Locarno Beach to Wreck Beach Paddle

Quick Facts

  • Parking and Launching: Locarno Beach
  • Launching type: sandy beach
  • Difficulty – Exposed ocean, subject to swells, chops, and tides
  • Boat traffic – no motor boats near this route due to the shallow water and distance to traveling lanes
  • View – nice views of the North Shore and Howe Sound mountains, many snow-capped peaks to the north. Vancouver downtown skyline to the east. Rugged and wild coast line near Wreck Beach.
  • Facilities: washroom, long walking and bike trails, and long stretches of sandy beach in Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach
  • Overall score – 8/10

This is a great paddling route that takes you from the hubbub of Spanish Banks with views of downtown Vancouver to the surprisingly remote cliffs of Pacific Spirit Park and Wreck Beach with Vancouver Island and Bowen Island in view. It is quite exposed. Early morning starts are generally met with calmer conditions.

I prefer to launch from Locarno over Spanish Banks because even at low tide, it’s still quite easy. I don’t have to check the tide table to avoid wading through Spanish Banks’ famous shallows which could stretch offshore for 1km. The Google Maps satellite image shows this very well: the sandy banks drops right off near Locarno, making it a less tide-dependent launching spot.

The sandy shallows of Spanish Banks end near Locarno Beach

Unlike the deeper waters west of Locarno Beach, paddling across Spanish Banks is very much subject to tides. One must pay attention to the depth of the water; I have caught my fin in the sand more than once. On one of the paddles I’ve done here, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of meters of shallow waters barely deep enough for my board. I had to remove my fin and basically dig my paddle into the sand to steer.

See how far I had to paddle away from shore on the way out; that’s where the shallows dropped off.
Spanish Bank mud flats at low tide.

Once you paddle beyond the busy Spanish Banks, the scenery turns rugged and natural quickly. The shore line becomes a cliff face, covered with the forests of Pacific Spirit Regional Park.

One of the canon towers built for WWII defence.

Just as you wonder if you are still in Vancouver or if you were transported to remote wilderness, you arrive at the site of a mudslide then it’s Wreck Beach just behind this.

The mudslide near Wreck Beach is a harsh reminder of the impermanence of these beautiful cliffs here, subject to significant erosion.

Wreck Beach is a famous clothing-optional beach in Vancouver. It’s isolated from the closest vehicle access point on Marine Drive by a steep (up to 45% grade) set of stairs for 200m, so it’s usually not very busy.

Wreck Beach with half a dozen curious seals in the water

If you paddle a little bit further along a wave breaker, you will arrive at a little isolated beach called North Arm Beach. It’s a distance away from the busier and larger Wreck Beach, and only walkable at low tide, so it’s a nice isolated spot in an already quite isolated spot. On Google Maps, this little beach is only visible on the satellite view.

North Arm Beach

It may be tempting to cross Fraser River to check out Iona Beach which looks very close, and for the bragging right that you paddled from Vancouver to Richmond, but it’s a busy boating route so I wouldn’t recommend it. The tip of the Iona North Arm Jetty is 1km away, and before you get there you are at the mercy of full-speed boats with nowhere to hide.

Paddle Report: September 2021

To round out my Vancouver shoreline paddle series, I paddled from Locarno Beach (which is a small beach between Jericho Beach Park and Spanish Banks that most people assume was a part of either park) along the length of Spanish Banks, and round the corner to visit Wreck Beach.

Launched into muddy low tide water 10:40am

It was a warm, mostly sunny September day. The paddle out was straight forward. The conditions were perfect, with calm water and low breeze.

This paddle can be very calm on a windless day, but that’s probably <3% of the time for this area.

For lunch, I brought my backpacking stove and some Mountain House Beef Stew. I forgot to bring eating utensils so I used a strip of the packaging to stir and eat with. Real MacGyver like.

After an excellent meal and a good soak in the sunshine (and yes, watching some nudist being nude), I relaunched for the return journey.

Folks having a good time in a spectacular area of Vancouver.
Launching 1:15pm.

On the way back, I couldn’t help but notice some tents tucked away above the high tide line on the rocky beach. There is no camping allowed at Pacific Spirit Park, so I wonder if these were homeless camps or some top-notch but illegal backpacking campers.

Judging from the gears, I think these are some sneaky backpacking campers who have scored some out of this world water front camping right in the city boundary of Vancouver. Illegal, I should emphasize.
Arrived back at Locarno Beach at 2:15pm.

Thus concluded a quick 4 hour jaunt. It was amazing how quickly one can take a wholesome nature break from the busy city life in Vancouver without even leaving the city boundary.

The main word of caution about this paddle is one must choose the conditions very carefully. This can be a very treacherous paddle on a windy day, as Wreck Beach is exposed to the wind and waves across Straight of Georgia. The same area can be as calm as a lake early in the morning, and turn into a white capping, kite-surfing adrenaline rush in a matter of hours.

Although this is still in Vancouver, the area can actually be quite isolated and inaccessible, so help can be harder to come by as well. Furthermore, Wreck Beach and the coastline in the Pacific Spirit Park is only accessible by water or very long hike up the steep cliff face, so the Coast Guard and Hovercraft might have to be called to transport people in distress.

2 responses to “Locarno Beach to Wreck Beach Paddle”

  1. […] 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. […]

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