Best Places for Paddleboarding Near Vancouver for Beginners

Standup Paddleboarding is a fantastic sport born out of surfing, with its modern roots in Hawaii. It slowly picked up popularity over the last 10 to 15 years, and interest in the sport exploded during the pandemic.

For beginners with little to no experience on paddleboards, we recommend practicing in smaller lakes or well-protected inlets with swimmable water quality. For those who are less likely to fall in, we also included a few destinations with less pristine water to broaden your options.

A good beginner’s destination should have the following characteristics:

  • calm, flat water. This generally means sticking to small lakes and avoiding rivers and oceans. I’ve listed a few river destinations but they are inherently more risky.
  • popular with other paddlers (in case you get into trouble and need help)
  • few motorboats, traveling in a predictable and avoidable route
  • easy to launch
  • Easy to get to, with paved or well maintained gravel roads leading to the launch point
  • Fair water quality at least good enough for secondary contact like watercraft, but I will note where the water quality is too poor for swimming so that complete novices who have a high chance of falling in can take that into account. Check up-to-date water quality data in Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Before we jump into the list of our top recommendations for beginner paddleboarders, please check out our list of safety tips, and use your best judgement. Information contained in this post is my personal opinion only.

Here are some of our top recommendations with links to our more detailed reports.

Great for First Timers:

For someone brand new to the sport, who are still wobbly when standing up, they should go for the smallest, calmest, and cleanest lakes which are basically nature’s swimming pools.

Sasamat Lake – Port Moody

Sasamat Lake is a small, 900m lake in Belcarra Regional Park. It’s very warm in the summer, which makes it one of the most popular swimming lakes in Metro Vancouver. Launching is from a sandy beach several hundred meters from the nearest parking lot down a few flights of stairs, so it’s not the easiest if you prefer to pump up by the car. This lake is very close to Buntzen Lake and Belcarra, but you can’t go to Buntzen in the summer months unless you have a reservation.

Metro Vancouver Regional Parks introduced pay parking to control the volume of visitors.

Buntzen Lake – Anmore

Buntzen Lake is an amazing place to paddle. At 3.7km from the north end to the south, it’s big enough to keep a beginning paddler busy for a few hours without getting bored. It features some impressive views of the surrounding mountains. Launching is easy from a sandy beach or a paved boat ramp. Being a larger lake on this list, winds can pick up and pose a challenge for beginners. On a summer afternoon, you can expect strong southerly winds here, which may make it hard for a beginner to get back to their car.

Although motorboats are allowed, I’ve never seen anyone speeding on this lake. In fact, I very seldom see any motorboats at all, only the occasional fishing boat, sitting quietly waiting for their catch.

It’s extremely busy on the weekends, so go as early as you can (gate opens at 8am) if you must visit on a weekend. Have a back-up plan if you can’t make it before 9am. Due to the insane popularity, BC Hydro introduced a free reservation system for Buntzen Lake. I think that’s a fantastic alternative than hundreds of cars racing down the sleepy town of Anmore at the crack of dawn, trying (and many failing) to get a parking spot.

Rolley Lake – Mission

Rolley Lake is another small, clean lake under 1km across, with fairly bland views. We found ample parking even on a Labour Day weekend. Launching from the sandy beach was quite close to the parking lot. No motor boats allowed.

Hayward Lake – Mission

Hayward Lake is a medium sized lake with great onshore amenities. Similar in size to Buntzen Lake but relatively less busy, the parking lot is still first-come-first-served even in the peak season. It’s also very close to Rolley Lake mentioned above, so chances are you won’t leave disappointed. Launching is from a concrete boat ramp. Only electric motors are allowed here.

Whonnock Lake – Maple Ridge

Whonnock Lake is a very small lake of about 650m in diameter, but the view from the lake with mountainous backdrop was better than the nearby Rolley Lake. It also has a playground and lots of picnic tables. Launching is from a sandy beach. No power boats allowed.

Hicks Lake – Harrison Hot Springs

Beginners should not mess with the enormous Harrison Lake, with ocean-like winds, waves, and power boats. But visitors to the area could hop on a short drive, the last 5km of which being a manageable gravel road, to Hicks Lake in Sasquatch Provincial Park, and enjoy a much calmer small lake paddling experience. A sizable day use area and a boat ramp for max 10HP motors is available for non-campers. However, swimmer’s itch is reported in the shallower, warmer areas of the lake.

Alice Lake – Squamish

Alice Lake outside Squamish is another family friendly destination. It’s similar to Rolley Lake is some ways, featuring a stroll around the lake, picnic tables, and is a provincial park with a popular campground. At 450m in diameter, it’s extremely small but a great place for a beginner to practice. The water in the summer is warm enough that falling in should be a welcomed reprieve from the hot sun, but swimmer’s itch and E coli can be a concern. There’s a SUP rental shop here.

Good destinations for not-so-fresh beginners who don’t expect to fall in:

After about 5 hours on the water, a beginner should have enough confidence that standing up doesn’t cause the butterflies any more. They may have outgrown the small lakes and are ready to explore a bit more. The chance of falling in is also low enough that it’s a manageable risk to paddle on waters with poorer quality.

