Seymour Demonstration Forest an ideal cycling daytrip destination

Seymour Demonstration Forest on the North Shore is an ideal destination for cyclists seeking a safe, scenic ride with a great picnic spot.

While many trails in and around Lynn Headwaters are strictly for hikers, the Seymour forest boasts a 10km, paved trail that is open to cyclists, pedestrians, rollerbladers and anyone else wishing to get out and enjoy the woods.

View from my favourite picnic spot on the Seymour River

The rundown

Difficulty: Easy
Distance:
20km round trip on the paved trail or about 26km round trip with a trip to the hatchery added on
Accessibility:
excellent by public transit and car
Trail type:
10km paved, 3km gravel (easy riding conditions)

The experience

This ride can be enjoyable for everyone from families with young children to cyclists looking to get away from traffic – although I think mountain bikers would be bored silly! Road bikers frequently use this trail as a place to train, often doing multiple trips up and back.

The trail is paved until the 10km mark and is in good condition. Rollerbladers won’t find themselves stumbling over rough sections or loose gravel.

The trail twists and undulates through a lovely forest of conifers, allowing visitors glimpses of the surrounding mountains in some sections.

Around the halfway mark there are conveniently located outhouses and picnic tables, and at about 7km in there is a second picnic area which makes a nice rest stop. There is also an outhouse just before the 10km mark.

At the end of the paved trail, those feeling adventurous can continue along a gravel trail that winds through a mossy old-growth forest alongside the Seymour River and ends at the fish hatchery.

If you have the time and the energy, I highly recommend doing the extra distance on the gravel trail. The river tumbles over the rocks in some sections and flows lazily in others. One of my favourite spots on the North Shore is just before the hatchery: a sandy, sunny spot at the river side that makes an ideal picnic spot.

The hatchery is a fun destination because there are different types of salmon fry swimming in pools covered by fences and netting. And just past the hatchery and up a steep hill is a stunning view of the reservoir.

View from the lookout point at the reservoir, up past the fish hatchery

Getting there

Getting to and from Seymour Demonstration Forest is easy, both by car and public transit.

To drive, simply take Exit 22 off of Highway 1 and drive up the hill (toward Capilano University). Pass the university and continue past the cemetery and water treatment facility until you reach the end of the line – a parking lot and ranger station. The parking lots do fill up on sunny days, but then drivers just park along the road so you’re sure to find a a spot somewhere.

To bus from downtown Vancouver, take the Seabus across the water to Lonsdale Quay and jump on a #228 bus. Then simply stay on the bus until nearly the end of the line (the driver can announce “lynn headwaters” for you if you’re unsure). Then bike a little ways up the road and down a steep hill, across a pedestrian bridge and up a gravel pathway. You’ll find yourself at the trailhead in no time.

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Lower Mainland winter hiking: so much more than just a walk in the park

There may be snow on the mountains, but at lower altitudes there are still great year-round hiking options.

There are some great lower elevation hikes in North and West Vancouver that stay snow-free a lot longer than some of the classic mountain trails.

North Vancouver

Some trails in Lynn Headwaters head into the back-country and are inaccessible until June or July when the snow finally melts, but others like the shorter Lynn Loop (5 km) usually won’t receive snow unless the rest of the city does. This easy trail is suitable for beginners, joggers and dogs and is a great way to get some exercise.

Third Debris Chute in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on a cloudy February day.

If the loop is  too short, venture further up the Cedars Mill Trail instead of looping back and you’ll pass the debris chute (an open area next to Lynn Creek that offers a great view of the surrounding mountains).

Further up the Lynn Headwaters trail is Norvan Falls, a great waterfall and a nice place to stop for a bite to eat (14km round trip). Hikers are a bit more likely to find snow in around the falls, but it’s still a fun destination for warmer days. Next to the falls is a swinging suspended bridge across Norvan Creek where the trail heads into Hanes Valley and eventually loops back to Grouse Mountain. The valley is snow-locked during the winter and the trail is closed until things thaw out.

The British Properties (West Vancouver)

Another fun winter option for a walk in the woods is the Brothers Creek loop in West Vancouver.

