Whytecliff Marine Park’s rugged shoreline and cobble beach lie in West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay neighbourhood. In 1993, the municipal Whytecliff park became Canada’s first Marine Protected Area. Harvesting or collecting any marine life beneath the waters of this sanctuary is prohibited. Upwards of 200 marine animal species, with exotic names such as the speckled sanddab or the sunflower seastar, call these waters home yet pay no property taxes, despite living in Canada’s most affluent community.
Beside the beach, interpretive signs explain in words and pictures the variety of marine life to be found beneath the waves. Although you have to take most of it on faith, occasional life forms do bob to the surface, such as the head of a curious seal or a school of divers. The setting here at the mouth of Howe Sound is dramatic, with the vastness of the Strait of Georgia spread out to the west. Ferries serving Vancouver and Bowen Islands and the Sunshine Coast glide in and out of nearby Horseshoe Bay. As the wake from the larger boats hits the shoreline, it creates surf. Modest though it is, it’s an unusual sight in these sheltered waters.
On all but the busiest summer weekends, visitors can usually find a secluded spot with a driftwood log for a backrest. Follow one of the rough but well-trodden trails that run along the top of the cliffs. Small sets of rock stairways lead here and there. A rocky breakwater leads out to nearby Whyte Islet. At low tide you can clamber up its steep slopes and find a sheltered spot beneath a lone shore pine. Keep one eye on the progress of the tide. It’s a cold swim back to shore!
As you make your way along the beach at Whytecliff Marine Park, you’ll probably see wet-suited figures emerge from the embankment and make their way towards the ocean. 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. Although the majority of park visitors prefer gum boots over wet suits, Whytecliff has become a magnet for local divers.
A list of rules of conduct, prominently displayed in the parking lot, are directed primarily at the divers, who are encouraged to change in the washrooms and to keep their language clean! A good descriptive guide to diving the waters around the North Shore is 141 Dives in the Protected Waters of Washington and British Columbia by Betty Pratt-Johnson.
To find your way to Whytecliff Marine Park, take the Upper Levels Hwy west to Horseshoe Bay. Turn west onto Marine Drive, just before the BC Ferries toll booth. Signs point the way to Whytecliff at all major intersections from here. The entrance to the park is at the western end of Marine Dr. (If you’re in no hurry, enjoy the scenic route by taking Marine Drive through West Vancouver rather than the Upper Levels Highway.)
Nearby Regions & Towns
This park is a Regional Park, Municipal Park, or proposed park, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada (National Parks) or the BC Ministry of Environment (BC Parks).