5 Reasons you need to visit the Greenheart Canopy Walkway at UBC Botanical Garden
When you think of a ‘garden’ with an entrance fee you normally think of lots and lots of nicely arranged flowers and plants, right? Well, at the UBC Botanical Garden you get much more than that, namely because you can view it all from 15 to 22 meters in the air on a wobbly canopy that uses not a single nail to hold you up!
While the garden is really cool, with lots of species and fascinating facts to learn about how plant life from all over the world survives and thrives in forests, the major highlight, and most enticing reason to visit the gardens is the Greenheart Canopy Walkway. It is so insanely spectacular – I’d say it’s the best thing to visit in Vancouver, and I recommend it to all my out of town guests.
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If you’ve never been on the canopy and are familiar with the Vancouver area, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Oh it’s just like the Capilano Suspension Bridge.” No! No, no, no – it is not like the Capilano Suspension Bridge! It is CLEARLY very different. It is way scarier, which makes it WAY more fun. It is also a guided tour and has a lot to do with actual forestry research, so you learn way more about what’s goin’ on with all the tress you’re technically climbing…without hurting them.
If you like visuals, here is a nice intro video someone made!
Here are the top reasons you need to visit this place. It is just too cool to not visit!
1) You will see trees from higher than you’ve probably ever seen them before
If you liked climbing trees as a kid, you probably only climbed the ones with lots of branches for you to hang on to. But how do you climb a tree that is over a century old and has no branches for about 20 or 30 meters up its trunk? You use a Greenheart Canopy Walkway!
Yes, you may have been up high on tree bridge systems in other places (Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver has a Treetops Adventure which is similar and reaches 30 meters high). However, this one is a bit more wobbly, yet totally safe, and has a two story section to allow you to go over 22 meters high. All that, while also learning about, and looking down on forest plants that are contributing to the ecology of the area.
2) You learn a lot about forests and how First Nations people used them
One of the great things about going on the Greenheart Canopy Walk is that a forestry student (or otherwise well-researched person) becomes your tour guide. So you not only learn lots of neat facts about trees, but can also ask lots of questions. One fascinating thing you’ll learn is that First Nations people noticed the trees were healing themselves with a sticky sap that would come out of them. So they formulated medicinal salves out of these tree secretions for their own cuts!
You also learn how very tall trees don’t survive by depending on their roots alone. In fact, they learn to feed themselves from their tops, which are filled with moss! How do they get nutrients from the moss? Well you need to ask your tour guide about the science behind that. Smaller forest plants also take up a lot of resources on the ground, which means ferns to grow abundantly. I’ve never seen as many ferns in one place as I’ve seen in the UBC Botanical Garden. The bark of trees also gets harder and harder as it grows and covers itself in sap to protect it from bugs. Can you believe it, a tree that knows how to trick bugs from climbing all over it?
Also did you know that when a tree is killed and burned by lightening, it can become a nurturing grown for another plant to grow on it? In short, forests are adaptable and have mysterious ways of surviving, much of which often goes unnoticed by us as we walk through them simply to enjoy their scenery. So the educated tour guide really gives you a new perspective on nature, which we often take for granted.
If you’ve ever wondered what the native BC tree is, it’s not Dogwood. Dogwood is the flower that grows on trees, but the Red Cedar is the official tree and its beautiful bark can be seen on the Canopy Walkway.
Also, you might see animals! According to the UBC Botanical Garden’s website, “The area is also home to some spectacular wildlife, such as bald eagles, woodpeckers and coyotes. It’s not uncommon for visitors to spot these garden residents while on the Canopy Walkway.”
3) You learn how the canopy’s patent-pending suspension system is engineered without using nails or bolts
When you get on the Canopy Walkway, it will be very wobbly. It’s part of the fun and excitement. But it gets even more scary and interesting (in a good way) when you find out there are no nails holding you up that high! Just some strong chords that function like one of those Chinese finger traps. It’s a patent-pending suspension system called the “Treehugger” and, according to the UBC Botanical Garden’s website, it “uses no nails or bolts or intrusive fasteners of any kind, using instead, a variable tension system to provide the least amount of infringement or impact on the trees.”
The more weight you put on it, the more it squeezes the tree and won’t go anywhere. Then it releases when there is no pressure on it, so that the trees can grow unhindered. The bridges also dip down when you walk on them (part of what makes them wobbly), which is also by design, so the pressure of the bridge can be released off the trees when there are no people on it.
The weight restriction on the canopy is so high, they couldn’t even fill it with enough people to tumble it if they wanted to. Apparently it can withstand up to 9000 pounds! In fact, the company that built the system experienced one of their other bridges (in Georgia) go through a hurricane. They say on their website, “A big tree fell and landed on the backstay cables holding a bridge. Although it moved a few things around, nothing broke and the affected bridge and platform can be repaired with nothing more than a little adjustment.”