A wooden bridge crosses Brothers Creek on the loop hike.

This hike is even enjoyable on rainy days, because the thick canopy of the coniferous trees shelters the forest floor from a lot of the precipitation.

The old Candelabra fir towers above many of the surrounding trees.

Located at the top of the British Properties, the hike has some interesting historical elements as well. Remnants of old logging equipment can be seen along the way, and the beautiful old candelabra fir is only a short detour from the main trail. For history buffs, the West Vancouver Historical Society runs heritage hikes led by a knowledgeable guide who lectures about the logging activity that took place between 1870 and 1950 in the area.

The terrain can be a bit rough in places, with loose rocks that can become slippery in damp weather, but at 7km and an elevation gain of only 350m, the hike is still suitable for first-timers.

Caulfeild area (West Vancouver)

A scenic, leisurely hiking destination that’s fun year-round is Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver.

Trails wind through smooth-skinned arbutus trees and emerge onto craggy rocks that drop into the ocean. It’s a great family destination for that very reason – seaside playtime can be incorporated into the hike.

Pack a picnic, bring your pet, and enjoy a leisurely walk in the woods. There are a variety of trails that wind through the forest, and your hike can be as short as 1km or as long as 6km.

Other options:

Did I miss your favourite? Tell me about other great off-season hikes!

A view of Cypress Falls from the trail

B.C. Whitewater rafting companies offer a local adrenaline rush

A variety of B.C. river rafting companies offer a world-class whitewater experience, some right here in the Lower Mainland.

Whitewater rafting is an adrenaline lover’s paradise: rushing rapids, whirlpools, high speeds and a great sense of camaraderie among paddlers. Extreme adventure hubs like New Zealand’s south island or Interlaken, Switzerland are known for their top-notch raft tours.

But when it comes to rafting, B.C.’s chilly rivers offer a boatload of fun.

Navigating the rapids on the Chilliwack River (photo courtesy of Chilliwack River Rafting)

Rating the rapids

Different sections of river are assigned different ratings which indicate how challenging it is for a boat to be paddled through. Beginners may want to stick to classes one, two or three, while more experienced paddlers can challenge themselves with class four rapids.

  • Class I: Easy and relaxing. Slow current, small waves, no obstructions.
  • Class II: A bit more fast-paced but still easy. Moderate waves and no obstructions.
  • Class III: More adventurous. Lots of water-slide-like waves and eddies, rapids with clean drops.
  • Class IV: Exhilarating! Very difficult, long rapids with powerful waves and big drops.
  • Class V: Not for the faint of heart. Extremely difficult; long, technical drops and steep gradient
  • Class VI: Don’t go there. Maximum difficulty and not worth risking your life.

Rafting in Vancouver’s backyard

The closest whitewater rafting destination to Vancouver is the Chilliwack River, approximately a 1.5 hour drive from downtown Vancouver (depending on traffic).

Chilliwack River Rafting offers rafting trips year-round. The most popular time of year to go is between May and September, when temperatures are warmer and days are longer. During these months, the company offers daily departures at 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Rafters listen to a safety lecture from an experienced guide before a trip out on the river (photo from Chilliwack River Rafting)8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The company offers two different day trips, both suitable for first-timers or more experienced rafters. The more challenging Chilliwack River Canyon outing boasts continuous class 3 and 4+ rapids.

A five-hour day trip costs $89 per person (plus tax) and includes lunch and all equipment such as paddles, life jackets and helmets. Groups of more than seven people pay only $81.50 per person, and even larger groups can save even more.

Whistler-based company Rafter C3 Adventure Ranch is another option for Vancouverites looking for a whitewater adventure. C3 offers day-trips for all ages and skill levels. Beginners and families with children may enjoy the Green River Whitewater Safari ($69 per person plus tax, children half price).

For more adventurous types, C3 offers the Paradise Valley River Safari, a day trip on the Cheakamus River that includes some rougher rapids. ($125 per person, children half price, lunch included).

