Vancouver cycling: Stanley Park-UBC-Fraser River-Arbutus Greenway route

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.

Arbutus Greenway

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.

Categories: Biking, British Columbia | Tags: , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “Vancouver cycling: Stanley Park-UBC-Fraser River-Arbutus Greenway route

  1. If I were to show this post to my husband, he would be booking the next flight to Vancouver! We had been hoping to get to Canada this summer, but I think the Covid situation will force us to extend to next year. 😦 Your many posts have stoked such a strong desire to get there to admire your gem of a city and, especially, to recreate amid all that beauty!

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  2. what a perfect day! I might have said it before but those trees are stunning!

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  3. I think I’ve ridden just about all of this back in the day when I owned a bike. Vancouver is amazing for its beauty and for outdoor activities. We’re so lucky to live here. Gorgeous photos Caroline.
    Alison

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  4. Wow, Caroline. What a fabulous series of photos of all the different areas on your route. We walked a bit of this park when we visited and it is gorgeous. Vancouver is a spectacular city!

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  5. Looks like you picked a fabulous day and route for your cycling adventure. The nice thing about spending time outside in the early spring is that it’s not hot or humid yet, the bugs aren’t aggressive and you can enjoy all the cherry blossoms and other flowers. The trail through Pacific Spirit Regional Park looks beautiful. I’m sure it was nice to have a break from the sun when cycling through the forest.

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    • It was a perfect weather day for cycling, just below 20° (not too warm, not too cold, no bugs). We’re back to cool and damp (more normal). Pacific Spirit Park is a treasure and we’ve only explored tiny pieces. I’m sure we’ll be going numerous times over the coming months.

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  6. What a perfect way to make good use of a lovely warm spring day, Caroline. Goodness, the colours and contrasts of your cycle route is truly wonderful. Many, many years ago when I taught in Taiwan I worked with a Canadian guy from Vancouver, and I can remember how fondly he spoke of the beauty of the city. Viewing it through your pictures certainly confirms that.

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    • Thanks Jolandi. The variety along the route surprised me. I had done bits and pieces previously, but never the entire loop. It’s always fun to explore something new. It was also nice not having to deal with a lot of hills (my neighbourhood on the North Shore is one hill after the next). I’m glad you enjoyed the ride.

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  7. James once told me that Vancouver is a really beautiful city, and your photos definitely do justice. Stanley Park looks pretty with those spring blooms, those snow-capped mountains breathtaking, and the forest so lovely — you live in one cool city that cares about the wellbeing of its residents, Caroline.

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    • I hope you will get to visit Vancouver sometime, Bama. In addition to the natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities, I’m sure you’d enjoy the food scene and exploring different neighbourhoods. I completely forgot to mention that one of my favourite museums is located on UBC’s campus. The Museum of Anthropology houses a spectacular collection of Northwest Coast First Nations art (perhaps will feature in an upcoming post). I must admit, Vancouver is a very liveable place.

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  8. Looks like a fabulous cycling route. I have complete spring envy seeing on the blossoms on the trees and flowers in full bloom. Our grass is considering turning green. At least giving it some serious thought.
    I love that Vancouver has created more cycling space. That has happened here in Calgary as well. Perhaps not as great for motorists but diving for those of us on bikes.

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    • Even after 20 years here, I’m still in awe that we have flowering trees in April. I remember in Montreal that it was only starting to green up around Victoria weekend. The thing is that spring lasts forever in Vancouver…often through Canada Day until it finally feels like real summer..
      I will look forward to checking out some of Calgary cycling trails when I get to visit my relatives again!

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  9. I’ve said it before: You live in a great area. My wife and I were in the city of Vancouver in the late 1990s. We had a fine time, but I’m pretty sure we entirely missed Stanley Park. I wish we’d known about it and explored it.

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  10. What a great ride. I love Vancouver and know quite a few of these scenes, but your pictures are awesome with the bright blue sky and colourful flowers. My favourite though is the tall hemlock and other trees in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Funny, I thought i’d prefer the ocean and mountain views, but I’m drawn to that forest. I’d do that ride every week if I could. Maggie

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    • I know; me too! There’s something about that UBC forest that both Mike and I can’t get enough of. I feel like I’m in a fairy tale as I ride through the trails with those straight, towering trees and the sunlight dappling through. It’s very soothing.

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  11. This looks beautiful! The only part of this route I’ve seen is Stanley Park, but not in spring with all the flowers, which seems to make it even more beautiful! What a great way to spend a sunny day.

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  12. O my goodness, so many beautiful photos; one of the most certain things about Vancouver is its physical beauty-the north shore mountains, English Bay off of the Pacific Ocean sheltered from the worst storms by Vancouver Island, temperate rain forests with huge trees, and wildlife on the water’s edge. I am so glad that Vancouver, unlike other cities, put serious limits on urban growth and preserved such incredible green spaces as Stanley park. It’s also been a very long time since I’ve read a post about Vancouver and seeing those blossoming trees just made my day. Can’t wait to go back once pandemic crises are over. Thanks so much for sharing, Caroline and have a good day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

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    • Hi Aiva! I love your enthusiasm for Vancouver. Our urban green spaces, especially Stanley Park, are such treasures. I still find it amazing that on my drive from the North Shore to downtown I pass through a dense old growth forest with trees that are up to a 1000 years old. It’s always crazy to “pop out” in a modern city on the other side.
      Spring is beautiful in Vancouver and we were lucky recently to have about 10 straight days of sun and warm weather. Back to dampness now, but we need it for the flowers!

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      • I don’t seem to have the power to hold back my emotions when it comes to Vancouver. Certain places leave a lasting impression on us and when it comes to Vancouver, for me, it was mostly the greenery and those beautiful tall trees. Only 10% of Ireland are covered with forests and growing up in a country with one of the densest woodlands on the planet, it’s difficult sometimes to fill that gap and go months without seeing proper trees. Cheers 🙂 xxx

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        • I can understand why you’d get emotional about this, Aiva; I would too. I had no idea that Ireland has such little forest cover. I had to google it to get more info. I hope to write a post strictly about Stanley Park, so you’ll get to see more giant trees.

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  13. Looks amazing. So nice to be outdoors!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow.. Beautiful views!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow, that is such an incredible route … lovely scenery! The flowers are really beautiful and your ride through the Pacific Spirit Regional Park is also stunning.
    And yes, all thumbs up for the cycling lanes – that definitely makes cycling so much more safer and enjoyable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to complain about the lack of dedicated cycling paths/lanes in Vancouver, but the situation has greatly improved over recent years. Plus, there are so many resources that provide suggestions for cycling routes in and around the city. I’m looking forward to exploring more. Glad you enjoyed the ride!

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  16. I have heard that Canada is amongst the most beautiful places on earth, and your delightful pictures strongly endorse that

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much. There are a lot of beautiful places in the world that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and hopefully I’ll get to more. I’m grateful that I also get to live in this beautiful country.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Absolutely beautiful!

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