Take a Vancouver Day Trip to Golden Ears Provincial Park

From Jack Christie's popular '52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver' comes this easy day trip to a close-by gem of a park

Credit: 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver/Greystone Books

At Golden Ears Park you can swim, boat, camp, hike, mountain bike and explore

Jack Christie’s new book, 50 Best Day Trips from Vancouver, offers suggestions for the best excursions from the Lower Mainland. In this excerpt, Christie shares a gem just 50 km from Vancouver: Golden Ears Provincial Park

Distance: 11 km north of Highway 7 in Maple Ridge, about 50 km east of Vancouver

Activities: Boating, camping, cycling, hiking, paddling, picnicking, swimming, viewpoints, walking, windsurfing

Access: Take either the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7) or Highway 1 from Vancouver. (Travelling east on Highway 1, take Exit 44, just west of the Port Mann Bridge. Follow signs to Highway 7B/United Boulevard North, which leads to Maple Ridge via the Mary Hill Bypass.) As Highway 7 enters Maple Ridge from the west, it intersects with Dewdney Trunk Road. Turn left at the lights here and follow Dewdney east to 232nd Street, where you make another turn. Provincial-park signs direct you to Golden Ears.

(There are also signed approaches on Highway 7 in downtown Maple Ridge.) Follow 232nd as it crosses the Alouette River, then turn right on Fern Crescent as it passes through the municipal Maple Ridge Park. (This park is an excellent destination for groups looking for camping facilities, a treed setting, and a playing field. Call the municipalty of Maple Ridge, 604-463-5221 for more information.)

Within the boundaries of 62,540-ha (154,540-acre) Golden Ears Park, it is possible to swim, boat and camp at Alouette and Pitt lakes; to walk or mountain bike along trails to the two waterfalls pouring off Gold Creek into Alouette Lake; or to hike to the Golden Ears themselves or several other peaks that rise high above the lake. The park is large enough to accommodate all these activities within its borders and still have plenty of wilderness left over into which few visitors venture.

As you enter the provincial park, you will be met by a strikingly large carving of a white mountain goat, symbolic of the fascinating wildlife found at higher points in the Coast Mountains around Golden Ears. Close at hand, horse trails forming a network parallel the road and lead off into the surrounding forest.

Alouette Lake

Beyond the park gates, you have a leisurely drive for 7 km until the first of several parking lots appears. Along the way is an information kiosk, where maps of the park are on display. Farther along is the road leading off to park headquarters and diminutive Mike Lake, and shortly thereafter is the turnoff to the Alouette Lake day-use area at the lake’s south end. As this road nears the day-use area, parking for the Spirea Universal Access Interpretive Trail appears on the right.

A beautiful wide beach lies at the south end of Alouette Lake, next to an unobtrusive BC Hydro dam. There are a large boat launch and a dock at the north end of the beach, and during the summer months, you can rent canoes and kayaks. Rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis. If you arrive before noon, there is usually a good chance of getting one.

Spirea Universal Access Interpretive Trail

This trail, the first of its kind in a B.C. park, affords those with disabilities a natural-history experience. Unique interpretive signs in a variety of languages appear along the trail, much of which is covered by boardwalk. These signs also feature solar-powered audio systems for hearing-impaired trail users and brass re-creations of some of the park’s natural features for the visually impaired.

From the book 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver ©, 2011, by Jack Christie. Published by Greystone Books. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


North Beach

Near the end of the 12-km road that runs through Golden Ears is the entrance to the Gold Creek and Alouette campgrounds, with an astounding 343 campsites between them. (For reservations, call 604-689-9025 or visit discovercamping.ca) For many, camping here is their first introduction to overnighting in the outdoors. Long weekends in May and October are particularly popular with school, Girl Guide and Boy Scout groups.

Adjacent to the Gold Creek campground is a parking lot for the West Canyon Trail, which leads to the Golden Ears themselves. Beyond the West Canyon Trail parking lot the road crosses a one-lane bridge over Gold Creek. The North Beach campground at the north end of the road has an additional 55 campsites.

If you’re just here for the day, leave your vehicle in the day-use-only Gold Creek parking lot. A gentle walking trail leads from this parking lot along the north bank of the creek to a broad, sandy gravel bar where the creek meets the lake at North Beach.

The short (2 km) walk is one of my favourites. Decades of duff deposited on the forest floor give the trail a welcoming sponginess that will put a spring in your step. The clear blue-green water in boulder-filled Gold Creek delights the eye. Mostly level, the trail climbs slightly as it nears the lake. At this point, the creek widens and deepens, and you get some of the prettiest views of its colour. Out on the gravel bar at North Beach, look west to Evans Peak, which dominates the horizon. If you explore the lake by boat, numerous submerged snags soon make you aware that this was once a forested valley.

The east side of the lake is particularly heavy with snags, and the shoreline there drops straight down to the water with a few landing sites. The northwest side of the lake features both wilderness camping and makeshift picnic sites, accessible only by water.

Many visitors paddle to these sites from the south side of Alouette Lake. It’s an hour or more’s steady paddling from there to North Beach, and the shoreline between the two is not particularly inviting. Better to launch from the parking lot beside the outdoor learning centre at North Beach. Its post-and-beam construction is typical of the Katzie First Nation bighouse tradition. Situated on a promontory above North Beach, the centre has a commanding view of the lake.