B.C. rafting destinations

  • Destiny River Adventures offers day tours on the Nimpkish River, near Campbell River on Vancouver Island ($149/person).
  • Kumsheen Rafting Resort, based in Lytton, B.C., has a pricier six-hour day trip option ($163/person) on the Thompson River.
  • Mountain High River Adventures offers day trips on the Bull River (best in late May/early June) and the Elk River (good at any other time of the year) for $120/person.

On a personal note

I have personally rafted the Elk River and the Chilliwack River and both experiences were excellent.

I did the Elk River in September and the water was fairly low. It was a warm day and I think everyone enjoyed the lazy ride down the river, punctuated by brief bursts through the rapids. Lunch was amazing, with high-quality nutritional food that we ate at a pristine wilderness picnic spot on the river bank.

Rafters plow through the waves during some rough rapids on the Chilliwack River (photo from Chilliwack River Rafting)

Last June I rafted the more challenging canyon route on the Chilliwack River. It was my third time rafting, so I thought I was pretty darn good at it. Boy was I wrong. This river cha

llenged me like the Elk River and Nymboida River (Coffs Harbour, Australia) did not. The river is continuous rapids with no long, lazy calm spots for paddlers to catch their breath.

About 10 minutes into the ride, I got bounced out of the raft and plunged into the frothy water, only to be dragged back into the boat by our fantastic guide.

The river is rough and freezing cold, the guides are well-trained and funny, and the scenery is beautiful.

Whitewater rafting is a great experience and some of the best rafting conditions are coming up in late May and June.

Rafting the Bull River, near Fernie, B.C. (photo from Mountain High River Adventures)

Stanley Park seawall construction to be completed by the end of April

Seawall enthusiasts have reason to rejoice!

After approximately seven months of construction, the Stanley Park seawall is set to reopen completely by the end of April.

Since summer of last year, runners, pedestrians and cyclists have been forced to detour onto gravel paths and to share lanes, making the whole seawall workout experience somewhat less inspiring.

Barb Floden, Vancouver Park Board communication coordinator,

Pedestrians stroll along a newly repaved section of the Stanley Park seawall on the north side of the park.

said overall the project has run smoothly.

“There were some weather delays earlier in the project, last fall, but everything has run smoothly since then,” Floden said. “We’ve been getting compliments about [the completed sections]. It’s new and it’s smooth.”

Floden acknowledged they received complaints about noise from night construction work necessitated by the tides, but said measures have since been taken to muffle the din, allowing people in neighbourhood buildings to sleep soundly.

Stanley Park seawall

At the end of January, construction on the south side of the Stanley Park seawall wrapped up and the reconstructed pathway opened to the public.

But on the north side of the park, fences remain in place at the lookout point facing the North Shore, blocking visitors’ views and pushing bikes, rollerbladers and pedestrians onto the same narrow sidewalk. Floden said the northern lookout point is due to open by the end of April.

Tall fences still block off the viewpoint that looks out over the North Shore. The work at this site is expected to be completed by April.

English Bay seawall

Reconstruction work on the English Bay seawall from the stone Inukshuk statue east to approximately Jervis Street is ongoing.

“The northern lookout point and English Bay sections will be open by April,” said Floden.

Currently, fencing and detours are in place to direct cyclists and pedestrians

Work is ongoing on the section of seawall between the Inukshuk statue and Jervis Street, but should be completed by April.

around the work zone. The construction team will remove the existing concrete and granite stones, and the Park Board said most of the granite would be reused elsewhere in Stanley Park.

As of Feb. 18, significant progress has been made on the project:

  • Excavation and demolition: 100% completed
  • Dowel installation: 100% completed
  • Concrete seawall: 95% completed
  • Granite facing: 50% completed
  • Backfill: 60% completed

An ideal outdoor workout

The newly paved sections of seawall are smooth and a little wider than before, ideal for rollerblading, cycling, running or walking.

While it can be crowded on warm sunny days, the seawall is the cheapest way to burn some calories and breathe in fresh air. Bring a camera and snap some shots: herons can often be found wading in the shallows, and the northwest side of the park has beautiful views of the North Shore.

If you haven’t been for a while, check it out! The park has a lot to offer.

