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Exploring Nature in Burnaby, British Columbia via Urban Trails

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

Looking along the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail to Burrard Inlet

Looking along the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail to Burrard Inlet

An Enjoyable Way to Explore Nature

Burnaby is a city in British Columbia, Canada. It adjoins Vancouver but has some great features of its own. It's a wonderful place for someone who needs to live in a city but also wants to stay in touch with nature. The city has a network of urban trails for walkers, runners, cyclists, inline skaters, and wheelchairs. To a large extent, these trails travel by natural areas, where there are many opportunities to observe nature. Some sections of the trails travel through a city environment, but even in these areas the path is usually bordered by cultivated plants that attract birds and insects.

An access point to the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail is located near my home. I travel along the trail almost every day in order to give my dog and myself some exercise, to explore nature, or to visit nearby shopping centres. In this article I'lł focus on the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail and an extension that travels to the top of Burnaby Mountain via the Trans Canada Trail. The mountain offers beautiful views of Burrard Inlet and the surrounding areas. All of the photos in this article were taken by me as I travelled along or close to the trails.

A maple tree by an urban trail

A maple tree by an urban trail

What Is an Urban Trail?

As its name implies, an urban trail travels through a city. The ones in my area travel through suburban areas as well as urban ones and are paved with asphalt. In some cases, there's a road on one side of the trail. In others, the trail runs between houses and is bordered on both sides by a strip of grass and trees.

An urban trail isn't the same as a sidewalk. It's wider than a sidewalk in order to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and inline skaters at the same time. In addition, the designers try to make urban trails look attractive by adding items such as flower and plant borders, benches, and map displays. The trails may run parallel to a sidewalk, replace a sidewalk, or follow a different route from the sidewalks in the area.

Urban trails are enjoyable to explore. They're great for nervous cyclists or for a cycling family with young children who want to avoid vehicle traffic. In many parts of Burnaby, they travel by useful places such as schools, libraries, recreation centres, and shopping centres. Urban trails also enable people to explore nature in a city. Two additional advantages of the trails are that they may encourage people to exercise and they may reduce travel by motorized vehicles.

Trees bordering the urban trail; the trail is on the right of the trees and a road is on the left

Trees bordering the urban trail; the trail is on the right of the trees and a road is on the left

Connections Between Routes

Travelling along urban trails offers wonderful possibilities. The Burnaby trail network connects to other paths in Vancouver, so an enthusiastic walker or cyclist can travel a long distance and explore a lot of interesting scenery by following the trails. Connections to other trail systems in neighbouring communities are being created.

Travellers will eventually be able to explore the whole of the GVRD (Greater Vancouver Regional District) by urban trail. The GVRD is made of Vancouver and the cities that adjoin it, including Burnaby. Its more modern name is Metro Vancouver, but the previous name (which I prefer) is still used. People can also explore Canada by following the trail system. The Burnaby urban trail network connects to the Trans Canada Trail, which travels across the country.

The Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail

The Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail travels around the base of Burnaby Mountain. When it reaches Hastings Street it connects to a pedestrian bridge that takes people to the other side of the street. Here the trail slopes downwards along Cliff Avenue towards Burrard Inlet.

The urban trail connects to the Trans Canada Trail on Hastings Street. This trail travels up and over Burnaby Mountain as well as in the opposite direction into Vancouver. The Trans Canada Trail travels across Canada and is said to be the longest trail in the world.

I'm lucky to live near the most picturesque section of the urban trail. Further to the east the route passes though a light industrial area and the surroundings are not as attractive. The trail is still useful, though. It travels by a school and ends near a library, recreation centre, and shopping mall. It also passes near three SkyTrain stations. SkyTrain is a light rapid transit system that travels through Burnaby and Vancouver.

SkyTrain provides access to urban trails in both Burnaby and Vancouver, although sometimes a traveller needs to take a short walk from a train station to a trail. Bicycles are allowed on SkyTrain under certain conditions.

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Burrard Inlet

The pedestrian bridge over Hasting Street leads to a section of the urban trail that slopes downwards to Burrard Inlet. The slope means that a climb is required for the return journey, but it's worth it. The end of the trail (or the start, depending on one's perspective) offers a wonderful view of the inlet, as shown in my first photo.

Burrard Inlet is a coastal fjord leading eastwards from the Strait of Georgia. The Strait of Georgia separates mainland British Columbia from Vancouver Island. British Columbia's capital city, Victoria, is located on the island.

The inlet separates Vancouver and Burnaby (which is located to the east of Vancouver) from the North Shore Mountains and the cities of West Vancouver and North Vancouver. Bridges connect the two sides of the inlet. Burrard Inlet is a busy place. There's nearly always something interesting to see on the water. The Port of Vancouver is located beside the inlet.

