A PNW Christmas Activity that’s truly one of a kind
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Capilano Suspension Bridge State Park is a huge attraction year-round, for it’s the historical and honestly, pretty amazing suspension bridge, Cliffwalk, Treetop Adventures, and the scenery. It is located in a beautiful rainforest that feels ultra remote but is only a 15-minute drive from Vancouver. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park opens its doors, so to speak, for evening visitors. Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of Vancouver’s top holiday attractions. And we can totally understand it’s popularity. It’s a true Pacific Northwest experience and 100% unique. . The venue spends months installing state of the art Christmas lighting to give it’s Christmas visitors a show to remember.
We visited Canyon Lights during our Magical Christmas Weekend in Vancouver, and loved every part of it. The Pacific Northwest has so much to offer, when it comes to amazing Christmas activities.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is located right in North Vancouver, making it an easy drive from anywhere in the greater Vancouver area. However, parking is limited for this very popular event. So after fighting the crowds for a parking spot, we’d highly recommend their free shuttle. It has four convenient pickup locations in downtown Vancouver, leaving every 15 minutes (during peak Canyon Lights dates).
Many Christmas venues are really set up for kids, with a decor that’s a little over the top and maybe even a bit tacky. In comparison, Canyon Lights feels like it is designed for adults. The lights are carefully designed to work with the natural environment, highlighting each unique feature. That’s not to say children don’t enjoy it. I honestly think my little guys really appreciated the special little touches, like hanging balls of light over a perfectly still pond and utilizing the light reflection as a part of the overall design. I particularly appreciated how the light design didn’t take away from the natural beauty of the area. It wasn’t hidden by 10 million lights and giant Santa Claus cutouts. Instead, the glow of light gave a new perspective on each natural feature and calls attention to some of the details you might not notice during the day.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is broken into four basic sections; the suspension bridge, Nature’s Edge, Treetop Adventure, and Cliffwalk. While the sections are somewhat intertwined, they each have a slightly different feel and experience.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is the headliner here. It is, of course, the namesake of the park, and the oldest attraction here at the park. The 450-foot long bridge stretches 230 feet above the Capilano River, given access to the beautiful forest beyond it. During Canyon Lights, the suspension bridge has lights stretched across its length. As you cross the bridge, look below for a fantastic view of the river, lit up for the event. You’ll also have some great viewing opportunities of the overall park, from either side.
If you haven’t visited Capilano Suspension bridge before,you might be surprised to learn that it wobbles a lot. Particularly, when crowds are high during Canyon Lights, you’ll feel the severe swaying of the bridge. It’s so wobbly that you’ll have to hold the handrail the entire time to avoid getting knocked around. Most young children we saw, mine included were pretty ok with this bridge. But there were certain sections that kids were a bit more nervous on, and plenty of parents were carrying their young children, or had them in carriers of some kind. You’ll also want to hold on tightly to phones, extra gloves, etc. These things could easily be knocked out of your hands and off the bridge.
Nature’s Edge is a series of trails that runs through the park. Those who are a little bit fearful of heights will be glad to know that this whole area is ON THE GROUND, though you have to cross the Capilano Suspension bridge to access it. The trails are wide and fairly even, but with abrupt edges, sometimes right on the water’s edge. Each small section is decorated in a different way. One area has varying sizes of white light balls, suspended over a perfectly still pond, giving just enough light to show off the tiny waterfalls and beautiful mossy rocks at the edge of the pon. Another uses projection lights that move all around, as if there were a million fireflies or tiny fairies flying around. Yet another had multicolored balls on the ground, converting the forest floor into a magical scene.
The Treetop Adventure is a super cool attraction- definitely a favorite for everyone in my family. It’s located on the far side of the suspension bridge. It’s a series of smaller suspension bridges between the treetops giving you a view of the forest from above. Read more about the park’s genius design to prioritize the health of the trees here. Each massive tree shines brightly with colored lights at the top. The effect is breathtaking, and crossing each bridge is fun- particularly for kids, but even for this old lady. Additionally, Treetop Adventure is higher than much of the rest of the venue, so you get a great view from above of all the different lighting designs.