This first-time cross-country skier hits the Cypress Mountain nordic area

Headed downhill on a gently sloped green run with another skier in the distance.

I’m gliding down a hill on my cross-country skis, snowflakes nearly blinding me, wind rushing in my ears. It’s exhilarating – only hours ago I had never worn a pair of skis in my life, and now here I am, in total control. I hold my poles under my arms pointing backwards, and keep my knees bent like my instructor told me to. My skis I keep carefully parallel, snow-plowing slightly to control my speed and adjust my direction. My heart is pounding, and I can’t keep a stupid grin off my face.

And then my ski tips cross.

My arms jerk up for balance.

One pole flies out of my hand and the ground rushes up to meet me.

THUD.

So let’s just say that my Scandinavian ancestors failed to leave me with any kind of talent for skiing.

The introductory lesson:

Sunday was my first day of cross-country skiing, and I’m pleased to say that it was a great experience. I decided to play it safe and take a lesson for my first day out. I opted for Cypress Mountain’s Classic Lesson 1, and it was a good call – The $66 fee includes a 1.5 hour lesson, equipment rental and day pass to the nordic area.

I began my lesson on a nice flat area, where the instructor, Teeam, taught us the basics: how to move your feet, how to use your poles, how to avoid falling on your face (that last one I was only marginally successful at). From there, he took us out into the trails. The Cypress Mountain nordic area is actually on Hollyburn Mountain, and includes an extensive web of trails, ranging from flat beginner trails to more challenging hills.

I had my first hill experience on a green run. And I should probably say that this “hill” was more of a gentle bump. I learned how to stop myself and control my direction, and it was a lot less terrifying than I’d expected.

From there we explored some of the trails and learned some more about cross-country. I learned how to avoid crossing the tips of my skis (a sure way to fall)

Skiers dropped off their skis outside Hollyburn Lodge

 and how to stop in an emergency (when in doubt, crouch and fall to the side).

We ate lunch at Hollyburn Lodge, an atmospheric old cabin with a long history. The Lodge is accessible to anyone looking for a good meal – you don’t have to be a skier or snowshoer. On previous trips up the mountain, my friends and I have just hiked the short trail in from the parking lot to the Lodge. Even in the dark it wasn’t a difficult trek (but I recommend bringing a flashlight!)

Skill development:

Teeam told us that it takes cross-country skiers around 20 years to truly become good at the sport. It takes hours of training and technique work to move in the most efficient way.

But the great thing about the sport is that while it may take years to perfect, it’s possible to grasp the basic skills on the first day, allowing beginners to participate in and enjoy the experience right from the outset.

I will definitely be heading back up the mountain as soon as possible!

Posing with my rented skis after three hours in the Cypress nordic area on Hollyburn Mountain.

Cross-country skiing gaining momentum in post-Olympics Vancouver

Vancouverites looking for winter adventure that doesn’t include careening down a near-vertical slope on two slats of fibreglass shouldn’t discount skiing altogether. Cross-country skiing may not have the sex appeal of downhill skiing or snowboarding, but the sport offers snowy fun with a great workout thrown in.

Photo from blogto.com. A cross-country skier glides on a slight downhill slope.

Since the 2010 Olympics, local interest in cross-country skiing has surged. T.K. Campbell, who works at Kitsilano-based nordic ski shop Sigge’s, said there has been a definite increase in interest, particularly among baby boomers looking for an alternate to downhill, and in young, fit people looking for a tough workout.

“The young people are definitely coming in to skate ski,” Campbell said, referring to a type of nordic skiing where a skating-like technique is used.

Campbell said the first time out can be fun for a beginner since picking up the basics isn’t too tricky. What is more difficult is perfecting the technique.

Best local option: Cypress Mountain

Cypress Mountain is a good option for beginners, since it offers rentals and is close to town. Cypress also boasts lit trails for night skiing, making weeknight outings possible for those stuck in the office or classroom during the days.

Stephen Greenaway, a former competitive cross-country skier, said the Cypress nordic ski area is on the side of the mountain, which is both a perk and a downside.

