Great bike rides in and around Vancouver!
This is a complete guide to the flat, family-friendly Stanley Park Seawall Bike Trail – which is one of the most beautiful bike trails in the world. Vancouver’s Stanley Park was recently named the top urban park in the world by Trip Advisor. It’s the third-biggest park in North America, a splendid 400 hectares of rain forest, right in the heart of Vancouver. Flanked by English Bay and Burrard Inlet, the entire park offers spectacular water views, and shade from towering, ancient cedar, fir and hemlock trees. The bike trail runs along Seawall, hugging the water and offering endless views to cyclists.
Stanley Park has miles of biking and hiking trails, plus many historic landmarks and lots of fun things to do. It is home to Canada’s largest aquarium, a water park, a miniature railway and tennis courts. Every Christmas there is a Festival of Lights, where a section of the park is covered in thousands of lights. Guests ride a miniature train while listening to Christmas carols and enjoying the lights. When you get off the train, you can offset the (usually freezing) cold by buying hot cocoa, hot chestnuts, and other snacks. No wonder that Stanley Park attracts about 8 million visitors every year.
Stanley Park also has one of the greatest bike trails in the known universe. I have cycled it countless times, and every time, I am awed. It makes me feel happier about living on this planet, and is an excellent anti-depressant.
Watch our Narrated Video about Cycling the Stanley Park Seawall, Vancouver
Here is a video that shows the entire route of the Stanley Park Seawall. It’s a joint effort – I filmed it and edited it down from about 30 minutes to about 10 minutes. Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) narrated the video (because of her lifelong knowledge of Metro Vancouver and its history). She provides a lot of interesting details that will really bring this ride to life for you.
Details of the Stanley Park Seawall Trail
Surfaces: all paved
Distance: 9.4 km (5.8 miles)
Difficulty level: easy (see elevation graph below)
Safety level: safe for the whole family (although of course there have been isolated accidents – nowhere is completely safe)
Type of bike required: any kind, but a hybrid would be the best and a cruiser might be fun. Many people rent cruisers to do this trip.
Suitable for: everyone, including bikes, trikes, skateboards, strollers, and wheelchairs
Congestion: can be extremely busy during peak hours
The Stanley Park Seawall Bike Trail
Vancouver’s Seawall is a multi-use path for human-powered activities of all kinds: cycling, jogging, walking, skating, wheel-chairing, and pushing strollers. It’s also suitable for all ages, so this is definitely a place to take the whole family for a bike trail ride. And if you’re battling to get your kids to cycle at all, here’s a post with some handy tips about how to get kids to bike more.
Vancouver’s Seawall Bike Trail is in the downtown core of Vancouver.The Stanley Park Seawall Bike Trail loops around Stanley Park, providing a ride that is 9.4 km (5.8 miles) long (shown on the map). This is the original part of the Vancouver Seawall, which was started in 1917 and completed in 1980.
“To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs for all time, I name thee STANLEY PARK.” Governor General of Canada, Lord Frederick Stanley, officially dedicated the park in 1882. Since then the dense forests have been largely untouched, so that there are now about half a million trees in the park. (As far as is known – no one has ever actually counted them.)
How to Cycle the Stanley Park Seawall Trail
A good place to start your ride is from one of the car parks. The map and the video on this post both start from the car park next to the Vancouver Rowing Club. Another good place to start is the car park next to the Second Beach Pool. Always head in a counter-clockwise direction from wherever you start, as the cycle route is one-way, counter clockwise.
The Seawall Trail has two parallel tracks: one for cyclists and one for pedestrians. For safety, stick to the correct track, and keep right when you’re not passing people. (In Canada, the norm is to keep right and pass on the left.)
It’s a good idea to get off your bike when the signs tell you to dismount. There’s a good reason for these signs: they occur at three especially busy sections where you could knock over vulnerable people, such as small children.
There any many parts of the seawall where narrow paths are shared between cyclists and pedestrians and skateboarders. Such as the part in the photo below. There have been some serious accidents in Stanley Park, so please – be careful out there.
In general, be alert and keep your trigger finger on your bicycle bell, as pedestrians could wander onto the cycling path at any moment. Or you could encounter one of those people who think it’s a good idea to stand in the middle of a crowded bike path with their arms spread wide open …
Note: If you prefer a quieter ride, there are also many off-road trails in Stanley Park that are much quieter. See for example my post on the Prospect Point Trail in Stanley Park.
What to See and Do
Wildlife: Depending on when you go, you may see herons, seagulls, swans, Canada geese, and even eagles. In the sea you may be lucky enough to spot a seal or two. Even whales have been spotted, but they are rare.
Harry Jerome Statue: Harry Jerome was a Canadian track and field Olympian, who died tragically young at 42 from a brain aneurysm, in 1982. The statue serves as a permanent reminder of a great athlete who competed in 3 Olympics and set 7 world records.
Totem poles: Next to the Brockton Oval cricket pitch are 8 totem poles. They were brought to Stanley Park starting in the early 1920s, and are now the single biggest tourist attraction in British Columbia. No wonder, given the depth of history they contain – as you will discover if you park your bike and spend some time walking among the totem poles.
The Brockton Point Lighthouse: This famous lighthouse is right on the seawall, so you can’t miss it. Here is the small hill leading up to it. There has been a lighthouse at this spot since 1890. The lighthouse is situated right in front of a magnificent view of Burrard Inlet.
SS Empress of Japan: Soon after this you will find a relatively new attraction: a stunning replica of the figurehead of the SS Empress of Japan, which plied the waters off Vanvcouver for 31 years (from 1891 to 1922). The original carving was restored by the Vancouver Province in 1928, and the replica on display was cast from the restored carving in 1960.
