There’s an old saying that if you can see the North Shore from Vancouver, it’s about to rain, and if you can’t, it’s raining. Rain is part of the price residents on the steep-sided slopes of West and North Vancouver pay for living on the ‘wild side’ of Burrard Inlet.
Clouds bump up against the forested mountainside, become ensnared in dense stands of Douglas fir and hemlock, and linger long after skies have opened over Vancouver.
This is a moody locale. On a clear day, few skylines can compete with the one composed of the Shores’ six peaks – Black, Strachan, Hollyburn, Grouse, Fromme, and Seymour Mountains. After a rainstorm, the brilliant black-green hue of the North Shore shines with freshness. When snow coats the slopes, they sparkle so perfectly your heart sings at the sight.
Before the construction of the original Second Narrows Bridge in 1925, the North Shore was a world apart. Ferries once linked Ambleside in West Vancouver with Vancouver. From Ambleside, hikers in summer and skiers in winter would make their way up the side of Hollyburn Mountain, at first on foot or by wagon, later by car and bus. Cabins were constructed, trails brushed out. Grouse and Seymour Mountains developed in much the same way, though Grouse has always been the leader in commercial development. Mountain tops were the perfect places to get away from dirty old Vancouver, especially in cool weather. Before the Second World War, sawdust was the fuel of choice in many Vancouver homes, darkening the air with its soot.
Much has changed since Navvy Jack Thomas became the first European to permanently settle on the North Shore in the 1880s. Today, thousands of visitors walk and hike where Chief Joe Capilano first guided poet and outdoorswoman extraordinaire Pauline Johnson, the most popular Canadian entertainer of her time, along the ancient North Shore trails. Johnson, the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an Englishwoman, wrote Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911, two years before her death. The tales she transcribed still bear repeating, such as the story of the two sisters who, long before Captain George Vancouver sailed into English Bay, brought peace to the Native communities of the region and who were subsequently honoured by being transformed into the twin peaks that dominate the North Shore skyline. Today, these peaks are widely known as the Lions.
No matter how far up the mountainside neighbourhoods have crept, the wilderness still influences the North Shore. Black bears and cougars prowl backyards on the perimeter of habitation. Hapless hikers, skiers, and snowboarders routinely lose their way and wait (and pray) to be saved by the North Shore Rescue Team, a volunteer group who selflessly put their own lives at risk to track down missing adventurers.
Despite the outward appearance of urbanity, the North Shore contains some of the most rugged terrain in the province. The mountainous topography represents the forward perimeter of land pushed out to the coast by the mile-thick glacial ice pan that held sway 12,000 years ago. The Coast Mountains, which begin on the North Shore and sweep north along the British Columbia coast and through Alaska, are the tallest range in North America and among the most heavily glaciated.
Due to the North Shore’s steep incline, much of the outdoors activity that takes place here will get your heart rate up within minutes of starting out, whether you adventure on foot, by bike, or on skis or snowboard. Pothole lakes are the refreshing reward for those who explore the higher reaches in summer. Just as prized are the rugged beaches on Burrard Inlet that await those who prowl the shoreline. Rain or shine, you can always count on finding shelter beneath the broad branches of the ancient and second-growth forests.
Location: The North Shore in Vancouver is reached by travelling west on Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) across the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge. Highway 1 (or the Upper Levels Highway, as it is called on the North Shore) crosses North Vancouver and West Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay, site of the BC Ferries terminal that connects the North Shore with Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Langdale on the Sunshine Coast, and nearby Bowen Island.
Travellers from downtown Vancouver journey west on Georgia Street (Highway 99) to the Stanley Park causeway, then cross the Lions Gate Bridge to Marine Drive. Depending on your destination on the North Shore, you can choose to enter either North or West Vancouver from the north end of the bridge. From Marine Drive, Taylor Way in West Vancouver is a continuation of Highway 99 and intersects with the Upper Levels Highway at the junction of Highways 1 and 99. Highway 1/99 continues west to Horseshoe Bay from here. From Horseshoe Bay, Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway) links the North Shore with the upcountry communities of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and Lillooet. BC Transit’s SeaBus links Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver with the Vancouver terminal, located at the foot of Granville Street at Cordova, a 15-minute crossing.
The following towns are located on the North Shore:
On the lower slopes of Hollyburn Mountain, between the Capilano River Valley and Horseshoe Bay, is one of Canada’s most picturesque residential communities, West Vancouver. Bordered by Burrard Inlet to the south and Howe Sound to the west, West Van incorporates the villages of Ambleside, Dundarave, Caulfield, and Horseshoe Bay.
