked trail through the forests that line the sides of the canyon. I actually could barely see the water at all for the first half, besides a few glimpses of the dam. Like much of the woodlands of British Columbia, the area is covered in temperate rainforest. Tall, evergreen conifer trees stretch up to the skies, with mossy roots and thick ferns covering the forest floor. Rainforests fascinate me for the rich ecosystems they support, so even though I didn’t seen any wildlife (hardly surprising on a popular hiking trail), I enjoyed being in amongst the natural environment.

The trail stayed high up the sides of the canyon, crossing a few wooden bridges over gullies along the way. I passed a handful of other people as I went, often with dogs, but it was fairly quiet overall. The park has a few intersecting trails, so you can do longer or shorter routes. The multiple access points also mean you can do a point to point hike, whereas I had chosen a loop. I had to keep an eye on the map at each intersection to make sure I stayed on the right track! The far end of my loop passed close to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It’s fenced off, since that’s a ticketed attraction but I could see the Christmas light display still up through the trees!

Along the River

After reaching the southern end of the loop, I circled back to an intersection I’d already been through once. From there, I branched off to my right to head down towards the river in the canyon’s depths. The descent wasn’t all that steep, which was surprising given the size of the Cleveland Dam! When I reached the shores, I crossed to the other side via the pipe bridge. Yes, it’s literally a bridge built on top of a pipe! I got great views up and down the river from here (since the trees had been hiding it until now) and stopped for plenty photos on the bridge.

The green tinted water, in amongst the forest foliage, gave the whole hike a strong colour scheme! The setting in general verified everything I had thought about the Pacific Northwest before arriving here. A friend later commented that my photos looked like the setting of Twilight. Forks, Washington is only a few hours from here, so that made perfect sense!

A landslide had closed off part of the trail, so I had to detour away from the water briefly, but soon rejoined it again. The walk was much lower in the canyon on this side of the river too, basically following close to the water as I headed back upstream. I came across a few other bridges and some people fishing as well. I’ve always loved being near water of any sort, so a riverside stroll always suits me well!

Capilano River Park hike

Capilano Hatchery

Salmon are plentiful in British Columbia and an essential food source for many other species, from bears to orcas. I had no idea my hike would take me to the Capilano Salmon Hatchery though! I wasn’t sure what I had stumbled upon at first, but could tell it looked like a visitor centre of sorts. And indeed, while some of the hatchery buildings are staff only, there is a free exhibition about the salmon. It sits right next to the river too, offering more views along the canyon. I got oddly excited and interested by the hatchery. Something I never thought I’d say about salmon, but I think I’m becoming more and more of a knowledge nerd as I get older.

I didn’t read all of it the information there, but there’s an overview of the different types of salmon, their life cycles and what the hatchery does. Raising young fish there gives them a better chance of survival out in the wilds of the river. There were lots of large, outdoor tanks, with netting to keep birds away. They were impossible to actually see the fish inside though. So it was the tiny hatchlings in the smaller tanks that intrigued me the most!

What Goes Down Must Come Up

From the hatchery, I had to return to the start of my loop. And since I started at the top of the dam and was now down by the river, this meant a sudden and abrupt ascent. Which took the form of a vast wooden staircase up the side of the canyon. Normally, hikes go up and then down, so this was a tough climb at the end of a long walk, when already tired. I plodded on up though, eventually reemerging near the reservoir to catch the bus home again.

While it wasn’t a hike of sweeping vistas and mountaintop views, the forests of British Columbia are a rich, important part of the landscape and ecosystems here and well worth exploring!