Through the site of a historic lumber mill, along leafy trails and quiet residential lanes, and beside seawalls offering splendid views of Burrard Inlet and downtown Vancouver, the Spirit Trail traverses most of North Vancouver and some of West Van … for directions, just follow the white bubbles painted on the pathways.
We started our cycling trip by driving to Heywood Street in North Vancouver, just above the Park and Tilford shopping centre, and parking at the south end, where Heywood Street meets Third Street. (Folks renting bicycles from downtown Vancouver can just as easily start the trail from Lonsdale Quay, heading east towards the iconic wheat-pool silos of North Vancouver, or west towards West Vancouver and Ambleside Beach).
The Third Street overpass (no cars allowed) offers unique views into the CN rail-yards, and from there, the path leads you up a slight slope into a meandering, lightly forested path where rocks bearing bizarre and fanciful inscriptions about crows dot the edge of the trail (I think it’s meant to be poetry).
This is the site of historic Moodyville, the first sawmill erected on the North Shore (about 1862) and the first significant non-Native settlement on this side of Burrard Inlet. For forty years, Moodyville shipped lumber to Britain, Mexico, China, and Australia, until it closed in 1901 due to rampant over-logging of the North Shore’s lush old growth forests. Placards bearing old photographs of flumes and lumberjacks offer insights into the era.
The trail pops out into a residential neighbourhood with a laneway that was very cleverly designed with glass-window barriers running the length of it, affording cyclists and pedestrians a sweeping view of the downtown shoreline. The Spirit Trail is marked with signposts and telltale white “bubbles” painted on crosswalks and pathway forks, with the occasional big red dot to reassure you that you’re on the right path.
Oddly, it also abruptly ends at certain points, and one must flounder one’s way about until one sees the telltale bubbles again (notably around the Shipyards area, behind the Pinnacle at the Pier Hotel, just east of Lonsdale Quay). We chose to take paths that were closest to the sea, which was the prettiest route, eventually picking up the “white bubble” trail at the very foot of Lonsdale Avenue, beside the Tap and Barrel restaurant.
Once past Lonsdale Quay, rather than follow adjacent to the rail tracks, which the bubbles indicated we ought to do, we chose to cycle close to the picturesque Burrard Inlet . We were rewarded for our defiance with beautiful views of Waterfront Park and downtown Vancouver. The Spirit Trail led next into the Creek Marina, where rows of charming houseboats made for postcard-perfect pictures against the backdrop of the North Shore mountains. Alas, the Spirit Trail is abruptly decapitated at the end of the marina, for it seems (ironically) that despite the trail’s nomenclature, some folks are very NIMBY about the trail going through their residential lane-ways.
One must therefore backtrack out of the pretty little marina, but not before first stopping off at the quaint High Boat Cafe, a dockside eatery with a sun-drenched patio and 18 year history (closes at 2pm on Saturday). While admiring the striking silver steeples of nearby St. Paul’s Parish (an Indian church from 1884), we slaked our thirst with a cool drink from High Boat. Next , we gamely headed up the incline of Forbes Street to Third, turned left onto Third (heading west) and down the wide sidewalk on the south side of Third. At the bottom, we turned left onto Bewicke and once again picked up the Spirit Trail.
More scenic seafront greeted us as we rode into Kings Mill Walk, a very lovely dog walk park and picnic area. The trail eventually parallels McKay creek (beavers live in this area–see my blogpost about the McKay Creek beavers), wends up an attractive overpass, pops you out onto West 1st street.
Follow the bubbles across the street and along the road, where they’ll lead you into the peaceful green parks and path of the Norgate section of the Spirit Trail. This, in turn, will lead you right under the Lion’s Gate Bridge and into Park Royal. The trail continues from here, parallel to the West Vancouver seawall, but before proceeding, the Village at Park Royal is an excellent spot to stop and sample some of the lovely cafes, restaurants, pubs, chocolatiers, and bakeries of the Village at Park Royal and replace some of those calories you’ve just worn off.
If you’re visiting from out of town and don’t own a bicycle of your own, you might be able to rent at Endless Biking in North Vancouver, or you can rent a bike from the plethora of bicycle rental stores around Stanley Park and either catch the Seabus over (bicycles are allowed on board), or, if you’re in really good shape and very enthusiastic, cycle through Stanley Park and over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to Park Royal.