Within an hour of leaving the dock at North Beach, you can land at a variety of small beaches. There’s plenty of driftwood on which to spread out a towel or tablecloth. The hills behind are thick with evergreens, but exploration is remarkably easy as there is only light undergrowth.

Alouette Lake warms up in summer to provide some of the best freshwater swimming in the Lower Mainland. You can also explore Moyer Creek, whose boulder-filled course leads back into the hillside. There is a good view of Golden Ears from this northern section of the lake.

Alouette Lake is long enough that it presents an opportunity to do some serious paddling. Beware the winds that rise around noon and blow from the south throughout the afternoon; don’t expect to make very good time heading back towards the boat launch during this period. The best times to head out on the water are in the morning and late afternoon, when the lake is still.

Gold Creek Trails

In addition to the short trail to lakeside described above, Lower Falls Trails runs beside Gold Creek as it flows downstream from the upper and lower falls.

The falls on Gold Creek descend through a canyon, twisting over a set of rock staircases. The best viewpoints are at the top and bottom of the falls. There are two approaches to these spots. You will find both trails outlined on the large map located near the entrance to the Gold Creek parking lot.

Gold Creek originates far to the north in Golden Ears Park. For most of its course, it is wide and fairly straightforward. As it nears the lake, it’s suddenly confined by an imposing rock face, part of which has fallen away. At the upper falls, you can observe the most dramatic descent of the creek–and at as close a range as your nerve will allow. The rock shelf through which the creek falls is flat enough in places to permit a daring observer to venture out for a closer inspection of the volume of water tumbling by.

The waterfall reflects the hues of the sky and the green of the trees, but the most entrancing colours come from the golden boulders and bluish stones in the creekbed. Lower Falls Trail heads upstream at a gentle grade. At first you pass through a stand of second-growth western hemlock and vine maple.

Just past the 1-km marker this forest suddenly gives way to alder and cottonwood trees. Views of the mountaintops open up to the west. Alouette mountain stands tall above Evans Peak, which is closer in the foreground. On high, those small patches of white may be snow or mountain goats; it’s hard to tell at this distance.

The closer you get to the falls, the more other peaks across the valley reveal themselves. The Blanshard Needle, Edge Peak and the twin Golden Ears stand grouped in profile. Even if this is your first visit to the park, you’ll find the mountains look familiar because of their visibility on the horizon east of Vancouver.

This is a pleasant area and quite popular on the weekends. The 3-km Lower Falls Trail is a wide bed of cedar bark and makes for easy walking. Along the way, there are several good picnic spots, quite accessible to the creek for swimming in the fresh soft water. There are campsites at places on the other side of the creek, reached via the West Canyon Trail. Walking time to the falls is an easy hour or less one way.

Short of an arduous climb to their peaks, one of the best views of the Golden Ears appears as you walk along the East Canyon Trail. This trail runs along the canyon above the creek and goes directly to the upper falls and beyond for a short distance. It begins uphill towards the North Beach campground from the Gold Creek parking lot. Longer than the Lower Falls Trail by approximately 1 km, this route takes twice as much time to complete because of its rolling course. Small orange distance markers show up with regularity along the way. This is a good workout for those on mountain bikes.

The trail climbs gradually uphill as the voice of the Gold Creek rises through the forest from below. At the 2.5-km sign lies the wreckage of an old log bridge that has been swept aside. An old metal gate stands partially covered by rocks. From here, the trail climbs somewhat more steeply. After another 0.5 km, watch for the turnoff to the upper falls. A rough trail, part of which is a broad, dry creekbed, leads downhill a short distance to a good viewpoint. The sound of Gold Creek as it plunges over the falls is relentless, overwhelming and hypnotic. Approach with extreme care.

West Canyon and Golden Ears Trails

The several routes to the falls on Gold Creek are part of a dozen hiking, cycling, walking and riding trails within the park. Golden Ears Park is 55 km long from its southern border to its northern boundary, where it connects with Garibaldi Park, of which it was once part. The Coast Mountains within which the park lies form a rugged and often impenetrable barrier of peaks and valleys.

Weather conditions can change quickly in this region. Be prepared for any eventuality.

West Canyon Trail is one approach to the lower falls. This trail connects with Golden Ears trail and eventually leads up to the Golden Ears themselves, a 12-km, 7-hour trip one way. At first the West Canyon Trail leads above and away from Gold Creek.

There is evidence of the old logging railway that once ran through the canyon along the way to Alder Flats. After 3 km, you’ll reach a sign pointing down a branch trail to the lower falls. At low-water seasons it’s possible to ford the creek below the falls, provided you’re prepared to roll your pant legs way up.

The hike to the top of Panorama Ridge is best kept for summer, when daylight hours are longest. Plan to be on the West Canyon Trail by 9 a.m. if you hope to reach the Golden Ears and return in the same day.

Even if you walk only partway, there are still many rewards. The first 3 hours on the West Canyon Trail are the easiest, as there is very little elevation gain. A picnic in the Alder Flats area can offer views of the Golden Ears, Edge Peak, and Blanshard Needle, as well as Gold Creek rushing down from the north. Seeing the peaks from this perspective is often accomplishment enough.

Note: Biting insects can be a nuisance in this area in warmer months, so come prepared with a repellant.

There are conflicting opinions as to the origins of the name Golden Ears. Veteran members of the Alpine Club of Canada and long-time residents of the Fraser Valley recall that the mountain was previously known as the Golden Eyries, nesting place of eagles.


From the book 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver ©, 2011, by Jack Christie. Published by Greystone Books. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.