Beaches and Picnic Spots on Vancouver Island
Qualicum Beach, about 7.5 miles (12 km) north of Parksville beside Hwy 19A, gently spreads in front of one of the most pleasant small towns on east side of Vancouver Island. Pause here at any of the numerous beachside pullouts and smell the salt air intermingled with the perfume from the many private and public floral displays. From this point northwards, the pace of Vancouver Island slackens noticeably. Not that the southern portion is any more hurried, it’s just that there are more people and more congestion. From here north, there is less traffic, and what habitation there is clings to a narrow coastal plain beside the ocean.
Spider Lake Provincial Park is a small lake located 5 miles (8 km) west of Hwy 19A near Horne Lake. There is a lovely stretch of beach beside the warm, clear waters of the lake, on which no motorized boats are allowed. If you’re looking for a respite from travel, spend an hour or two picnicking here at any time year-round; take a dip in summer and toss in a hook if you like smallmouth bass. The lake is indented by a number of bays, particularly at its north end, which makes for quiet exploring in a canoe or rowboat.
The beaches around Comox are usually overlooked by visitors, which is a shame. Take the time to drive east of Hwy 19 as it passes through Courtenay and follow the signs to the BC Ferries terminal in Comox. Miles of sandy shore lead off both north and south of the quiet little coastal town, whose charm has not been overwhelmed by either the nearby Canadian Forces Air Base or the more recent influx of arrivals that south Vancouver Island has experienced.
Kye Bay, 3 miles (5 km) north of Comox off Lazo Road, has a long, sandy beach, as does Goose Spit Regional Park, which noses out into Comox Harbour at the west end of Hawkins Road. Kin Beach Park on Kilmorley Road south of the ferry terminal is a good spot to pass time if you’re waiting for a sailing. Texada Island’s dark form lies in the strait directly east of Comox, while Denman Island lies to the south.
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A broad stretch of sandy beach stands revealed at low tide in Seal Bay Regional Park on Bates Rd. Also called Xwee Xwhya Lug, a place with an atmosphere of serenity, by the Comox Native Band, a 0.6-mile (1-km) walk from the parking area through a forested ravine leads to this wide beach. The Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue Association publishes a detailed map of the Comox Valley that provides invaluable assistance in finding all of these beaches. It is available throughout the Comox Valley.
As you pass through Campbell River, it’s hard not to notice strollers and cyclists meandering along Oyster Bay Shoreline Regional Park, a shoreline bike-and-walking trail with gravel beaches and great views across to Quadra Island. Pulverized oyster shells speckle the gravel with a bright, white hue. The trail winds for much of the distance from the town’s southern perimeter to the central harbour, passing the new museum on the hillside above the beach. The occasional picnic table and park bench invite travellers to pull over and join the fun.
As you make your way across the island to the west coast, Hwy 4 passes beside a number of fine locations for picnicking and swimming. You’ll find both at the Cameron Lake and Beaufort provincial picnic grounds adjacent to the campground in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Picnic tables are arranged beside the beach. Strong winds blow here in the afternoon, which attracts windsurfers but definitely deters those in small boats.
You can spend days walking the beaches between Ucluelet and Tofino, and in the process discover why some folks spend their whole lives caught up in the surf and tidal rhythms here. Radar Beach, Long Beach, Combers Beach, and Wickaninnish Beach run successively from north to south and stretch for 15.5 miles (25 km) between Cox and Quisitas Points. Together they comprise the Long Beach Unit of beaches. Radar Beach is rugged and puts up a fight when pummelled by the surf. Exercise great caution within range of the surf anywhere on these beaches.
If you only have a short amount of time, head directly to Long Beach, the most easily accessible and also the longest – 6 miles (10 km) long! Depending on the season and the height of the swells in Wickaninnish Bay, not to mention the thickness of the mist, you may see surfers, sea kayakers, cyclists, kite flyers, hackey-sackers, disc tossers, swimmers, joggers, and walkers at play on the hard-packed sand. The scene here is as alive as you want to make it, and there’s room to spare. Something about the enormity of Long Beach just makes you goofy. Take Hwy 4 north towards Tofino. The highway runs beside the beach – you’ll recognize it on sight. There is parking on the south end at Green Point Campground, as well as at the north end of Long Beach. The short trail that leads from the parking lot at Green Point passes a long row of picnic tables sheltered by the salal and stunted Sitka spruce, and deposits visitors at the halfway point on Wickaninnish Bay. To the north are Radar Beach and Long Beach; to the south are Combers Beach and Wickaninnish Beach.
Rocky headlands bookend Wickaninnish Bay, but south and north of it are four equally beautiful sandy expanses, each with a variation on the overall mood of isolation that characterizes these ‘outside’ waters. Wreck Beach on Florencia Bay is 3 miles (5 km) long and lies at the south end of the Long Beach Unit. It’s easily reached from Hwy 4, 3 miles (5 km) north of the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction. Turn west onto Long Beach Road, then south at the first fork. The Wickaninnish Bay Interpretive Centre lies nearby at the end of Long Beach Road.
Cox Bay, Chesterman, and MacKenzie Beaches lie to the north of the Long Beach Unit, between the northern boundary of Pacific Rim National Park and Tofino. There’s public access to each of them, though you’ll have to do some backroad driving to find it. A small park on Mackenzie Beach is a good place to begin. Take Mackenzie Beach Road west of Hwy 4 (Pacific Rim Hwy) and watch for a small roadside parking area and picnic table at the end of the road. Chesterman Beach is reached via Lynn Rd, which loops west from Hwy 4. Cox Bay Beach is reached by following the road to the Pacific Sands Resort west of Hwy 4.
Ucluelet has two beaches in particular that welcome picnickers. A trail leads from Bay St to Big Beach. You’ll find picnic tables near the trailhead and then a lengthy walk to the beach. A much shorter approach leads through He-Tin-Kis Park to Terrace Beach near the Amphitrite Point lighthouse at the south end of Peninsula Road. Ahous Beach on Vargas Island, north of Tofino, is now part of a new provincial park. To reach it you must either paddle to the sheltered east side of the island and walk across to it on an old telegraph trail, or brave the swells and head right for the beach itself on the exposed west side of the island.
