Where to Paddle in the City of Vancouver

Surrounded by water on 3 sides, Vancouver enjoys some fantastic paddling locations. The entire stretch of coastline from False Creek to Wreck Beach is dotted with water access points and parks. You can also go north to explore English Bay and Stanley Park, but be mindful not to get too close to Lions Gate Bridge. Anywhere east of Prospect Point in Stanley Park until Berry Point in Burnaby is off limits to paddlers.

In the south, paddling the North Arm of Fraser River has been described, but I have yet to do this myself. This would be a paddle that I wouldn’t want to try alone.

False Creek

Science World.

Being the end of a blind inlet, False Creek near Science World is almost always very calm. Paddling in a concrete jungle has its charms as well. However, the water here is described as the dirtiest of all of Metro Vancouver, with E coli content exceeding 10x upper limit of safe swimming guideline at times. If you don’t fall in, you will most likely be fine. But if you are a beginner who are still unsteady, I would avoid this area. There are also many, many water taxis zig zagging all over False Creek, and you are bound to cross paths with one every few minutes. Parking in Science World is pretty expensive, and street parking in Olympic Village is limited and awkward if you have to pump up the board by the car. Launching is from a public dock.

Granville Island

Alder Bay Dock on Granville Island

The water quality at Granville Island (Central False Creek) is better than around Science World. It’s usually very calm as well, especially near the protected Alder Bay Dock, which is accessible by the public, but the water is noticeably more stale here. Once you venture out of Alder Bay, be careful with the zig-zagging ferry traffic as well as larger pleasure crafts. Paid parking on Granville Island.

Vanier Park

Launched from Vanier Park, heading west with West End and English Bay Beach in the back.

Vanier Park features the only public boat ramp in the City of Vancouver, and it’s quite easy to launch a paddleboard here as well either from the dock or from a small sandy beach. Parking (paid) is much easier than Granville Island, and it’s a quick hop over the channel to explore English Bay and Stanley Park, as long as you time it right to avoid conflicts with passing boats. Alternatively, you can launch here and stay on the south shore, and paddle west to connect to Kits Beach.

English Bay

English Bay Beach.

If you live downtown, English Bay Beach can be a good place to launch. If you don’t, why fight the downtown traffic? Launch from Vanier Park and enjoy using the waterways instead. Waters here are much cleaner than the inner corners of False Creek, and it’s less than 30 minutes away from the beautiful Stanley Park. Just remember, do not go near Lions Gate Bridge! On a windy day you can find white capping waves here so make sure you check the forecast.

Kitsilano Beach

Kits Beach.

Kits Beach is a popular sandy beach, with a great playground and restaurant right in the park. The paid parking lot can get quite busy on a bright summer day. Unlike the narrow False Creek channel, you don’t have to deal with motorboats near your (unless one happens to becoming into or out of one of the yacht clubs). If you pick your conditions well (low winds, low swell, slack tide), this can be a good spot for a beginner to practice.

Volunteer Park (under construction in 2023)

Shore of Volunteer Park near sunset.

There are a few small parks and water access points between Kits and Jericho. No picnic tables, no playgrounds, no washroom, no frills. Just good spots to park and launch. Volunteer Park and Point Grey Park Site at Trafalgar Street are two examples. Free street parking is available in the neighborhood, but I try not to park in front of private residences if I can help it. The beach is accessible down some stairs, and is made up of a mix of mud and sharp rocks. The water here tends to be at least a little choppy on most days because it is more exposed.

Jericho Beach

Jericho Beach.

Jericho Beach has a large paid parking lot and it’s generally less busy than Kits Beach. The small cove between the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and Jericho Beach Kayak Center is fairly protected and can be calm enough for beginners on well chosen days. In fact, this is where Tina and I took our first SUP lesson many years ago (but I still fell in half a dozen times). Paid parking.

Locarno Beach

Locarno Beach is sandwiched between Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach, but it provides a unique access point to the water that isn’t as tide-dependent as Spanish Banks, and the small parking lot is free, unlike the nearby Jericho Beach. Due to this combination, it has become my favorite launching sites to paddle around Burrard Inlet.

Spanish Banks

Spanish Banks

One major difference that sets Spanish Banks apart from the other spots on this list is that there are many parking lots here, and they are all free! The distance between parking and launching is also one of the shortest. The water edge is only 30 meters away from the parking lot in some places, if the tide is high. However, if you arrived at low tide, you could be looking at a full kilometer of wet sand between you and the water, and likely forfeit your paddle plan. Water here can be choppier as it’s more exposed to wind and swell, but it’s actually quite comparable to other part of English Bay. So, pick a low wind day and visit at high tide, you should have a great paddle here. If you head west, you will find yourself exploring the rugged cliff face and shorelines of Pacific Spirit Park, but the more you round the corner, the more exposed you will be. As you approach Wreck Beach, the water current can be unpredictable as this is where Fraser River meets the Pacific Ocean.

Wreck Beach

The paddle between Spanish Banks and Wreck Beach is the wildest part of the Vancouver shoreline. It’s possible to get here by hiking down the hundreds of steps on of the trails in Pacific Spirit Park, but I recommend launching from Spanish Banks or Locarno Beach, and paddling the rugged shoreline instead. En route, you can enjoy expansive views across the Straight of Georgia to Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, and the mountains that flank Howe Sound. Choose the weather carefully though, as this is on the tip of the Point Grey Peninsula, which is the most exposed and most isolated sections of Vancouver’s shoreline, and docking on the rocky shore could be difficult.

Did I miss any good paddling spots in Vancouver? Leave a comment to let me know!

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