lies both west and east of Stanley Park's Prospect Point, where
it is spanned by the Lions Gate Bridge at First Narrows. This aging,
three-laned structure connects Vancouver with North and West Vancouver.
The inlet expands into Coal Harbour, where much of the commercial
marine activity is centred. It contracts again at Second Narrows
where the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge links Vancouver
and Burnaby on the south
with North Vancouver on
the north. Just beyond Second Narrows, Burrard Inlet divides and
branches east to Port Moody
and north up Indian Arm, a slender, steep-sided fjord.
outer harbour is composed of English Bay and Burrard Inlet and acts
as the holding area for large, oceangoing freighters. You often
see as many as 20 ruddy-coloured ones floating high in the water
as they await their turn to take on cargoes of prairie grain, lurid
yellow sulfur, raw logs, sawdust, and finished lumber. When they
come to load, each is guided to the inner harbour by a tugboat that
possesses the muscle of a nightclub bouncer combined with the finesse
of a ma”tre'd. Their antics are fun to watch from a beach or the
Stanley Park Seawall trail. All this heavyweight activity allows
very little room for recreation in the inner harbour, other than
the rowers, whose sculls venture out at dawn and sunset from the
Vancouver Rowing Club in Stanley Park.
Strong currents that churn through First Narrows restrict small
boats to the calmer waters except at slack tide.
does make a concession to recreation - it's called False Creek.
(In fact, False Creek is much more like a narrow bay. In England,
the word 'creek' applies to a small indentation on the coast. Since
it was named by Captain Richards of the Royal Navy in the late 1850s,
we'll have to live with it.) The ocean slips in under the Burrard
Bridge and balloons past residential housing that in the past two
decades has replaced the light industry that once soiled the shoreline.
Gone are the battery recyclers with their lead and the barrel makers
with their creosote. Ocean Cement is one of the last tenants of
its kind here; its lease on Granville Island expired in 1999. The
occasional tugboat still makes its way in and out of False Creek
with a load of sand for the city works yard, but otherwise this
sheltered backwater is the playground of kayakers and canoeists,
and provides moorage for fishing boats at the federal dock and sheltered
anchorage for sailboats. The Cambie Bridge arches above False Creek's
midpoint. The polished stainless-steel dome of Science World marks
the creek's eastern perimeter.
It's easy to
think that False Creek has always been the watery playground of
the inner city. Most evenings, primarily from April to October,
the sheltered finger of Burrard Inlet teems with a mix of canoes,
dragon boats, kayaks, sculls, sailboats, tugboats, and stinkpots.
Until the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation was held on its
north shore, however, False Creek had been shabbily treated for
decades. Its condition today as one of the cleaner waterways in
Vancouver is a testimony to the recuperative powers of nature. Come
see for yourself. You can launch your own hand-carried boat from
the wharf in front of the False Creek Community Centre, 1318 Cartwright
Street, on Granville Island. Head for the loading zone beside the
centre's Cartwright Street entrance, then carry your boat past the
tennis courts and down the ramp to Alder Bay. From here it's a steady
30-minute paddle to Science Centre at the east end of False Creek.
It's an equally long paddle west to Sunset Beach in the West End,
though through choppier waters as you cross beneath the Burrard
Park has a paved driveway that can be used to launch canoes,
kayaks, or sailboats in Burrard Inlet. No motorized boats can be
launched from here. Belcarra Regional Park
lies enticingly close across Burrard Inlet to the north. On a calm
day, paddle over to explore the area around Belcarra's Admiralty
Point. Just be mindful of the occasional large freighter that may
be gliding slowly into one of the nearby oil terminals. These big
bullies can seriously ruin your day if they sneak up behind you.
If you're looking
for a place to begin a paddle on the Fraser River, Vancouver
and Burnaby's Fraser River Parks are two good sites to launch
out onto the river in a hand-carried boat. If you have a day to
spare, consider paddling between the two, a distance of about 7
miles (11 km) one way. In order to pull this off, you should arrange
transportation between the two sites in advance. Leave a vehicle
at each park or arrange to be picked up once you've completed your
journey. The ideal time to run the Fraser is a Sunday morning when
commercial traffic on the river's North Arm is light. On weekdays,
tugboats and other large vessels create a mishmash of wakes that
might swamp an open canoe. Enjoy a few quiet hours on the Fraser,
and you'll thrill to the site of blue herons, sandpipers, and dabbling
and diving waterfowl going about their business along the shore.