Once on the beach you’ll be able to explore for hours. Small coves filled with blue mussel shells brighten the scene at Ahous Beach. Two small islands offshore stand landlocked to Vargas at low tide and have done battle with the elements for thousands of years; they are windshaped into the appearance of gladiator helmets. An intertidal lagoon fills and empties throughout the day. Depending on the height of the tide, you can cross the mouth of the lagoon to explore farther north along the beach. Be cautious so that your return won’t be blocked by high water.
If there’s one landscape most associated with oceans, it’s beaches. Finding the best ones along the southwestern coast is not difficult, as almost all of them have been protected as provincial parks. Beginning at French Beach, a necklace of sites is strung north to Port Renfrew, where the most fabulous of all – Botanical Beach – is located. Although they are situated within a fairly narrow range, each one has its own personality.
French Beach Provincial Park, about 14 miles (22 km) west of Sooke, is more protected than the rest from the full force of the ocean by the Olympic Peninsula, on the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s also the easiest to reach. You can drive to within a short distance of the beach here, whereas a 10- to 45-minute walk is required to reach the other beaches, depending on the location. A wide swath of lawn fronts this pea-gravel beach where you can picnic, swim, beachcomb, and watch for wildlife. Above all, your attention will be drawn to the pulse of the waves as they break, race up the beach, and grab some gravel to take back with them. The stirring sound of the wind in the trees high above tells you that you’ve left the inner coast behind.
The hillsides above most beaches here plunge down San Juan Ridge. In Juan de Fuca Provincial Park the trails to China Beach and Mystic Beach are surprisingly steep, whereas those to Sandcut Beach, Sombrio Beach, and Botanical Beach are gentler. Once you reach these beaches, however, it’s as if you’ve suddenly been let in on the action hidden behind the scenes in nearby Victoria. Even at the busiest times you’ll have plenty of beach to yourself, though you might be surprised to find how calm the ocean can get for weeks at a time in summer. These are the long, lazy, endless days when the Pacific itself becomes laid-back. It becomes so relaxed that even the signposts take a break.
Although you’ll find the approaches to China Beach and Botanical Beach well marked off Hwy 14, others such as Sandcut, Mystic, and Sombrio may be more elusive. Sandcut is 1.2 miles (2 km) south of Jordan River; Mystic is just north of China Beach, and the turnoff for Sombrio is just north of Loss Creek Provincial Park. With the exception of Sombrio Beach, which has its own parking lot downhill from Hwy 14, park beside the highway and follow the trail to the beach.
If you have time to visit only one beach, Sombrio is a standout. A rough road leads downhill from Hwy 14, 11 miles (18 km) south of Port Renfrew, to an open parking space. A well-worn trail leads to the beach in 5 minutes. Until recently, a community of squatters lived here, as this is one of the few beaches where freshwater is guaranteed year-round. You’ll have to cross Sombrio Creek and pass through a salal hedge to reach the fine gravel beach. Driftwood is in plentiful supply for use as backrests, picnic tables, and temporary shelters.
A steep trail leads to Mystic Beach, rougher than the one to nearby China Beach but just as enchanting. Plan on 15 minutes to walk to each. Part of the charm of visiting these beaches is admiring the rain forest that thrives in this moist climate. Thick moss coats the forest floor, while wispy strands of Spanish moss trail from the trunks and limbs of second-growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar. Salal, Oregon grape, and evergreen huckleberries form much of the underbrush, while in damp areas a variety of ferns adds to the riot of growth that feeds on the nutrient-rich ocean air. Aptly named Mystic Beach conjures an image of foggy mornings, paisley sunsets, and reverberating surf. You’ll find that and more here, including twin caves at the north end of the beach that are neat to explore at low tide, along with broad, flat, multihued rock outcroppings covered with a zillion green life forms.
One of the best views anywhere on southern Vancouver Island of the Olympic Mountains occurs along Hwy 14 almost 5 miles (8 km) west of China Beach Provincial Park. To get maximum enjoyment, head a short distance uphill on one of the logging roads that lead off the highway in this vicinity. In a clear-cut, there’s nothing to block your view.
The easiest beach to reach by far is that at Jordan River (or River Jordan, as shown on some maps), a small settlement between French Beach and China Beach, and home of the West Coast Surfing Association (also called the Jordan River Surf Club). Hwy 14 makes one of its only approaches to the ocean here before beginning to climb San Juan Ridge once more. You’ll find picnic tables here at a small recreation site.
One of the glorious things about the Victoria region is that you can picnic here year-round, something that much of the rest of the province (and rest of the country!) has always envied. Each season has its unique character, and life is always assuming new forms. Spring and fall migrations of birds and fish animate the landscape. Evergreen forests brighten a winter landscape that otherwise lies unveiled once deciduous trees drop their summer foliage. Even snow makes the occasional appearance, though it rarely remains for long. Summer droughts and winter rains determine the songs sung by rivers and creeks.
Without doubt, Sidney Spit on Sidney Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, has the finest beaches of any park in the Victoria region. The hitch is that visiting this park requires a boat ride from the town of Sidney. Ferry service to Sidney Island runs during summer months; otherwise, you must make your own arrangements to get here. The trip takes 15 minutes one way. There is a charge for adults, with reduced rates for seniors and children ages 12 years and under. Ferry service begins at 9am on weekdays and 10am on weekends. The boat holds 35 passengers and leaves from the Sidney Marina just north of the Beacon St dock.
Island View Beach Regional Park is located on the east side of the Saanich Peninsula in North Saanich. Follow Island View Road east from Hwy 17 a short distance to this gentle cobble- and driftwood-strewn beach. Good views of James and Sidney Islands, and beyond to Mount Baker, make this a pleasant, no-charge alternative to taking the ferry to Sidney. An unbroken string of small islands seem to fold into each other offshore. If you get bored watching the action from the shore, there’s wildlife viewing in the open fields behind the beach. The best access to the beach is at the entrance to the park and from the parking lot on the north side of an adjacent private RV park. (Note: The entire beach is public.) Locals use the beach area north of the park fronting Indian reserve land for discreet, clothing-optional tanning. The beach leads a long way north to the tip of Cordova Point.
