Every now and then I like to look at how tourist websites rate a particular attraction in a city. For example, I checked sites that ran a “Top Ten things to see when you are in…”; in the case of ‘Tourism Canada’, they rated Capilano Suspension Bridge Park as number one attraction in Vancouver. On ‘Canada Keep Exploring’ it rated #3, ‘Travel Channel’ it was #4, ‘Trip Savvy’, #6 and #10 on ‘Planetware’. A tourist attraction popularity contest is heavily dependent on the age and the interests of the tourists so I suspect it would be difficult to get a definitive result without huge arguments. However we can use this data from five sites to suggest that this beautiful park is a very popular place to visit. We enjoyed the whole facility immensely and when we showed fellow travelers the photo below, they claimed it was much more crowded on the suspension bridge when they went there. Capilano Gorge’s attractions would be far less pleasant on a crowded day.
The Capilano Suspension bridge Park is the oldest visitor attraction in Vancouver having been built in 1889. It is not just an activity park for hiking and walking, it is a park for thrill seekers…
- if they like walking on swaying bridges over 70 metre deep canyons;
- if they like climbing onto board walks that take you high into the tree canopy;
- if they like boardwalks precariously attached to cliff faces.
The only problem with a park like this is if you are afraid of heights and swaying bridges and also have a fertile imagination that can clearly visualize the bolts bursting from their cliff anchors and the bridge flailing and falling into the gorge, picking up speed and slamming this acrophobic into the rock face of the ravine! Park managers clearly had this tourist in mind when they put up a sign at the far end of the suspension bridge, telling the following story.
“On a dark, stormy winter night back in November 2006, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park hosted our Biggest Guest—a 46 ton, 300 year old Douglas fir tree. After withstanding 300 years of storms, blizzards, and rainfalls, this particular winter it took 18 centimetres of snow and an 80km gust of wind to snap its trunk and send the tree falling down at a whopping 100km/hour. As the tree tumbled toward the river, it fell right onto the Suspension Bridge leaving the bottom three-quarters of the trunk on the bridge while the top third snapped and fell into the canyon below. Luckily our steel cables remained undamaged and the bridge stayed in place.”
This sign was more reassuring than the sign that suggested that 85 elephants could walk on the bridge without it snapping.
On entry into the Park and before braving the terrors of the swaying suspension bridge, visitors are greeted with a display of beautiful Totem Poles. For the past 90 years, local First Nation artists have been working on this site producing the poles. Borrowing information from another sign at the park (below) seems to be the best way to give accurate background about these cultural pieces.
“The Coast Salish, to which the local Squamish band belong, did not originally have a strong totem carving tradition. They were traders, and their villagers, centrally located on a large river delta, were gathering places for the various coastal groups.
Over time, through this interaction between groups, the carving of totem poles became incorporated into the coast Salish Culture – the imagery and style reflecting the influences of the other groups. This can be seen in the poles carved by the Squamish band for the suspension bridge…
There are three types of totem piles and all are represented at Capilano Suspension Bridge: the House Pole, the memorial Pole (carved to mark special occasions) and the mortuary pole.
Common to all three types are the traditional symbols of Thunderbird, Killaer Whale, Salmon, Raven, Bear and Eagle. The totem poles at Capilano Suspension Bridge are an important record of the images and colours used in the local Native culture over the past century and are a valued part of the heritage of this park.”
For those who survive the terrors of the suspension bridge, there is lovely café in the woods not far above the steps on the other side of the gorge. After restorative coffee and cake, it’s time to take the paths high overhead in the tree tops. This is a beautiful walk with plenty of information posters along the way about the local environment, the trees themselves and the importance of preservation of both our forests and our water supplies.
To access the cliff walk, the visitor has to return back via the suspension bridge to the other side of the gorge. Having a slight touch of acrophobia, I immediately took an unreasonable set against the delightful young female tourist walking ahead of me. She decided it was the place to dance carefree along the bridge, stopping to take selfies at short intervals and then happily running the rest of the way to the far bank. She appeared to fail to understand the ripple effect that she left in her wake that cascaded back along the bridge, forcing myself and a fearful group of aged pensioners to cling to the side of the bridge like passengers on the Titanic in the grip of a wild Atlantic storm just before the iceberg hit. Surprisingly I survived the journey and move on to the cliff walk.
The walk above the gorge and above the tree tops was another hair-raising experience that everyone else on the cliff walk seemed to be enjoying immensely. I enjoyed it more as these footpaths didn’t swing in the breeze or under the feet of dancing tourists. Along the cliff walk you get a better sense of the beauty of the gorge and the forest surrounds it.
Apart from all the science, history and ecology information that the park managers provide along the way, they also suggest that a walk in this forest is also an appeal to the artistic imagination of the visitor. Two signs quoting two great English writers were encouragement for us to, perhaps. discern the wood from the trees as we admired our surroundings.
Visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is very easy for the tourist staying in the centre of Vancouver. There is a free shuttle to the site which can be met at a number of predetermined points around the city. If you have hired a car, it is an easy run out over Lions Gate Bridge through Vancouver’s other number one tourist site, Stanley Park.