A thrill of a different kind is experienced as you pass beneath
all of the major bridges that link Vancouver and Burnaby with Lulu
and Sea Islands. If you're fortunate to catch the tide flowing with
you, a gentle current will carry you along. Check the tide tables
in Vancouver's daily newspapers to determine the optimum time to
make this journey. Allow six hours to make the trip one way. Places
to go ashore for a break include Vancouver's Riverfront and
Gladstone-Elliot Parks. For an abbreviated adventure, you
can paddle between one of these parks and Burnaby's Fraser River
Park, about 3 miles (5 km) round trip. You'll
miss much of the activity around the bridges, but will be spared
having to arrange land transportation between sites. You can arrange
to rent a canoe on Buntzen Lake - there is a boat launch (nonmotorized
only) at the park's South Beach.
One of the best ways to get a feeling for the Fraser Estuary is
from a small boat such as a canoe or kayak. Although the Fraser
River powers its way through the estuary in three main channels,
there are numerous backwaters where the current is not as strong
nor the wakes from passing tugboats and freighters as intimidating.
Try launching at Deas Slough and explore the nearby Ladner
Marsh area. There are two approaches, one from Deas Island Regional
Park and the other from the public boat launch at the north end
of Ferry Road on the outskirts of Ladner. (Ladner, together with
Tsawwassen to the south, is where the majority of Delta's population
resides.) Both approaches are equally well suited to exploring Deas
Slough. Deas Island Park lies 1.5 miles (2.5 km) east of the Hwy
99/Hwy 17 interchange. A small causeway links the island with River
Road. Car-top boats can be launched at the east end of Deas Slough
beside the Delta Rowing Club. From here, the entire length of the
slough stretches before you, an open invitation to steal away.
ramp on Ferry Road at the west end of Deas Slough is vehicle
accessible. This is where anglers, water-skiers, jet boats, canoes,
and kayaks launch. To reach Ferry Road, take the Ladner exit immediately
south of the George Massey Tunnel on Hwy 99. Drive west on River
Road to Ferry Road. Turn east on Ferry and drive to the launch ramp.
From here, Deas Island's rocky-pointed snout is only a quick paddle
away. The full girth of the Fraser River's South Arm lies on the
far side of Deas Island and should be paddled only at slack tide.
During falling tides, currents in the Fraser can reach almost 7
miles (11 km) per hour, although you won't experience these conditions
in the backwater on Deas' south side. The heart of the slough is
equidistant from either Ferry Road or Deas Island Park. (Note: The
gates at Deas Island Park close at 9pm; leave your vehicle outside
them if you decide to linger longer than that. The short portage
this necessitates is more than rewarded by the delight of drifting
in the slough's sleepy backwater as night falls - not to mention
being able to drive your car at all.)
If you want
to expand your journey beyond the slough, investigate the secluded
channels of Ladner Marsh and the South Arm Marshes Wildlife
Management Area that begins west of the Ferry Road boat launch
and includes all of the delta between Deas and Westham Islands.
There's also a private marina beside the public boat launch on Ferry
Road that provides private moorage.
to do at Crescent Beach in South Surrey than simply get sand between
your toes. Although swimming is the big attraction in summer,
you can launch a car-top boat and explore the coastline of Boundary
and Mud Bays, as well as the Nicomekl River, which channels
into Boundary Bay east of Crescent Beach year-round. For larger
boats, there's a ramp just east of the Burlington Northern railway
tracks in Crescent Beach. There's also a drive-in boat launch nearby
on the Nicomekl at Surrey's Elgin Heritage Park on Crescent
Drive near 35th Avenue.
no boat launch at Semiahmoo Park, if you've arrived with a car-top
boat or an inflatable raft, park as close to the end of the parking
lot as possible, beside a baseball diamond. Launch in the nearby
Campbell River and drift downstream from here. Note: Paddle
out onto Semiahmoo Bay underneath a Burlington Northern Railroad
bridge and gaze down through the clear water to the golden sand
below. This is a dreamy location. Campbell River is intertidal,
and thus more shallow at certain times than others.
One of the
best ways to explore Surrey Bend Park is in a small boat.
Use the boat launch beside the Barnston Island ferry slip at the
foot of 104th Avenue and 176th Street in Surrey. Paddle west along
Parsons Channel, hugging the south side of the Fraser River.
Make your way into the park on Central Creek, which flows into the
Fraser River at Surrey Bend a short distance west of the dock. Once
in the backwaters of Central Creek, paddlers are guaranteed hours
of enjoyment as they investigate its meandering course through shaded
second-growth forest. This is a unique, West Coast river environment.