Several picnic tables stand beneath the spreading trees next to Eagle Beach in Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park, but visitors will find the sound of traffic on nearby Hwy 17 hard to ignore. A stand of tall Douglas firs shelters North Beach and the beach around Cowquitz Creek at the south end of nearby Beaver Lake from traffic. Picnicking here is much more pleasant. The turnoff from Hwy 17 to Beaver Lake is well marked.
Coles Bay Regional Park, a small park on Saanich Inlet, has a rough, barnacle-covered rock beach typical of the peninsula’s west side. Bring along a pair of beach shoes to best enjoy the environment. The water in this deep fjord is always invigorating. The park is located on Inverness Road off Ardmore Drive, a short distance west of Hwy 17A (West Saanich Road).
Three small lakes dot the slopes of Mount Work Regional Park. Depending on your mood, the weather, and the season, freshen up in Durrance or Pease Lake on the north side of the park once you’ve completed the hike to the top of the mountain, or just relax at lakeside and enjoy the woodland ambience. Fork Lake lies at the south end of the hiking trail to the summit of Mount Work. To reach Durrance Lake, take Wallace Dr west of Hwy 17A, then follow Willis Point Road until the lake appears on its north side. Pease Lake is a short distance father west. Follow Willis Point Road to Ross Durrance Road and head south to the lake. Fork Lake is reached by following Millstream Road north of Hwy 1 west of Victoria, then turning northeast on Munnis Road.
Thetis Lake Regional Park lies on the west side of Victoria, about 7 miles (12 km) from the city centre in View Royal. Sandy beaches front the park’s two heavily indented lakes, which are connected by a thin canal. If you have a canoe or kayak, you can reach some of the more remote beaches; otherwise, enjoy yourself within an easy walk of the parking lot. To reach Thetis Lake, head west of Victoria on Hwy 1 and watch for signs that point the way north of the highway to the park. Note: Although several hiking trails originate from Thetis Lake Road, the beach is reached by following West Park Lane, about 6 miles (10 km) from the city centre.
Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park west of Victoria offers yet another perspective on the coastline. A long swath of sandy beach curves gently along Strait of Juan de Fuca, protecting a crucial marshland from the full force of waves and wind. Find a sturdy piece of driftwood and shelter from the constant breeze, which even in summer has a fresh edge to it. From this vantage point, you can look across the strait to the towering heights of the Olympic Mountains in Washington and its signature glaciated formation, Hurricane Ridge. The shallow beach makes for a pleasant warm-water swim after the tide rises over sun-heated rocks. There are several entrances to the park. For quick access to the beach, take Hwy 14 west of Victoria, then turn south on Metchosin Road. The well-marked trailhead at Sitting Woman Falls is located opposite the Metchosin Golf Course. Allow 10 to 15 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the beach.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is located north of Hwy 14 and just east of Sooke. The Galloping Goose Trail runs past this small day-use park. Swimming in the potholes that have been carved in the sandstone in the Sooke River provides ideal refreshment on hot summer days. This site has been luring picnickers from the Victoria region for years, so don’t be surprised by the controlled mayhem when you arrive. Picnic tables line the river next to the parking area, and the potholes are just steps beyond.
Beaches and Picnic Spots on the Southern Gulf Islands
As you explore from island to island, you’ll find dozens of small beaches along the convoluted shorelines. While all shoreline is public land in British Columbia, not all of it is easily reached, nor does much of it provide a pleasant place to relax while watching the ebb and flow of the tides. Here’s a sampling of some of the best and most readily accessible places in the Southern Gulf Islands.
One of the prettiest beaches on all the islands is at Ruckle Provincial Park on Saltspring Island. A trail leads down to the secluded beach from the nearby campground. It’s easy to imagine generations of island families making their way here on hot summer days when the Ruckle farm was in full swing. A tall forest surmounts the beach, much of it sturdy first-growth Douglas fir, but there are also a number of hardwood species planted by the Ruckles that are a delight come fall. This beach is a wonderful refuge from the outside world, a place to find a sturdy piece of driftwood for a backrest and relax.
Drummond Park at the head of nearby Fulford Harbour has a more exposed pebble beach to explore. Look for the ancient pictograph image carved in the face of one of the larger boulders on the beach. Although the wooded setting at Weston Lake, about 2 miles (3 km) north of Fulford Harbour, is less picturesque than by the ocean, there is a sandy beach here where you can enjoy a freshwater swim.
One of the best beaches on the Pender Islands is at Mortimer Spit, close to the canal between the two islands. A snout of sand where you’ll find plenty of room and few visitors to share the beach with juts out into Navy Channel. A more popular spot is just north at Hamilton Beach at Port Browning. You’ll find a more festive atmosphere here in summer with a pub, marina, cafe, and picnic tables beside the beach. On the far shore, visible from Hamilton, is a sandy strip of beach at Razor Point. Take Bedwell Bay Road south from the ferry dock at Otter Bay to reach Hamilton Beach. Follow Razor Point Road east of Port Browning to find the small beach on the point.
If you take the time to travel to the very end of South Pender Island, you’ll find the small beach park at Gowlland Point Park, the prettiest of all the beaches on the two Penders. A pebble beach slopes down to an indented shoreline. During winter storms, which pound this exposed coast with regularity, the ocean moves the cobblestones around with percussive effect. From the beach, you look due south into the San Juan Islands, west across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Hurricane Ridge on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and east to Saturna Island’s Monarch Head, with Mount Baker rising above the mainland. To reach the park from the ferry dock, follow Bedwell Bay, Canal, Spalding, and finally Gowlland Point Road to its southern terminus. If you want solitude, this is where to find it.
Much of the beach at Miners Bay on Mayne Island is composed of a gently sloping shelf of smooth rock. At low tide much of this table rock is revealed and makes for interesting exploration. Miners Bay is the commercial hub of Mayne Island and is anchored by the historic Springwater Lodge. Make your way from the ferry dock along Village Bay Road, an easy walk or bike ride. A beautiful sand-and-pebble beach is located on Mayne Island’s east side at Campbell Bay. The trail leading down to the beach is not well marked but isn’t difficult to locate. Follow Georgina Point Road east of Miners Bay to its junction with Waugh Road. Head south on Waugh, and as the road rounds Campbell Bay, watch for a shady trail that runs down the embankment to the ocean below. An overhanging forest shades the beach, providing a cool place to relax out of the sun. Big pieces of driftwood sit mired in the sand, ready to prop you up to enjoy the view as you look due east across the strait towards Vancouver.
