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It's amazing to me how many people drive right past one of the nicest little hikes on the North Shore, usually on their way to the more famous Grouse Grind. Capilano River Regional Park packs a lot of natural beauty, history and modern ecology into a short hike or a longer exploration if you have the time.
Numerous connecting and looped trails allow people of all ages and fitness levels to get a taste of a true rainforest environment. And it give them a chance to visit Grandpa Capilano.
The park is easily accessible by car or transit. Start at the Cleveland Dam parking lot in North Vancouver. Grab a map at the information board and if you have a dog, take note of the recently changed leashing restrictions.
The walk over Cleveland Dam offers magnificent views of The Lions looming beyond the Capilano Reservoir (which provides much of Vancouver’s drinking water). On the left is the breathtaking sight of water plunging 90 metres down the dam to the canyon below.
After crossing the dam, stay left along a downhill gravel road until you reach a staircase to the left. Within minutes you reach a huge Douglas fir — this is Grandpa Capilano, which is approximately 800 years old and 2.5 metres in diameter. Continue left along the trail to reach two more giant firs, which miraculously survived logging in the early 1900s.
After a quick switchback trail, turn left towards a lookout for spectacular views of the dam and the massive granite walls of the canyon. Be prepared for a quick drop in temperature as mist from the dam wafts downstream. On hot days it’s actually quite refreshing.
After letting that view sink in, take your final photos (of the dam) and head south, passing Cable Pool Bridge — one of two points where you can cross the river. Take note of the salmon hatchery on the other side, but save that for later.
Continue uphill on the west side of the river and follow the Coho Loop trail while enjoying glimpses of the river far below. Shortly, you reach a major junction at the Pipeline Bridge, which is built over a huge water pipe.
If you are short on time, cross the bridge now and follow the Coho Trail as it loops back toward the hatchery. But if you have more time, cross the gravel road and join the Upper Shinglebolt Trail. Stay left at a junction with the Capilano Pacific Trail and head south, crossing a series of sturdy bridges for one kilometre until you reach the southern canyon lookout. This is an excellent spot for lunch, with a peaceful view of the canyon walls twisting through the forest.
Retrace your steps north then cross the Pipeline Bridge. Once again you have the choice of extending the hike by turning right on the Chinook Trail (and more great views of the canyon). The Coho Loop has a small side-trail which takes you down to the river’s edge.
As the Coho Trail approaches the Cable Pool Bridge, you might notice the top of an extremely tall fir tree towering over other trees in the area. The base of the huge tree is worth finding and it’s located across the access road. At 80 metres tall and still growing, it is documented as one of the tallest Douglas fir trees in all of B.C. Next to it is a massive cedar stump over four metres in diameter.
A visit to the salmon hatchery (no charge) is a great way to finish the day before heading up the relatively steep Palisades Trail back to the Cleveland Dam parking lot.
Mike Hanafin is an avid backcountry hiker who can see the forest and the trees. Reach him at email@example.com.
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