Cleveland Dam: A Hike of Many Bridges

Sam and Tonka explore the trail. Photo by Kate O'Neill.

Ever since I adopted my puppy, Yogi,  a couple weeks ago, my favorite activity has been taking her for a hike. There is something purely joyous about watching a puppy become thrilled encountering crunchy leaf after crunchy leaf, occasionally bringing a special one along for a few meters. I even get a tad envious at her level of enthusiasm over path-blocking mud puddles. I accidentally walked through a couple myself; sadly my level of enthusiasm was no where near Yogi’s.  

This past weekend we went on our first hiking adventure to Cleveland Dam. As a long time resident of the North Shore, it’s almost embarrassing that this was my first time there. I have since dubbed it ‘the beautiful bridge hike.’ The dam is in North Vancouver above the Capilano River Regional Park and blocks Capilano Lake. According to Greater Vancouver Parks, it supplies 40% of the lower mainland’s drinking water.  

Most hikers start the hike at the Cleveland Dam parking lot off Capilano road and proceed through a loop westward up the Shinglebolt Trail. This route will take you through BC rainforest, chalk full of stunning hemlock and fir trees, as well as over bridges, by rivers and waterfalls.  

When you meet a fork in the road, turn down the trail to the left which will connect you with the Capilano Pacific Trail. At this point, one option is to cross through the Capilano Pacific Trail and continue hiking straight. This will lead to a scenic, yet super high up, pipe bridge. Continuing with this option, the trail after the pipe bridge will turn into a gravel road leading to the salmon hatchery. Entrance is free, but check online for hours as they will vary according to season.  

With two dogs and a puppy in tow, we opted to take the Capilano Pacific Trail right back to the damn instead. It was a fairly easy hike, though Yogi might have said differently after struggling up most of the trail’s stairs. Although we never saw the notorious pipe bridge, we came across enough bridges of our own to dub it the bridge hike.  

Capilano Canyon is very dog friendly, and we certainly passed our fair share that day. We also passed some neatly tied up plastic dog poop bags placed not-so-discretely on the side of the trail. A conversation then ensued between my fellow hiker and I regarding this practice lasted for the remainder of our hike.  

When a dog does their business, why pick it up in a plastic bag and then leave it right there? This is nonsensical. We came up with two logical alternatives: either flick the business well off the trail into the midst of nature with a stick or carry the plastic bag with you to a garbage can, of which there were many dotting the trail. A combination of the two, leaving both the business and the bag, simply doesn’t make sense; it’s horrible for the environment and ruins the very natural beauty of the hike.  

Random plastic poop bags aside, which would be encountered on most popular trails, I would highly recommend this hike on a good weather day. Although it was warm during our hike and it hadn’t rained the preceding night, the trail was shaded for the duration of our hike and mud puddles certainly thrived.  

We chose to walk to the dam and back via the Capilano Pacific Trail, which took roughly two hours there and back; bare in mind we were herding two rowdy, muddy dogs and a very young puppy. The loop option (from the dam follow Shinglebolt Trail, over pipe bridge, back down Capilano Pacific Trail to the dam) should take roughly the same time sans dogs. Although I’ve never hiked this latter option, from looks it seemed to be more of a moderate hike as compared to the Capilano Pacific trail-only option which was an easy stroll.

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