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.
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.
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.
Still living in North Vancouver today is the Squamish Indian Band, who are descended from the First Nations People who spoke the Halkomelen language.
Located east of the Capilano River, the City of North Vancouver was incorporated in May 1907. Over 200 years after Captain Vancouver’s arrival, it is the beauty and bounty of the forest that still attracts visitors and residents to the North Shore. Today there is no logging, only the enjoyment of the mountains, rivers and trees that continue to contribute to the economy of the North Shore.
Down at the water’s edge at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue is a celebration of sights and sounds at the bustling and colourful Lonsdale Quay Market, one of Vancouver’s most popular public markets. Climb the seaview observation tower, see tugboats chugging past, ocean freighters, fishing boats and the magical view of the Vancouver city skyline. It’s also a transit hub, with bus routes and the 400-passenger ferry Sea Bus connecting Lonsdale with Downtown Vancouver and the Skytrain.
Capilano Salmon Hatchery, located in Capilano River Regional Park, is an enhancement facility that produces steelhead trout and three million salmon each year. The centre illustrates the life cycle of a salmon with display aquariums, adult holding ponds and the fry-filled juvenile rearing area. From July to October, magnificent adult coho and chinook salmon fight their way up the Capilano River to their spawning grounds and the hatchery.
Not afraid of heights? You might change your mind when you’re halfway across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Constructed of wood and cable, the footbridge sways 230 feet above the forested canyon of the Capilano River. Stroll through pleasant parkland and nature trails, admire the wonderful display of totem poles, and stop to watch west coast totem carvers demonstrating their art form.
With a spillway nearing 300 feet, Cleveland Dam off Capilano Road holds back the 670-acre man-made Capilano Lake, which provides the wonderful, pure drinking water for much of the Greater Vancouver region. The park provides one of the best possible views of the landmark twin peaks of the Lions.
To head up even further, hop aboard the Grouse Mountain Skyride. Canada’s most modern 100-person aerial tram glides you up the steep mountainside, skirting trees, and providing you with a spectacular view of Vancouver once you reach the summit. On a clear day, you can see the entire Lower Fraser Valley.
Imagine a wilderness sanctuary where endangered animals can play, protected and secure. You will find all this and more at The Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, a research, education, and conservation centre at the top of Grouse Mountain, dedicated to becoming a world leader in preserving both wildlife and flora at risk.
The Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Ecology Centre are the focal points of the 617 acres of pristine coastal temperate rain forest of Lynn Canyon Park. The suspension bridge is half as wide as its more famous counterpart, it’s a few metres higher and, best of all, it’s free! Visitors can cast cautious glances at the water 150 feet (50 m) below, where it turns from placid emerald green to whipped-up whitewater in an instant. Despite the sturdy steel cables there’s always a slight feeling of dread, an uncertainty as to whether the footings will hold. This crossing is not for the timid, as the bridge does tend to bounce and sway.
Take a Heritage Walking Tour of the historic Lower Lonsdale area of the now thriving city of North Vancouver, which began along the waterfront, radiating out from the ferry terminus at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue. Between 1900 and 1912, Lower Lonsdale developed into a thriving commercial area, offering a full range of goods and services. In 1977 the Sea Bus opened, returning passenger service to Lower Lonsdale, and rejuvenating interest in the area. The Lonsdale Quay Market and other major developments soon followed.
The Lions Gate Bridge, built by the Guiness Family, opened Vancouver’s North Shore to vehicle traffic in 1938. Its lights were turned on in 1986, celebrating 50 years from the start of its construction, and the 100th birthday of Vancouver. Watch for Cruise Ships entering Burrard Inlet as the you cross the bridge, named after the two mountain peaks that look like sleeping lions.
The last remaining farm on Vancouver’s North Shore, Maplewood Farm was once a thriving dairy, delivering fresh milk and cream to customers from Deep Cove to Lonsdale. Opened to the public in 1975, and now home to over 200 domestic animals and birds, Maplewood Farm strives to provide a recollection of the rural heritage of this pastoral 5-acre setting on Seymour River Place – a unique experience for adults and children alike. Farm highlights include sheep shearing in May, the Farm Fair in September, the Pumpkin Event in October, and Country Christmas in December.
In an Alpine setting in the Capilano Highlands below Grouse Mountain, is Edgemont Village, offering old-fashioned charm and personal services in the many charming shops and unique boutiques located just off Capilano Road.
Once just a community of summer cottages, the village of Deep Cove is a hidden treasure at the entrance to Indian Arm, off Burrard Inlet. Beautiful, quiet and full of surprises, Deep Cove features a fine selection of restaurants, select and unique shops, and the most relaxing scenery you’ll find anywhere.
