|Observation tower at Grant Narrows Provincial Park|
I love Vancouver's city vibe, but on a recent visit to British Columbia, my husband and I decided to bypass the urban adventures for a weekend in the Canadian countryside.
We didn't have to go far. Thirty miles east of Vancouver in the North Fraser River Valley are the suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, at first glance a mish-mash of housing developments and strip malls, but for those in the know, a hidden corner of tranquility in metro Vancouver.
Nestled between the Pitt, Alouette and Fraser Rivers in the foothills of the Golden Ears mountains, are dairy farms, nurseries, cranberry and blueberry fields set on a giant floodplain protected by dikes - long stretches of raised earthen mounds- surrounded by farmland.
Built by Dutch settlers in the 1950s as a method of flood control, the dikes form an interconnected system of walking and bicycling trails. Making an overnight stay worthwhile are well-kept provincial and regional parks with river and canyon trails leading to waterfalls and wildlife habitats.
|Airbnb in Maple Ridge|
We used Airbnb to score a garden suite with a kitchen and private bath attached to a century-old Maple Ridge home once used by a Vancouver family as a summer retreat. it was a bargain at $65 a night, mainly because the U.S. dollar goes far in Canada, but also because it wasn't in downtown Vancouver.
With the better parts of two days to explore, it made sense to bookend a long bike ride around the dikes with hikes in nearby regional parks along with pit stops at a historic pub, a local cheesemaker and Peruvian and Taiwanese bistros.
Grant Narrows Provincial Park
The hike: This is a dog-friendly wilderness area and wildlife habitat on the banks of the Pitt River, with views of snow-capped Golden Ears peaks and a dike system surrounded by wetland bog and marsh areas.
With a few hours of afternoon light left before sunset, we opted for a four-mile walk around the trail called the Katzie Marsh Loop, a hike that took us first along the Pitt River dike trail, a flat, wide trail of packed gravel, flanked on one side by the Pitt River, and the other by a marsh filled with watershields, rooted plants that float on the surface similar to water lilies, but smaller. Climbing a wooden observation tower, we looked for some of the 200-plus species of birds sighted in the park, and saw herons, ducks, geese and osprey.
A right turn led us to the Swan dike trail, a grassy path with water on both sides, and onto the Nature trail, a narrow, wooded path dotted with cattails, pond weeds and blackberry bushes. We were told that someone had spotted a bear here earlier, but we saw only a few lone kayakers.
Pit stop: Grab a stool on the front porch or a high-back upholstered chair near the wood stove at the Billy Miner Alehouse Café on the Fraser River, and step back to a time when train heists were common along the railroad tracks running past the front door.
Once a bank and shelter for war vets, the pub is named for gentleman bandit Billy Miner, a Robin Hood figure who targeted companies such as the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Today, it's commuters riding the express trains from Vancouver who stop here after work. We paired pints of Three Bears Breakfast Stout brewed by Trading Post Brewing in Langley, B.C. with a wood-fired pizza piled with pulled pork, roasted sweet potatoes, mango chutney and pineapple.
Ridge Meadows Circle
The ride: With about 40 miles of interconnected trails, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows dike system offers bikers many choices for rides along flat, mostly hard-packed gravel paths.
Let's go Biking, a website dedicated to easy rides around metro Vancouver, outlines a variety of rides of varying lengths with access points, directions and sights marked on printable maps. With most of the day to explore, we followed the Ridge Meadows Circle route for a 20-mile ride along all three rivers, mostly on dikes and and a few roads with dedicated bike lanes.
|Biking along the dikes in Pitt Meadows|
Starting at Osprey Village, a planned community in Pitt Meadows across from a shoreline park, we peddled first along the banks of the Fraser, then along a narrow path in the forested Pitt River Greenway. The trail widened again as left the woods, and road past a small airport, a cedar mill, blueberry farms, and cranberry bogs along the Fraser and Pitt Rivers. If I had time to do only part of this trail, it would be the last leg along the south side of the Alouette, the most peaceful of the three rivers, with views of Golden Ears in the late afternoon light.
Pit stops: Begin or end a dikes ride at Peruvian-owned Stomping Grounds cafe or Jia Plus, a Taiwanese cafe in Osprey Village.
|Stomping Grounds cafe|
Stomping Grounds offers brunch on weekends. Other times, stop in for a breakfast sandwich, or a panini for a picnic lunch. Owner Anahi English's speciality is budin de pan, a Peruvian bread pudding made with raisins, cream, cranberries and eggs and drizzled with caramel.
Jia Plus offers cold Taiwanese milk teas, smoothies and non-dairy drinks plus a small menu of hot dishes such as wonton soup and ginger pork in a cozy cafe decorated with local art.
Kanaka Creek Regional Park
The hikes: Easy walks through a costal rainforest, waterfalls and sandstone cliffs await visitors to this wilderness park flanking the Kanaka Creek, just five miles from downtown Maple Ridge.
With just a few hours left the morning we were headed back to Seattle, we decided to save larger Golden Ears Provincial Park for another time, and explore two short trails in this scenic regional park.
Interpretive signs along a 1.8 riverfront nature trail explain how logs were once moved off rail cars and onto booms (rafts) for transport down the Fraser to local sawmills. A wooden foot bridge crosses Kanaka Creek where the trail leads to picnic areas with peaceful water views.
|Foot bridge across Kanaka Creek|
An upper canyon trail in the Cliff Falls area follows sandstone canyons with wooden foot bridges crossing the creek with views of waterfalls. Wide paths and wooden steps in steeper areas make this a family-friendly trail popular with dog-walkers and mothers packing babies in front pouches.
|Homemade cheese and more at Cheesecrafters|
Pit stop: Stop by Golden Ears Cheescrafters to watch cheeses, curds and butter being made using milk from the dairy next door run by two Maple Ridge sisters.
"Everything you see in this case was made right here," a woman behind the counter told me, offering samples of smoked Gouda and Jersey blue.
We came before our hike for coffee and a breakfast flatbread - eggs, cheese, tomatoes, bacon with a drizzle of balsamic - then returned later for cheese and a raspberry-apple pie.
If you go:
Where: Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge lie 30 miles east of Vancouver in the North Fraser Valley. From Vancouver, head east on Highway 1 (the Trans Canada Highway) to Highway 7, which becomes the Lougheed Highway. From Seattle, plan on about 2.5 hours of driving, not including border wait times, for the 130-mile trip via Interstate 5, BC-15 North and Golden Ears Way.
Tourism information: See the Maple Ride & Pitt Meadows Community and Business Resource website. Also Destination British Columbia
Trail maps: Let's Go Biking has suggested routes along the dike trails, along with maps and trail descriptions. See also http://www.alltrails.com
See Metro Vancouver's website for Parks information
Chain hotels along the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7). Airbnb offers the best option for bed and breakfast- style accommodations in private homes.
Golden Ears Provincial Park has three campgrounds.
This story was published in the Seattle Times on June 17, 2018