The wide, fertile Fraser Valley, yet another aspect of the Lower Mainland’s landscape, is spread between the Coast and Cascade Mountains, parallel with the Canada-United States border. The valley runs more than a hundred miles inland from the Pacific to the small town of Hope at its eastern end.
You can drive from one end of the Fraser Valley to the other in about two hours. You can just as easily spend a lifetime exploring the 93 miles (150 km) between Vancouver and Hope.
With half the population of British Columbia living in or within easy driving distance of the Fraser Valley, the question of where to head in advance of the crowds is a challenging one. From an explorer’s perspective, Forest Service recreation sites and provincial parks pick up where Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) parks leave off.
Except for the cities of Maple Ridge and Mission on the north, and Abbotsford and Chilliwack south of the Fraser River, this is a prairie realm where cowboy boots and Stetsons aren’t out of place. Almost all of the fertile land is rural and supports a blend of farming, forestry, and outdoor recreation. Fraser Valley residents are just as keen on using these parks and trails as their neighbours in the GVRD. One of the benefits of living out in the valley is knowing the best spots and having a head start in reaching them, especially on summer weekends. If you can be on one of the many backroads by 3pm on Friday, you’re well on your way to securing a campsite. Rest assured that at other times of the week you will have your pick of sites.
Since the 1980s, the population explosion in the Lower Mainland has exerted considerable pressure on the Fraser Valley. Fortunately, much of the lush farmland is protected under the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve Policy instituted in the 1970s. Demographic analysis of growth patterns from now to the mid-21st century suggests a continual erosion of this rural landscape. With this in mind, in the mid-1990s the provincial government accepted a committee’s recommendation that almost 14 percent of the land base be set aside for parks.
This was welcome news for outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom actively supported the preservation of critical wilderness corridors found in places such as the Skagit Valley in the south Fraser Valley and the Pitt Lake region in the north. The signing of the provincial Protected Areas Strategy Accord in October 1996 signalled a victory for conservationists who had worked for the protection of such pristine areas since the mid-1970s. Now it’s time to get out there and enjoy the 14 percent solution.
Parks in the Fraser Valley and surrounding area include the following:
Camping: As you approach Vancouver, campsites get as rare as courtesy in rush-hour traffic, but out in the Fraser Valley, where folks have more breathing space, there are a number of stunningly beautiful public campgrounds, and provincial park campgrounds in most of the provincial parks listed above.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and Coast Mountains Circle Tour. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, take the Fraser Valley Circle Tour, travelling outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.
Two mountain ranges hem the Fraser Valley: the Coast Mountains to the north and the Cascades to the south. In the folds of each are numerous lakes (for the most part bone-chillingly cold), the largest of which are Pitt and Harrison to the north, and Cultus and Chilliwack to the south. Ross Lake in Skagit Provincial Park is also a contender. Although most of Ross Lake’s basin is located in Washington State, the easiest access to it is from the Canadian side in the Fraser Valley. The excellent beaches at most of these big lakes are easily reached, with steep-sided Pitt Lake being the one exception. You’ll need a boat to reach those.
Life on the Fraser River is often best viewed from a beach. Unfortunately, many of the river’s best beaches (or ‘bars’) are leased to lumber companies for logging booms. Several exceptions lie on either side of Fort Langley, at Derby Reach and Glen Valley Regional Parks. The hard-packed beaches are wide, gently sloping stretches of sand, perfect to stroll on while watching the river flow. Blue herons glide by above, while in the river a seal will occasionally poke up its head to check you out, sometimes with a fish in its mouth. Although 30 miles (50 km) upriver from the mouth of the Fraser, tidal action in the river is still powerful enough to leave more (or less) of the beach exposed, depending on the time of your visit.
Golfing: The International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) selected British Columbia as the “2004 Undiscovered Golf Destination in the World”, and nowhere is the undiscovered part of this award more apt than in the Fraser Valley. Golf courses are spread throughout the Fraser Valley, offering great year-round golf, including. Abbotsford, with five championships courses set in amazing scenery, Chilliwack with 7 great golf courses, and Langley offering a number of superb golfing options. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Paddling: Several superb locations await paddlers searching for freshwater adventure and wildlife in the Fraser Valley. From May to September there are canoes for rent at both Grant Narrows and Alouette Lake in the North Fraser Valley, so you don’t need your own boat to share in the experience. More Canoeing & Kayaking information is available in the Recreation section.
