Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vancouver. Definitely on the list of the top things to do in Vancouver. And after 32.5 years of being from this part of the world, I finally made a visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge. And colour me impressed!
Plus I took my Mom along for the ride because us young people should take our elders on outings every once and a while.
About Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver BC
First built in 1889, the bridge spans 137 metres across the Capilano River, swinging 70 metres above the water. Long before Capilano was one of the best things to do in Vancouver, the original bridge was built with hemp rope and cedar planks as a way for the log baron property owner of the time to access the dense forests on both sides of the river.
After multiple reconstructions through the 20th century, the current bridge went up in 1953, when the cables on both sides of the river were enshrined in 13 tonnes of concrete. But don’t think that concrete makes that bridge stiff. The bridge is pretty wobbly in the middle, and remains 100% a suspension bridge by any standards. It is just very unlikely to fall down, thank you modern engineering and sizeable quantities of concrete!
So the Capilano Suspension Bridge is both massive and impressive. The Capilano River that runs underneath was pretty low when Mom and I visited, but we were there in the summer, after 3 weeks of no rain. Which happens never in Vancouver. Despite the low waters, the views from the bridge are stunning, as the canyon cuts deeply through the North Shore, exposing raw cliff sides and a backdrop of the North Shore mountains.
The bridge was actually wider than I thought it would be. I had always imagined a very narrow, 2 foot wide bridge. In fact, the bridge is about 4 feet wide, meaning people can pass each other going opposite ways, or scoot by an obsessive photographer.
Not Just a Suspension Bridge
The bridge itself was originally the only real attraction in the park. But in the last 25 years, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park has been built around the bridge, with far more activities and attractions. The real draw after the uniqueness of the Suspension Bridge would be the forest of the Park. The trees of Capilano are colossal, gargantuan, majestic, gigantic, enormous, towering, radiant, stunning, beautiful, awe-inspiring. Basically any adjective that can be applied to Chris Hemsworth.
Douglas Firs, Red Cedars, West Coast Pines, Hemlocks, and Spruce trees are all in abundance in Capilano Park, with some aging over 1500 years young. Pair the tall tall trees with the lushly verdant forest floor of babbling brooks, a trout pond, and endless ferns, and this park is basically British Columbia’s ecosystem fit into 6000 acres. The tallest tree in the park is known as Grandma Capilano, a Douglas Fir that rises to 250 feet!
There is the Nature’s Edge Boardwalk that tours around the eastern side of the park, that features a couple of lookouts to the bridge and highlights the beauty of the forest. The placards along the path lecture the reader on preservation, water conservation, and recycling. All good things.
Squamish Indigenous History and Culture
The Capilano River area is part of the ancestral lands of the Squamish nation, an Aboriginal tribe of the Vancouver area. The river’s original name was Kia’palano which means ‘beautiful river’ and was also the name of the Squamish chief who reigned in the 1800’s.
At the front of the park, a dozen totem poles stand tall, welcoming visitors and representing the Aboriginal peoples who call this area home. The totems vary in size and age, all striking examples of West Coast Aboriginal art and culture.
Treetops Adventure Canopy Walk
The best way to get up close and personal with these trees is the Treetops Adventure. Once you cross the bridge to the east side of the river, the Treetops Adventure is a system of 7 mini suspension bridges strung between 8 mammoth Douglas firs over 100 feet in the air.
This elevated nature walk gives an appreciation for just how big these trees are, since at 100 feet up I still couldn’t see the tops of most of the trees. There is a platform surrounding each supporting fir tree, so people can take photos and chill among the trees, or get space from the super slow selfie-taking tourists who are clogging up the narrow walkways.
The cool thing about the Treetops Adventure is that it was built to be 100% harmless to the trees. No trees were felled during it’s construction, and the platforms that connect the bridges are connected to the firs not through spikes or nails but through steel support collars. This means the platforms can be moved and unconnected and the tree will have suffered no damage at all.
The Capilano Cliffwalk
The newest addition to the park, the Cliffwalk was added in 2011. A series of suspended walkways on the west side of the river, the Cliffwalk juts out from the stone cliffs offering views of the river, the Bridge, and the surrounding forest nature. Not for the heights timid traveller, but the Cliffwalk was very cool.
