Fancy testing your nerve? If you’re just hanging around, some of the more jaw-dropping drops and dramatic scenery in British Colombia can be found on the short drive from Vancouver to Squamish along the ‘Sea to Sky’ Highway.
No sooner have you crossed the Lions Gate Bridge on the way out of Vancouver than you’ll drive through the District of North Vancouver and by the Capilano River Regional Park. Kia’palano, latterly Capilano, was the name of a great Squamish chief who lived in this area in the early part of the 1800s.
Stop awhile and investigate the Capilano Suspension Bridge and aerial walkways that traverse ravines and forested areas via precariously suspended bridges, rope-ways and cantilevered pathways that hang over vertigo inducing drops.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge itself spans 140mtrs across the Capilano River – 70mtrs below. The number of people on the bridge at any one time will dictate the amount of ‘sway’ you’ll experience as you cross. It can be quite disconcerting as you pick your way across with a drunken gait that has you giggling as if you are actually intoxicated.
If you’re afraid of heights or swinging in the air then perhaps this isn’t for you – but rest assured that if it can withstand the weight of the 46 ton Douglas Fir that fell on it in 2006, then it can probably handle you too.
No longer the hemp rope and wooden plank bridge of the 1800s, Capilano has undergone several upgrades, replacements and refurbishment until becoming the amazingly strong steel cabled suspension bridge of today – reputedly able to hold the weight of a Boeing 747 – although we don’t want to be on it if that happens!
Within the same park area, Capilano also offers a network web of suspended aerial walkways that weave their way through the Coniferous tree tops, offering several views and snapshots of the canopy that you wouldn’t enjoy from the ground.
These feel more secure than the suspension bridge and are at a lesser height from the ground.
Now that you’re here, the Cliff Walk is not to be missed – a walkway that clings to the side of the granite cliff over the river, winding its way along 200mtrs of cliff-face and at times cantilevered out in a narrow sweeping curve that tests the strongest nerve.
You can easily spend two or three hours at Capilano as the area has been carefully signposted and annotated throughout with interesting information about the living forest within which it’s situated.
Driving along Route 1 – part of the Trans-Canada Highway – you’re skirting the Burrand Inlet to your left before turning north towards Howe Sound. On the corner here Is Horseshoe Bay, a pretty place to stop for coffee and to watch the ferry arriving and leaving from this little recreational harbour.
Continuing on, the road now becomes Route 99, the ‘Sea to Sky Highway’, as it heads north – but rather than stick to it we head east into the hills towards Cypress Mountain.
We soon discover that it’s ultimately a dead-end road – especially as we’re not driving a 4×4- but some of the views en route along the hairpin bends and steeply climbing road to the ski resort are inspiring, with panoramic vistas back to the city of Vancouver.
Having retraced our steps we turn north again and after several small excursions to investigate Oliver’s Landing and Furry Creek, picturesque inlets along the coast and past the Britannia Mine Museum, we pitch up at the Sea to Sky Gondola, just short of the town of Squamish.
Sea to Sky Gondola
The 8-man cable cars whisk you skywards towards Stawamus Chief peak provide stunning views both of the mountain sides and the horizon – from the town of Squamish (nestled at its base) across the wide sweeping Howe Sound and into a mountainous infinity.
At the top you’ve the option to test your mettle yet again with another jaw-dropping suspension bridge across a deep ravine, or to amble along several forested walkways (on firm ground) that are interspersed with viewpoints, which give you picture postcard views of mountains and greenery as far as the eye can see.
The occasional cantilevered platform or rocky precipice reminds you to keep your wits about you but even the faint-hearted can find immense pleasure here in the natural surroundings.
As we decide to head back to Vancouver, we stop off at Shannon falls just a kilometre or so back along the highway from the Gondola. By comparison with the breath-taking views we’ve been enjoying since morning, the Falls are less spectacular but nevertheless worth the diversion to see water cascading down a sheer cliff face into a noisily babbling river in which the more hardy are wading between the slippery rocks.
It’s only 90mins drive from Vancouver to Squamish, so you can adjust your trip to be a pleasant day out or a quick recce of the area. We’ve spent most of the day testing our nerve and generally thoroughly enjoying our drive along the coast.
As if to eclipse anything we might have seen or done on our day out we arrive back into Vancouver city to see aerial dancers suspended from wires down a skyscraper façade – spinning and ‘dancing’ as they swing back and forth over the precipitous sheer face of the building. It puts our trip into perspective but we’re sure we’ve had more fun with a lot less risk whilst they’ve been hanging around!