As a long-time city-dweller, I’m always looking for an opportunity to escape into nature – even if it’s just for a moment. Luckily, Vancouver is rife with opportunity to connect with the ocean, the mountains and my favourite of all, the forest, all within minutes of its downtown core. My most recent opportunity to escape into the woods was an especially great one, as I found myself not only walking amongst the trees, but above them, on the Greenheart Canopy Walkway at the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Botanical Garden.
The University of BC has pretty much got it made when it comes to location; perched on the western-most tip of Vancouver proper (also known as Point Grey), it’s surrounded by parkland to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The lush strip of forest right along along the water is where you’ll find the Botanical Garden, and within it, the Greenheart Canopy Walkway.
Although it’s been around since 2007, the Greenheart Canopy Walkway is a bit of a Vancouver hidden gem – it doesn’t have near the profile of other Vancouver attractions. Which is a shame, because at only $24 for an all inclusive pass (Botanical Garden + Nitobe Garden + Canopy Walkway guided tour), it’s a steal for a day’s worth of nature. We headed to UBC one recent sunny Saturday to experience the whole package for ourselves.
Our day started with a guided tour of the 310 metre (1,017 foot) long canopy walkway. As our tour guide led us and the handful of others on our tour along the narrow suspended walkways, pausing at each of the platforms to tell us about the trees we could see (and touch), I was instantly awed – when you’re so used to looking up at trees, there’s something pretty amazing about being ABOVE them. You could look down and see the tops of trees beneath your feet:
It was fascinating to learn more about the west coast forest that I’d grown up in (yet knew shockingly little about) – for example, did you know that the Douglas Fir is not actually a fir, but a pine tree? Or that the sap of the Grand Fir has antibiotic properties? I sure didn’t. You can explore the canopy walkway on your own without a guide, but I’d highly recommend the guided tour!
The walkways are suspended between five platforms; the fourth platform is the tallest, and takes you more than 20 metres (65 feet) above the forest floor.
The whole structure was built by a local organization, Greenheart Conservation Company, and is unique in its eco-friendly design; the walkways and platforms aren’t actually attached to the trees, but are instead suspended by a complex system of ropes and rubber stoppers, thus preventing any damage to the trees themselves.
After our 45-minute tour, we took some time to explore the surrounding gardens – and we were glad we did: the sun was shining, and everything was in full bloom after a wet few weeks.
Compared to Butchart and some of BC’S other well-known gardens, the UBC Botanical Garden is relatively unmanicured – it’s less of a show garden and more of a showcase of a huge variety of different plant species (basically, a botanist’s dream). It’s divided into different sections, with everything from a Food Garden to an Asian Garden to a BC Native Garden (see the map below), and each plant is meticulously tagged for identification. There’s also a store, where you can buy native species to plant in a west coast garden of your own.
After the Asian garden with its maples, ferns and towering trees, a close second-favourite was the BC Native Garden, which is through the tunnel above in the North Gardens – the flowering skunk cabbage and quiet murmur of frogs reminded me of growing up near Burns Bog (the largest undeveloped landmass in North America) in Delta, just southeast of Vancouver.
After a beautiful afternoon in the gardens, we headed back to our city dwellings with connection to nature fully restored. And now that I know I can get my forest fix at UBC, just 15 minutes from downtown, I’ll definitely be back!
The UBC Botanical Garden is open 9:30am-5pm daily and is easily accessible by transit or vehicle. The Greenheart Canopy Walkway is open 10am-4pm daily, with tours offered at the top of each hour. For more info, see the UBC Botanical Garden website.