Beaches and Picnic Spots on the Discovery Islands
Even though there are no public campgrounds on some islands, there are attractive parks especially for picnickers, located where you can take best advantage of the seaside environment. Whether you’re on the island just for the day or have made arrangements for private overnight accommodation, you’ll want to head for these places to complement your visit.
Every island is invested with magic. Those who visit Hornby Island have really bought into the dream, as it takes two ferries to reach. Once there, head for the picnic grounds at Tribune Bay Provincial Park or Helliwell Provincial Park. The latter sits on a headland forested with a beautiful stand of old-growth Douglas fir. If you arrive here in spring you’ll be treated to a dazzling wildflower display. The rewards of visiting later in summer are the huckleberries and dark blue salal berries that cloak the hillside above the beach. Tribune Bay boasts eroded hoodoo formations and a sandy beach that vies with any in the Gulf Islands as the most ideal place to frolic and swim.
You’ll get to tour Quadra Island on the way to your picnic in Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park. The park lies on the east side of the island at sheltered Drew Harbour, almost 6 miles (9 km) from the ferry landing at Quathiaski Cove. There are more picnic tables here than on any other island, and a prettier sandy beach than almost anywhere else on Quadra. Anglers launch from the ramp here, and it’s a good place to pick up word on the health of fish stocks.
Cortes Island is blessed with both a provincial campground at Smelt Bay and a sublime picnic and fishing location at Mansons Landing Marine Provincial Park. If they aren’t biting in the saltchuk (‘chuk’ is a Native word for water) just turn your attention to the fish in Hague Lake, a freshwater lake located within the park, a rarity in the Marine Provincial park system. A wide, sandy beach beckons to those who just wish to spread a blanket beside a driftwood backrest and dig into the cooler.
For those who journey the length of Lasqueti Island, there’s picnicking and swimming at Squitty Bay Provincial Park, 9 miles (15 km) south of the ferry dock at False Bay. You’ll be ready to drink from the freshwater pump by the time you arrive here. Picnic tables are arrayed among the spray-shaped forest of Douglas fir and strawberry arbutus (madrona). This idyllic location overlooks two narrow coves where the water is clear, green, and warm in summer months. A portion of the park is fenced off to protect it from the feral sheep that graze all over the island. Years ago, a small meadow was cleared above the beach at Squitty Bay, where there are still signs of a old orchard.
Without doubt, the best beaches in the entire inland sea are found on Savary Island offshore from Lund on the Sunshine Coast. Unfortunately, few visitors travelling without a boat will get the opportunity to stroll them. Savary is not serviced by public ferry so transportation is limited to water taxi or airplane. If you do have a boat, kayak, or canoe, the First or Second Beaches on the island’s north side are the easiest to reach. It’s debatable which side of the snout-shaped island has the best beaches – when you’re in heaven, it doesn’t matter which side of the street you walk on.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in Greater Vancouver
Although there are some lovely beaches along a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of the outer harbour of Vancouver, principally along English Bay, many of them have come into being only in this century. Some, like Wreck Beach, Spanish Banks Beach, Locarno Beach, and Jericho Beach on Vancouver’s west side, receive regular deposits of sand courtesy of the Fraser River’s silt-laden plume, which arches around Point Grey into English Bay. Sand has been trucked in to create the beaches in the West End on English Bay, including those in Stanley Park.
The sand at Stanley Park’s Third Beach is noticeably coarser and brighter in texture and colour than at either First or Second Beach. A large, freshwater swimming pool is located next to Second Beach. All three beaches are located on the west side of Stanley Park, just off Stanley Park Drive.
Of all the outdoor swimming areas in Vancouver, Kitsilano Beach is one of the most festive. Kitsilano Beach Park’s enormous, heated, saltwater pool stands outdoors beside a wide stretch of beach opposite Cornwall Avenue. On bright summer days the atmosphere at Kits pool is one of controlled frenzy, while action on the beach is more characteristically mellow, a reflection of this neighbourhood’s laid-back reputation. More than a dozen volleyball courts and nets are arranged on the beach. Both organized and informal games rule here in the heat. As at all city beaches, there are hot showers and change rooms. Located on the north side of Cornwall St between Arbutus and Vine Avenues, Kits Beach also features several dozen tennis courts. Most visitors like to congregate in this area. However, the farther north you walk along the broad beach, the less crowded it becomes.
A tall stand of trees shades nearby Kitsilano Point at the north end of Arbutus Street, the best place to picnic in hot weather. Splash in the modest surf while the barbeque fires up. Kits Point is also a prime spot to watch the international fireworks competition held in July on English Bay. At such times the Kits Point neighbourhood (as well as much of the West End) is closed to vehicle traffic. Come early in the evening to get a good view. Rounding Kitsilano Point, the beach continues east to Vanier Park.
Jericho Beach Park, Locarno Beach, and Spanish Banks Beach might well be considered as one since they connect to each other along Point Grey’s 3.7-mile (6-km) shoreline. For the past two decades, the three-day Vancouver Folk Festival has been held in July in Jericho Beach Parks lush, weeping willow-draped grounds. During the day, musicians from around the world entertain on small stages in intimate settings. Passersby can tune in for free to the evening performances held on the main stage, as amplified melodies waft over the security fence and onto the beach. Just park yourself on one of the driftwood logs that dot the beach and revel in the waves – wave lengths, that is – which don’t recognize any borders.
Farther west lie tennis courts, a viewing pier that attracts anglers and crab fishers, and the Jericho Sailing Centre. Watch for the wild bunnies of Kitsilano, which make the bramble bushes on the hillside above the beach their home. They play a constant game of ‘catch me if you can’ with the local coyotes. Jericho Beach is easily reached from Fourth Avenue west of Alma Street in the Point Grey neighbourhood. Just west of Jericho, Fourth Avenue heads uphill towards the University of British Columbia (UBC) while NW Marine Drive leads downhill to Locarno and Spanish Banks. The two roads reconnect at the UBC campus. The #4 bus travels this route.