As Surrey Bend was only given park status in 1995, there are few
visitor services in place. For the moment, visitors are expected
to make their own way around the park. What better natural path
than a meandering creek?
Over the past
decade, an increasingly large amount of land has been opened to
the public as park in the region around Pitt Lake. Today,
Grant Narrows, Widgeon Marsh, and Minnekhada Regional Parks straddle
both sides of the Pitt River as it carries water from the intertidal
lake to the nearby Fraser River. All of this abundantly rich land
is the traditional territory of the Katzie people. The four reserves
that they now occupy include one at the outlet of Pitt Lake adjacent
to Grant Narrows. The recently created Pinecone
Burke Provincial Park borders the reserve and encompasses much
of the western side of the lake, while Golden
Ears Provincial Park's boundary is the eastern shore.
It's easy to
see why the Katzie have always spent most of their time around the
south end of the lake. In times gone by, sturgeon, salmon, and eulachon
flourished in the river, while berries and wapato (a potato-like
tuber) grew in the sloughs where ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes
foraged. The abundance was staggering. Occasionally, a Katzie hunting
party would venture up the east side of the lake in search of mountain
goats. Only in summer do the surefooted animals descend the steep
slopes of the fjord in search of drinking water. Ancient pictographs
still visible on the sheer rock face above the southwest side of
the lake detail such hunting scenes. Although you'd have to make
like a goat to reach them, the red ochre shapes are clearly visible
from the lakeshore.
locations await paddlers searching for freshwater adventure and
wildlife in this region. From May to September there are canoes
for rent at both Grant Narrows and Alouette Lake, so you don't need
your own boat to share in the experience. Grant Narrows Regional
Park, at the south end of Pitt Lake, is the starting point for
river exploration of a large, intertidal marsh that includes nearby
Widgeon Creek. In Pitt Meadows, turn north off Hwy 7 at the Harris
Road stoplights east of the Pitt River Bridge where a large sign
points to Pitt Lake. Harris Road meanders north, then east. Turn
north again at Neeves Road. Once across a narrow bridge over the
Alouette River, the road becomes rougher and its name changes from
Neeves to Rennie. Deep ditches line each side of the road as mountains
begin to rise before you. You are now in Pitt Polder, travelling
beside the broad Pitt River north towards Pitt Lake. Grant Narrows
Park lies at the end of the road. Although Grant Narrows is a pocket-sized
park, it serves as the gateway to several adjacent wilderness areas,
such as the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
By far the most popular feature in the park is the boat launch.
There is a charge for trailer-mounted boats; car-top boats launch
for free. The Greater Vancouver Regional District has set aside
a large area of the marsh at the mouth of Widgeon Creek, where it
flows into the Pitt River, as a wildlife reserve. The GVRD offers
seasonal nature programs that involve paddling in the Widgeon Marsh
Creek is the destination of choice for most paddlers who sprint
across Grant Narrows to reach its protected backwater. The distance
isn't great, and it should take only 10 minutes of hard paddling
to cross the open water. Strong winds spring up on nearby Pitt Lake
in the afternoon and can kick up whitecaps that will intimidate
novice paddlers. (Note: Paddling on Pitt Lake is not recommended
because of the winds. Even experienced powerboaters on the lake
treat it with respect.) A safe approach is to launch as early in
the day as possible. In fact, to get the most out of your visit
here, explore near sunrise or sunset when wildlife is most active
and the scenery divine.
is helpfully marked by a wooden signpost that rises up above the
water of the marsh. Follow upstream, bearing to the left early on
where another signpost points towards the Forest Service recreation
site located an hour's paddle northwest of Grant Narrows. (If you
follow the branch to the right, you enter a series of secluded backwaters
perfectly suited for wildlife observation and fishing.) Late in
the summer, when water levels are at their seasonal lows, you may
have to hop out to float your canoe across a sandbar or two. Wear
a pair of old running shoes that you can slip into and out of easily.
The shoes will also come in handy when launching from Grant Narrows'
You don't have to venture far upstream before you find the first
of many fine sandy areas, suitable for sunning and picnicking. Tall
cottonwood, hemlock, and solitary Sitka spruce shade the shore as
Widgeon lazily winds its way into the folds of the nearby mountains.
A silence envelops you. The Forest Service recreation site features
a rough canoe pullout beside a broad, grassy field, where both an
old road and a trail begin. Follow either to reach Widgeon Falls.
