Burnaby Lake Paddle

Quick Facts

  • Parking and Launching: Burnaby Lake Rowing Pavilion
  • Launching type: dock
  • Difficulty – very easy, beginner friendly
  • Boat traffic – no recreational motor boats allowed
  • View – wetlands, wildlife, North Shore mountains, and crops of high rise buildings
  • Facilities – no public washrooms
  • Overall score – 7/10

Located in the center of Burnaby Lake Regional Park is its namesake Burnaby Lake. Ever since our walks around the lake last year, I wanted to come paddle on this lake.

On this Sunday afternoon, the Windy app called for fairly strong winds in the Straight of Georgia (wind gusts of 20+km/h), which made it undesirable for me to paddle on the ocean. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Burnaby Lake was essentially windless. I suspect is has something to do with the geography: the lake is sandwiched between two ridges. This was great intel: on windy days, Burnaby Lake may provide a great option for an enjoyable paddle.

Burnaby Lake sandwiched between two ridges: South Burnaby/New Westminster to the south, and Burnaby Mountain to the North. https://en-ca.topographic-map.com/maps/jj7v/Burnaby/

I arrived at the Rowing Pavilion in the afternoon. A sign listed the do’s and don’ts of this lake. Most relevant to paddlers: no motor boats allowed (unless authorized), and no swimming (poor water quality). There was no activity at the pavilion but you may want to check their calendar to avoid major events.

I followed this short walk path from the parking lot to the public dock. And what a lovely dock! It was wide open and had a very paddler-friendly low profile – basically flush with my paddleboard – making it extremely easy to get on and off the board.

I paddled clockwise, crossing the lake first. I soon noticed the first of many buoys warning paddlers to keep out of wildlife habitat. I respected the sign and turned around.

“Wildlife Habitat. Keep Out. No boating. Figure of a crossed-out kayaker”

As forecasted, the lake was almost glassy on this nearly windless day.

Glassy Burnaby Lake

However, just because the lake was calm, it doesn’t mean it was quiet. A CN Rail train roared past. After the train noise subsided, the constant highway noise from Highway One replaced it.

Railway track travels very close to the north shore of Burnaby Lake

Here I would like to introduce a blog I came across recently and of which I became a fan instantly, written by an eloquent physiotherapist named Mon Jef. He is a Vancouver dad with a young family who also caught the paddleboarding bug (sound familiar?): I Sup Explore.

He documented his circumnavigation of Burnaby Lake in February, a mere 6 weeks before my visit, but the lake looked entirely different for him, partly because he captured a glorious sunrise but also because the water was lower. The lake at low water levels was basically a narrow rectangular race track, as seen on Google Maps Satellite View. But at higher water levels, it’s much more of a natural looking lake, as seen on the Map View.

I looked into it a little bit (by that I mean I looked at this Wikipedia article) and learned that Burnaby Lake was actually a natural, glacial lake that formed 12,000 years ago, but sediments accumulated in the last few decades to the point where it has to be dredged in the early 2000’s. My guess it they just dredged the rectangular strip to keep the lake deep enough for paddle sports, and left the rest of it shallow and muddy.

During my visit in late March, the water level was substantially higher such that the dredged racing strip had fairly good clearance, and I was able to explore a little bit around the mudflats/marshes outside this rectangle.

Signage warning of shallow areas.

I came across some big beaver dams about 6 feet high, and there were lots of underwater activity kicking up some wakes as I went by. I wondered if they were fish or beavers, since there were so many of them.

One of several big beaver dams

I came upon the busiest part of the lake in terms of human traffic: the Piper Spit. Lots of birders and walkers on the pier.

Closer shot of the pier with Lougheed Town Centre in the background

I continued to follow the lake to the outflow, which was probably an impassable marsh in February, all the way to the Cariboo Dam. Signs warned of sudden dam opening and strong water currents, so I turned around here.

Heading back towards the main part of the lake

At the end of the racing strip, there was a floating dock with what looked like picnic tables on the water. I am fairly sure this was used by the rowing clubs to temporarily dock their boats.

I looked down the racing strip, which was clearly marked on both sides by small buoys and wooden structures, almost like an airport landing strip.

The racing strip

I tried to explore outside the strip again but my fin scraped on the shallow mudflats. If I brought my Body Glove board with shorter fins I might be able to explore a bit more.

Marches looked inviting for an exploration, but it was too shallow.

With nothing else to distract me, I made a b-line down the straight-as-an-arrow racing strip.

Back at the western end of the lake, looking to the northwest I could see the developments at Brentwood Mall, and to the southwest, Metrotown.

Brentwood developments on the left hand side and the North Shore Mountains in the background.

I pulled out easily at the Rowing Pavilion dock, concluding my paddle. I totally missed the entrance to Still Creek, but I came back and found it a few months later.

A sleepy, closed pavilion

With no motorboats, easy parking and launching, and nestled between geographical wind shelters, Burnaby Lake is a great place to practice or exercise for paddlers. I would rate this as very beginner friendly, as long as one takes care around the shallow marshy areas to avoid getting stuck.

It is also a better paddle destination than the near by Deer Lake, which was smaller, busier, dirtier, and harder to launch.

However, with the highway noise, numerous artificial structures and marking buoys, high rise developments whichever way you look, and the unfortunate garbage sightings common in an urban lake, you won’t get much of a nature immersion here.

4 responses to “Burnaby Lake Paddle”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out Billy! The beavers are really cool there. I plan to a family paddle there with the boys in warmer weather. Still Creek is interesting but sad to see what urbanisation has done to one of the natural waterways of the city. It’s one that is still uncovered.

    • Pleasure is mine! Yes, the water temperature was still quite cold, but I agree this would be a great location for a family outing. I will try harder to locate Still Creek next time.

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