Vancouver's Stanley Park

Vancouver's Stanley Park

Jan Lee's Travellin' News

Vancouver's cityscape from Stanley Park.
Photo Courtesy of Jan Lee

My earliest memories of Vancouver begin with a trip to Stanley Park. I was 13, old enough to travel by bus, young enough to consider a trip to a 405 hectare/1000 acre park an adventure. I was also just old enough to baby sit my little brothers, who, like most kids in Vancouver, considered the park's two swimming pools their summer home-away-from-home. When we weren't cooling ourselves in the ocean-fed salt water pools, or visiting the aquarium, we were riding one of the park's miniature trains, or gorging ourselves on Stanley Parks's hot dogs and cotton candy. It was a magical time in Vancouver, and a magical way to grow up.

Since that time, the old salt water reservoirs have been replaced with state-of-the-art chlorinated swimming pools. The park now has a wealth of dining establishments, and there are several new shuttle and tour services that frequent the park. Not surprisingly, my cravings for cotton candy have disappeared, but I still find myself drawn to the park's shores and amazing vistas.

A perfect day in the park.
Photo Courtesy of Jan Lee

Stanley Park was established in 1888 as Vancouver's first natural reserve and is touted to be the third largest of its kind in North America. With an average of 8 million visitors per year, it is also Vancouver's most popular attraction. Situated at the northwestern tip of Vancouver, the park is less than 5 minutes drive from downtown. Georgia Street (west) will take you directly into the park. Stay in the right hand lane (the left lanes take you to the Lions Gate Bridge and West Vancouver). If you prefer to walk to the park, it is approximately 1.5 km/1 mile from downtown.

Pay-parking is in effect in the park during the day. During the summer, the Parks Board provides a free shuttle service for visitors. Look for the brightly-painted Stanley Park trolley as it makes its circle tour along the sea wall. You can board the trolley at any number of stops throughout the park. You also book tours through the same trolley company (Vancouver Trolley Company) at other times of the year.

Feeding time for otters at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Photo Courtesy of Jan Lee

There are also a number of other companies that provide tours throughout the city. LandSea Tours offers excursions to Stanley Park as well as the North Shore and Whistler. Stanley Park's Horse Drawn Carriages provide romantic sojourns through some of the park's favourite haunts.

Touring The Park

Coal Harbour is the starting point the park's driving tour. The famous Stanley Park totem poles sit on a grassy knoll between Coal Harbour and Brocton Point. Both the trolley buses and the horse drawn carriages begin their tours from the Coal Harbour parking lot.

Leaving Coal Harbour, the one-way Park Drive takes you along the park's famed seawall, through canopied forests and past expansive vistas. The stone seawall, which extends more than 8 km/5 miles around the perimeter of the park, is itself a testament to history. It took workers 60 years to construct the massive barrier, which was initially created to stop erosion of the park's shoreline. Walking and biking paths skirt the edge of the seawall and provide a relaxing way to take in some of Vancouver's best sights.

The Vancouver Aquarium is located just off of Coal Harbour and is one of the park's most popular attractions. The Aquarium features several educational programs and manages a marine mammal rescue and rehab program for injured or abandoned marine life. Unfortunately, some of the Aquarium's littlest residents include "cute" baby seals which were found left alone by the seawall and were carried in by concerned individuals. Visitors are asked to call the Aquarium before touching the animal (the mother will not return to the pup if a human has touched it).

Prospect Point
Photo Courtesy of Jan Lee

Approximately 2 km further, you will come to Brocton Point, site of the Stanley Park totem poles and a great view of the Burrard Inlet.

Prospect Point, the park's tallest point, sits under the shadow of the Lion's Gate Bridge, the gateway to the North Shore and points beyond. A gift shop, full-service restaurant and a coffee shop overlook the Point's breathtaking vista and provide a comfortable rest to visitors.

You will see signs leading you left to the Miniature Railway and Children's Farmyard, where you can take a ride behind an the exact replica of an 1880's locomotive engine. The Children's Farmyard has a number of petting animals that the little ones will enjoy.

If you follow the path past the farm to the bottom of the hill, you will come to the Japanese Canadian War Memorial. Erected in 1920 to acknowledge the contributions of Japanese Canadians who gave their life for their country, the memorial sits in the midst of a carefully manicured garden.

Just beyond the memorial is the back entrance to the Vancouver Aquarium, which you passed earlier on your sojourn through the park.

Sunset at Ferguson Point.
Photo Courtesy of Jan Lee

Returning to your driving tour of Stanley Park, you will come to Ferguson Point, at the mouth of the Burrard Inlet. Further evidence of Stanley Park's unique history can be found in the Teahouse Restaurant, the original site of a World War II officer's mess. Enjoy a light lunch or dinner overlooking one of Stanley Park's prettiest seascapes.

Lost Lagoon (east of Second Beach), is the home of a bird sanctuary. Many a patient hour was spent here with my little brother as he educated me in the unusual life of northwest coast birds. The Lagoon's Nature House provides an interesting view of the park's flora and fauna.

There are a number of other recreational activities to enjoy in the park as well. For tennis buffs, there are 17 tennis courts near the Beach Avenue entrance (the southwest area of the park). There is also a pitch and putt golf course surrounded by a spectacular rhododendron garden. In the summer, the Malkin Bowl hosts Theatre under the Stars, a magical way to spend a perfect Vancouver summer evening.


Copyright Jan Lee

Jan Lee

Be sure to read other articles by Jan Lee in the BC Adventure Network

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Vancouver's Stanley Park