Looking for a rewarding walk in the woods to catch a sense of the season? Then it’s time to venture beyond the back yard, out where leaves are tumbling earthward at every turn, with some—such as those shed by bigleaf maples—the size of khaki-coloured buckwheat pancakes.
This is a moody time of year. Fog often cloaks the forest as evergreen needles hang on to every drop of moisture until the sun burns through. Don’t sweat getting a jump on the day. Enjoy a second cup of coffee; don an extra layer of clothing for good measure; then head into the fresh air for some soul-satisfying inspiration.
Magic awaits at every turn. Here are three places trail-tested by the Georgia Straight with surefire guarantees of just such occurrences.
Close to home, Capilano River Regional Park lies on the north side of the Lions Gate Bridge. Living car-free? Reaching the trailhead is easily done on foot from the Park Royal Shopping Centre. The park’s Capilano Pacific Trail runs for 7.5 kilometres from the ocean to the Cleveland Dam. Allow three hours to complete the mostly level path one way.
Unless you’re in trail-running mode, don’t feel a need to cover it all in one visit. There’s plenty of forest magic to savour in smaller portions, such as the stretch from the underpass beneath the Upper Levels Highway north to the Sandy Point Pools viewpoint over the river canyon below. Got a dog? So much the better. Banter among canine owners—who appear to make up half the visitors—is a given here.
Nothing says autumn like the forested hillsides of the North Fraser Valley—in particular, the area around Ruskin that lies on the opposite bank of the Fraser River from Fort Langley. In headier times, Ruskin thrived on cedar milled from the surrounding woods. A small train once carried timber to the mouth of the Stave River where it meets the Fraser; on its return trip, it transported supplies for the construction of two hydroelectric generating stations.
The train has long since stopped running. In its place, the recreational Railway Trail that leads for six kilometres along the shore of Hayward Lake between the Ruskin Dam and the large picnic grounds at Stave Falls welcomes all comers. Allow two hours for the round trip by bike, including breaks, and as much as twice that on foot. For the most part, this is a gentle trail overhung with a sheltering evergreen canopy—ideal on a damp day—with few steep stretches.
Other than the enchantment of the forest, the most charming part of the experience is passing beside seven trestle bridges, each of which exhibits a ramshackle personality of its own. For trail runners inclined to a longer workout, the Railway Trail links with the Reservoir Trail for a 16-kilometre loop around Hayward Lake. Schedule a stop at the Ruskin Recreation Area located below the dam—whose picnic site rivals that of Stave Falls—where successive late-season chum and coho salmon runs are easily spotted thrashing in spawning channels or launching themselves skyward in the Stave River’s midstream current.
Better hurry if you want to visit Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Soon the gentle 3.5-kilometre trail that leads to the turquoise-hued shoreline will become too snow-covered for comfortable walking, trail running, or even biking (as this is one of only two trails where cycling is permitted in the park). It always helps to have something to look for as you explore, so get set for a “babe in the woods” treasure hunt. Keep an eye out for a small metal plaque that marks the place where a baby was born beneath a sheltering Douglas fir on the north side of the trail near the lake. You’ll experience a sense of wonder in this old-growth forest whether you spot it or not.
The Cheakamus River, at its lowest flow now, keeps company with the trail. Take a short walk downhill to view it from the Helm Creek Trail bridge. A heady aroma perfumes the air. Parents can relax as kids run ahead while still being seen and heard among the tall trees. At lakeside, a cathedral-like grove crowns the journey. Moss and ferns in a dozen shades of green carpet the forest floor. A heavenly hush adds a magical touch to round out the experience.
Access: For information on Capilano River Regional Park. To reach the park from downtown Vancouver, catch a West Vancouver (blue) bus to Park Royal Shopping Centre and begin exploring on the Capilano Pacific Trail nearby. Alternatively, a Grouse Mountain (#236) bus from North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay will drop you at the parking lot and picnic area beside the park’s Cleveland Dam on Capilano Road. Call TransLink at 604-953-3333 for bus numbers and schedules, or visit their website. Ruskin lies 60 kilometres east of Vancouver on the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7). A well-marked parking lot is located at the south end of the Railway Trail beside the Ruskin Dam, about four kilometres from Highway 7 on Wilson Road. Cheakamus Lake lies 123 kilometres north of Vancouver in Whistler. From Highway 99, follow the Garibaldi Provincial Park signs posted at the Function Junction intersection. Note: dogs are not allowed in Garibaldi Park.