Adventures at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
The Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has come a long way from its humble beginnings over a century ago to one of the province’s most popular attractions. My husband and I were here in the late 1990s and enjoyed it a lot. So, we made sure to take the kids here during our trip to the area last December. It was a totally different experience visiting as parents versus our college student selves.
The bridge and park has a rich history. In 1888 George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and land developer purchased this acreage. He built a suspended footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks across the canyon a year later. Horses were used to swim the ropes across the river and the ropes were anchored to cedar logs.
The hemp rope bridge was eventually replaced by wire cable bridge in 1903. Over the years, the bridge has gone through different owners. Improvements were made to reinforce the bridge and develop the surrounding area. In 1956, the bridge was rebuilt with reinforced cables and tons of concrete. There’s a Story Centre, with storyboards, photos and memorabilia, near the entrance to learn more about these pioneers that made this place possible.
One of the things I remembered about this park was its collection of totem poles. It was nice to see that they were still here with a few more. Apparently, this park has the largest private totem pole collection. It’s always been amazing to see these carved wooden sculptures or story poles and see the intricate details.
The First Nations of British Columbia, who are the various indigenous people of Canada, made these poles. It was interesting to try and figure out the stories behind the poles. The First Nations were invited and have placed their poles here since the 1930s. Kia’palano Native Village is the cultural center that offers pole carving demonstrations and stories. Unfortunately, no one was around during our visit which was soon after they opened at 10 AM.
We visited during Christmas weekend and the world’s tallest living Christmas tree just happened to be here. We saw it decked out with lights and would have been a fantastic to see lit up at night.
Unfortunately, I guess there were enough incidents throughout the years to have this sign around here. It makes you wonder what lengths people have gone through to retrieve belongings down a ravine.
Of course, the star attraction here is the suspension bridge. The 450 ft (137 m) long, 230 ft (70m) high bridge precariously connects the two land areas over the Capilano River. It does look scary for many seeing it for the first time.
Crossing the bridge isn’t for anyone who suffers from vertigo or fear of heights. It does sway, vibrate and wobble especially in the middle. The drop-off down to the river looked pretty scary. My kids, of course, loved being on this bridge. It’s a bit terrifying but exciting too.
It was interesting to see many people’s faces as they took their first steps. Some had big smiles but we saw a lot more with nervous and apprehensive expressions. The bridge did get crowded at times since traffic was going in both directions and many people stopped at different points for pictures.
There was an employee watching who reprimanded visitors who ran or bounced and called them out over the microphone. This was actually a bit of a relief. When we were here before, I remember it being scarier with people running and bouncing and making the experience more nerve-wracking.
It’s worth stopping in the middle of the bridge (despite the feeling of unsteadiness) to look at the beautiful scenery of the forests and the river below.
We were rewarded with a picturesque coastal temperate rainforest as soon as we crossed the bridge. The Treetops Adventures was one of the things my kids looked forward to here.
It was a series of seven suspension bridges between platforms around old growth Douglas firs. One was as high as 10 stories. We liked that it was self-guided so we could take our time and enjoy the views from above.
It was great to see the kids walking around with rainforest explorer clipboards. At the start of the Treetop Adventures was a tree house also known and appropriately named as Dr. Wood’s cabin. Kids (ages 6-12) can pick up materials here to participate in the program and earn a small prize after its completion. We all learned quite a bit about this rainforest and the majestic trees that reside here by answering the questions.
Nature’s Edge was a series of boardwalks that took us to through the rainforest and in areas overlooking the gorge. It was a beautiful walk through the woods. It was hard to believe this was just outside a metropolis like Vancouver.
We passed by this slug crossing area along the trail. My kids looked hard and long for them but didn’t spot any slugs here.
There was even a pond here with all these lanterns and holiday ornaments. I’m sure this would have looked a lot better at night.
I loved all these inspiring quotes about the trees along the boardwalk.
It pays to look up once in awhile. One of the other visitors spotted this woodpecker up on the trees. His pecking was quite loud and bark pieces fell on many of us admiring him from below.
We saved the park’s newest attraction for last. The Cliffwalk was a marvelous, suspended walkway that jutted out of a granite cliff face and above the Capilano River Canyon. This opened in 2011 and at its highest point was 300 ft (90 m) above the river. The walkway was very narrow with a width of only 20 inches (50 cm).
It wasn’t as scary looking as the bridge. But, it also offered a different viewpoint of the river and canyon along a cliff wall. The owner’s son conceived the Cliffwalk idea. He wanted to share the views he saw while rappelling down this canyon to the visitors too.
We spotted this small waterfall from the Cliffwalk’s glass-enclosed viewpoint.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park was a mixture of adventure and learning about culture, nature and this area’s history. We’re glad we spent a few hours to revisit this park with the kids. They really enjoyed their visit and the improvements we saw were worth a trip here. It’s a great family-friendly destination all year.
Tips for Visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park
- Tickets (in Canadian dollars as of Feb. 2015): Adults $32.95; Seniors 65+ $30.95; Children (6-12) $12; Children under 6 years old are Free. Show your AAA or CAA card for a 10% discount. Tickets can be purchased online.
- Parking is across the street at a lot and cost $5 for duration of your visit.
- Don’t miss the Trading Post gift shop. This structure has been here for over a century. See and sample their various flavors of fudge.
- Get a map and passport at the entrance. Collect passport stamps at six locations throughout the park (they’re easy to find) and stamp your pasport. Bring to guest services by the exit to get an “I Made it” certificate which made for a cute souvenir for the kids.
- Free round-trip shuttle services from several locations in downtown Vancouver. See their website for locations and schedule.
- Free history tours are offered at start every hour on the hour. Nature tours depart every 30 minutes on half hour from Rainforest side of the bridge.
- Check for seasonal events like Raptors Ridge of prey from June to September and Canyon Lights in December.