Visitors to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland often overlook Richmond for its glamorous northern neighbor, Vancouver. But this island city at the mouth of the Fraser River; the fourth largest community in the province, is no mere ordinary suburb. Surrounded by water, teeming with parks, and home to one of the largest Asian populations in North America, Richmond has its own distinct and charming flavor. More than 60% of the 200,000 residents of this city are of Asian (primarily Chinese) heritage making it the perfect place to celebrate the Year of the Dog. And Richmond contains nearly 50 miles of trails–-and they are virtually flat! The city is located on Lulu Island (named for a showgirl) and is only a few feet above sea level (if that). Sitting smack dab in the middle of the Fraser River Delta, a series of dykes keeps the city from being one big wetland.
The dykes helped make the city possible, transforming marsh into building lots and prime agricultural lands (even today agriculture accounts for a large part of Richmond’s economy). But the industry that has perhaps left the largest mark on the city is fishing. The district of Steveston once bustled with shipyards and canneries. And while only a few historic remnants of these industries remain, Steveston is still home to the largest fishing fleet in western Canada. Long gone are the foul odors, decrepit shanties, and rough edges to this cannery row. Today Steveston is a lovely historic district complete with museums, heritage centers, boutiques, plenty of good places to eat, and the South Dyke Trail, one of the city’s most popular running destinations.
The South Dyke Trail runs along the entire Steveston waterfront weaving together parks, historic sites, neighborhoods and natural areas. Hike or run east on this trail along the South Arm of the Fraser River and be greeted with stunning scenery of vibrant river channels flourishing with birdlife and punctuated with emerald islands. On clear days catch your breath awing at snowy Mount Baker rising in the distance above the lush bottomlands.
Hike or run past the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, restored to its early 20th century grander and open to the public as a Parks Canada National Historic site. Cruise down Fisherman’s row by pilings and wharfs and an old logging boom. Continue along through the Britannia Shipyard National Historic Site, a collection of twelve buildings that once housed a multi-ethnic community of workers. Soon your route takes on a more rural atmosphere. You’ll be following a soft-surface path hugging the shore of the South Arm Fraser River. Look for eagles, herons, cormorants, kingfishers, and dozens of other birds. Admire too the stately grounds and structures composing the London Heritage Farm. A fully restored 1880’s farm house hearkening Richmond’s rural past, it makes for a great resting spot for those long hikes and runs.
The South Dyke Trail continues east connecting to Dyke Road and the Horseshoe Slough Trail. A series of trails continue along the South Arm in east Richmond. Other contiguous trails however can be found back on the city’s western front. Head over to Garry Point Park back in Steveston for more hiking and running options. Garry Point Park occupies a small peninsula at the mouth of the South Arm Fraser. Here enjoy a ¾ mile loop around the park packed with panoramic views of river, sound, mountain and island. Evening walks and runs here are especially delightful with stunning sunsets over the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia.
Heading out north from Garry Point is the 3.6 mile West Dyke Trail. Hugging the salt marshes of Sturgeon Bank for its entire length, this extremely popular trail will stimulate your senses while conditioning your body. Hike or run here during the winter months and share the salty mudflats with thousands of teals and snow geese. Look for hawks, owls, and eagles too. The West Dyke Trail ends in Terra Nova Park, a lovely natural area on the mouth of the Middle Arm of the Fraser River. Quiet wood and slough side trails will entice you to further explore this park, but you may want to continue along the Middle Arm Fraser on the Middle Arm Trail instead. This 3.6 mile trail heads up the river to Richmond’s downtown, the Golden Village (the heart of the city’s Asian commercial district) and over to Sea Island.
And on Sea Island, home to Vancouver’s International Airport, there are yet more trails. The Sea Island Trail travels along the North Arm of the Fraser connecting to McDonald Beach Park. Enjoy barge, plane, and bird watching along this trail. If after all this trail trotting and island hopping you still desire more terrain to train on, travel west a short distance to Iona Island. Here you’ll find the Iona Beach Regional Park offering a truly unique running experience. Aside from beautiful sandy beaches and 10 miles of trail, you can venture 2.5 miles out on a jetty straight into the Strait of Georgia. Here far out at sea you can see far out-to North Shore Mountains, the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker and Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Winds can be strong on the jetty so save this run for a warm spring day or dress appropriately and get a real good work-out.
After your hike or run, be sure to sample some of Richmond’s fine eating establishments. In Steveston, a stop at Dave’s Fish and Chips, a BC institution is a must. Of course no trip to Richmond–especially if it is during the Lunar New Year is complete without sampling some Asian fare. Choose among hundreds of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese restaurants in the Golden Village. The Number 9 restaurant in the Lansdowne Park Shopping Center is a personal favorite. Over 450 different dishes on the menu will make for some hard decisions.
Happy hiking! Happy running! Happy New Year!
For information on hiking the great trails of nearby Tsawwassen, BC, the Gulf Islands and Victoria-pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands. You’ll find 136 hikes on 28 islands in this trusted guidebook!