That all being said, you will probably still want to hold on for dear life if you are afraid of heights, and you shouldn’t go when there are classrooms full of kids who will just love swaying the bridges and doing scary things on them. I had to run from platform hub to platform hub where things were more stable. But even there, you can see there are no drills at all. Only little bumper stick things (which are not part of the support system) to help the canopy keep its balance and position, and not interfere with the poor trees I guess!
You will notice that your tour guide will have no problem leaning over the edge of this thing, which should provide solace of some sort (kind of like how flight attendants are never afraid of turbulence on an airplane). But despite its freaky-ness, it is very fun and never stopped me from going twice!
The bridge is a total of 308 metres (1010 feet), with the longest bridge in between platforms being 50 metres (164 feet) long. But there is this one platform where you get two stories, with a staircase built in, so you can go extra high (or ask someone to take awesome aerial photos of you down on the suspension bridge). Don’t have a good enough camera? Fear not, you can get one used on Kijiji classifieds!
Why is it called “Greenheart Canopy”? Because it’s made by the Greenheart Conservation Company Ltd., which (get this) is a Canadian company that has made these suspension systems, and others, all over the world! Their goal is to allow for aerial viewing of nature while being non-invasive to the nature itself. Their sophisticated and highly calculated model for doing so is really worth a read!
4) After the thrilling canopy walk, you can see really rare and cool plant species in the garden
While the Canopy Walkway is certainly the best part of the UBC Botanical Garden, that’s not to say you will be bored by the plants – not at all! The winding trails with hidden corners in the garden feel like an enchanted forest – you’ll expect a chipmunk to come out and start talking to you in plain English like in a cartoon.
It has these twisty-turn-ey vines that wrap around trees, flowers and petals on the ground scattered like in fairy tale story books, tree trunks shaped like flowers, and botany you could spend all day Instagramming because you’ve never seen them before in your life (and there is reception there, I tried, so go ahead and use up that data plan on Instramming flowers!). Seriously. Like check out this plant that looks like a cobra snake, and one that looks like it wants to be green corn on the cob, but isn’t.
Thanks to Dorota on OhMyVanocuver.ca we also can entice you with these cool photos (below) of plants that grow flowers in the middle of their leaves, and some that grow fur to keep warm in cold climates!
There is also a Chinese gate (called the “Moon Gate”) in the garden and a tunnel that goes under a road to allow wildlife to pass through. The other side of the tunnel brings you to a food garden, a meadow, and other neat things that researchers would want to have handy (I guess?). The UBC Botanical Garden is made up of tons of little gardens. You won’t always know when you’ve left one garden and entered another, but for namesake, there is an Asian Garden, and Alpine Garden, a B.C. Rainforest Garden and in total, 15 gardens that can be counted on their website.
5) It has great reviews and is excellent for tourists!
The place has 4.5 out of 5 stars and 67 reviews on Trip Advisor and 4 out of 5 stars with 13 reviews on Yelp. Personally, I think it is a very cultural place to show out-of-towners our forest lifestyle in British Columbia, while also showing them the magnificence of our trees, which really, make up a huge portion of the scenery in this part of the world, which people travel far to see! The trails are not hard to walk, like some of our more mountainous hikes in Vancouver, and one Yelper said even her senior aunt and uncle were able to go on the Canopy Walk.
Plus you get the guided tour (it happens every hour and is usually not that busy if there are no school groups there). The great thing about this tour-on-a-bridge is that it is focused on science, rather than tourism. It’s also not as busy as the other more well-known tourist spots in Vancouver, which means your tour is likely going to be more personalized. It also means locals will enjoy it just as much as out-of-towners.
Susie H on Yelp also adds to our case by saying,
“If you’re interested in a canopy walk I’d definitely suggest coming here – it’s less expensive and less crowded. It also only takes about 1.5 hours to complete a pretty extensive walk around the gardens as well as the canopy walk.”
Other things you might want to know before you visit the Greenheart Canopy Walkway at UBC Botanical Garden:
You can’t wear heels on the canopy! It has holes in it and they recommend you don’t even wear open toed shoes. (Thanks to Dorota for that tip!)
You can bring a baby, but it has to be harnessed around you somehow. You will need both hands to go on the Canopy Walkway, and yes, you need to hold on to something!
You can go shopping afterwards! The place has a gift shop with neat things in it like umbrellas that fold up into purses and planters made of bamboo. Also last time I was there, a freezer full of ice cream.
Parking is free! That is rare treat to be had in the UBC area, so soak it up while you can.
Looking to take a group? Check out Kijiji’s Travel and Vacations classifieds to find a bus you can charter or accommodations nearby! If you are a travel agent you can also look for translators to help communicate and coordinate with your customers!
Photo credits: Photos are by Joyce Grace unless otherwise noted.