Locarno Beach begins just north of the Jericho Sailing Centre. A pedestrian and cycle path runs beside the beach from here west to Spanish Banks Beach. If you’re looking for seclusion, there are more tucked-away places along Spanish Banks’ sheltered beach than at Locarno’s open expanse.
When the tide goes out between Jericho and Spanish Banks, it goes way out. This is a good place to explore the sand flats and get a closer look at the freighters anchored offshore. At low tide, skim boarders gather here to play in the tide pools. At this point the forest closes in as the hillside begins to rise towards the University of British Columbia. The border of Pacific Spirit Regional Park lies on the south side of Marine Drive. Pacific Spirit Park’s corridor of protected land stretches from the North Arm of the Fraser River to Acadia Beach at the mouth of English Bay. In addition to its forested environment, a shoreline perimeter of rock, pebble, and sand beach rings Point Grey between Acadia Beach and Wreck Beach.
The atmosphere is definitely different at Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s official clothing-optional beach. ‘Bare as you dare’ is the byword here, and most bathers wear little more than smiles and sunscreen. Owing to the steep hillside that surmounts the beach, visitors have to make their way down to it from Marine Drive at one of three approaches on the UBC campus: Trail 3, Trail 4, or Trail 6 (the numbers correspond to the entrance gates to the university along Marine Drive, which encircles the university). Allow 10 minutes to make the descent, which is often slippery at wet times of the year. Trail 6 leads to the kookier part of the beach, where at the height of summer strolling, vendors proffer a variety of mood- altering substances, from frozen daiquiris to headier fare. Traditionalists will enjoy the more tranquil side of Wreck Beach, reached via Trails 3 and 4. (Note: ‘Wrecked’ Beach is regularly patrolled by members of UBC’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment.)
You can also walk around to Wreck Beach from Spanish Banks. It’s a lengthy stroll, made more difficult by the soft sand and piles of driftwood, particularly when the ocean crowds up against the hillside at high tide. Along the way you’ll pass an old concrete gun emplacement, left over from defence preparations during World War II. The views from the beach, and from some opened sections of trail in the forest, are of the Coast Mountains as they run along the North Shore and along the Sunshine Coast. From Point Grey the views expand out across the Strait of Georgia towards Vancouver Island. The nature of the shoreline changes as it rounds the point and begins to follow the mudflats beside the North Arm of the Fraser River. Booming Ground Trail (3 miles/5 km return) follows the river from the UBC Gate 6 and 7 entrances east towards the Musqueam Indian Reserve. There’s always plenty of activity to watch on the Fraser, from herons stalking the beach to a constant parade of boats, particularly on weekends. The occasional harbour seal will pop its head up to check you out. There’s a tranquillity here and also a feeling of great release as the muddy Fraser rolls out into the strait, its momentum finally spent.
Barnet Marine Park in Burnaby is located on the site of an old logging community that flourished in the first half of the 20th century. All that remain are the massive concrete towers and a squat scrap burner hunkered on the broad beach. Burnaby has replaced the old wharfs with a pier from which visitors can scan Burrard Inlet for marine and birdlife. A large boomed-off swimming section fronts the hard-packed sandy beach. Picnic tables with barbeque stands are shaded by tall poplars. There’s also a boat launch here. A level pathway leads west of the park and runs for much of the distance towards the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge. It provides visitors to Barnet with a chance to walk or cycle on those overcast days when the beach is not the exclusive reason for visiting this charming site. To find the park, drive east from Vancouver on Hastings Street towards Port Moody. This route leads to the Barnet Hwy – you’ll see the signed entrance to Barnet Marine Park on your left. Thick foliage hides any view of the park from the road, and railway tracks obscure the shoreline. Park and walk across the tracks to reach the beach.
Although Belcarra Regional Park and Buntzen Lake Recreation Area are both located directly across Burrard Inlet from Barnet Marine Park, it will take you 30 minutes to drive around the end of the inlet to reach them. Follow Hastings Street east through Burnaby to its junction with the Barnet Hwy, then east to Port Moody. As you enter Port Moody, turn left onto St. John’s Street; six stoplights later, turn left again onto well-marked Ioco Road. In hot months the beaches at Belcarra’s Sasamat Lake and at nearby Buntzen Lake are so popular that park information signs, which appear immediately after you turn onto Ioco Road, will tell you if Belcarra and Buntzen are full. (You can probably sense this on a hot day before you even leave the house. On weekends, unless you get an early start for their beaches, look elsewhere for a destination.) Ioco Road soon turns left at an intersection marked by a green GVRD sign pointing the way to Belcarra. The route to Buntzen lies straight ahead at this well-marked intersection along Heritage Mountain Road.
Once at Sasamat Lake, follow the signs to White Pine Beach. There’s plenty of parking here on a benchland above the sandy beach. There’s one critical difference between this beach and nearby Buntzen Lake: although the sun shines equally warm on both, the water in Buntzen is far colder than in Sasamat.
There are two beaches at Buntzen Lake, one at each end. You can drive to South Beach, where there is a boat launch (nonmotorized only) but you’ll have to paddle, or walk or cycle along a gated access road from the parking lot to North Beach. Whereas South Beach has a gentle incline, the lake drops off sharply at North Beach. One of the lake’s attractive features includes a small island offshore from South Beach, a magnet for stronger swimmers.
Vancouver and Burnaby both have beaches on the Fraser River’s North Arm, and both are named Fraser River Park. Watching activity on the Fraser is the main attraction from both beaches. The beach at Burnaby’s Fraser River Park lies at the south end of Byrne Road off Marine Drive in Burnaby. Vancouver’s lies at the corner of 75th and Angus.
Undoubtedly the most popular beach north of the Fraser Valley is at Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park. You can drive right to the beach at the lake’s south end, or take 15 minutes to hike to North Beach from the Gold Creek parking lot. Water temperatures in the dammed lake warm up quickly, and by the middle of May there’s bound to be a melee of bodies stretched out in the sun here. It’s a far different picture in winter when water levels (and temperatures) drop, but the mood is still magical. The forested slopes of the steep-sided valley are reflected on the lake’s surface, although you have to paddle out onto it in order to truly appreciate the sight of the surrounding peaks. The longest stretch of beach is located at the Alouette day-use area near the park entrance; the approach is gentle, and is suited to wheelchairs and strollers. Farther north, Campers Beach lies beside the Alouette Campground. Campers Beach is near a hillside, so a short walk down a pleasant path and staircase is necessary to reach it.