Cliffwalk is the newest attraction at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It’s an engineering marvel with the entire 700-foot walkway suspended from a series of cables on a single anchor point in the rock face. The walkway is only 20 inches wide, but, unlike the rest of the up-in-the-air attractions at Capilano, it doesn’t wobble at all. It does have lots of stairs, and the walkways can be slippery. It is located close to the visitor center, before you cross the suspension bridge/Capilano River.
During Canyon Lights, Cliffwalk has a great from-a-distance view of Treetop Adventure, and all of the lights across the river. The walkway itself is lit up, and thanks to lighting along the river, you’ll have a nice view of the river itself. A favorite along the Cliffwalk is the lights tunnel- rings of lights that change colors. As you make your way off of the Cliffwalk, you’ll walk through a forest, with beautiful trees and huge boulders, completely covered with blue, green, and purple lights. You’ll feel like you are on Pandora, from the movie Avatar.
A Note About the Crowds
We visited right in the middle of peak Canyon Lights season, at 5:00 pm on a Saturday night, so crowds were definitely high. However, everywhere but the Capilano Suspension Bridge itself, we didn’t feel crowded. There were certainly people everywhere, but I felt that we all had enough space to breathe and enjoy the event. Unless you are really crowd-adverse, don’t worry about going off-peak. Peak hours are busy but totally fine.
What you Need to Know When Visiting with Children
When visiting Canyon Lights with kids, there are a number of things to keep in mind. First, as I mentioned before, the suspension bridge is super wobbly. As you first enter the bridge and are walking down towards the center, or as you are leaving the bridge and walking up onto the stairway, the sensation is a bit strange. My kids struggled while transitioning on and off. The Treetop Adventure was no problem for my guys, as far as fears. But one of my kiddos was not able to walk on the Cliffwalk- going down the stairs in the dark on a tiny walkway was too much for him to handle.
Toddler Carriers – definitely recommend
My kids were already VERY tired when we arrived at Capilano, so we opted to bring baby carriers (we love this one for older toddlers) for them, and we did end up wearing them for quite awhile. I’ll admit I’m not the greatest at heights, and I am the greatest at imagining somewhat crazy horrible things happening.. but if you have to carry your toddler withOUT a carrier, you are lifting them to the level of the top of the handrail. I imagine that if you got knocked just right, you could wind up dropping a child over the edge. I did notice a sign recommending/requiring that babies be in carriers I assume for this very reason. If you have toddler carriers, I’d recommend bringing them. If you are carrying a baby, a carrier of some kind is, of course, basically a necessity for this venue.
Another case for at least bringing toddler carrier; while the trails here are not extremely long, at about a mile, with stairs and various inclines, it is pretty long for small children. And strollers are not permitted. Since many of the attractions are super fun, plus the novelty of being out after dark, they’ll likely have a bit of extra energy, but be aware of your child’s capabilities, and plan accordingly.
The bridges and walkways do have some outdoor carpeting and slip protection, but you and your kids will still need sturdy, waterproof/resistant footwear, like Bogs, and some good rain gear to keep you warm and dry. The attractions have lots of inclined surfaces and stairs, and can be very slippery. I had to hold on to the freezing cold handrails on every attraction to keep from falling, so having gloves was super nice. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it rains a lot in Vancouver, so everything is wet and there are puddles on any dirt paths. Going through everything at Canyon Lights takes a couple of hours, or more, so make sure you are prepared for the weather.
The venue does have a number of great dining options. For a sitdown meal, check out the Cliffhouse. Seating is first-come, first-served so don’t be afraid to pop in anytime for a great meal. The menu is a bit advanced for many kid’s tastes, however, and the meal, though tasty, isn’t going to be super quick.
The Loggers Grill offers a limited menu – just burgers, french fries, and a few snacks (and alcoholic drinks!). We were pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the crowds, the wait for a grilled cheese sandwich was only a few minutes.
You can also stop by the Sugar Shack, the Ice Creamery, or the Dr. Woods Cabin for a treat. We loved the fudge, which came in every flavor imaginable!
Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Park is a fantastic Christmas Event, and a perfect spot to explore with children- even the smallest ones! The area is breathtaking, and the experience for my kids- climbing up into the trees, crossing a wobbly bridge was so fun and new. It was a memorable night and one we’ll be sure to repeat next year! What a fun spot!