In the past, a traveller could walk behind the houses at the end of the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail and reach the inlet. That route has now been blocked by the company that owns the area. The city authorities are planning to make changes to the nearby waterfront area that they own so that we can reach the inlet, however. The view is wonderful, but I'm looking forward to being able to visit the shore again. We can do this in other parts of Burnaby, but it would be wonderful to have a safe route near my home.

Safety Concerns for Travellers

If you'd like to travel further instead of back tracking once you've seen the inlet, you could take a connecting route to another trail. The connector is on the right as you head downhill. The trail at the end of the connector in turn leads to ones in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. This group of trails is more isolated than the urban trail, however, and should probably be explored with a human or canine companion.

Most of the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail is bordered on one side by nature or cultivated plants and on the other side by a road. Three sections are bounded on both sides by cultivated plants and nature, but the back gardens of residences are located on the other side of the borders. Windows of the residences overlook the fence at the edge of the plant zone beside the trail. In one short section, however, the trees and undergrowth bordering the path are so dense that the residences are obscured.

People of a wide range of ages and of both genders travel on their own and in groups along the entire trail, as I frequently do. It's a popular route. Though I've never heard of any problems, I don't walk along the sections that aren't bordered by a road when it’s dark. These sections don't have street lamps, except by the trail entrance shown above.

The start of the walking and cycling path up Burnaby Mountain

The start of the walking and cycling path up Burnaby Mountain

The Trans Canada Trail and Burnaby Mountain

Burnaby Mountain can be reached from the urban trail by joining the Trans Canada Trail on Hastings Street. At first, the "trail" is simply a sidewalk and a wide road. Soon a major road that goes up the mountain to Simon Fraser University branches off from Hastings Street. Hastings Street continues by some residences for a short distance and then quietly enters the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. The street officially ends in the park at the top of the mountain.

When the Trans Canada trail starts to climb Burnaby Mountain, it travels through an isolated area, as shown in the photos above and below. This should be kept in mind if someone doesn't have a travel companion. It's a pleasant route to follow if safety is considered, though. A pedestrian trail though the forest soon branches off from the main trail. Travelling along the forest trail with my dog is my favourite way to climb the mountain.

Since the route to the park is uphill, the walk or cycle provides good exercise. Some people might find it easier to take a bus to Simon Fraser University, which is next to the conservation area, or to drive along Centennial Way to the Burnaby Mountain Park parking lot.

The Trans Canada Trail as it starts its journey up the mountain

The Trans Canada Trail as it starts its journey up the mountain

The trail name has officially been changed to "The Great Trail" now that the route is more-or-less finished. I prefer the former name. It's on all the trail signs in my area.

Facts About the Trans Canada or Great Trail

The construction of the Trans Canada Trail was started in 1992, which was Canada's 125th birthday. It's about 24,000 kilometres long and stretches from the west coast of Canada to the east coast. In addition, a branch extends up into the Arctic.

Officially, the trail was completed in 2017, which was Canada's 150th birthday. Even the organizers admit that some sections need improvements, however. The connection between different parts of the country is complete, but not the trail itself. In some places, the "trail" is simply the shoulder of a road, for example. Some of the trail sections that have been truly finished are lovely based on what I've seen, but the potential dangers of the shoulder situation need to be solved.

A rose in the Burnaby Mountain Park rose garden

A rose in the Burnaby Mountain Park rose garden

The Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area

Burnaby Mountain is 370 metres high. This is low compared to the nearby North Shore Mountains, but Burnaby Mountain is high enough to collect snow in winter when there's no snow at its base. The mountain is forested, apart from an area set aside for Simon Fraser University and another area for Burnaby Mountain Park. Trails lead through the forest and are fun to explore.

The park is known for its wonderful views of Vancouver, Burnaby, and the Burrard inlet. It contains a beautiful rose garden and an impressive sculpture. The sculpture is known as Kamui Mintara, or Playground of the Gods. It was created by sculptors from Kushiro, which is Burnaby's sister city in Japan.

Burnaby Mountain Park also contains a restaurant (though the note below should be read), a cafe and washrooms attached to the restaurant building, a children's playground, and an open area covered in grass. People like to relax, admire the view, or eat a picnic on the grass. The park is a popular area for kite fliers.

People hoping to visit the Horizons Restaurant in Burnaby Mountain Park should know that when this article was last updated the restaurant was closed. The city has taken over the ownership of the building and is renovating it. The restaurant should reopen in 2022. The small grab-and-go cafe should be open before then.

Burnaby Mountain Park

A trikke is a three-wheeled vehicle that looks something like a non-motorized scooter. The rider propels the trikke by shifting their body weight. The video below shows the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail as well as trikkes in action.

Exploring the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail

Since walking, nature study, and photography are three of my favourite activities, I'm very lucky to live where I do. I can travel a short distance along my local urban trail, walk (or cycle) into other parts of Burnaby or into Vancouver along trails, or follow the Trans Canada Trail up Burnaby Mountain. I get exercise and see beautiful and interesting scenery at the same time. That's a great combination.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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