After sending a team of horses swimming across the Capilano River with a long rope in tow, the builder of the original Capilano Suspension Bridge could never have dreamed that his simple span would become a world-class attraction.
Built in 1889 by Scottish civil engineer George Grant Mackay, the 460-foot bridge was constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks. Once the bridge was in place, Mackay’s property became popular among his friends who took the name “the Capilano Tramps” to mark themselves as the adventurous types who would dare cross the swaying bridge. The crude original version was upgraded to a wire cable bridge in 1903. Then in 1910, the property was sold and began changing hands across the years as each subsequent owner built the bridge’s reputation as a world-class adventure tourism destination. The span was completely rebuilt in 1956 and is now under the purview of a small chain of rustic tourist attractions.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge continues to draw huge crowds of visitors every year and is ranked as one of Vancouver’s most popular destinations. Additions have been made to the park to increase the visitor experience. On the west side of the bridge is the Treetop Adventures Canopy Walk, which consists of eight wooden bridges suspended between a number of huge Douglas Fir trees over 100 feet in the air. Bridges are secured to the trees not through nails or bolts that would damage the trees, but through specially engineered steel collars. Once removed, these collars will have done no damage to the host trees at all.
In 2011, the vertigo-inducing Cliffwalk opened on the east side of the canyon. Pinned straight into the rock cliffs, the Cliffwalk is a series of secure and narrow walkways jutting out from the cliffs, through the trees, and over the river. Providing excellent views of the Suspension Bridge itself, as well as the river below and surrounding forest, the Cliffwalk is a unique way to appreciate, and feel the thrill, of the West Coast.
Not bad for something that started as a simple bridge built to entertain friends.
Know Before You Go
During the festive period (November to January), Capilano Suspension Bridge sees an increase in footfall, visitors are drawn in by the hundreds of lights which are draped over the bridge and the surrounded treetops. Arrive early and wrap up warm. None of the attractions at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park are wheelchair accessible and strollers are not permitted. Any visitor on crutches or in a wheelchair receives complimentary entry admission. Plan at least 2 hours to fully experience the park, more if you stay for lunch.The park offers a free shuttle from various locations in downtown Vancouver throughout the day, or Vancouver Public transit also services the area.