There's something strangely satisfying about prefacing a hike on the Pitt Lake Dike with an overview of the area. The satisfaction comes from the notion that by climbing to the top of a wildlife observation tower I can see things the way thousands of resident birds do. The strange part is that the view of farmland and marshes is so different from the mountains and ocean of Vancouver, B.C., it seems the city can't be only 25 miles to the west.
In fact, the river valleys east of Vancouver are full of rich farmland, much of it diked and reclaimed by Dutch settlers in the 1950s. Many of the dikes make for excellent walking, especially those that parallel the Pitt, Alouette, and Fraser Rivers. I like to hike along the most scenic dikes; with 26 miles to choose from in the Pitt Meadows area alone, I never run out of options. When I want a longer adventure, I book a room at Farmhouse Lifestyle, a 15-acre country B&B, where guests are invited to collect their own eggs for breakfast.
My favorite walks start at Grant Narrows Regional Park, which is in the middle of a huge protected wilderness area. The park sits at the south end of 16-mile-long Pitt Lake, the largest freshwater tidal lake in North America. Within the park, the wildlife observation tower affords incredible views of the lake, valley, marshland, and surrounding mountains. From there I often see herons, raptors, ducks, songbirds, and trumpeter swans.
From the observation tower, I like to walk east along Pitt Lake Dike, then south on Swan Dike. At that point either continue west on the Nature Dike for a shorter (3.5-mile) loop, or when my energy's up, south on the Mountain Dike for a longer (7-mile) loop that goes by the second observation tower on Homilk'um Dike, along Crane Dike, and through Smohk'na Marsh on Rannie Dike. Along both routes I've seen bald eagles near the forest west of Rannie Dike, not to mention beavers in the marsh near the second observation tower.
In a way, it doesn't matter which route I choose. I know I'll be back to explore this area, so close to Vancouver--yet so far away.
WHERE: From Vancouver, take Provincial Hwy. 7 (Lougheed Hwy.) east; cross Pitt River Bridge, turn north on Harris Rd., east on Dewdney Trunk Rd., then north on Neaves Rd., which becomes Rannie Rd.
DISTANCE: Walking loops, 3.5 miles or 7 miles.
FYI: Free maps available at Tourism Pitt Meadows Visitor Information Centre.
CONTACT: Farmhouse Lifestyle: 13783 Rippington Rd.; (604) 465-9878. Tourism Pitt Meadows Society: 12492 Harris Rd.; 460-8300.