Nestled under a canopy of lush evergreens beneath the peaks of the North Shore Mountains, North Vancouver is located on the North Shore of Vancouver, one of the most beautiful and exclusive areas in Greater Vancouver. When Captain George Vancouver sailed into Burrard Inlet on June 13th, 1792 he could not have imagined that he was in Canada’s ultimate destination.
Once just a community of summer cottages, the beautiful little village of Deep Cove is a hidden treasure at the entrance to Indian Arm, off Burrard Inlet on the North shore of Vancouver. Beautiful, quiet and full of surprises, Deep Cove features a fine selection of restaurants, pubs, select and unique shops, hiking trails, beautiful waterfront parks and the most relaxing scenery you’ll find anywhere. The charming and growing waterfront community, surrounded by mountains, forests and ocean, is just a 20-minute drive from Vancouver.
The gateway to Howe Sound, the Sunshine Coast and central Vancouver Island, Horseshoe Bay is a quaint and picturesque seaside village on the North Shore of Vancouver. Located to the northwest of Vancouver, Horseshoe Bay is best known for its BC Ferry terminal, serving Snug Cove on Bowen Island, Langdale on the Sunshine Coast, and Departure Bay in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
A quick 20-minute ferry ride west of Vancouver brings visitors to Bowen Island, an emerald island in the waters of Howe Sound. With a beautifully rugged landscape and friendly laid-back pace, Bowen Island is typical of the forested island retreats to be found along the coast of British Columbia.
Golf: The North Shore of Vancouver presents a choice of golf courses. West Vancouver offers 2 courses: Ambleside Par 3 Golf Course, a lovely 18-hole municipal pitch and putt facility on the Ambleside Waterfront, and Gleneagles Golf Course. North Vancouver offers Murdo Fraizer Par 3 Golf Course, and Seymour Golf & Country Club, and neighbouring Deep Cove is home to Northlands Golf Course. Fifteen minutes away on the rugged coast of Howe Sound is the spectacular Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, considered the most scenic golf course in British Columbia. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Hiking: The first recreational hiking trails on the North Shore were opened almost a century ago. You can still walk some of these trails today, including the original Grouse Mountain Trail, blazed by members of the Vancouver Mountaineering Club in 1900. (Several years later the club changed its name to the British Columbia Mountaineering Club to reflect its expanded horizons.) If you’re looking for company, there are several well-established clubs that host walking and hiking outings on a regular basis for both members and nonmembers.
By far the longest route on the North Shore is the almost 30-mile (48-km) Baden-Powell Trail, the thread that knits the North Shore together into one continuous strand. The trail runs between its western terminus at West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay and Deep Cove on North Vancouver’s eastern perimeter. Along the way, it climbs and descends a well-trodden route that passes through both Cypress and Mount Seymour Provincial Parks. You can devote days to discovering it bit by bit, or push yourself to your limit in a day.
Mountain Biking: The North Shore is rightfully renowned for some of the most challenging off-road mountain-bike trails in the world. Most of these have only recently been constructed as the popularity of single-track riding has outpaced road riding. These routes are cut by ad hoc groups of cyclists desperate for some quality singletrack to call their own, often without permission from municipal or provincial governments. Clandestine trails are not well signed, but in most cases you won’t have any problem finding them.
Skiing: Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain – whether you choose to be airborne on a snowboard, or to keep both feet firmly on the ground with snowshoes or cross-country skis you’ll find the right mountain on Vancouver’s North Shore.
Skiing & Winter Activities on the North Shore.
Beaches: Going to the beach is a far different experience on the North Shore than across Burrard Inlet in Vancouver (which, interestingly, is never referred to as the South Shore). Over here it’s rugged from tideline to skyline. Cobble beaches and rocky outcroppings make beaches on English Bay look positively cushy by comparison. That being said, a few soft pockets of beach do exist in places such as Caulfeild and Ambleside Parks in West Vancouver, and Cates Park in North Vancouver’s Deep Cove neighbourhood. All are extremely popular with families on weekends and yet can be almost deserted on weekdays.
The following major parks are located on the North Shore:
- Ambleside Park
- Capilano River Regional Park
- Crippen Regional Park
- Cypress Provincial Park
- Indian Arm Provincial Park
- Lighthouse Park
- Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve
- Lynn Canyon Park
- Lynn Headwaters Regional Park
- Mount Seymour Provincial Park
- Whytecliff Marine Park
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for a scenic tour of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and looping through the Coast Mountains. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, travel 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.