Picnic shelters are located at Alouette Lakes popular day-use area in Golden Ears Provincial Park. A strong breeze blows here in the afternoon, so pack a full hamper to help anchor the tablecloth. The open setting looks east across the lake towards the far shore, where a future expansion of the park is planned. They just can’t build this beach big enough! And such a beach.
Life on the Fraser River is often best viewed from a beach. Unfortunately, many of the river’s best beaches (or ‘bars’) are leased to lumber companies for logging booms. Several exceptions lie on either side of Fort Langley, at Derby Reach Regional Park and Glen Valley Regional Park. The hard-packed beaches at Derby Reach’s Edgewater Bar and Glen Valley’s Two Bit, Poplar, and Duncan Bars are wide, gently sloping stretches of sand, perfect to stroll on while watching the river flow. Blue herons glide by above, while in the river a seal will occasionally poke up its head to check you out, sometimes with a fish in its mouth. Although 30 miles (50 km) upriver from the mouth of the Fraser, tidal action in the river is still powerful enough to leave more (or less) of the beach exposed, depending on the time of your visit.
One of the best picnic sites south of the Fraser Valley is located at Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley. An unspoken welcome permeates the atmosphere. Eat a little, explore a little, eat a little more – you know the routine. Choose from any of three tabled sites or simply bring a blanket and spread yourself beneath the arms of the Hanging Tree, an imposing bigleaf maple in the valley bottom beside the Little River Loop Trail. Picnic tables and toilets are located at the North Valley and South Valley entrances, as well as at the Campbell Valley Downs Equestrian Centre. The park can be reached from either Hwy 1 or 99.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in the Okanagan Valley and South Okanagan
Christie Memorial Provincial Park is a very popular day-use site on Skaha Lake. The park is located at the town of Okanagan Falls on Hwy 97. There are three developed beaches on Okanagan Lake at Kickininee Provincial Park: Kickininee, Pyramid, and Soorimpt (which features a boat launch). Take Hwy 97 about 9 miles (14.5 km) north of Penticton and bring your snorkelling gear to explore the lake’s treasures. Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park, south of Summerland on Highway 97, has one of the most superb beaches in the valley and features two public boat launches nearby. Its name combines the words ‘sunny’ and ‘Okanagan.’
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, south of Vernon off Kalamalka Road and Hwy 6, has year-round appeal, especially if you’re looking for a north Okanagan getaway that doesn’t involve really getting away. On the northeast side of Kalamalka Lake (Lake of a Thousand Colours), this park is a well-preserved remnant of the natural grasslands that once stretched from Vernon to Osoyoos. Its easy walking trails wind through the grassland slopes and along lightly forested ridges. Scenic cliff-top viewpoints overlook a rocky shoreline indented with bays and tiny coves.
From the spectacular wildflower display in the spring to the relative seclusion of the beaches and boating spots in summer; from the golden-hued forests in autumn to the rolling, cross-country ski trails in winter, this park is a favourite with visitors year-round. Two archaeological sites lie within park boundaries, and you may see coyote, deer, or black bear but are most likely to observe Columbian ground squirrels and yellow-bellied marmots. Pacific rattlesnakes, shy creatures who wish only to be left alone, are an important part of this fascinating ecosystem.
Mara Provincial Park, at Mara Lake north of Enderby, has a broad beach and boat launch. Take Hwy 97A to reach the park, which is situated along the east side of Mara Lake.
The Trans-Canada Highway: Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park, north of Yale on Hwy 1, provides an interesting place to stop in the Fraser Canyon. An interpretative display gives picnickers an idea of the canyon’s history. The canyon was a major obstacle to transportation developers who needed to link Interior locales with the rapidly urbanizing coastal settlements, and it has seen the passing of Simon Fraser; the road building of the Royal Engineers; the fur brigade; thousands of gold seekers; railway, highway, and bridge builders; and early truckers. Since the Cariboo gold-rush days of the 1860s, a strategically located bridge has spanned the Fraser River here. The original, Joseph Trutch’s spectacular suspension bridge, opened in 1862. A second Alexandra Bridge washed out in the flood of 1887; a subsequent replacement built in 1925 is now a neglected relic.
Since 1965, travellers on Hwy 1 cross the river downstream from the park over a four-lane, orange-arched beauty. Look up the canyon from here and you’ll get a quick glimpse of its silver-coated predecessor, which still has some flash left in its boiler-plate finish. The old bridge leads nowhere and, like a monument desecrated by rebellion, has been stripped of officialdom. Graffiti-scratching day trippers took over when the old bridge was decommissioned. One of oldest of the many well-preserved markings reads, ‘Eddie’s getting married ’65.’
If you’ve got a morning or afternoon to dally away, picnic on the old Alexandra Bridge’s honeycomb plated-steel deck or at one of the picnic tables in the park. They are sheltered by towering Douglas fir, whereas the bridge sits in the open. Take your pick. A road leads from the parking lot to the old Alexandra Bridge, a five-minute walk from the picnic area.
Hwy 12 from Lytton to Lillooet runs along the Fraser River, a good way to see this important waterway. Hwy 8, 40 miles (65 km) in length from Spences Bridge to Merritt, winds through the Nicola Valley, with plenty of rest stops and opportunities for swimming in the cool and shallow Nicola River, in the sage-scented air.
Stop just north of Lytton on Hwy 1 for a must-see view at the confluence of the Thompson River and Fraser River. For a great view of Shuswap Lake, stop at the Shuswap Rest Area, 13 miles (21 km) east of Salmon Arm on Hwy 1.
Near the west end of Kamloops Lake, Savona Provincial Park offers a pretty spot for a picnic and a swim. Hwy 1 runs right by the park.