Rocky Point Park – Port Moody

For some of the calmest ocean paddling in Metro Vancouver, check out Rocky Point Park. It provides access to the inner most corner of Burrard Inlet, and the water is much cleaner than False Creek (but still not of swimmable quality). I recommend launching from the paved boat launch ramp, which has a protected area for launching paddle crafts. Avoid launching from the mudflats which are a deadly combination of quicksand and sharp barnacles. At low tide, paddle west to avoid getting stuck on the mudflats. A kayak rental place operates here in the summer.

Deep Cove – North Vancouver

If you are a paddler in Vancouver, you know about Deep Cove. In fact, I think Deep Cove Kayak attracts more beginner paddlers here than anywhere else in the Lower Mainland. The water here is generally well protected, although it could still get somewhat choppy if the wind picks up from Indian Arm. It’s the gateway to many amazing destinations up and down Indian Arm, but for a beginner, it may be best to stay close to the cove and avoid crossing boating traffic lanes. Parking at Deep Cove is very coveted, so we generally avoid it all together on a weekend in the summer. Launching is from a pebbly beach. A great alternative launching spot is Lowry Waterfront Park and paddling north for 2km to get to Deep Cove.

Deer Lake – Burnaby

Deer Lake is a small 850m lake in the heart of Burnaby. It’s very calm and quite scenic for an urban lake, surrounded by lush trees with high rises of Metrotown in the background. Launching here requires wading through a muddy beach with lots of bird droppings. There is a small dock but it is always occupied by the boat rental company’s paddle crafts. No motor boats in Deer Lake.

Water quality here is quite poor though, suitable for ‘secondary contact’ like watercraft, but not for swimming. For a complete novice who may be falling in a lot this may be a concern.

Burnaby Lake – Burnaby

Burnaby Lake is a wind sheltered, medium sized lake with a buoy-marked and dredged rectangular strip that is about 2km long. Outside this strip the water gets shallow very quickly. It houses an abundance of wildlife and it’s a much more pleasant dock launch compared with the nearby Deer Lake. No motor boats. Also check the Rowing Club’s calendar to see if the water would be busy. Water quality is not good enough for swimming here.

Bedford Channel – Fort Langley

Bedford Channel is a very calm and scenic side branch of Fraser River in Fort Langley. Here the river flow is usually very calm, except for a few weeks during the spring when the snow melt (aka. freshet) arrives. The water here, similar to the rest of the lower Fraser River, is muddy and murky, so it’s not the best place to go for a swim.

Deas Slough – Delta

Deas Slough is a well protected section of the Fraser River that is essentially still. It’s easy to launch from a sandy beach or a paddle-friendly dock. There are the occasional motor boats speeding through this blind channel though, so a beginner needs to be on the lookout and probably should brace themselves by kneeling down if a boat speeds by. The traffic here is lighter than other destinations on the list, which makes it easy to find a parking spot but also increases the chance that you would be alone on the water. There is a day use schedule here, so besides checking for tides and wind, be sure to look up whether paddle sports are allowed at the time of your visit. Water quality is not good enough for swimming here.

Alouette River – Pitt Meadows

Alouette River is a fantastic calm river paddle with no motor boats. The current here is barely noticeable between Harris Road and Neaves Road. There may be some submerged hazards to pay attention to, and I recommend tying the leash to your waist so that you can release it if it gets caught on something.

Jericho Beach* – Vancouver

Jericho Beach

Being on a more exposed section of the Burrard Inlet, albeit somewhat sheltered, Jericho Beach is the choppiest of the destinations on this list. It’s also the only one where parking isn’t free (yay Vancouver!) The small cove between The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and Jericho Beach Kayak Center is one of the most protected areas along the Vancouver shoreline, and can be calm enough for beginners on well chosen days (eg. winds of less than 5km/h). This is where Tina and I took our first SUP lesson many years ago, which in hindsight is actually not a good choice for a first timer, as I fell in as many as 5 times and felt thoroughly embarrased.

*A fellow paddler pointed out that this may not be suitable for a beginner, but I felt I should still include this with the above caveats. A surefooted, confident beginner should not be discouraged to try this out on a calm day, and this is one of the best places for a Vancouverite to practice and level up (which is what I did).

Honorable mentions (and why they didn’t make my beginner friendly list)

In my opinion, these would make a good paddling destination for a more intermediate paddler who have done 10 to 20 hours of paddling, who can handle currents, winds, and boat wakes.

Nicomekl River: usually very calm but fishing boats are frequent. Visit at higher tides to avoid shallow mud flats. Poor water quality.

False Creek: calm but heavy boat traffic including frequent water taxis that travel close to paddling routes. Speeding boats near English Bay. Poor water quality unsuitable for swimming.

Belcarra: nice and calm near the picnic area but narrow waterway choke point if going north. Going south to stay close to the small bay recommended. Crossing Burrard Inlet is not recommended for beginners due to tug boats and large commercial boats.

Widgeon Creek: fantastic calm paddle in a lazy slow flowing creek. The main concern for beginner is crossing the busy Pitt River where boats go at full speed. Also afternoon wind can be unforgiving.

Suggestions from fellow paddlers I have yet to check out:

  • Albert Dyck Lake – Abbotsford

What do you think of this list? Did we miss any of your favorites? Please leave a comment below to let us know!