Totem poles are wonderful examples of aboriginal art. The ancient practice of totem carving has been handed down through generations as a way of preserving the history of local native heritage as well as honouring tribal rituals and sacred spirits of people. Follow the Native Heritage Circle Tour.
Golf: Surrounded by mountains, or the surf of the Pacific Ocean, there can be no better place to play a round of golf than on one of the North Shore’s courses. Murdo Fraizer Par 3 Golf Course is a 9-hole public golf course located in a park setting just minutes from Downtown Vancouver. Seymour Golf & Country Club is a semi-private club located in North Vancouver offering a meticulously groomed golf course that intertwines through the towering old-growth cedar and fir trees at the base of Mount Seymour. Seymour is a championship golf course well known for its undulating terrain, tree lined fairways, small greens and exceptional conditioning. It’s a players course, with a deceptive level of difficulty (18 holes, Par 72, 6,389 yards). Northlands Golf Course in neighbouring Deep Cove is sculpted from a 100-year-old forest at the foot of Mt. Seymour, providing challenging golf, scenic beauty, and the peace and quiet of wilderness. A mountain stream, huge granite outcroppings bursting through lush green fairways, and mountain peaks as a back drop combine to make Northlands a memorable golf experience (18 holes, 6,504 yards). West Vancouver offers the Ambleside Par 3 Golf Course and Gleneagles Golf Course, and 20 minutes away on the rugged coast of Howe Sound is the spectacular Furry Creek Golf and Country Club. Vancouver Golf Vacations.
Skiing and Snowboarding: Whether you choose to be airborne on a snowboard, or to keep both feet firmly on the ground in snowshoes or cross-country skis, you’ll find the right mountain at one of the 3 ski facilities on Vancouver’s North Shore; Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain.
Ziplining: Enjoy one of the most unforgettable outdoor experiences on Grouse Mountain. The Air Grouse Mountain Zipline tour puts you high above the alpine rainforest, careening through the air at top speeds of 80 km/hour. The zipline experience will give you a unique perspective of the Blue Grouse Lake region of the mountain, combining heart-pounding thrills with exploration of BC’s breathtaking old-growth forests.
If it weren’t for the fabulous canyon that Lynn Creek smashes its way through, there would hardly be reason to mention Lynn Canyon Park in the same breath as its oversized neighbours, Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. As it is, this triad of parks comprises one of the most exciting and integrated networks of protected land in the Lower Mainland. Lynn Canyon’s contribution is its marvellous suspension bridge. Trails follow both sides of the canyon and lead upstream to 30 Foot Pool and downstream to Twin Falls Bridge. A tall wooden staircase assists walkers and cyclists to venture north through the park from 30 Foot Pool to its borders with the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. One trail to follow when exploring Lynn Canyon is a section of the Baden-Powell Trail that winds through the park on its long journey across the North Shore.
If you enjoy hiking to viewpoints, there is a wealth of moderate hiking trails in Mount Seymour Provincial Park, near Deep Cove in North Vancouver. Use extreme caution when exploring its open summit, especially in the region around Mount Bishop, at 4,947 feet (1508 m) the tallest peak in the park. Weather conditions change quickly during storm season, and the route between peaks can become obscured. Each year this mountain gobbles an unwary hiker or two. To reach the park, travel east on Mount Seymour Parkway from the Second Narrows Bridge. For an easygoing introduction to the park, explore the 3-mile (5-km) section of the Baden-Powell Trail that runs east-west through the park near the base of the mountain. The park also has many sanctioned mountain biking trails, which link with many unofficial ones outside the park’s boundaries, including the infamously challenging and colourfully named Severed Dick Trail. Mount Seymour also offers both cross-country and downhill skiing, tobogganing and snowshoeing in winter.
Capilano River Regional Park extends from Marine Drive to the Cleveland Dam, offering fishing, walking trails, whitewater kayaking, and the Salmon Hatchery.
Grouse Mountain: Have a go at the Grouse Grind, a challenging yet popular hike that winds up the side of Grouse Mountain on the North Shore. Interconnected trails in this area are perfect for day hikes, mountain biking or nature walks. Go at your own pace, but make it to the top if you can – you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a breathtaking vista. 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. Getting to the trailhead is the easy part of many of these rambles. Once on the trail the challenge is to stick to your route as, typically, many other fainter trails intersect with the one you’re following, be these old logging roads or newer mountain-bike routes. All the trails are well marked, usually with bright orange metal disks affixed to the trunks of sturdy trees.
Hiking: By far the longest hiking 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 the limit in a day. The varied terrain of the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region of BC accommodates every outdoor recreation known to man.
