Last weekend, we cobbled together an awesome cycling route around Vancouver’s West Side. The ride provides exceptional diversity: beautiful beaches, rivers and parks, lovely neighbourhoods, giant cedar forests, equestrian centres, First Nations communities and the University of British Columbia (UBC). It’s mind-boggling that we saw all this, and more, in only a 46 km (29 mi) loop (technically, a lollipop). Most of the route is on dedicated bike paths, and the majority of on-road sections have bike lanes. The unseasonably warm weather and spring blooms added to make this a perfect day on our bikes.
I’ve broken down the ride into sections. For those interested in doing this ride, refer to the interactive Gaia map link at the end of the post.
Stanley Park/English Bay
We start our ride at the south side of Stanley Park, Vancouver’s largest and most famous park. The 405-hectare (1001 acre) urban park is surrounded by water on three sides and its interior holds a dense West Coast rainforest. It’s a sharp contrast to the modern sky-scrappers directly adjacent. The park has a vast network of trails for walkers and cyclists, including a 10 km seawall around its perimeter. Cherry blossoms and magnolias are in full bloom, and the fresh growth on the weeping willow trees is the most incredible shade of green.
A short, pretty stretch along Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon takes us to English Bay and the West End neighbourhood. Pre-pandemic days, cyclists shared the seaside path with pedestrians, but to avoid congestion, it has become pedestrian only. To accommodate cyclists, the city has blocked off one lane along adjacent Beach Avenue to vehicular traffic and made it into a cycling lane. I don’t know how car drivers feel, but as a cyclist I love it. There’s much more space to enjoy the sweeping views of English Bay Beach.
Our route takes us across the Burrard Street Bridge, which has bike lanes on both sides. It’s a great place to stop for a photo of English Bay.
Seaside Bike Route: Kitsilano to Spanish Banks
After crossing Burrard Street Bridge, we immediately hit the Seaside Bike Route in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. The gorgeous oceanside ride meanders along gravel beachside paths and designated biking roads. From “Kits” westward through West Point Grey, it’s a long stretch of lovely beaches. The views across the Burrard Inlet to the still snowy North Shore Mountains are stunning.
People are out walking, cycling, relaxing. In typical Vancouver fashion, after a long cool, wet season, many folks are are on the beaches in bathing suits, and a few are even taking a dip in the ocean. The air temperature hasn’t cracked 20°C (68°F) and the water temperature is about 10°C (50°F).
University of British Columbia and Pacific Spirit Regional Park
The Seaside Bike Route ends just after Spanish Banks Beach. It connects with Northwest Marine Drive where we start our uphill grunt to UBC, one of the world’s leading universities with a spectacular location on the tip of the Point Grey Peninsula. The hill leading to UBC is the only significant climb of the route. One can continue along Northwest Marine Drive, but we like cycling through the university campus. Its peaceful grounds are perfect for our picnic.
The campus is largely surrounded by Pacific Spirit Regional Park, which includes 54 km (34 mi) of shoreline and forested trails. Many of these trails are multi-use where cycling is permitted. After lunch, we make our way through a forest of giant cedars, hemlocks and Douglas fir. There are so many intersecting trails that we need to stop frequently to check the posted maps. It doesn’t really matter that we go around in circles a few times; I could ride around this magical forest all day.
Along the Fraser River (North Arm)
At the south end of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, The Salish Trail finally spits us out on Southwest Marine Drive. We cross the street and find another forested trail adjacent to Musqueam Park that takes us south all the way to the Fraser River (North Arm). On a future ride, I want to explore Musqueam Park, which contains historical artifacts and contemporary artwork that celebrate the Musqueam—indigenous peoples who have been living in what is now known as Vancouver for thousands of years.
We share the riverside trail with other cyclists, walkers and horseback riders. This neighbourhood, called Southlands, is home to equestrian centres and small agricultural plots. It feels surprisingly rural. It’s a whole new world for me and I have to remind myself that I’m still in Vancouver. It also has a seemingly endless string of golf courses, which are especially pretty at this time of year.
The trail along the Fraser comes to a dead end and we find our way back to Southwest Marine Drive on quiet streets adjacent to more golf courses.
We ride about 3 km on busy Southwest Marine Drive, but there is a wide cycling lane making it safe and not unpleasant. Nevertheless, it is nice getting onto the Arbutus Greenway—a 9 km paved cycling trail on a former rail corridor. The smooth, wide path through residential and commercial neighbourhoods of Kerrisdale, Arbutus Ridge and Kitsilano makes an enjoyable final leg of our loop. We retrace our ride across the Burrard Street Bridge and back to our car where we’re dreaming about the cold beer (in my case, hot masala chai) that we’ll have when we get home.
Map and tips
- WordPress does not support interactive Gaia Maps, but if you click on the link in the map caption below, you’ll be directed to my interactive map. If you’re doing this route at a leisurely sightseeing pace, like us, plan on 4-4.5 hours.
- The route can be shortened by cutting out the Stanley Park/English Bay sections (the stick part of the lollipop) and starting at one of the beach parks in/around Kitsilano. Or, eliminate the bottom tip of the loop by connecting with the Arbutus Greenway at West 54th Ave rather than Southwest Marine Drive. The route can be lengthened by cycling around the perimeter of Stanley Park (highly recommended if you’ve never been) and riding the scenic cycling path around False Creek (an alternative to crossing the Burrard Street Bridge). These both make great, short rides on their own.
- Bike rental shops are plentiful along Denman Street (near Stanley Park), or you can use Mobi, Vancouver’s public bike share program.
- While there are spots to buy food along the way (especially along English Bay, Kitsilano and in Wesbrook Village on the south side of UBC) current Covid restrictions prohibit indoor dining, and take-out can be busy. It’s best to pack food and water.