Holland meets rural england in the Vancouver, B. C., suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, bedroom communities surrounded by three rivers, forested parks, coastal mountains...
Holland meets rural England in the Vancouver, B.C., suburbs of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, bedroom communities surrounded by three rivers, forested parks, coastal mountains and a 30-mile network of dikes built by Dutch settlers in the 1950s.
Part of the Lower Fraser River Valley, this area is an easy day trip from Vancouver but budgeting extra time for an overnight yields some nice surprises. Among them: a riverside B&B, a British-style pub and a free, five-minute cruise across the Fraser.
Unique to the area are the dikes long stretches of raised earthen mounds surrounded by the rural Pitt Polder, a 217-acre low-lying mix of farmland, marshes and mudflats.
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Dutch dairy farmers settled in the area after World War II, reclaimed the land along the Pitt, Alouette and Fraser rivers and, using techniques perfected in the Netherlands, built the dikes as a method of flood control. Today, locals use the embankments as hiking, biking and horse-riding trails.
Start your exploration in Grant Narrows Regional Park in Pitt Meadows, 30 miles east of Vancouver, where the Pitt River meets the 16-mile-long Pitt Lake. The park is a wilderness area and wildlife habitat with a large patch of protected marshland called the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
“Walk right out there and you’ll see a couple of osprey on the pilings,” a local man offered as a group of friends and I set out for a two-hour hike on the dikes along a flat, four-mile loop trail.
For the best views, climb one of the wooden observation towers that overlook the lake. The main trail starts out as a wide gravel walkway with water on each side, then changes course and becomes a narrow and wooded muddy path dotted with cattails, pond weeds and blackberry bushes. Along the way, you’re likely to come upon trumpeter swans, herons, beaver dams and flocks of fire-engine-red hummingbirds.
Outside the park, the network of dikes continues with two marked trails, the 6-mile Pitt Meadows Dike Trail and the 1.5-mile Maple Ridge Dike Trail. Both are suited for walking, biking or horse-riding and open to wheelchairs capable of using unpaved paths.
Although much of the area’s agricultural land has been replaced by housing developments and commercial nurseries, some of the dikes still are perched above working farms.
Just a few miles from the strip malls and fast-food restaurants that line Highway 7, the main artery connecting the area to the Trans Canada Highway, is the Riverside Bed & Breakfast, a log-cabin lodge along the Alouette River owned by longtime residents Wilma and Alan Wilson.
Ask about the possibility of a quick hike before dinner and Wilma will point you in the direction of her favorite destination for morning walks: a series of dikes across the road in an area dotted with little pink sheds pumping stations used for flooding the surrounding cranberry bogs.
Beyond the dikes, nearby wilderness parks offer an extensive trail system.
Visible from nearly everywhere in the area are the twin snow-covered peaks of Mount Blanshard inside Golden Ears Provincial Park, with recreation focused on hiking and boating and picnicking on Alouette Lake. Mountain trails lead to lookouts, waterfalls and mountaintops. The park extends north to the southern boundary of Garibaldi Provincial Park.
If you’re in the mood for a less strenuous walk, head to Kanaka Creek Regional Park, an urban corridor of protected land that stretches seven miles inland from the Fraser River in the heart of Maple Ridge. There’s easy hiking through the woods on trails with picnic areas and arched bridges leading to twin waterfalls.
When it’s time for a break, avoid the chain restaurants and stop instead at the Black Sheep Pub & Grill on Dogwood Avenue, a backstreet north of Highway 7. Settle into a booth near the wood stove and relax with a bottle of Okanagan pear cider and a platter of 99-cent crab legs.
“On weekend nights, it’s so crowded, you can’t even park,” a waitress explained, but on a recent overcast Saturday afternoon, only a handful of tables were taken.
If you have extra time and want to extend your weekend, continue east from Maple Ridge along Highway 7 another 60 miles to Harrison Hot Springs. Otherwise, if you’re headed back to Seattle, consider crossing the Fraser River via the free Albion Ferry that connects Maple Ridge to Fort Langley. Crossing time is about 5 minutes. (Alternately, there’s a bridge at the town of Mission east of Maple Ridge.)
Take time to browse the village shops, art galleries and cafes in Fort Langley, or visit the Fort Langley National Historic Site, a fur-trading post established by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Actors in period costumes guide visitors through various buildings to re-enact life in the settlement in the 1800s.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or firstname.lastname@example.org