“The easy trails mostly stay at one elevation,” Greenaway said. “If you want more interesting trails, you either have to ski down for a while and then all the way back up in one shot, or all the way up and then down.”

Overall, he said the trails are good for beginners, and a long slope at the beginning of the park gives skiers a solid workout.

Cypress doesn’t offer a student or youth rate, but fortunately cross country ski tickets are far cheaper than downhill tickets, making this an affordable day on the mountain. A full-day lift tickets for adults (19-64) costs $17.86, and a half day (3 p.m. to close) costs $15.18.

Not sure you can even put skis on, let alone glide in them?

Cypress offers one-day lessons. $66 includes a lesson, rental and ticket.

 

Photo by: Rob Baxter. Two cross-country skiers enjoy a snowy day in the Callaghan Valley

A bit further away: Callaghan Valley

 

The Callaghan Valley, located just south of Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is a cross-country skier’s paradise. More than 90km of trails wind through snow-covered deciduous trees across visually stunning landscape of towering peaks.

The valley is also the site of the Whistler Olympic Park, where the Nordic events of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games were held.

Not surprisingly, deluxe fancy ski and stay packages are available, and different itineraries are available. Prices vary.

Gear

Skiis, poles, bindings and winter clothing. Simple, right?

Well, yeah. But be aware: downhill skis and cross-country skis are different. Classic cross-country skis are long and narrow to distribute the skier’s weight, allowing him or her to move quickly. Ski length varies based on a person’s height, but average dimensions are 2m long by 5cm wide.

Skate skis tend to be shorter and stiffer than those used for the classical technique, and the poles are longer.

I will be strapping on cross-country skis for the first time on Sunday! Stay tuned for an update on my experience (with photos).

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

Photo by: Timi Newton-Syms. A skier's view.

 



Seawall gives cyclists a safe and scenic route through Vancouver

The cold, snowy weather today is making me think nostalgically about warmer, drier weather – ideal weather for cycling.

In case you didn’t know, it’s possible to cycle from Lost Lagoon all the way around Stanley Park to the Telus World of Science (via English Bay and Yaletown) and end up at Granville Island without having to ride on the road. A few Saturdays ago I set out to do this ride, one of my favourites.

I started at Lost Lagoon. This is a great place to start if you’re renting a bike or tandem bike, because there are three bike rental shops nearby. The best known is Spokes, which is on the corner of Georgia and Denman, right next to the park.

I looped Stanley Park on the seawall (counter-clockwise direction), dodging confused pedestrians in the bike lane and construction areas. The seawall has been under construction since summer 2010 as they upgrade the pavement and walls where the ocean meets the land. Third Beach was bustling with morning sun-seekers despite the chilly temperatures.

I cruised through Yaletown toward Science World. The sun was in my eyes the whole way there in the morning, but that didn’t stop me from speeding past slower cyclists. My favourite section is when the path passes a group of waterfront cafes. It’s definitely an area to go slow, not only to avoid killing someone but because it’s a prime people-watching spot. People of all ages lounge on heated patios sipping morning caesars and dining on some truly delicious-looking brunch. There are dogs all over the place, tied to the balcony railings and sniffing at their owners’ meals. I can usually pick up a few brief snatches of gossip as I pass by, and it’s almost always salacious and

Looking back at the city from the seawall.

amusing.

From here it’s not too much further on to the Edgewater Casino (another great spot for people watching, as gamblers stumble bleary-eyed out into the daylight). In the summer, you can see the tents of Cirque du Soleil just past the casino, but on a fall day it’s just a vast empty lot.

The next section of seawall is picturesque, but it is not ideal for bikes because of the cobblestone in some sections. Watch out – it’s slippery and quite bumpy at times.

The path continues on to Granville Island, where you can stop for a visit (bike parking is decent) or continue on through the townhouses, duck ponds and dog parks. I turned off the seawall at the connector to the Burrard Street Bridge. Hey, we’ve got these great bike lanes, we might as well take advantage of them! It’s just a quick jaunt back across the bridge and I arrived back downtown.

A perfect way to spend a couple of hours on a beautiful afternoon.