In the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, highway construction around Horseshoe Bay left noticeable changes in West Vancouver. Foremost in many minds was the destruction of an ecologically sensitive area at the foot of Black Mountain to make way for the bypass connection toward Squamish and Whistler. One puzzling aftereffect of the reconfigurations was the sudden appearance of vehicles—now regularly parked—along the south side of the Upper Levels Highway near Nelson Creek.
In a quest to unravel the mystery, the Georgia Straight recently enlisted the aid of a local resident, architect Brian Murfitt, who frequently explores trails on the North Shore’s upper lands with his dogs. Thanks to directions from Murfitt, it turned out that the cars tucked into the modestly sized, treed space belong to visitors bent on exploring an extensive section of the Trans Canada Trail with links to both the Baden-Powell Trail and West Vancouver’s recently completed Whyte Lake Trail. A portion of funds earmarked from the Sea to Sky Highway project financed the new hiking trail. Despite Whyte Lake Trail’s popularity, as attested to by the numerous cars in evidence on a weekday morning, many residents view the legacy as a sop for the obliterated land, a decision that at the time drew vigorous opposition from citizens.
How does the new trail stack up? Despite the creation of 300 metres of boardwalk, a wooden bridge, strategically placed staircases, an elevated A-frame outhouse, and a floating dock on the shore of Whyte Lake, Murfitt felt that portions of the rock-and-roots trail left much to be desired. “During rainy season, the drainage is awful,” he said. “The puddles get so large, I stick to the Trans Canada Trail, which is really a shame, since Whyte Lake is otherwise a lovely, moody part of the forest, especially at this time of year.” In silent assent, spokes of sunlight burned through a stand of unlogged Douglas-fir forest, illuminating the ground cover of sword ferns. The air rang with splashing sounds as Whyte Creek channelled a course downhill through a narrow cleft on its way to merge with the even more boisterous Nelson Creek.
Another trait of the new trail that Murfitt found puzzling was its designation as an on-leash dog zone. “This is makes no sense to anyone, especially as the Trans Canada and the Baden-Powell trails are both off-leash.” On the day the Georgia Straight visited, though, no one on the single-track Whyte Lake Trail made any attempt to harness their pets.
In order to discover the rationale behind the ruling, the Straight contacted the municipality of West Vancouver’s senior manager for parks, Andrew Banks. “When we were constructing the Whyte Lake Trail two years ago, we decided that because this is an environmentally sensitive zone, people access was okay but dogs had to be on-leash. In general, when we build a trail—and there are now over 100 kilometres of trails in West Vancouver—the default is on-leash, much like the speed limit for cars is 50 kilometres per hour unless otherwise posted. Right now, we’re focusing on Ambleside and the waterfront area, where we’re installing new signs in response to requests for clarification from dog owners. At the moment, there’s not a defined policy for every trail on the upper lands.”
The North Shore upper lands are honeycombed with trails. When well marked, they’re a godsend to hikers, whether in the company of canines or not. Even on the dampest days, dense canopies of evergreens capture the majority of raindrops or snowflakes. Few routes are level. Count on experiencing an elevated metabolism and dopamine count as soon as you set out. Dress appropriately, hike with two-footed companions, and you’ll enjoy one of the most exhilarating year-round outdoor experiences on offer in any urban setting.
One noticeable change in West Vancouver since the creation of the Whyte Lake Trail and expansion of the Trans Canada Trail has been much improved signage, particularly at intersections with the far older Baden-Powell Trail, a 48-kilometre route that links Horseshoe Bay with North Vancouver’s Deep Cove at the foot of Mount Seymour.
Whether you opt to wear flip-flops, waterproof boots, or a happy medium, Whyte Lake makes a satisfying two-hour roundtrip trek via the broad Trans Canada Trail, which offers a welcome to all comers. For decades, bean-shaped Whyte Lake lay within the municipal watershed and remained off-limits. That’s no longer the case.
From the parking-lot trail head, the approach passes beneath the Upper Levels Highway’s concrete struts, then climbs a slope near the old Inter-Provincial Bridge—a slice of the past well worth a look—which curves over Nelson Creek. Carry on uphill to the first of several route choices at the entrance to Nelson Canyon Park. The well-marked turnoff to Whyte Lake occurs about one kilometre east along the Trans Canada Trail. Alternatively, hikers and off-leash dog walkers could just as easily follow a more level portion of the TCT west past Nelson Creek and connect with the two-kilometre Seaview Walk Trail in Horseshoe Bay. Take your pick. No matter which direction you choose, unleash your curiosity and off you go.
ACCESS: Take Exit 4 from the Upper Levels Highway and follow Westport Road a short distance west to the trail-head parking lot. For a detailed map, as well as dog-walking regulations in West Vancouver, visit westvancouver.ca/.