Canoeing & Kayaking: What’s amazing about paddling the Capilano River is how distant the well-ordered world nearby suddenly feels as you enter its 3.5-mile (5.6-km) drop-and-pool course. This is an enchanted canyon and should only be attempted by those who can handle its powerful spell. Opinion is divided as to whether this should be attempted in an open canoe. Certainly not before consulting knowledgeable sources. Opinion is united on one necessity though: have a guide with you when you put in for the first time. By July, water levels begin to drop and the river becomes more technical. Even in summer this is most definitely a wet suit-and-helmet river. There’s only one put-in, at the top of the canyon beside the fish hatchery. The Cleveland Dam’s presence is a reminder that water levels on the river can fluctuate daily, depending on the amount of water released from the dam (and the sky above). A water gauge at the west end of the weir near the salmon pools indicates the difficulty of the water: 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) equals easy; 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) equals difficult; above 6 feet (1.8 m) equals expert only, or welcome to the washing machine.
Deep Cove is one of two jumping-off points for exploring Indian Arm by canoe or kayak, a steep-sided, 18-mile (30-km) fjord that branches north from Burrard Inlet just east of the Second Narrows Bridge. You can explore the south end of Indian Arm, including the islands that comprise Indian Arm Provincial Park, in the course of a day, or set out on an extended two- to four-day circumnavigation of the coastal inlet. The best time to paddle here is between April and October. During monsoon season, Indian Arm, and the North Shore generally, often receives twice as much rain as nearby Vancouver. That’s a lot!
The other river on the North Shore is the Seymour River, a river of a whole different hue. About the only thing the two have in common is that they’re both dammed. The Capilano stole the Seymour’s thunder when challenges were being handed out (but don’t tell that to someone learning to paddle here). There’s not a canyon in sight, just a shallow boulder-and-rock garden riverbed, with a small patch of fast water just before the river passes under the Seymour Creek Bridge near its confluence with Burrard Inlet. An old weir creates a sudden drop at this point. Hang onto your paddles. Best places to put in on the Seymour are either at Riverside Park at the intersection of Riverside Drive (East) and Chapman Way, or at the west end of Swinburne Avenue off Riverside. The take out is downstream from the BC Rail bridge over the Seymour at the west end of Spicer Road.
The Seymour River Fish Hatchery and Education Centre in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve has ponds full of coho and steelhead fry beside Hurry Creek. The fish hatchery and education centre are run by the Seymour Salmonid Society. You’ll have to make your way almost to the Seymour Dam to see them. By then you’ll need a break. Follow the trail from the hatchery to the river, where you’ll discover a sweet little beach offshore by which the fry school when first released in spring. Come summer, you can even take a dip with them!
Fishing: As there are few places to shore-cast on the North Shore, other than the lower reaches of the Capilano River in Capilano River Regional Park, anglers would do well to head to one of the marinas at the boat-launch ramp at Cates Park, the north end of Panorama in Deep Cove, or Mosquito Creek at the south foot of Forbes Avenue in Lower Lonsdale.
Cycling: Although the North Shore has increasingly become identified with mountain biking, road cycling has enjoyed a longer, though less lustrous, appeal. Alex Steida, the first Canadian cyclist to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, trained on the North Shore in the 1980s. A few smooth routes to roll your skinny tires on are the paved Seymour Mainline, which runs for 8.7 miles (14 km) through the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, an easy ride to the walls of the Seymour Dam, with the exception of one moderately steep hill at its midpoint. Along the way you’ll have one of the best views of Mount Seymour’s deceptively gentle-looking peaks. Both the 5-mile (8-km) Cypress Parkway in West Vancouver and the 7.4-mile (12-km) Mount Seymour Road in North Vancouver have wide paved shoulders for those cyclists who enjoy the challenge of a lengthy ascent. Cypress Parkway climbs through four switchbacks from the Upper Levels Highway (Hwy 1) to the parking lot at the foot of Cypress Bowl’s downhill ski runs. Hard-core cyclists lash skis and poles to their frames in winter when making their way here. Mount Seymour Road provides a similar challenge. Riders on both routes are rewarded with viewpoints midway up each mountain, and the scream of wind in the vents of their helmets on the way down. Check your brakes!
At the western end of the North Shore is West Vancouver, a city of exclusive homes and stunning sea views resting in the cradle of the North Shore Mountains. One of the most popular day trips for visitors and Vancouverites alike is a walk through the lush 80 acres of old growth forest at Lighthouse Park. Keep your eyes open when you reach the beach – on a sunny day you’re likely to see seals basking near the rocks, an eagle or two fishing for salmon, or maybe even a pod of killer whales plying the Howe Sound.
Feel like taking a short sea cruise? The ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to the charming little village of Snug Cove on Bowen Island aboard BC Ferries’ Queen of Capilano takes only 20 minutes. You’ll be following a long-standing tradition if you do, as ferries once brought revellers from Vancouver for day and overnight outings to Bowen. One of the delights of visiting the island at the mouth of Howe Sound is that you’re in Crippen Regional Park as soon as you step onto the dock.
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.