Important Note: In reading this article you'll see I've included a number of warnings about potential hazards. In doing so, I'm not meaning to imply that these waters are overly risky, but want to provide you with a good amount of information so you can judge on yourself as to whether or not these waters are suitable for your skill set. That said, water conditions can change within minutes, so always have an exit strategy or backup plan in case things get ugly!
To kick it off I thought I'd start with my home beach, Stearman Cove in West Vancouver. It's a bit off the beaten track for most people in the Lower Mainland, but once you're here you'll have plenty of paddling destinations to choose from.
Stearman Cove is located just East of renowned Lighthouse Park, in the neighborhood of Caulfeild.
To get here, travel East along Marine Drive to the 4200 block, and just past the Paradise Garage/Cypress Park Market, turn left on Stearman Drive, then right on Ross Crescent. From there, you'll see a small parking lot on the left which brings you to the beach.
The beach itself is pretty good.. It's mostly gravelly sand mixed with small rocks with a couple small sandy areas. It's not the best beach on the North Shore, but certainly a nice place and worthwhile destination for a beach day.
Stuff to Know
- Aside from the conditions and variety of destinations available from this location, the best part about Stearman Cove is that even on the busiest days of Summer, you can always find a nearby spot to park.
- There are no washroom facilities.
- Cypress Park Market is a 5 minute walk away and they have a good selection of sandwiches and light meals plus beverages, snacks and some beach necessities.
- Dogs are not allowed, though this rule goes largely ignored. That said, don't blame me if you get a ticket as I do see bylaw offers around once in a while.
- Since this beach sits behind Lighthouse Park, the sun does set a little earlier here than other areas in West Vancouver.
- Winds tend to kick up in the late morning and die down around dinner time, so if you're looking for the best conditions, get here early or wait til after dinner.
Here's a map of the general vicinity. Click here for Google Maps' version.
Standard disclaimer applies, don't use this map for navigation!
Paddling Destinations - West
The greatest thing about Stearman Cove is regardless of the weather conditions, you always have options... If it's windy and choppy, just run a bunch of laps around the cove... If it's a S or SW wind, make the push down to Sandy Cove and have a nice downwinder on the return leg... Or if it's glassy, the World is your oyster... Keep it mellow and close to home or head out on a long distance expedition, or anything in between!
Tiddley Cove (~2km round trip): Located just West of Stearman Cove, this is a very short route, but it's a good area to introduce new paddlers to the sport. Note that this cove is extremely well protected which also unfortunately means the water is really muddy and there are a number of sunken hazards exposed at lower tides. That said though, it's a nice place at the higher tides. There's also a Government wharf here so it's a good alternative launch if you've got a cumbersome board.
Starboat Cove (~3-4km round trip): Travel further East along the rocky shores of Lighthouse Park and you'll pass Eagle Point. At lower tides be aware of the reef and stick within 10 meters of the shore to avoid bottoming out. Once you pass Eagle Point, turn further inland and you'll reach Starboat Cove. Be mindful of the old dredging barge sitting on the left hand side of the beach when paddling in. Easy to see when the waterline's low but it's slightly submerged at higher tides.
That said, as you near the lighthouse the waters become much more exposed... Wakes off the Nanaimo ferries and cruise ships, outflow currents from Howe Sound, rebound currents off the tip of the point, and the fact that you're no longer protected by Lighthouse Park's shadow.
That's not to say the Western waters of Lighthouse Park are always sketchy, but glassy conditions here are more the exception than the norm.
Lighthouse Park's shores are rocky drop offs into the ocean, but there are a few small "rest areas" if you know where to look. Just pay attention to the tides, and be sure to store your boards well above the tide line if you're planning on doing some exploring around the park, since rogue wakes from passing boats have been known to sweep a few boards out to sea.
Lighthouse Park and Beyond (7km+ round trip): If you've some more time to explore, go ahead and continue further East past the park, and you'll run into some pretty cool little areas.
First you'll pass the Grebe Islets, a couple of small rocky outcroppings that are filled with wildlife. Paddle up close to the island with the lighthouse beacon and look deep into the water for some great views of the vast abundance of kelp and starfish. Just be mindful of the large seal population that use these rocks as a resting area... They're especially curious of stand up paddlers, even more so than kayakers or other boaters. Dozens of them have followed me at times.
Continue along for another km or two and you'll arrive at Fisherman's Cove, the largest marina enclave in West Van. Watch for the sailing lessons taking place around here and give them plenty of space, as most are novices and have a harder time controlling their direction.
We'll be covering the areas between Fisherman's Cove and Whytecliff Park/Horseshoe Bay in a future article, so from here we'll turn it around back to Stearman Cove.
Paddling Destinations - East
So we've covered the West side of Stearman, now let's take a look at what lies to the East of this great paddle destination...
Traveling East and around the freshwater river mouth. Watch for the currents here, as the freshwater mixing with the ocean can result in some slightly unpredictable ebbs and flows.
Erwin Park (2-3km round trip): Nothing much going on here, but it's a good place to stop and reconsider your options if the winds start kicking up. Be mindful of the rocky shoreline here, as there are some medium to large sized rocks to navigate around.
Straight ahead you'll see a long steep sandy beach, which is your first destination, Sandy Cove. This is a popular summertime beach, and is one of the few places in the area that does have public washroom facilities. No real hazards I can think of around here, it's a pretty safe and popular beach. If you're bringing a snorkel and swimfins, this is a great place to hop in, as the water is usually warmer than other areas, and there's a very cool starfish and sealife population that lives just in front of the homes to the East of Sandy Cove.
West Bay Park (5-6km round trip): Tucked around the corner about a kilometer and a bit past Sandy Cove is West Bay Park. This is actually quite a nice, underused neighborhood park, and like Sandy Cove, does have washroom facilities. There's some sandy areas as well as some large grassy areas. I haven't spent a ton of time here, but it's definitely worthy of a stopover if you've got the time.
Beyond West Bay Park is Altamont Park, 29th Street, Dundarave, and Ambleside, but we'll be covering those destinations in another segment that will be dedicated to the Eastern regions of West Vancouver.
Anyways, hope you enjoyed our first installment of Where to Paddle, and if you'd like to put a similar article together about your home paddling locations, please feel free to get in touch!