The gateway to Howe Sound, the Sunshine Coast and central Vancouver Island, Horseshoe Bay is a quaint and picturesque seaside village on the North Shore of Vancouver.
Located to the northwest of Vancouver, Horseshoe Bay is best known for its BC Ferry terminal, serving Snug Cove on Bowen Island, Langdale on the Sunshine Coast, and Departure Bay in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Ferries glide in and out of Horseshoe Bay, and the wake from the larger boats creates surf as they hit the shoreline. Modest though these waves are, it’s an unusual sight in these sheltered waters.
The bedroom community of Horseshoe Bay is also the starting point of the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99), which winds through the Coast Mountains, from coastal rain forest at Horseshoe Bay, through Squamish, alongside Garibaldi Provincial Park, through the Resort town of Whistler and on to Pemberton and Lillooet.
Journeys began and ended in Horseshoe Bay long before the arrival of the first Europeans. For Native people, Horseshoe Bay was a traditional meeting place, used both as a seasonal fishing encampment and a place to spend a night when travelling between villages on the Squamish River and Burrard Inlet. The sheltered bay was called ch’xay or Chai-hai, after the swishing sound made by schools of little fish stirring up the waters of Horseshoe Bay. In 1991, it was discovered that Horseshoe Bay Park stands atop an ancient shell midden.
The pleasant waterfront of Horseshoe Bay offers quaint cafés, a wide variety of restaurants, shops and boutiques, with great views of the surrounding mountains, islands and scenic Howe Sound. Recreation in and around secluded Horseshoe Bay includes sea kayaking, scuba diving, boating, hiking, skiing and cross-country skiing.
Information on the BC Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal and other ferry routes is available in our Transportation section.
The magnificent front doors of the Boathouse Restaurant, a large wooden-sided building on the far side of Sewell’s Marina, are well worth a look. Carved by Nisga’a artist Norman Tait in traditional West Coast style, the two large panels rival those at the entrance of the University of BC’s Museum of Anthropology.
Boaters can launch from the federal dock next to the park – beside the BC Ferries Terminal. Fishing is excellent off Horseshoe Bay, and the waters around the mouth of Howe Sound are usually dotted with salmon fishermen and their boats.
Canoeing & Kayaking: Paddlers can take guided kayak tours around a nest of islands at the mouth of Howe Sound, which is flat calm and an inviting place to paddle, or explore Bowen Island’s extensive shoreline and the nearby Gambier Island and Keats Island.
Boat Rentals, guided fishing charters, sea safaris and marine dockage facilities are available at Sewell’s Marina in Horseshoe Bay. If you want to join the throng, you can rent a boat from Sewell’s Marina for fishing, sightseeing or wildlife viewing. Bring a few friends and explore the islands and inlets of Howe Sound. The family-owned marina has operated at Horseshoe Bay since the 1930s.
Golf: One of Vancouver’s oldest golf courses (1927), Gleneagles Golf Course, is located in Horseshoe Bay, surrounded by the ocean and mountains. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Hiking: By far the longest hiking route on the North Shore is the almost 30-mile (48-km) Baden-Powell Trail, the thread that knits the North Shore together into one continuous strand. The trail runs between its western terminus at Horseshoe Bay and Deep Cove on North Vancouver’s eastern perimeter. Along the way, it climbs and descends a well-trodden route that passes through both Cypress and Mount Seymour Provincial Parks. Altogether there are 12 entrances to the Baden-Powell Trail, most of which are located conveniently close to public transportation.
Cross-country Skiing: Hollyburn Ridge in Cypress Provincial Park is the domain of cross-country skiers. Hollyburn’s 10 miles (16 km) of groomed and track-set trails, as well as skating lanes, are cut through some of the most challenging terrain in Western Canada. The tradition of skiing is an old one here, dating well back into the 1920s. Evidence of this can be seen in the many rustic cabins that dot the woods. There are trails here to suit all skill levels.
Skiing & Winter Activities: Intermediate and advanced downhill skiers and snowboarders gravitate to Cypress Mountain (25 groomed runs, 1,750 feet/537 m vertical, 3 chairlifts) in Cypress Provincial Park which is literally up the road. World-class skiing is also available at Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. Skiing & Winter Activities on Vancouver’s North Shore.
Mountain Biking: The North Shore is rightfully renowned for some of the most challenging offroad mountain biking trails in the world. One of the attractions of the North Shore slopes, particularly at lower elevations, is that trails stay snow-free throughout most of the winter. This is a prime reason why many of Canada’s elite mountain-bike riders live and train in North Vancouver.
Cypress Provincial Park in the snow capped North Shore Mountains is a haven for all outdoor recreationists, and is one of the most popular year-round parks in B.C. Located just north of Horseshoe bay on Highway 99, the park encompasses several pristine mountain lakes, rugged snow capped peaks and forests of fir, hemlock and yellow cypress. Cypress provides excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities, and as always in wilderness areas, hikers should be alert for wild animals, especially bears. Sightseers make their way into Cypress Provincial Park from the Upper Levels Highway in West Vancouver along a 5-mile (8-km) paved highway. Although most visitors ride up on four wheels, others make do with two. There are four major switchbacks on the way to the top where the road ends at Cypress Bowl. The Cypress Park Viewpoint is at the second of the switchbacks. This is one of the most frequently visited locations in the park.
Visit Porteau Cove Provincial Park for the day, and park beside the jetty. This is a wonderful place to enjoy the spectacular views of Howe Sound while watching wet-suited divers enter or emerge from the cold waters of the Sound. Eat your picnic at one of the numerous tables spread around the broad, driftwood-littered beaches on both sides of the jetty. Take a walk to the viewpoint on the trail that leads west from the walk-in campsites and up onto the forested bluff. Porteau Cove Provincial Park provides vehicle camping spots and walk-in sites, and as this is the only provincial campground on Howe Sound, campsites are in constant demand.
Whytecliff Marine Park: The rugged shoreline and cobble beach of Whytecliff Marine Park in Horseshoe Bay became Canada’s first Marine Protected Area. Upwards of 200 marine animal species, with exotic names such as the speckled sanddab or the sunflower seastar call these waters home. Beside the beach, interpretive signs explain in words and pictures the variety of marine life to be found beneath the waves.
Diving: Whytecliff Marine Park has become a magnet for local divers. After a day at the office, scuba divers come to experience a little weightlessness as they float off into the nether world just offshore, where temperatures matter little year-round, provided you dress appropriately.
A 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay lands you on Bowen Island. Bowen is a paradise of trails, from relatively easy loops around Killarney Lake in Crippen Regional Park to the burning climb up Mount Gardner. The island is a world unto itself, so take the time to explore and revel in Bowen’s sedated pace. Although the tempo may be relaxed, mountain bikers will find the roads that ring the island demanding, with few level stretches and even fewer beach-access points for well-deserved breaks. For a map of Bowen Island, stop at the island’s gas station near the ferry dock.
North of Horseshoe Bay is the small seaside village of Lions Bay, nestled at the base of the Coast Mountain Range, surrounded by majestic mountains, with spectacular views of the ocean and the Gulf Islands.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and Coast Mountains Circle Tour. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, take the Fraser Valley Circle Tour, travelling outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.