Make a splash in Vancouver’s prime paddling locations

September 29, 2008

Tranquillity follows Britta and Willie Gerdes as they ease down the Nicomekl River, one of the Lower Mainland’s great paddling spots.

Tranquility follows Britta and Willie Gerdes as they ease down the Nicomekl River, one of the Lower Mainland’s great paddling spots.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

What do Jericho Beach, the Nicomekl River, False Creek, and Deep Cove have in common? When you’re looking to get out on the water around Vancouver, these just happen to be the top places to head for a paddle.

Wait a minute… Who could overlook Boundary Bay, Ladner Slough, or Grant Narrows? And what about Buntzen and Alouette lakes? There’s no doubt that when it comes to choosing the best place to dip your oar or paddle, Vancouver offers an embarrassment of watery riches, and of both the salty and sweet kinds. But at this point on the calendar, several launch spots stand out from the rest. Here are the Georgia Straight’s best of the best picks.

Nowhere around the city—maybe the entire country—offers more paddling opportunities than the Jericho Sailing Centre (1300 Discovery Street, www.jsca.bc.ca/). Despite its name, Jericho’s sandy beach and boat ramp provide quick access to Burrard Inlet for all types of watercraft, wind-powered or otherwise.

Whether you own or rent a kayak or harbour loftier ambitions to paddle an outrigger canoe or a surf ski, this is the place to head for either a short outing to Kits or a longer workout to a picnic spot on one of the beaches at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. An annual membership in Vancouver’s most unusual community centre is affordable—$39 for those under 18; $72 for singles; and $103 for a family of four. Whether you’re a member or not, there is no launch fee.

Similar carte blanche extends to paddlers at South Surrey’s Elgin Heritage Park (www.greatervancouverparks.com/ElginHeritagePark01.html). A dock and boat ramp on the Nicomekl River front the 1894 Stewart farmhouse. One of the rewards of journeying there in fall is crisp fruit from heirloom apple trees. Gather some that’s fallen to savour while floating on the Nicomekl’s gentle current.

Only a few kilometres from its confluence with the ocean at Mud Bay, the intertidal stream is sheltered on the north side by banks of silt washed down from the Nicomekl’s headwaters in Langley. Above the south shore, a dense forest robes the steep slopes with leafy grandeur, already emblazoned with early signs of autumn’s colourful cavalcade. Bring your binos. Herons stalk the shoreline; kingfishers and owls perch on cottonwood limbs.

Unlike the potentially troubled waters off Jericho, the Nicomekl’s abiding tranquility is transfixing as one paddle stroke after another dips into the river’s mirrored surface. Rail traffic on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s wooden trestle bridge livens up the mellow ambiance. Hundreds of creosoted columns straddle the river mouth as Mud Bay and the North Shore Mountains glisten in the distance. Freight cars rumble by high above.

Even more entertaining is the stylish Amtrak Cascades passenger train, which rolls past midmorning and, at this time of year, near sundown, when there’s always a light show on offer. Elgin Heritage Park lies two kilometres west of the White Rock–Crescent Beach turnoff (Exit 10) from Highway 99 on Crescent Road.

Frustrated by living next to the ocean and not being able to float on it? Want to make your inner-city paddle dream come true? If you’re tired of just gazing at False Creek from the sea wall, there are a growing number of creekside sites to hand-launch a kayak, canoe, or even a rowboat. Since the mid-1980s, the dock on Granville Island’s Alder Bay has been the best place to accomplish this.

A far less utilized spot lies at the end of Spyglass Place on the southwest side of the Cambie Bridge. Concord Pacific founder Li Ka-Shing built a dock there in 1989 for both his boating enjoyment and public use. That was the first evidence of changes on the sheltered inlet over the following two decades.

The most recent redevelopment in the neighbourhood has been the rapid rise of the Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village. Paddle east of the dock, under the Cambie Bridge, to check it out. Along the way, test the span’s acoustic qualities with a high note or two and then size up the waterfront’s new design, including a landscaped “island” fenced off to landlubbers on the sea wall. The opening date for the unnamed area hasn’t been announced; don’t let that stop you from visiting it by sea right now.

No kayak? Sign up for the False Creek Community Centre’s fall paddling courses, which include use of the centre’s fleet, at $27 for a single drop-in (two hours), $53.50 monthly, or $214 per season (vancouver.ca/parks/cc/falsecreek/website/index.cfm). You must take an introductory sea-kayaking course before you can pay these rates and take out kayaks on your own. At the west end of the island, EcoMarine Ocean Kayak Centre (ecomarine.com/) also rents kayaks.

Deep Cove is by far the best place around Vancouver to explore the ocean and leave the city behind in either your own or a rented craft (Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak Centre; deepcovekayak.com/). On weekends, colourful ranks of stiletto kayaks and cigar-tube canoes line the pebbled beach beside the North Vancouver village’s pier. Weekdays, you’ll have the waterfront to yourself.

What boosts a Deep Cove paddling experience above the rest is packing along a yummy treat to enjoy when you go ashore in Say Nuth Khaw Yum Heritage Park/Indian Arm Provincial Park (bcparks.ca/) or Cates/Whey-ah-Wichen Park, both comfortable distances from the centre. Deep Cove lies 10 kilometres northeast of the Ironworkers Memorial (Second Narrows) Crossing.