Hang on the Capilano Bridge

Not for the squeamish
Suspension Bridge is aptly named

One of the most interesting “nature” parks in the world is Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, found about 20 minutes outside Vancouver, Canada, on the way to Grouse Mountain. There are free buses that take people from several locations in downtown Vancouver to this site. The buses leave from Canada Place where cruise ships dock, Library Square, the Hyatt Regency and Blue Horizon Hotel. Schedules are available on Twitter @capshuttle.

Once at the park, there is an admission fee to pay. The fee varies by time of day, cheaper by 30 percent after 5 p.m. and there are also special rates for seniors, students and youth. Check the webpage for the details about cost at capbridge.com. The average cost is about $50. It sounds expensive, but the price includes a free bio-degradable poncho if you need one. That’s a sarcastic joke, but the park is inside a rain-forest, so it is frequently rainy and always damp.

The park is very kid-friendly with exhibits that feature the history of the area, originally settled by indigenous people. Many of the ecological explanations promote understanding of the rain-forest eco-system, conservation tips and the animals and insects that live in this environment. Free history tours are offered hourly and free nature tours are offered every half hour. As part of the history tour, children will love the totem pole exhibit.

Three main attractions exist in the park: a suspension bridge, “Cliffwalk” and “Treetop Adventure.” All three have won awards for their innovation.

The draw for most people coming here is a 450-foot suspension bridge, 230 feet high. Original indigenous fur traders built a home on the opposite side of a ravine. To get there, a rope suspension bridge was constructed. Today that bridge is made of heavy-duty steel cables as you might see on a suspension bridge. The bridge has a wooden slat floor. Although the bridge does sway as you cross it, especially if there are a lot of people crossing at the same time, it feels very safe. From the midpoint, where the bridge droops down, you are over river rapids below. There are many great photo opportunities here, but it is a bit difficult to get a clear picture as everyone walking by shakes your footing, moving your hand and camera.

On the far side of the bridge is the original home built by the indigenous fur traders, now converted into a snack bar.

Once you cross the bridge, the only way back is to cross again. At the starting point is a large entertainment area with some very nice tourist shops, a restaurant, grill, and coffee and snack bar. On the day I visited, live musicians played hillbilly-style standards and were quite good.

From the entertainment area, you can walk to the second attraction, the “Cliffwalk.” This is a unique hike in the woods with a walking path and stairs (careful if you cannot climb stairs) along the side of the steep riverbank. The floor is constructed of see-through metal or glass, so you have magnificent views of the river flowing below and the valley you are walking in. This attraction reminds me of the Grand Canyon skywalk. Both are unique and well-worth doing.

Cliffwalk juts out over river rapids
Clifffwalk is not for the faint of heart

The final main attraction is primarily for children. It is a string of tree houses (actually platforms around Douglas firs that predominate the area) connected by wooden suspension pathways connecting seven trees. Called the “Treetops Adventure,” it is also worth doing. The award-winning eco-friendly construction methodology does not attach to the tree trunks, allowing the trees to continue to grow.

The walk takes you along the canopy of the rain-forest. This attraction is on the far side of the suspension bridge and easy to miss. Along the paths, excellent child-friendly explanations of the rain-forest turn the adventure into a learning experience so painless your kids won’t even realize they’re acquiring knowledge.

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