Porteau Cove Provincial Park is situated on the most southerly fjord in North America, and features waterfront campsites with a view over Howe Sound to the mountains beyond.
Camping space is limited along the shores of Howe Sound. Wherever you decide to overnight, be prepared to share it with sounds from the nearby highway and railway. So close do freight trains come to the sites in Porteau Cove Provincial Park that you might imagine they’re rolling right through your tent.
Take heart in the thought that highway and railway traffic is a notch more attractive than having a bear charge through the campground, which is not unheard of elsewhere in the woods of British Columbia.
As you approach the park, the beach and jetty are what first catch the eye. Only in winter, once the leaves are down, is it possible to see through the surrounding forest into the little cove itself. Porteau Cove Provincial Park provides an incredible setting, especially if the weather is favourable, when the views from the campground of the Sea to Sky Highway are spectacular.
As you turn into 50-hectare Porteau Cove Provincial Park, you pass information signs, directed at divers, that detail the location of several marine vessels scuttled offshore specially for underwater exploration. Marine life is attracted to such wrecks, making a dive even more exciting. At Porteau Cove an artificial reef network has been constructed from chains of tires, hollow concrete piles, concrete blocks and steel H-beams. In 1985, the Nakaya (41m.), a former minesweeper, was scuttled at the northern edge of the diving area. Three additional shipwrecks were sunk near the reef network in 1992. The Granthall (28m.) was a steel-hulled CPR tugboat built in Montreal in 1928. In 1967 the superstructure was removed and the Granthall became a herring packer. The other wrecks are an 11-metre steel dredge tender, the Centennial III, and a 15-metre-ferrocement sailboat hull.
Flat calm Howe Sound is an inviting place to paddle, but beware the outflow winds that build in the afternoon on summer days. Howe Sound is a channel for winds drawn out to the ocean from cooler inland regions. Kayakers will have an easier time of it than canoeists when the winds rise. It’s worth heading offshore to enjoy the views of the Howe Sound Crest and Britannia ranges that are not revealed from land. The 1.2-mile (2-km) paddle north from Porteau Cove to Furry Creek is a pleasant workout.
Watch for pictographs painted on the rock face on the north side of the small bay just past Furry Creek. (Keep an eye out for errant golf balls that may shank your way from the nearby golf course.) The boat launch at Porteau Cove Provincial Park is the only public one accessible from Highway 99 between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park provides 44 vehicle camping spots and 16 walk-in sites. The park provides wonderful amenities such as showers, flush toilets, and a sani-station. As this is the only provincial campground on the Sound, campsites are in constant demand from late May to early October. The park is usually full, even on weekdays, with little turnover of campsites in the morning. If you’re intent on staying here, arrive early in the afternoon. A sign posted on Hwy 99 informs travellers when the park is full. Although the vehicle/tent sites go quickly throughout the summer and on Friday and Saturday nights at other times of the year, there is usually a good chance of getting one of the walk-in sites even if you arrive late, except in the months from June to August. Open all year, fees are collected from March 1 to October 31 with full services. A winter fee begins November 1 to February 28 with limited services.
As soon as you enter the campground, bear right to see if any of the oceanfront sites are vacant. An amphitheatre is located between the drive-in and walk-in campsites. Interpretive displays are presented here on summer evenings, one of the most scenic locations in the park. Because there is so little level land, most sites are relatively closely spaced compared to other provincial parks. Tucked in behind the walk-in sites is the cove itself. A stone wall on the west side is one of the few remaining signs of a small settlement that once stood here. There’s a charming sense of formality where an open lawn is laid out beside the cove and a small bridge spans the narrow backwater.
A pebble beach slopes gently into Howe Sound in Porteau Cove Provincial Park. On summer days when the tide is low and the sun high, the warm rocks heat the incoming waters, making swimming here a pleasure. For those who brave the ocean, there are hot showers nearby in the changing rooms. Exploring the rocky beach at Porteau Cove can be an exciting and rewarding experience. No fishing, shellfish harvesting or removal of other marine life is permitted at the park.
If you are just visiting Porteau Cove Provincial Park for the day, 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. Aptly named Anvil Island sits to the southwest, while the glaciated peaks of the Tantalus Range rise in the northwest. Take a walk to the viewpoint on the trail that leads west from the walk-in campsites and up onto the forested bluff. Stunted shore pines (a coastal variety of lodgepole pine) and stately Sitka spruce provide shelter on the point, from where you can look down on the cove or out across the waters of the sound. This is a quiet place in which to enjoy the surroundings, especially in the early or late hours of the day, or to stop for an off-season breather from the pressures of the highway.
When “Porteau” (porte d’eau) is translated from French into English it means “Water’s Gate”. This name dates from 1908 when John F. Deeks began mining the extensive sand and gravel deposits here to supply Vancouver. A small community of employees lived here until the beginning of the Depression, enjoying good housing, a schoolhouse, tennis courts, and daily ferry service from the Union Steamship Company. These ferries, Lady Cynthia and Lady Cecilia, operated between Vancouver and Squamish until the railway (then the Pacific Great Eastern) was extended from Squamish into North Vancouver.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park is located 24 miles (38 km) north of Vancouver and 12.5 miles (20 km) south of Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway 99. The park is open year-round and is usually full during good weather.
Nearby Regions & Towns