Level: Moderate

Distance: 5.9 km

Time: 3 hours

Elevation: 120 m

Season: Year Round

Topographical Map: Unnecessary

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Access: From downtown Vancouver during peak hours Monday through Saturday hop on the #246 Lonsdale Quay via Highland bus at any of the stops along the north side of West Georgia Street. Stay on the bus until the corner of Capilano Road and Woods Drive in North Vancouver. Do not get off at the corner of Capilano Road and Marine Drive. The driver will usually call out the best place to transfer to the #236 Grouse Mountain bus. Stay on the #236 until at the corner of Clements Road. Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant on the right side is your cue to get off. Cleveland Dam is directly across the street.

During non-peak hours the #246 bus does not service downtown Vancouver. Take the #240 15th Street bus to the corner of Marine Drive and Capilano Road instead where you can catch the #246 Lonsdale Quay via Highland bus up Capilano Road. Transfer to the #236 as above.

For an alternate route take SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and board the #236 Grouse Mountain bus. No transfers will be necessary to reach the trailhead described above.

There's Capilano Canyon, the cheesy tourist trap with the suspension bridge, and then there's Capilano Canyon as the locals know it. Many locals prefer walking or running the length of the river, exploring the gorge, the surrounding rain forest and the boulder bars further downstream.

This hike starts at Cleveland Dam and follows the river downstream to its mouth. For a better workout undertake the route as described in reverse.

The top of Cleveland Dam is directly across the road from the bus stop. Acrophobics especially have got to check out the spillway. Built in 1954, the dam has created 5.6 kilometre-long Capilano Lake. The reservoir now supplies 40 per cent of the Lower Mainland's drinking water. Logging in the watershed, and the resulting erosion, is often blamed for Vancouver's cloudy water.

Doubling back, on the east to side of the dam, you'll find a staircase leading down to a viewpoint offering excellent views of the spillway and the gorge below. Continue downstream on Palisades Trail to the salmon hatchery where a saga unfolds from midsummer to fall every year.

Fishermen tease spawning salmon to snap at a hook in the canyon just below the hatchery         

As Randy Stoltmann points out in his fabulously original book Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern British Columbia the parking lot of the hatchery holds natural treasures too including one of the biggest Douglas firs in the lower mainland. This one weighs in at 5.7 metres around and 77 metres tall. At the edge of the canyon in front of the tour bus turnaround a record-sized Pacific yew will also be found. In fact, four out of the province's five biggest yews are in Capilano Regional Park. Incidentally, yew, which is generally small and uncommon, contains a powerful anticancer agent called taxol. Though hitherto considered a junk species by the forest industry the Pacific yew is now considered a threatened one in some circles. Efforts to synthesize this late-stage treatment for ovarian, breast and a variety of other cancers have thus far proved unsuccessful adding further pressure to this slow-growing conifer. Taxol is rendered from the bark of the Pacific yew with three century-old trees required to extract a single treatment.

Cross the bridge just below the hatchery and turn right. A brief walk leads upstream to the Second Canyon Viewpoint while a side trail will reveal two ancient firs. A few steps further on the aptly-named Grandpa Capilano boasts a 2.4 metre girth. Imagine, this 61 metre monster was just a sprout when Columbus was blundering into the New World half a millennium ago.

Next retrace your steps downstream following Coho Loop as far as the pipe-bridge for another great look at the canyon. Our route remains on the west side however so begin climbing Shinglebolt Trail until you reach Capilano Pacific Trail. There will be no need to change trails from this point forward. Capilano Pacific will soon take you to a viewpoint of the lower canyon, past the barbed wire enclosure of Capilano Suspension Bridge and on to Keith Road for a 20-minute detour under the Upper Levels Highway.

Reaching New Heights: An eagle takes flight after feasting on carrion at the mouth of the Capilano River.        

Turn left on Village Walk #3 to regain the trail at the river's edge. After passing under the bridge at Marine Drive you can amble down to Ambleside Park where the Capilano River empties into Burrard Inlet. A sure sign that the salmon are running is the mob of fisherman silhouetted against the sewage treatment plant below the railroad tracks. Alternately, walk west to Park Royal Shopping Centre to pick up a bus bound for downtown. From the south side of Marine Drive the #250 Vancouver bus or any bus with the numbers #251 #252 #253 or #254 during peak hours will do the job.

The End

The End



Gashes in the forest caused by fire, blowdown or human intrusion are quickly filled in by pioneer species such as fireweed or salal. Quick growing red alder and maple soon take over, being themselves supplanted in turn by Douglas fir once soil has stabilized. Eventually shade tolerant climax species such as western red cedar and western hemlock will come to dominate. The whole process can take centuries if not millennia. Immature fireweed plants can be cooked whole like broccoli while the young leaves can be used as salad greens. Fireweed is high in both beta-carotene and vitamin C. During pre-contact times fireweed seed fluffs found utility as pillow stuffing.

Illustration by Manami Kimura