Columbia View Park, on Hwy 23 just north of Revelstoke is quite close to the Trans-Canada Hwy, and is worth stopping at for its excellent view of the Columbia River and the massive Revelstoke Dam.
If you’re not going to camp in Yoho National Park but feel like stopping for a couple of hours, go to the Faeder Lake Picnic Area, the Finn Creek Picnic Area, or one of several roadside picnic sites beside the Kicking Horse River, all on Hwy 1.
The Boston Bar site at Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area on the The Coquihalla Highway has picnicking facilities, and photography buffs might want to document the sheer rock faces towering skyward at Zopkios Ridge. There are hiking trails for the travel-weary, as well as information shelters to assist in nature study. The recreation area is located 26 miles (42 km) northeast of Hope on Hwy 5, just east of the tollbooths.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in the Kootenays
Crowsnest Highway: The West Kootenays
Christina Lake Provincial Park is located at the south end of Christina Lake, often referred to as one of the warmest, clearest lakes in Canada. The beach is long and sandy, and is backed by sweet-smelling cottonwoods and white-barked birches. Surrounded by the Christina and Rossland Ranges of the Monashees, the lake offers some of the best water-oriented recreation anywhere. The park is located 13 miles (21 km) east of Grand Forks on the Crowsnest Highway 3; it’s also accessible by US Hwy 395 from Spokane, Washington.
Kootenay Lake has some really nice beaches; among them are those at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and Lockhart Beach Provincial Park. There is also a beach and boat ramp at Kuskonnok Rest Area, on the east side of Kootenay Lake, 15 miles (25 km) north of Creston on Hwy 3A.
Grohman Narrows Provincial Park, west of Nelson on Hwy 3A, has no campsites, but is the perfect spot for a picnic. Open year-round, it features walking trails beside the Kootenay River, Narrows Island, and an abandoned orchard.
Another place for a picnic is King George VI Provincial Park, south of Rossland, which has a picnic/day-use area with a shelter (and 3 vehicle/ tent sites). Attractive scenery and the former right-of-way for the Red Mountain Railway can be found here. From before the turn of the century until just after World War II, the railway took ore from Rossland to Northport, Washington, for smelting. The park is just over 6 miles (10 km) south of Rossland off Hwy 22, which extends north from US Hwy 25 at the border.
Slocan Valley and Upper Arrow Lake
McDonald Creek Provincial Park has a couple of miles of sandy beach on Upper Arrow Lake. Visitors can find a quiet spot or join in the fun at the main swimming area. The park has eight picnic tables as well as a boat launch.
A pleasant spot on a summer’s day is Grohman Narrows Provincial Park, west of Nelson on Hwy 3A near the link with Hwy 6, which has a picnic/day-use area as well as nature, walking, and hiking trails. About 5 miles (8 km) south of Slocan is the Lemon Creek Rest Area, where there is a turnoff for Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.
Although it’s not on this section of Hwy 6, Arrow Lakes Provincial Park deserves a mention. Like the parks farther north on the Revelstoke Reservoir, it consists of a number of choice sites scattered along the length of the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes reservoir system. These lakes are a widened portion of the Columbia River as it wends its way south to the US border.
The three sites on the northern end of Lower Arrow Lake – Burton, Fauquier, and Eagle Creek – off Hwy 6 have picnic/day-use areas and boat ramps. A free ferry crosses the lake from Fauquier to Needles on the west side. The Shelter Bay site, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Revelstoke on Hwy 23, near the ferry crossing on the west side of Upper Arrow Lake for Galena Bay, also has 13 vehicle/tent sites. All of the sites are open from May to September.
Travellers can picnic, stretch their legs, and refresh themselves with a short walk to a waterfall at Ione Falls Rest Stop, 11 miles (18 km) north of Nakusp on the east side of Hwy 23.
If you’re hungry for a view, stop at the Slocan Lake Viewpoint, on Hwy 6 near New Denver. From here the ‘Silvery Slocan’ displays itself in all its glory.
Possibly the best picnic viewpoint in the Slocan Valley, and certainly one of the easiest to reach (once the snow has left the road), is the Idaho Peak Forestry Lookout off Hwy 31A near Sandon. A hiking trail (easy; 1.7 miles/2.8 km return) leads from the parking lot to a Forest Service lookout (elevation 7,480 feet/2280 m). Wildflowers bloom in complete abandon here in late July and early August.
One of the rewards for making a journey to the viewpoints in summer is savouring the abundant huckleberries that proliferate in clear-cut areas. Just be sure to wear long pants when you go picking, as the knee-high bushes are both lush and scratchy.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in the BC Rockies
Those who like to picnic at riverside should stop at the Ryan Rest Area on the Moyie River, just east of Yahk Provincial Park on Crowsnest Highway 3.
The picnic spot at Morrissey Provincial Park, 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Fernie on Hwy 3 on the banks of Elk River, has the river and the shade of tall cottonwoods and a historic atmosphere – nearby coke ovens are evidence of the area’s early coal mines.
Crowsnest Provincial Park, 32 miles (51.5 km) east of Fernie on Hwy 3, is close to Crowsnest Pass (elevation 4,452 feet/1367 m), where the climate is somewhat dramatic because of a narrow flow of air through the pass from Alberta; the imposing Erickson and Loop Ridges of the Rockies stand nearby. You’ll be so busy looking at them that you’ll forget to eat.
Even if you’re not planning an excursion to one of the parks but just want one last, great look at the Rockies before heading into Alberta, stop at the Olsen Rest Stop along Hwy 3 just 10 miles (16 km) east of Fernie. Here, you can gaze to your heart’s content.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in the Cariboo
The Cariboo Highway
Meadow Lake Road, north of Clinton, leads west off Hwy 97 to one of the most fabled spreads, the Gang Ranch. If you don’t want to backtrack along what is, at times, a most challenging dirt road, forge ahead from the ranch along Dog Creek Road to Highway 20 and Williams Lake via Alkali Lake, a total of about 80 dusty miles (a just-as-dusty 130 km). Expect some confusion, but persevere.
The road to Horsefly and Quesnel Lakes and the settlement of Likely (which must be visited simply to reward the town for coming up with that name) leads to superb fishing country. The turnoff runs east from 150 Mile House for about 35 miles (60 km). Horsefly is one of the most important salmon-spawning sites for Fraser River stock; this road also leads to Horsefly Lake Provincial Park.
