Care to trade the city vibe for a slice of tranquillity? Try a day trip to Pitt Meadows, one of Metro Vancouver’s most naturally vibrant and least explored corners.
Much like Delta, Pitt Meadows—a level floodplain spread between the Pitt and Fraser rivers, the slopes of Alouette Mountain in Maple Ridge, and Pitt Lake (one of the world’s largest tidal freshwater lakes)—lies mostly within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Turn north off the busy Lougheed Highway—which, together with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main line, bisects the 18,200-member community—and within minutes, tranquillity envelops the wide-open surroundings.
Roadways, thronged on weekends with Lycra-clad cyclists, quickly narrow to two lanes. Superb views span the horizon as Burke Mountain in Coquitlam and Mount Baker in Washington state bookend the snowy spires of Golden Ears Provincial Park.
At the outset, prosperous-looking dairy farms and nurseries line the back roads. Farther north, the countryside transitions to cranberry and blueberry fields. Colourful banners displayed at various farm gates proclaim “True North Fraser”. Kristina Gervais, executive director of Tourism Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, told the Georgia Straight by phone that 86 percent of Pitt Meadows lies within the ALR, with the principal produce being dairy and berries.
“Last year, agricultural and tourism stakeholders launched an initiative to celebrate local growers with their ‘True North Fraser’ campaign,” she explained. “We want people to identify products from Pitt Meadows, as well as our neighbours in Maple Ridge and Mission, in the same way as when you pick up an apple and see the ‘B.C. Grown’ label on fruit.”
One of the best places to begin exploring is the parking lot on the south side of the bridge that spans the Alouette River on Harris Road, complete with a small-boat launch area. The dikes are not only level routes upon which to spin wheels but also provide windbreaks for paddlers on the intertidal waterways, where bird-watching for exotic species—such as the greater sandhill cranes that nest nearby—is a major draw.
Although the area may, indeed, be one of Metro Vancouver’s more mysterious destinations, in the minds of those already familiar with Pitt Meadows, the city’s back roads are gateways to outdoor recreation. Such is the case with Mario Barquero and his daughter Loren and son Alex. When encountered during a bike ride along the Blue Heron Rotary Loop (part of the Trans Canada Trail), Barquero told the Straight that he and his children regularly explore the dike trails that line both arms of the Alouette River and merge just east of its confluence with the Pitt River.
“The kids woke up this morning and didn’t feel up to taking their Saturday swimming lessons. I persuaded them to at least come for a bike ride. The fresh air seems to be doing them good, as I haven’t heard any complaints.” With that, eight-year-old Alex, impatient to get going, sped off with the other two in leisurely pursuit.
There are far more recreational options than simply cycling the network of routes that spiral off in all directions. The farther north across the floodplain that you venture, the more farm fields give way to more recently reclaimed bog lands that border the extensive Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area. At the city’s northern limits, Grant Narrows Park is a prime place to begin exploring on foot, bike, or watercraft. Formerly a regional park, Grant Narrows is now managed by the Katzie First Nation, whose members also operate Pitt Lake Canoe Adventures, a year-round rental facility.
From the public boat launch, watery routes lead across the Pitt River’s mouth at Pitt Lake into Widgeon Marsh Regional Park or along the sheltered shores of the river beneath towering black cottonwoods. No other protected area in Metro Vancouver offers such instant wilderness access to a world entirely removed from the din of urbanity. That’s the true North Fraser spirit, for sure.
Access: Pitt Meadows lies 50 kilometres east of Vancouver in the North Fraser Valley. To reach it, take Highway 1 east to Exit 44 in Coquitlam just west of the Port Mann Bridge. Follow the Highway 7B off-ramp onto the Mary Hill Bypass, which leads across the Pitt River Bridge via the Lougheed Highway. (You can also take the Lougheed Highway east through Port Coquitlam–Coquitlam as an alternative route.) To reach the Pitt Meadows dike system and Grant Narrows Park, drive east of the Pitt River Bridge or west of the Golden Ears Bridge on the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7). Turn north on Harris Road at the traffic lights, where a large sign points to Pitt Lake. To reach Grant Narrows Park, cross the Alouette River and turn right on McNeil Road, then left on 132nd Avenue and left again at Neaves Road, following it north past the Swan-e-Set Bay golf course. Neaves crosses both the south and north arms of the Alouette River. Beyond the narrow bridge that spans the North Alouette, the road becomes rougher as its name changes from Neaves to Rannie. Grant Narrows Park lies 10 kilometres north of here. For maps and directions, visit the Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows website. To learn more about True North Fraser, see their website. To contact Pitt Lake Canoe Adventures, call 604-836-7117.