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Is There a Distinctly “Vancouver” Watch?
Talk about taken for granted. VanDusen, at Oak and 37th, is a spectacular botanical garden (which means it harbours endangered species), yet 80 percent of Vancouverites have never set foot in it. And the first of June is when it’s at its peak (late September is also especially lovely). Despite last winter’s storms, which damaged or destroyed 750 trees and shrubs, the place is a sanctuary of vibrant colour, superb landscaping and meditative calm. The former Shaughnessy Golf Club, VanDusen was sustainably managed (no pesticides, careful recycling) long before sustainability became a cause. You can meditate in the Korean ting (or pavilion) donated after Expo 86 by the South Korean government, wander among Douglas firs, bring your brushes and pretend you’re Monet, daydream by one of the five small lakes, see how many of the 65 bird species you can spot, or picnic on the grass (ordering takeout from the surprisingly good restaurant or toting your own hamper-just be sure you pack out anything you bring in). There’s no more restorative way to spend a couple of hours, and it’s smack in the middle of the city.-Gary Stephen Ross
On a map, perched atop YVR’s Sea Island, Iona Regional Park looks like the head of a heron with its beak agape (well, if you squint a little). Fitting, since the park is reputed to be one of the best places in North America to study shorebirds. Over 280 species flock here. If you’re lucky you can catch sight of a Rufous-necked Stint or a still rarer Black-legged Kittiwake. But even if you can’t tell a Wandering Tattler from a Semipalmated Plover you should be able to distinguish the harbour seals from the killer whales that sometimes ply these waters. Part of the draw for the wildlife is the diverse habitat in the area; tidal flat, marsh, grassland, and beach. But for walkers it’s the lower mandible of the beak, the four-kilometre-long Iona South Jetty clad in concrete rip-rap, that’s the main attraction. Jutting dramatically into the ocean, it’s exposed to both the elements and fine views of the UBC forestlands, the Gulf Islands and Mount Baker in the distance. Plexiglass shelters midway and at the end provide cover when needed, and a paved walkway makes this path friendly for both heels and wheels.-Masaji Takei
If while pushing a stroller through the lush groves of Douglas fir and maple in Cates Park you feel the compulsion to jot down a few lines of prose and connect with the business end of a bottle it may be due in no small part to the literary past that soaks these grounds. Novelist Malcolm Lowry and his actress wife squatted in a shack along the shoreline in the 1940s and 50s, as did their close neighbour, two-time Governor General Award winning poet Earle Birney. Other writerly types, part of Birney’s Authors Anonymous, would congregate at his “Hangover House” to share ideas and drinks. Sadly their homes no longer exist. The Tsleil-Waututh totems and war canoe, however, are enduring testaments to the original inhabitants of the area. Today the 22-hectare park at the juncture of Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm is frequented by families here to take advantage of the six kilometres of waterfront trail and facilities with all mod cons (playground, concession, picnic shelter, boat launch, beach with a lifeguard etc.).-M.T.
Nestled between Golden Ears Park, Pitt Lake and Maple Ridge, the 5,157-hectare forest covers two different biogeoclimatic subzones and contains practically every type of terrain found in B.C.’s lower coastal region. This working forest has active logging and as many as 120 research projects underway at any given time. A network of roads (140 kilometres worth) and trails (35 kilometres) provide good access to an area about 13 times the size of Stanley Park. Four colour-coded trails mark loops from 1.4 to 6.5 kilometres in length. Though dreadfully well set up for a leisurely walk, some, like the Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club advocate a more strenuous outing. Each spring lycra-clad euro-sporters and the B.C. Army Cadets plunge through idyllic streams and thrash through the undergrowth, racing to find checkpoints strung out through the forest. Try to keep up with the likes of former Hungarian national team member, Lehel Fenyo, and you risk blowing chunks in the salal. A more relaxed pace will allow you to appreciate the 450-year-old stands of western red cedar, or perhaps catch sight of a bobcat or one of the wild goats in the area.-M.T.
