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Vancouver: Swinging high at Capilano

There was a minor traffic jam on Capilano Suspension Bridge. Children wobbled across, clinging to their parents or brazenly running ahead. An old woman gripped onto steel cables as she edged, foot by foot, across the planks. Couples paused for selfies in the middle of the gangplank, causing backlogs in the process.

It’s understandable there would be tons of people at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park the day I visited. It’s one of Vancouver’s tourist hot spots, after all. And in the height of a bright, summery day during the school holidays, it was easy to see why families would bring their kids here.

There’s something about the combination of heights, swings and nature that makes us giddy and gleeful, regardless of our age. Maybe it’s our inner child craving to be unshackled from its adult responsibilities. Perhaps it’s in our DNA, a lingering fragment of our primal beginnings, a primordial instinct to swing from the branches and seek freedom. A chance to let loose.

Whatever it is, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver capitalises on our enthusiasm magnificently. This playground boasts three cleverly designed suspended walks in the tree tops: a suspension bridge, a canopy walk, and a cliff walk. Each one gives you a different up-close-and-personal view of a particular aspect of Capilano rainforest.

And it’s a rainforest worth appreciating. After all, the Canadian state of British Columbia hosts a quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforests. That’s not something to take for granted.

The Suspension Bridge

The Suspension Bridge seems to be touted as the Capilano highlight. Though it certainly offers tremendous views of the gurgling Capilano River 70 metres below and the Capilano Rainforest beyond, its popularity makes it the most clogged pathway in the park.

capilano suspension bridge

OK, you’ve gotta admire the bridge. Its predecessor was built in 1889 of hemp rope and cedar planking; hardly materials I’d trust with my life. When wire replaced the hemp rope in 1903, I’m sure the bridge became more sturdy, but it swung as much as ever, attracting increasingly more adrenaline junkies.

After several rounds of upgrades, the bridge is now 137 metres long and able to carry the equivalent of two fully loaded 747 airplanes, not that I’d test that statement out. Mind you, when a Douglas-fir tree fell on the bridge at 100km an hour in the winter of 2006, the tree snapped in two while the bridge remained virtually undamaged, so I guess there’s some truth to the claims.

Maybe if the bridge were empty and abandoned you could stop to appreciate its ingenuity as well as its view. You could listen to the calls of the wild, smell the pine-scented air and feel the gentle swaying of the bridge in the breeze.

But when you have a stampede of tourists – this bridge can hold 1300 people as well as 96 elephants (though they may struggle to squeeze into the narrow path) – you’re engulfed in profuse chatter, rocked by impatient kids and occupied trying not to photo bomb so you kinda forget to stop and smell the fresh air.

The Treetops Adventure

The Treetops Adventure is mildly better. Here, the crowd disperses either to view the nearby pond or meander along a more chilled out ground-level Nature’s Edge rainforest trail.

The setting isn’t nearly as spectactular as the Capilano River valley, but the mossy green hues, filtered sunlight and subdued noises help you calm down after the exuberant bridge crossing.

This is where you can really get into nature – or rather, onto it. The treetops walk consists of several platforms wrapped around the tops of (you guessed it) trees, with short suspension bridges strung between them to create a canopy walk loop.

capilano treetops adventure

You don’t so much get a bird’s-eye view of the park as a view from the bird’s nest.  When I was a kid I loved the exhillaration of climbing trees. Now I’m older, it isn’t the “done” thing, but I can tell you that a canopy walk like this will always be the next best thing.

The Cliff Walk

Around the world you’ll find suspension bridges and treetop walks. But never before have I come across a cliff walk. And no, I’m not talking about walking along a cliff top. This is what I’m taking about:

The “path” was a bridge suspended over space, encircling a portion of cliff face. It’s thrilling and beautiful and peaceful all rolled into one.

This part of Capilano was totally underappreciated – which suited me just fine, because it meant it was just me (and my sisters) and nature. Stillness reigned but nature sung.

… And all the rest

Walks aside, Capilano has a fantastic vibe. This is a place where people let loose – something I find being surrounded by nature always encourages.

The outdoor dining area has a school camp feel to it, with a folksy band performing and brave birds hopping along the tables to try to snap up poutine spills.

There is a native section called Kia’palano, dedicated to the totem poles popularly produced by the region’s indigenous peoples. And there’s a Storybook area describing the experiences of the first European settlers here.

To keep the kids amused … fine, and me too … there are stamp engravings you can collect on your park map at every important location. And why not? It’s the cheapest souvenir I need ever invest in – and I certainly want to remember this experience.

For more travel therapy

The northeast portion of North America has some awesome spots to provoke your enthusiasm and help you find you equilibrium in the rollercoaster of travel:

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