Water Park at Lumberman’s Arch: A fun attraction for those with young kids. You need to slow down here to go through a turnpike, and are then required to walk your park for a few feet.
Next you are off on a long, winding, narrow path with spectacular scenery. You will sometimes need to be patient here, as some cyclists are slow, and it is impossible to overtake. Just slow down and enjoy the scenery and the sea air!
The Lions Gate Bridge goes to Vancouver’s North Shore. You will cycle right under this beautiful bridge.
Interesting rocks: There are some great geological sights. On your left, ice cold water drips down dank, dramatic slabs of rock that look as if they’ve been there since the Stone Age. On your right, you can see Burrard Inlet and the 50-foot-high rock outcrop called Siwash Rock (shown below).
Girl in a Wetsuit: Right next to Siwash Rock is Elek Imredy’s statue of a Girl in a Wetsuit. This sculpture was erected on 9 June 1972. Vancouver was denied permission to reproduce Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue, so the city commissioned a modern version with diving mask, wet suit, and flippers – but no snorkel! The sculptor’s wife, Peggy Imredy, says: “She represents Vancouver’s dependence on the sea and the necessity to use the sea for the benefit of all.”
Beaches: there are several beautiful beaches in Stanley Park. The Seawall naturally runs right by them (this is one of the best things about Seawalls).
This is Third Beach, where many cyclists stop to cool off. There are usually quite a number of bikes locked up along the fringes of this beach. So remember your swimsuit and a big old bike lock. There are also washrooms and change rooms just up the steps from the Seawall.
Second Beach Pool: For years this was my favorite part of Stanley Park. I spent many happy hours playing with my kids in this huge, heated salt water pool, which sparkles in blue splendor beside English Bay. It’s truly a magnificently scenic pool, with lots of shallow parts for the kids, lanes for swimming laps, and some fun slides too, so it’s very well worth a stop.
There is parking for bikes just outside, so it’s easy to stop for a swim (during the summer months when the pool is open). There is also a concession stand, as well as washrooms with change rooms and showers.
Play Park: There’s a huge play park just past the Second Beach Pool, where those with kids can take a break.
Horticultural: the park is a dream for anyone who loves trees and flowers. There are many beautiful gardens, including the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden which is home to a huge collection of hybrid rhododendron and azalea plants. The Rhododendron Garden is right on the bike route as you cycle up towards Lost Lagoon, so you can’t miss it. The flowers bloom March through June. It is also spectacular to cycle through the park in the spring, when the cherry blossom trees are in bloom.
Lost Lagoon: This is a beautiful lagoon that is home to a large number of ducks and geese. It’s close to the burial ground of First Nations Princess Pauline Johnson, who is the only person ever to be buried in Stanley Park. It was the princess who named Lost Lagoon: apparently she named it because at one time the tide would come in from Coal Harbour and fill the lake, and when the tide went out again the lake would be lost.
Food: There are concessions at the Totem Poles, Lumbermen’s Arch, Second Beach Pool and Third Beach. The concessions serve the usual fried junk, so if you care about your health, you might want to take a healthy snack along.
There are also restaurants inside the park, although these are mainly of the fine dining variety, and not very suitable for sweaty cyclists. These include the Prospect Point Café, The Teahouse at Ferguson Point, the Stanley Park Bar and Grill at the Stanley Park Pavilion and The Fish House. Of course, if you do want to eat at the up-market but friendly Fish House, they have bike parking right outside – always a sign of sensible restaurant-owners! Oh, and they have washrooms that are accessible from outside, too.
Denman Street: Just outside the park is Denman Street, which features a large variety of food choices, including sushi, pizza, falafel and cupcakes. My personal favorite is to lock the bikes up on the sidewalk outside the Milestones on Denman Street at Davie, just outside the park. From a patio table we can keep an eye on our bikes, enjoy the view, and order a glass of wine and something to eat. After all, one of the points of cycling is to be able to eat plenty of delicious food!
If you would prefer a coffee, you can go just a short way up Denman Street to Delaney’s Coffee Shop, which has limited outdoor seating where you can keep an eye on your locked up bike.
When to Go (and when NOT to Go)
The catch with this wonderful trail is that you have to choose your time wisely if you want to avoid being driven insane by other users.
Unfortunately, a lovely weekend afternoon in summer is the very last time you should cycle the Stanley Park Seawall – even though it’s probably the time you’re going to want to do it.
The problem is that you will have to share the trail with thousands of other cyclists with the same idea – not to mention roller bladers, skateboarders, pedestrians, large groups of tourists posing for photos while standing on the bike trail, and so on. This can be very unpleasant.
Obviously it’s best to bike the Stanley Park Seawall when there are fewer people around. On the weekends, your only hope is to go very early in the morning. Luckily Vancouver has very long days during the summer, so this is a very good option. During the work week, you can usually get a decent ride during the morning without having to get out of bed at 6.00 a.m. During the winter the number of cyclists drops dramatically, so this is the best time time to enjoy the Stanley Park Seawall. Some winter days in the park offer dramatic scenery, such as rapidly moving fog banks.
And if you really want to bike it in peace, you might consider doing so at night, when the views are also magnificent … however, don’t do it alone, as there are quite lonely areas, and you never know who you might meet. I was once with a group of cyclists biking through Stanley Park at about 9 at night, and we were accosted by a homeless man who screamed at us because we had woken him up. Apparently, it was past his bed time.
Bike Rentals near the Stanley Park Seawall
All in all, a great cycling experience for the whole family, suitable for beginners, and almost entirely flat. The Stanley Park Seawall is one of those bike rides that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
For many more great Vancouver Bike Rides, see Vancouver Cycling – Great Bike Rides in and Around Vancouver.
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