Finally, follow the historic Gold Rush Trail (also known as Hwy 26) to Barkerville. It begins north of Quesnel. A detailed map of all the historic sites along this route can be obtained from the Quesnel Visitor Centre.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in the Chilcotin
The Bella Coola Road (Hwy 20)
The Coast Mountains begin about 18 miles (30 km) west of Anahim Lake and stretch to Bella Coola, at the mouth of Burke Channel’s North Bentinck Arm. Heavy glaciation on these peaks is evidence that parts of British Columbia are still in grip of the most recent ice age. Viewpoints abound. Particularly notable are those at the summit of the Bella Coola Freedom Road (Highway 20) at Heckman Pass near the eastern entrance to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, and farther west at the Hill, which overlooks the Atnarko Valley. Lee’s Corner Rest Area, about 56 miles (90 km) west of Williams Lake in Hanceville, offers the panorama of the Chilcotin Plateau, with the Coast Mountains in the distance to the west.
Good views of the Upper Fraser Canyon can be had from several locations along Hwy 20 near Williams Lake, including the Chilcotin Bridge, about 15 miles (25 km) west of Williams Lake. At Riske Creek, 32 miles (52 km) west of Williams Lake on Hwy 20, take a side trip south to Farwell Canyon for a look at ancient hoodoo rock formations and Native rock pictographs. A bridge spans the canyon carved by the Chilcotin River; the pictographs are on the cliff south of the bridge. This road will also take you through a California bighorn sheep reserve.
Southwest of Bella Coola on the South Bentinck Arm, the Big Cedar Tree Forest Service Recreation Site protects one of the province’s largest western red cedars. Measuring more than 16 feet (5 m) across, this old cedar stands as a monument to British Columbia’s ancient forests. A short trail begins about 150 feet (50 m) from the roadside, and there is a picnic table nearby.
Picnic sites along Hwy 20 in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park include, from east to west, Rainbow Range, just inside the park’s east entrance; Young Creek, a good place to take a break while driving the Hill; Big Rock, almost 7 miles (11 km) west of park headquarters; Fisheries Pool, in the middle of the Hwy 20 corridor through the park, where there is a covered picnic shelter; and Burnt Bridge, 16 miles (26 km) west of park headquarters near the park’s western entrance.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in North West British Columbia
Fraser Plateau: West Lake Provincial Park is located west of Prince George on Hwy 16, then 9 miles (14 km) south on Blackwater Road. There are tables and a covered shelter that doubles as warming hut in winter, as well as a sandy beach for swimming. Hiking trails around the north end of the lake double as cross-country trails in winter.
Paarens Beach Provincial Park and Sowchea Bay Provincial Recreation Area both have picnic tables and firepits. Paarens Beach is 9 miles (15 km) west of Fort St. James on Stuart Lake; Sowchea Bay is 1.5 miles (3 km) beyond. Red Bluff Provincial Park, 28 miles (45 km) north of Topley on the west shore of Babine Lake, is a pleasant spot to pull out the old basket. After lunch, go for a swim in Babine Lake.
In the town of Telkwa, try Eddy Park beside the blue waters of the Bulkley River, or Tyhee Lake Provincial Park to the north off Hwy 16, with beachside picnic tables and a covered shelter. One of the more unusual parks in this region is Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park,
northeast of Smithers and Highway 16. It is located in a fossil-lined canyon, ripe for exploring by the amateur paleontologist. Please, take only photographs.
The highest point on Hwy 16 is the Six Mile Summit on China Nose Mountain, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Burns Lake. As the road climbs to highest point on Hwy 16 (elevation 4,695 feet/1423 m), views of the rolling mountains in the Bulkley and Morice Ranges stand revealed. (Far from being a derogatory term, China Nose refers to a savvy Chinese miner who told area residents ‘China knows where the gold is; hence, the corruption.)
The Hungry Hill, west of Houston, has nice views of surrounding mountains from this roadside pullout, complete with a picnic table. The Bulkley View Rest Area west of Houston, offers fine views of the Bulkley Valley.
Beaches and Picnic Spots in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
North Beach, Graham Island, Haida Gwaii
When you stand on the west coast of the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), nothing lies between you and Japan except the great expanse of the North Pacific. Currents from across the ocean kiss the shores of Haida Gwaii, washing up all kinds of interesting treasure. The most common find on the beaches used to be the glass floats used on Japanese fishing nets, but lately all kinds of artifacts have washed up, from enough dead jellyfish to make it look like a freak snowstorm has hit the beach, to hockey pads and Nike shoes spilled from passing freighters.
Glass floats make great souvenirs; dead jellyfish don’t. Occasionally, you’ll find the bleached bones of a dead whale, or a thick knot of rope. Litter on the beaches, such as the ubiquitous empty dish detergent bottles, are reminders that the world is awash in plastic.
The remote Haida Gwaii islands boast beaches that may have seen no other footprints for a year or more, so isolated are the magnificent islands of the Haida Gwaii. Naikoon Provincial Park on the northeast tip of Graham Island offers majestic wilderness beaches, including spectaular North Beach. Access to North Beach is from Masset, along scenic Tow Hill Road that cuts through a rain forest with the trees draped in moss. Many of Graham Islands beaches offer up agates (a fine-grained, fibrous variety of quartz), fraglie razor clamshells, and large weathervane scallops.
The west side of Haida Gwaii is dotted with pocket coves and beaches, most of which cannot be reached by road, but you can spend a day combing beaches around Rennell Sound. To reach these shores, travel north from Queen Charlotte City on gravelled Skidegate Main Line Forest Road for about 25 miles (40 km). The road divides north and south along Rennell Sound. Watch for beach access points in either direction.
Haida Gwaii comprises of two main islands, Graham Island in the north and Moresby Island in the south. The southern portion of Moresby Island is Gwaii Haanas National Park. Gorgeous and varied landscapes, camping on white sandy beaches, pools of clear tepid water, rich fishing grounds and meandering rivers and estuaries make Haida Gwaii a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast. Topping it all is the rich culture and history of these islands that is alive in the old settlements and present day art of the Haida people.