Step Down to Surrey Beach

April 14, 2018

Here’s one of the two new destinations featured in the latest edition of our best-selling “52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver.”

Access: 1,001 Steps Park lies south of Vancouver in Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood. Travel south on Highway 99 to Exit 10, then west toward Crescent Beach on Crescent Road, then follow 128th Street south to Kwomais Point Park, located at its intersection with Marine Drive. Park there and walk north three blocks along 126A Street to 15A Avenue and 1,001 Steps Park’s trailhead. For information on both 1,001 Steps Park and the Christopherson Steps, visit the City of Surrey website.

Just like a palindrome, 1,001 Steps Park offers the same experience whether approached from the top down or the bottom up.

With salmonberry bushes in pink bloom, early spring is the best time to appreciate this Surrey pocket park before leaves curtain the steep hillside.

Right now, there’s nothing hidden about the views that stretch west across Boundary Bay to Point Roberts’s green stronghold, where sandstone cliffs mimic the slopes that fall away below Surrey’s Ocean Park neighbourhood.

The sound of a rhythmic cadence of waves rises through the skinny-limbed alder forest, summoning one foot to follow the other.

When reached by phone at his office, Surrey manager of parks Owen Croy fondly recalled his childhood days exploring the 1,001 Steps on visits to his grandparents’ home.

“In the 1950s, neighbours developed the first set of earthen-and-board steps,” he told me.

“We used to clamber up and down on them, shouting: ‘There’s one thousand and one steps!’ As if we could count that high.”

Croy said that in the 1990s, Surrey built the current staircase as well as a companion set (farther north, toward Crescent Beach) that was once also referred to as “1,001” but is now called the Christopherson Steps.

“Although small in size, we treat Christopherson like a park too, since both approaches get people to the wild part of Boundary Bay, a place that doesn’t actually fall under our jurisdiction but is, in fact, provincial land.”

According to Croy, the stretch of coastline between White Rock and Crescent Beach boasts the sunniest, warmest microclimate in Metro Vancouver.

“A visit to Crescent Beach offers everyone the chance to step back in time to a beach community that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the Lower Mainland.”

Croy also offered these words of advice: “As the foreshore area is considered part of the Pacific Flyway, where millions of birds pass through each year, we ask dog owners to keep their pets on leash so as not to harass the wildlife.”

One glance at the rock-and-boulder-strewn portion of the shoreline around the steps is enough to persuade most owners to look elsewhere for a place to exercise their pets, such as a new stretch of greenway that extends between Surrey’s recently acquired Kwomais Point Park and the top of 1,001 Steps Park.

Another suggestion for both two- and four-footed walkers is the quiet back street that leads several blocks east of Kwomais Point along 13th Avenue.

Watch for another staircase, one that traces an up-and-down, 168-step route along the bluff above Semiahmoo Bay, where a viewing platform offers a lookout across into Washington state.

A harmonious sense of convergence awaits those who follow the freshly surfaced pathway from the bottom of the 1,001 Steps (in truth, there are only 228 treads) to the beach via a small underpass beneath the railway tracks.

Offshore, ocean currents wash through three straits—Haro, Georgia, and Juan de Fuca—and two bays, Boundary and Semiahmoo.

A wealth of marine life calls the intertidal zone home.

Time a visit to coincide with low tide, then gently tip up a smallish stone or two at water’s edge to uncover hidden marvels.

During a visit in early April, I witnessed families whooping with excitement at the discovery of ribbon worms as much as a metre in length, eel-like black pricklebacks, and purple shore crabs.

A more exotic menagerie is hard to imagine.

Be absolutely sure to merely watch—not handle—the creatures, and gingerly replace those few rocks in their original position, as the exposed life depends on them for shelter from the elements and predators.

An added advantage of exploring when tides are low comes into play with extra room to walk around the southern headland, Kwomais Point (a half-hour walk from the steps), where winter storms have all but eroded the shoreline.

Although it may be tempting to climb up from the beach and walk a short distance along the tracks, be warned that both freight and passenger trains roll through unannounced.

Instead, pick your way with downcast eyes on the uneven rocks that abut the railway bed, a challenge that would test the balancing skills of a gymnast. Remember to pause occasionally to look around.

On the Boundary Bay side, a parade of peaks marches from Mount Elphinstone above Gibsons Landing on the Sunshine Coast and blends seamlessly with Black Mountain and Hollyburn Ridge on the North Shore.

Step around the point to the Semiahmoo Bay side for one of the most impressive shoreline panoramas in Cascadia, one that rises from sea level to Mount Baker’s 3,286-metre summit accompanied by a succession of snowcapped North Cascades peaks.

Sweep your gaze southwest to the Olympic Mountains, where Hurricane Ridge presents a glaciated wall, then northwest to the chain of Vancouver Island mountains that leads off toward the distant Comox Glacier.

Wow, to the 10th power.

When it comes to stepping out in this neck of Surrey, it’s strictly a numbers game.