Mountain Biking: If you’re a mountain biker looking for an aerobic workout, head for trails on Burke Mountain (more properly called Mount Burke) in Coquitlam. You’ll be in good gearhead company here. The mountain is a network of old skidder trails and logging roads and some more recent singletrack, including the in-your-face Sawblade, which is comparable to even the nastiest technical riding trails on the North Shore. When measured by the amount of fun that trail riding provides, diminutive Aldergrove Lake Regional Park outperforms its size. Located on the dividing line between Langley and Abbotsford, a network of easygoing trails lead through the wooded park and lend themselves to exploration by bicycle. More mountain biking information is available in the Recreation section.
Throughout British Columbia, several historic 19th-century forts have been preserved as reminders of how the west was originally settled by Europeans. Fort Langley National Historic Site, a Hudson’s Bay Company post that has been preserved and restored, is open year-round. It, too, is a delightful reminder of yesteryear. Train tracks run along the riverbank below the fort.
Nearby is the Fort Langley Railroad Museum on Glover Road, with a restored station from the 1920s era, a Canadian National Railway caboose, and an operating model railway. It’s well worth a visit as you explore the town in the vicinity of the fort. Glover Road, Fort Langley’s main street, features a variety of shops, many of which are housed in well-maintained heritage buildings. Stop at the large interpretive map of Fort Langley displayed at the railroad historical site. It outlines a heritage walking tour of the town. The large community hall, for example, has been lovingly preserved.
Kilby Historic Site is adjacent to Kilby Provincial Park. It’s well worth a look through the restored boarding house, post office, and general store to get a feel for life on the Fraser River at the turn of the century, when steam wheelers linked small towns like Harrison Mills with the docks downstream at Mission and New Westminster. There is a small admission charge to view the store, which is open from May to October and at Christmas each year.
If you’re in the south valley around Easter weekend, plan to attend the Bradner Daffodil Festival, held annually since 1928. The daffodil festival is held in the Bradner Community Hall, complete with its legendary bake sale, and more than 400 varieties of daffodils bloom in the surrounding fields. The small park across the road from the Bradner General Store, complete with a gazebo, is one potential picnic location, as is nearby Glen Valley Regional Park.
Mission is the largest town in the North Fraser Valley. Mission is tied historically to the Cariboo gold rush of the 1850s, and there is still a strong Native presence in the region. Each year in July, the Mission Powwow draws drummers, singers, dancers, and spectators to a three-day festival. Westminster Abbey, home to a Benedictine monastery, crowns the skyline and occupies a ridge overlooking the Fraser River Valley.
Situated at the southern end of Harrison Lake, Harrison Hot Springs is a small, quiet row of low buildings facing the sandy beach and lagoon. The hot springs themselves are in a strangely enclosed temple, with sulfur steam billowing out, but don’t be dismayed; the public soaking pool (which has cooled hot-spring water pumped into it) is large and wonderfully warm (100 degree F or 37 degree C, average). In addition, there are sailboards and bikes to rent, hiking trails nearby, helicopters to ride, and a pub or two. There’s also an annual world championship sand sculpture competition that takes place in September.
The following towns are located in or near the Fraser Valley:
Location: The Fraser River flows down the middle of the Fraser Valley and, by the very nature of its broad, deep, muddy girth, forces road travellers to choose either its north or south side. River crossings are limited. East of the Port Mann Bridge, which links Coquitlam on the north with Surrey on the south, travellers must rely on the Albion Ferry between Maple Ridge and Fort Langley, the Mission-Matsqui Bridge (Highway 11), or the Highway 9 Bridge east of Chilliwack that links Agassiz with Rosedale if they wish to journey from one side of the Fraser Valley to the other.
Two major highways cut east-west routes through the Fraser Valley, and link Vancouver with Hope. Highway 7 (the Lougheed Highway, or Broadway in Vancouver) traverses the North Fraser Valley parallel with the Fraser River. As Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) heads east of Vancouver, it crosses the Fraser River on the Port Mann Bridge and leads through the South Fraser Valley. Whereas Highway 1 is a divided freeway designed to deliver travellers to their destination as quickly as possible, in most places Highway 7 is a conventional roadway and doubles as the main street for the towns through which it passes.
As you become familiar with the geography of the Fraser Valley, you’ll be better able to decide which route to take for the quickest access to the destination of your choice.