(The old road is a holdover from the days when miners followed this
route north into the upper Pitt River valley. Today, it serves as
the southern terminus of a lengthy 8-day hiking trail through Pinecone-Burke
Provincial Park.) The hiking trail to Widgeon Falls (2.5 miles/4
km return) is a winding affair, with several steep staircases. The
road leads gently uphill to the falls and covers approximately the
same distance as the trail, but for the most scenic approach, take
the trail as it follows emerald-hued Widgeon Creek for half of the
journey. Widgeon Falls tumbles over and through a series of smooth
granite boulders. When water levels drop, it's possible to walk
out on the rock shelf beside the creek for a better look. On sunny
days you may even find a small pool for a quick dip. The best feature
of the falls is the relentless, roaring white noise it emits, a
powerful sound that clears and cleanses the mind.
follow the crowd to Widgeon Creek, take advantage of the log booms
that line the Pitt River and float south along its banks. The booms
help cut the wake of passing motorboats. Osprey nest on the tops
of the mooring posts. In these quiet waters you'll have the best
chance of observing them, as well as herons, swans, and perhaps
even exotic sandhill cranes, whose nesting ground lies nearby in
the polder. (Polders are low-lying sections of land near rivers
and oceans, dried by using a technique perfected in Holland.) Cross
over to explore the backwaters along the western side of Siwash
Island, which conceals the true riverbank at the foot of Mount
Burke. The channel between the two is shallow. In summer, the wild
smell of marsh marigolds in bloom perfumes the air.
If you're fortunate
enough to get a ride up Pitt Lake on a powerboat that also has room
to carry or tow your canoe or kayak, June is the best time to spend
a few hours exploring the intertidal waterways of Red Slough
at the north end of Pitt Lake. That's when water from freshets,
combined with semi-annual high tides, makes navigation easiest.
Broad arms of the slough invite paddlers back into the folds of
the mountains. Lurid yellow lichen cling to the glistening, black
granite walls, creating an effect as striking as an abstract expressionist
Creek Regional Park in Maple Ridge is a long corridor of protected
land that stretches almost 7 miles (11 km) inland from the Fraser
River. To explore the park by canoe or kayak, head for the car-top
boat launch in a section of the park located near Kanaka and the
Fraser's confluence. Take
7 (Lougheed Hwy) a short distance east of Maple Ridge. Just after
the highway crosses the Kanaka Creek Bridge, a green GVRD sign indicates
the way to Kanaka Creek Regional Park's Riverfront entrance.
Turn south onto River Road, cross the railway tracks, and drive
to the west end of the parking lot. The boat launch is located a
short distance from here. You can spend an idyllic 30 minutes paddling
a mile or so upstream to a fish counting station beside the 240th
Street Bridge (only open from October through mid-December). Shallow
water north of here choked with blowdowns makes paddling more difficult
- better to float back downstream through Kanaka's oxbow bends with
your binoculars at the ready. Lazily explore the last few bends
made by Kanaka between the boat launch and the Fraser. The atmosphere
in this section is one of protective solitude, with only a hint
breeze. Tall stands of evergreens and cottonwoods shade much of
the creek. From their branches, hawks eye the herons who have flown
across from their colony in Derby Reach Regional Park. Thick stands
of green vegetation are so perfectly mirrored in the creek's languid
surface that at times it is difficult to tell where the true growth
leaves off and the reflection begins. In places along the creek,
mauve, helmet-shaped penstemon flowers tower above the shoreline.
Provincial Park's Alouette Lake provides a big-lake paddling
experience. Head for the day-use area where a drive-in boat launch
is nestled beside the picnic area. Canoe and kayak rentals are available
at lakeside from June to September. The best time to explore the
length of the 10-mile (16-km) lake is early or late in the day.
Strong winds often arise at midday, which make paddling a tough
proposition. As Alouette is a flooded lake (there's an unobtrusive
earthen dam at its south end), the forest descends to the waterline.
You'll find only a few good landing spots in case of trouble; the
lake's east side is particularly rough.
If you wish
to explore the less-visited northern half of Alouette Lake, you
can save yourself an hour or more of paddling time by portaging
your canoe or kayak from the Gold Creek parking lot to North
Beach. A service road leads from the parking lot to a dock at
the beach, a 15-minute hike. As you approach Moyer Creek
two prominent features stand out on the skyline, Mounts Nutt and
Gatey. You'll find much to admire as you paddle north towards wilderness
campsites at Moyer Creek, a two-hour, 2.5-mile (4-km) paddle one
way. In summer, several small beaches stand revealed on the lake's
west side, perfect places to pause for a break in the paddling while
you enjoy a dip.