I had seen many pictures of the most dramatic part of the Cliffwalk, a semi circular bridge that scoops out from the cliff, so I was excited to check it out. So amazing! And no, these walkways do not move at all, they are secured pretty dang tight to those cliffs. Apparently the Cliffwalk can hold up to 45 tonnes, or to make that amount more palatable, 35 killer whales. If you measure things based on the weight of whales. Which I do.
One of the more unique activities at Capilano is Raptor Ridge. Raptor Ridge is a bird enclosure on the south end of the west side of the park that, at certain times, houses birds of prey. When we visited, we met a Harris Hawk up close and personal. This exhibit is presented by the Raptors Ridge Birds of Prey Inc. in Maple Ridge, an organization that owns 28 rehabilitated and trained birds of prey. The centre also offers education programs and leads conservation efforts.
And I think I got a pretty good portrait of this little guy…
Things to Know about Visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge moves. There is no way around it, you will not feel altogether stable on the bridge. But you also would have to try very hard to fall off as the bridge railings are at least 5 feet high. There are signs saying not to intentionally wobble the bridge, but tell that to the seven 6-year old boys on their camp day trips!
Capilano is not a place for someone who is deathly afraid of heights. Everything cool in this park takes you off the ground and will pray on your looming vertigo issues.
Capilano Suspension Bridge is not accessible. Strollers are not permitted and the Bridge, Treetops Adventure, and Cliffwalk are not at all wheelchair accessible. Any person coming into the Park in a wheelchair or on crutches is given complimentary park admission.
We spent about 2 hours exploring the park. This included Mom reading many of the information signs and us waiting behind teenagers taking selfies.
The sun was out and shining on the day Mom and I went. But this is Vancouver, so rain is a common occurrence. Capilano is open in all weather, every day of the year except Christmas Day. Actually a day there in the rain wouldn’t be too bad since most of the activities are under the forest canopy anyways. I would imagine the mist is quite enchanting in fact.
BC residents get a free yearly pass if they buy a one day admission. So go once, get the yearly pass, and then go for the rest of the year too. Word has it Capilano does it up right at Christmas, so maybe a summer visit and a winter visit?
There is of course the requisite gift shop with beautiful BC swag, ice cream, and fudge.
Places to Eat at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Speaking of eating, there are a few places to eat at Capilano Suspension Bridge.
In the park, the main eatery is the Logger’s Grill with $15 hamburgers and other assorted comfort foods. Capilano Coffee is near the front entrance, because this is Vancouver and nobody can do anything without expensive coffee. There is a small concession stand-like booth on the east side of the bridge serving hot chocolate and treats.
Across the street from the park is the Bridge House Cafe, a fine place to grab lunch afterwards.
Getting to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
There is a FREE shuttle that runs to the park from downtown Vancouver from May to the end of November. The shuttle is first come, first serve and runs on a schedule depending on the season. The pick-up locations are:
Canada Place: Canada Place Way near info kiosk
Melville Street: Entrance of Hyatt Hotel
Blue Horizon Hotel: 1225 Robson St.
Westin Bayshore: 1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver Public transit also goes to the park with #246 from Downtown or the Seabus from Waterfront Station, to Lonsdale Quay. Then hop on the #236 bus to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
Is a trip to Capilano Bridge Really Worth It?
Like many attractions in Vancouver, visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is not cheap. The price was the main reason I had never been to the bridge in all of my 32.5 years of being from the Vancouver area.
That said, I can tell you, the money is worth it. It really is one of the best things to do in Vancouver, especially with kids! When I think about the environment of the North Shore, I think about how truly awe-inspiring it really is. Especially for people who have never really been around extremely big trees! Plus, a massive suspension bridge and Cliffwalk are not everyday type things to do!
After living abroad so much, I have come to value the beauty of British Columbia. The trees are primary parts of that beauty. Sure the best way to experience that beauty is to get out on a 13 day backcountry trek and live off the land, but lets be real, most of us won’t do that.
Most importantly, all of the park staff wear lumberjack style plaid shirts. That is so Canadian your blood will turn to maple syrup.
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