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At Crippen Regional Park, trails are made for fall picnics



Ever dream of taking a sea cruise that suits your budget? If so, head to Horseshoe Bay where a bargain price is on offer. The port of call? Snug Cove, a 20-minute cruise across Queen Charlotte Channel at the mouth of Howe Sound on Bowen Island. The cost? Same as a movie, complete with a happy ending—guaranteed. One caveat: there's no snack bar on this low-cost sailing; before you leave home, mix a little popcorn into your trail mix. Pack along a vacuum bottle of hot bevy to round out a late-season picnic in the warm heart of Crippen Regional Park and it's anchors aweigh.

If you're fortunate to visit Horseshoe Bay during the week, you'll experience an unhurried pace that makes this small village a soul-satisfying day-trip destination in itself. As befits a cove that Native peoples favoured as a meeting place for millennia—known then as ch'xáy or Chai-hai, after the swishing sound made by schools of little fish stirring up the waters of the sheltered bay—the harbourfront offers a place of calm to all comers. Now that the leaves are falling, take a seat in the open daylight as Pique did recently, and indulge in a little people-watching or beachcombing on the strand that spreads out below a formidable shell midden. If you arrive early enough before your sailing time, explore west along the harbour to appreciate Nisga'a artist Norman Tate's masterfully carved wooden doors mounted at the Boathouse Restaurant's entrance, a 20-minute round-trip walk from the terminal.

Although cruising on the Queen of Capilano is half the fun—especially when experienced outside on the bow of the main deck with the panorama of Howe Sound on full display and perhaps even a spritz of spindrift on the breeze—the best part of this voyage begins when you walk ashore into the waiting embrace of Crippen's forested and fern-carpeted trails. It's simple. Follow the flow of fellow foot passengers uphill to the top of the ferry slip, then head across the road to the former Union Steamship Store, now the island library, where Metro Vancouver Regional Parks pocket-sized maps of Crippen are on offer beside a wall-size rendition of the park's main trails that link with its nearby ocean waterfront and lead farther afield to freshwater Killarney Lake, two kilometres inland.

Take your pick of seven possible routes. First, though, catch your breath and, if it's been a choppy crossing, let your sea legs settle on solid ground. And solid is the word for the comfortably wide trails that wind sinuously through a mixed forest stippled with stumps where western red cedars once towered. Pique was pleased to discover that since a prior visit when cycling routes were few, Crippen's trails are now almost entirely designated multi-use for those on foot, riding tall in an equestrian saddle, or piloting wheels.

Just as the park's forest canopy offered cool relief from the summer sun, the onset of leaf-free season is the time to enjoy the flipside as daylight infuses the environment with an overall brightness that further intensifies when bluebird skies hold sway. For a short excursion, delight in kicking leaves along Alder Grove Trail as it passes through the Memorial Garden and descends from that meditative ridge to a lagoon sequestered by a causeway from the ocean at Deep Bay. At the far reaches, Bridal Veil Falls splashes into the lagoon alongside a fish ladder, the end point of Killarney Creek's course from headwaters in the heart of the park where hatchery-reared chum and coho salmon return in the fall.

As much as Crippen's trails offer relaxed walking routes, the flowy contour of their construction is best appreciated on a bike. This being Bowen—one of the hilliest Gulf Islands—expect a few short up-and-down sections but nothing half as challenging as found elsewhere on its narrow rural roadways. Either way, head towards Killarney Lake—a half-hour on foot—via the Hatchery Trail. Should your cruise schedule allow enough shore leave, cover the Killarney Loop Trail. While roughly half the four-kilometre route around the lake's northern shoreline is characterized by rocks and roots with two viewpoints overlooking the lake as a reward, by far the most picturesque way to appreciate this welcoming trail is clockwise from the lake's picnic area to a sandbar and boardwalks where the lake mirrors Crippen's majesty. Talk about happy endings.

Access: Bowen Island lies 115 kilometres south of Whistler via B.C. Ferries' Horseshoe Bay terminal. Round-trip passenger tickets for the Queen of Capilano cost about $12 per person with reduced fares for children aged five to 11; children younger than 5 travel free. There is an extra charge of $2 for bicycles. Call 1-888-223-3779 for sailing information or visit the BC Ferries website: bcferries.com. Allow at least 10 minutes to walk aboard from the B.C. Ferries ticket office. For info on the park, search for Crippen on the Metro Vancouver website:. Note: There are no off-leash dog zones in the park.

Pique contributor Jack Christie is the author of The Whistler Book (Greystone). For more information, visit www.jackchristie.com