Walk on the 8:05 a.m. ferry, which will land you on “the rock” at 8:30. The trailhead is a block down your first right, Cardena Drive. Follow the signs to Killarney Lake. From there, take the trail clockwise to the picnic area. Continue five more minutes to the Mount Gardner cutoff (watch for a wide trail on your left leading uphill and back). You’ll soon reach Mount Gardner Road. Hang a right and walk along the road until you see the trail kiosk with map on your left. Just uphill and through the yellow gate, look for a sign for the Skid Trail. It’s all uphill from here, stairmaster-steep in places. Follow the orange diamonds over log bridges and up moss-carpeted creek drainages and benches bristling with red cedar, maple, and ponderosa. Watch for deer browsing the salal, and rusting remnants of early logging activity. Count on roughly two hours from the kiosk to the south summit-which offers no views-then press on a few minutes more to the north summit and a triumphant lunch on the helicopter landing pad with views stretching from Squamish to Vancouver. Retrace your steps to grab an early dinner and libation at the Bowmart Diner, a piece of Bowen history recently restored to its small-town glory.-James Glave
Find the parking lots (spaces are plentiful on all but the sunniest summer weekends) by turning north off Barnet Highway onto Ioco Road and following the signs. Welcome to the Buntzen Lake Recreation Area, located a few minutes outside Port Moody. It’s both an outstanding place to spend a day outdoors and an impressive feat of civil engineering. The area is maintained by BC Hydro and the lake itself, with its many beaches and swimming rocks, was the province’s first hydroelectric reservoir. Water is routed through a series of penstocks down to a pair of decaying stone power stations still cranking out electricity on the shores of Indian Arm after more than a century. The structures, built in an ostentatious style that would seem extravagant even on a university campus, are well worth a visit. The best route in the area takes more intrepid and experienced hikers up more than 1,000 metres (fitness is a factor), past the impressive Swan Falls, to the highest point on the North-South ridge that overlooks the Buntzen basin. From Eagle Peak, the aptly named destination, you can see all of the Lower Mainland and, on clear days, as far as Vancouver Island. The view is an appropriate reward for a full day’s march on steep and challenging trails.-David Godsall
The trail to the summit of Mount Hollyburn incorporates elements of the Baden Powell trail system, the Cypress Bowl Ski Area cross-country trail network and a tangled mess of other paths-download a map from Env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks before you go. Many guidebooks suggest a 20-kilometre route starting from the second switchback of the Cypress Parkway (which leads up from Highway 1). This route is a fine way to spend seven hours, but to access the area’s most compelling features (while preserving your morning for brunch at Calvin’s), park another five minutes up the road at the nordic centre and save yourself about eight kilometres. Follow the signs to Hollyburn Lodge, a ramshackle ski camp build in 1926, then turn uphill. You’ll find tranquil alpine meadows, crystalline glacial streams and ancient yellow cedars with boughs that seem to groan with the exhaustion of a half-millennium of snowy winters. After the final scramble to the peak, revel in the spectacular views of the city and congratulate yourself on your 500-metre ascent.-D.G.
The trek from White Rock around the Semiahmoo Peninsula to Crescent Beach requires, first of all, turning a blind eye to signs threatening prosecution for trespassing on Burlington Northern Railway property. It requires sturdy footwear and plenty of hydration. You’re wise not to wear headphones, lest you fail to hear the Amtrak Dayliner that shuttles between Vancouver and Seattle, or one of several daily freight trains. Still, the hike, beneath spectacular mansions on the bluff above, yields moments of perfect solitude, and sightings-on this late April day-of seals, bald eagles, pileated woodpeckers and a bedraggled coyote. After an hour or so, the tracks become a distinct irritation, and you curse whoever decided to space railway ties too closely for a single step but too far apart to cover two of them in stride. Three hours on, you feel like you’re stuck in a video loop from Stand By Me. By the time you round the last long curve and Crescent Beach finally hoves into view, you can think of nothing but beer and mussels at Beecher Street Café, shared with the friend who’ll drive you back to your car.-G.S.R.