Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vancouver Escapes Next To Nature

Vancouver, British Columbia, is somewhat of an enigma. The coastal seaport city is one of the most dense and ethnically diverse in the Pacific Northwest, but it also rests on the edge of the Canadian wilderness. The contrast is stark enough that a single review cannot capture these independent spirits.

It seems more fitting to break them into two parts, with this review focused on two of several possibilities as an introduction to the wilder side of Vancouver. While neither venture too far off the beaten path, both set the stage for any number of return adventures.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. 

Just a short drive through Stanley Park and across Lions Gate Bridge from Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is a place nearly untouched by time thanks to the foresight of George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and land developer who arrived in Vancouver in 1888.

Shortly after arriving, he purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of the Capilano River and built a cabin on the very edge of a canyon wall for his adventurous friends to visit. The only way to cross over was a hemp rope bridge that seemed to be swallowed up by the wilderness on the other side.

If you look at an aerial map, the extended area descends down from Capilano Lake like a ribbon of green. Next to and north of the lake is beautifully wild and untamed wilderness. The bridge and related natural attractions are found on the southern tip.

Naturally, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is named after the bridge, but the original hemp rope bridge has been replaced several times by various owners. The two most important significant owners included Rae Mitchell, who created the early trail system and completely rebuilt the bridge in 1956, and Nancy Stibbard, who purchased it in 1983 and still owns the bridge and 27-acre park today.

While there are many areas to explore, the bridge is still a focal point as an entrance into the park. It stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above the Capilano River. The dramatic entrance sets the tone of the entire park, an invitation to step into a different world with natural, historical, and cultural attractions.

Once across, visitors are greeted by a glimpse of the Kia'palano, who were among British Columbia's First Nations; Totem Park, where several local First Nations placed poles; and a Capilano Tramps' Story Centre, where artifacts and antiques are on permanent display. But most of the time will be invested in the rainforest, Treetops Adventure, and new cliff walk.

The Treetops Adventure is a series of elevated tree platforms linked together by a series of suspension bridges, some reaching as high as 100 feet above the forest floor. The Douglas firs that provide the platforms are as high as 200 feet tall and 1,300 years old. The new cliff walk is a series of stairs, walkways, and glass platforms that jut out from the natural granite. The rainforest encompasses the rest of the park's trails, meandering through trout ponds and majestic evergreens.

The Indian Arm is a steep-sided glacial fjord adjacent to the city.

While there are many ways to experience the fjord, the 12-mile salt-waterway extends north from the Burrard Inlet. There are no crossings and very few roads and the steep mountain slopes have warned off most development with exception to its southern-most opening.

They are two ways to experience the narrow inlet, boating and kayaking for the more adventurous or various half-day and full-day boat tours. Kayaking and boating provide more opportunities to land near Granite Falls, a 50-foot waterfall. There are several other campsites as well.

Charter boats and large group tours don't miss out on spectacular panoramic views. Smaller tours usually depart from Port Moody (and travel deeper into the fjord) while the larger 4-hour luncheon cruises depart from Vancouver Harbor, turing around after a pause at Silver Falls. Despite the size of the boat, the captain backs up to the falls as close as possible for an unobstructed view.

Capilano And The Indian Arm Sway 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although these are tame compared to many of Vancouver's natural attractions, both provide a feel for the area before considering many other options such as whitewater rafting, float plane and kayak tours, or joining local fishermen for charters. Some even take you as close as possible to grizzly bears in their natural habitat.

The natural side of Vancouver is in a class by itself, especially because all of it is in the backyard of a dynamic and interesting city. Visit Fare Buzz to save up to 60 percent off on travel to Vancouver, British Columbia. For travel comparisons, start with the top travel deals at Expedia.com. The next places review will focus on the Vancouver experience from the city perspective, including Hotel Le Soleil Vancouver.
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