From cliffside climbing courses to suspended bridges and glass walkways that seem to dangle in mid-air, there’s no shortage of tall thrills for Canadians this summer. If you’d like to test your tolerance for heights, there are plenty of ways to do just that right across the country.
Perhaps the most high-profile experience is the CN Tower EdgeWalk. Why just ride the elevator up to the top when you can walk along the edge of Toronto’s most iconic structure, 116 storeys above the city, tethered to a harness? At 356 metres, you’ll be higher than Canada’s tallest skyscraper, First Canadian Place. Open since 2011, the EdgeWalk experience attracts a diverse crowd of locals and tourists.
Jennifer Nelson, associate manager of EdgeWalk, has conquered the tower more than 2,000 times with participants as young as 13 (the minimum age) and as old as 97.
“For thrill-seekers, this experience really delivers,” she says. “We see many guests celebrating major milestones, like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and proposals. People come back on multiple occasions. It’s different every time.”
Planning your visit just at sunset is especially magical, she says, with its rainbow of hues and the twinkling of the city lights below. You could also time your walk so that you can catch a glimpse of a Toronto Blue Jays game when the roof of the Rogers Centre is open.
If you’re scared of heights, EdgeWalk guides will help you to become more comfortable. “We encourage people every step of the way to build their confidence,” explains Nelson. “We want them to get the most out of their experience and to feel the great sense of achievement that comes with completing the walk.”
“With Vancouver being located in a temperate rainforest, [the summers] don’t get too hot, and the surrounding forests are lush and green.”Video: Lane 8 - Sunrise Set - Grand Lake, CO
— Jared Martin, manager of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
If a rural setting is more to your liking, head to Quebec’s Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, home to a via ferrata (“iron path” in Italian), a protected climbing route. There are a few in Quebec, but this one takes participants to great heights overlooking the beauty of Saguenay Fjord. Using natural or pre-affixed steel grips, cables and other anchors, guests ages 8 and up can make their way across cliff faces with the waters of Saguenay River below.
“Like any via ferrata in the province, we have amazing views,” says guide Tristan Fournier, who has worked at the park for five years, “but unlike any of the others, we have the only one directly on the fjord. It’s right at your back. The scenery is wonderful. And on windy day, we can really feel the strength of the waves as they crash against the cliff as we climb.”
A mix of hiking and climbing done over a three-hour period, the via ferrata is rated medium to difficult. If you’re on the timid side of high-altitude challenges, then it may be tough going at first. But as Fournier points out, many guests see it as a way of overcoming their fear of heights. Staying close to the guide is also a good idea. They can provide tips throughout the course and offer support so that guests can have a good experience.
“One piece of the advice we give [clients] – and repeat often – is that they need to trust the equipment we lend them,” he says. “Otherwise, they spend too much of time holding on for dear life and they miss the beauty of the nature surrounding them. We also say they need to respect their own limits and pace themselves, and not to try to follow the speed of other participants.”
On the West Coast, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, stretched over 30 acres, also offers an enticing combination of nature and adventure. Just 25 minutes from Vancouver, it’s a year-round attraction, but the summers are an especially beautiful time to visit.
“With Vancouver being located in a temperate rainforest, [the summers] don’t get too hot, and the surrounding forests are lush and green, which provides for the perfect opportunity to connect with nature,” says Jared Martin, the park’s marketing manager.
Tucked away in the Capilano canyon, evenings are a great time to explore amongst the soft light peeking through the forest before sunset. Visitors have plenty of choices for spots to take in the views. Walk and wobble your way across the suspension bridge, dangling 70 metres above the Capilano River, or try the Treetops Adventure, a canopy walk that puts guests up to 33 metres into the forest canopy on a smaller suspension bridge connected to giant Douglas fir trees. It offers a squirrel’s eye view of the surrounding rainforest.
Guests can also visit Cliffwalk, a 700-metre long walk alongside a granite cliff face. Attached to the cliff via a series of steel cables and beams, it juts out at one point offering jaw-dropping views of the river below.
Martin suggests wildlife spotters should plan a visit in the mornings when the quietness provides opportunities to see local animals, like great blue heron and other birdlife, racoons and river otters swimming in the ponds. In the fall, salmon-spawning season can bring a multitude of bald eagles that soar above and below the suspension bridge and rest in the trees of the canyon.
“No matter what your thrill level might be, at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, there is something for everyone looking to brave various heights to experience nature from three breathtaking perspectives,” notes Martin. “It checks off all the boxes for those looking for the ultimate Vancouver experience in nature.”
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Look for an altitude adjustment? Try these other soaring experiences:
• Columbia Icefield Skywalk, Jasper National Park, Alta. Open in 2016, the glass-and-steel platform is suspended 280 metres over the Sunwapta Valley. It provides a ringside seat to ice-capped mountain peaks and dramatic vistas.
• WildPlay Zipline to the Falls, Niagara Falls, Ont. Enjoy the speedy 670-metre descent past the American Falls and over to an observation deck at the base of the Horseshoe Falls. There are four zip lines side-by-side so rally up friends and fellow adrenaline junkies for support.
• The Rooms, St. John’s, Nfld. If your appetite for heights is more mild than wild, the observation deck of this beloved facility, housing a museum, art gallery and provincial archives, is as tame as they come. Thrills come from the stunning view of the city’s iconic harbour.
• Midnight Dome Lookout, Dawson City, Yukon. For decades, people have come to this metamorphic rock standing 887 metres high to catch glimpses of the midnight sun. The popular spot can be reached via paved road or lace up your hiking boots and head up.
• Free Spirit Spheres, Vancouver Island, B.C. If heights lull you to sleep, then try spending the night in an orb suspended from the trees as high as five metres above the floor of the rainforest somewhere between Comox and Nanaimo. No bathroom though: Each sphere comes with its own composting outhouse located on the ground, accessible via a staircase.