Exploring Vancouver, B.C.: Stanley Park by bicycle

Vancouver’s Stanley Park consists of an expanse of wilderness at the northern end of the city that begs for family exploration. It’s dotted with totem poles, lakes, botanical gardens, beaches, and even an aquarium and offers hiking, carriage rides, interactive historical and ecological displays, and playgrounds. It’s also 1000 acres in size, which makes it the ideal space to explore by bicycle. spokes-vancouver-bc We found several bicycle rental companies in the immediate vicinity of the park entrance on West Georgia Street, and settled on Spokes, a friendly, bustling shop at the corner of Denman and West Georgia (look for its bright orange and yellow signage). We arrived on a summer Friday afternoon, and completed the rental process and were outfitted with bikes, helmets, and bike locks within minutes. Families can start riding directly from the shop (just walk the bikes across the intersection at the crosswalk and merge onto the Seaside Bike Route, otherwise known as the Stanley Park Sea Wall. The Sea Wall bike route hugs the water along the edge of the park, and affords incredible views of the bay, Lion’s Gate Bridge, and the downtown Vancouver city scape as you round the point of Coal Harbor. No cars are allowed on the path, and it’s well-marked to direct two-way bike, pedestrian, and roller blade traffic. It does get narrow at some spots (which can be especially tricky to navigate around bends), but assuming your kids aren’t racing each other (perhaps an erroneous assumption), everyone should come out unscathed. sea-wall If you follow the Sea Wall all the way around the park, you’ll have pedaled over eight kilometers, wrapping back around to West Georgia Street by way of the scenic Lost Lagoon lake. If that route’s more than you (or smaller legs) bargained for, several additional bike paths cut through the interior of the park, cutting a significant portion off the loop (and as a bonus, they take you past Beaver Lake and the intersection for the Vancouver Aquarium, and miniature railway, which we didn’t get the chance to try but I’m told are excellent). Note: Bike and pedestrian traffic along the sea wall is counter-clockwise only, so turning around and retracing your steps is not an option. The best thing about biking the Sea Wall (apart from all the sightseeing ground you’ll cover while everyone gets exercise) is the abundance of stops for kids along the way. Five minutes into your ride, you’ll encounter the totem pole replicas carved out of red cedar at the Brockton Point Interpretive Center, educating visitors about First Nations history. Further along, the wall gives way to small sandy beaches with drift wood logs, rock formations, and softly lapping surf. Further still, your kids will roll to a stop (and walk their bikes) past a huge playground complete with a water play splash park (with air-blown ‘drying station’), climbing structures, and slides. Around the <i>next</i> bend, there’s a large outdoor pool overlooking the bay, another playground, and an echo-y tunnel to hide in (or rather your kids will, giving you a heart attack). totem-poles-stanley-park After the pool, the sea wall ends and the bike route climbs the hillside to run adjacent to the traffic on Park Drive, but we still felt very safe; the path is still bike/pedestrian only and any intersections are clearly marked with stop signs. It was at this point that we opted to cut through the park interior back to West Georgia, allowing us to ride past the botanical gardens and entrance to the aquarium. (To go this route, catch the intersecting path at Pipeline Road, about four kilometers into the loop.) Hours of operation: Stanley Park is open during daylight hours. Spokes bike rental is open 8 am to 9 pm, seven days a week. No reservations are required! Bike rental rates: Rates vary depending on the style of bike you’re renting. Child rates start at approximately $4.50/hour or $13/a half-day, adults a few dollars more. Tandem bikes and bike trailers are also available. Food services: Several exist throughout the park. Along the sea wall, families will find more than one burger/seafood joint, and a snack shack-type food stand near the pool. We didn’t stop, but I’m sure I remember smelling French fries and funnel cakes. Website: www.spokesbicyclerentals.com Directions: You can actually follow the bike and pedestrian path (sea wall) all the way from Canada Place, turning left and walking one block on Delman Street, but it’s an approximately 20-30 minute walk with small children. Otherwise, the drive is about 12 blocks West Georgia and Burrard.

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