Capilano River Regional Park and its waterfront partner, Ambleside Park, are among the most sociable gathering places on the North Shore. Visitors come to stretch their legs and exercise their dogs while taking in the view of others doing the same across First Narrows on the Stanley Park Seawall. Although most of the leisure activity takes place close to the Capilano River’s confluence with the ocean, Capilano River Regional Park’s hiking trail runs 5 miles (8 km) north from Ambleside Park to Capilano Lake.
Ambleside Park is easily reached from numerous entrances along Marine Drive, including the south end of Taylor Way, the first major intersection west of the Lions Gate Bridge. There’s usually a buzz of marine activity offshore from Ambleside beneath the Lions Gate Bridge. On Saturday evenings in summer this is a picture-perfect place to watch gaily lit cruise ships power their way out of port. When salmon are running in the Capilano River in September, you can count on seeing dozens of small pleasure craft drift-fishing just offshore. Upstream at such times, residents of the Capilano Indian Reserve, on whose land Ambleside Park and the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge are located, will also be fishing along the riverbank. Tidal currents ripple the surface of First Narrows, but the water at Ambleside’s sandy beach is predictably calm. Skip a stone, toss a stick, talk to your neighbour: it’s that kind of park.
As you follow the Capilano River Trail upstream from Ambleside Park (a short section of the trail is also signed as West Vancouver’s Town Trail), it will lead you through a residential neighbourhood around the Park Royal Hotel before reaching the wilder side of the park. From this point north there’s easy access to the boulder-filled river. For many visitors, this sea-level section of the park provides enough exploring to take up an entire visit. For others, there’s a long ribbon of trail to follow as the Capilano-Pacific Trail leads along the west side of Capilano Canyon to the Fish Hatchery and Cleveland Dam. Allow three to four hours to complete the round trip from Ambleside Park.
As you make your way north from Ambleside, the banks of the Capilano River begin to narrow. Near Hwy 1, the trail climbs away from the river and follows Keith Road for a short distance north beneath the Upper Levels Hwy Bridge. If your plan is simply to hike the forest trail and explore some of the pools in the Capilano River Canyon, this is the best place to begin. By car, take Keith Road east off Taylor Way and drive to its end. Park here near the trailhead. A Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) signpost indicates the start of this section of the Capilano-Pacific Trail. At this point the trail has the appearance of a charming country lane. The nearby forest is interlaced with old logging roads. In 1926, once logging ended, Capilano became one of the first municipal parks on the North Shore.
Occasionally a short secondary trail leads downhill into the Capilano River’s narrow canyon. The one to Ranger Pool is moderately steep in places, but worth the effort to enjoy the view of the canyon from its riverbed. The overstorey of tall evergreens, combined with a mass of ferns that carpet the forest floor, imbue the environment with a uniform green essence year-round. One of the great joys of visiting here is the quiet that permeates the atmosphere. Even when it’s raining, the branches of the forest are so sheltering that much of the moisture never reaches the ground. You’ll find a good spot to take a break at one magnificent viewpoint, where the canyon can be seen dropping away sharply to the river below. A conveniently placed bench sits beneath towering Douglas firs here. Just south of this viewpoint, a short trail leads down to the Sandy Point Pools.
North of the viewpoint the Capilano-Pacific Trail leaves the river for a while and crosses two major creeks. At Houlgate Creek, a branch of the main trail leads higher up to the Shinglebolt viewpoint. Explore the Shinglebolt on a clear day when the trail isn’t too muddy. As seen from the viewpoint, Capilano Lake spreads towards the Lions, and the landscape looks wonderfully composed. A warren of trails winds through the woods here. Despite logging, some beautiful old trees remain along the trails on the west bank. Easygoing Rabbit Lane Trail (2.5 miles/4 km return), which loops through the forest and links with the Capilano-Pacific Trail in several places, was the route used by the Capilano Timber Company railway and accounts for the gentle grade. Nearby is Capilano River Regional Park’s North Vancouver entrance.
One of the best places to view the Lions is from the viewpoint (where, conveniently enough, picnic tables are also located) beside Capilano Lake in the Park. The entrance to the picnic site is on Capilano Drive, just north of the Capilano River Fish Hatchery, which is also located in the park. The hatchery teems with piscicultural activity year-round. The best part about it is that visitors get to spy on the fry through glass walls that surround their tanks. It’s like a giant aquarium set in a rock canyon.
There are several entrances in North Vancouver to Capilano River Regional Park, all within a short distance of each other. If you are travelling on Hwy 1, take the Capilano Rd N exit (exit 14) to reach the park. Capilano Road can also be reached from Marine Drive in North Vancouver, a short distance east of the Lions Gate Bridge. Four parking lots are located near the fish hatchery in Capilano River Regional Park; another is at the picnic site beside Cleveland Dam.
You can also catch the Grouse Mountain (#236) bus from North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, which stops at the fish hatchery and Cleveland Dam. Call TransLink, 604-953-3333, to check times on bus routes. For a map of the 16 miles (26 km) of hiking trails in Capilano River Regional Park, call GVRD Parks’s West Office, 604-224-5739.
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