Dog-friendly beaches in short supply on the Lower Mainland
Vancouver park board lifeguard Nicole Wilson has an enviable assignment: a driftwood beach that fronts an ample cove on English Bay. Wilson’s commute here entails a 10-minute paddle in a trusty rowboat from the lifeguard station beside the Spanish Banks West concession stand. “This is an awesome job, best in the world. Given the summer weather we’re experiencing this year, it’s hard not to go to work with a smile on your face. The most important thing is you have to be confident in your abilities.”
At her post on Spanish Banks’ designated dog-friendly section of beach abutting Pacific Spirit Regional Park, the 20-year-old Burnaby Mountain Secondary grad told the Georgia Straight that in order to qualify as a lifeguard, she had to demonstrate she was “physically fit to very high standards, plus possessed good scanning skills”. Did Wilson ever imagine she’d be on the lookout as much for dogs who find themselves in difficulty as for two-footed paddlers, especially in the sizable swells that often slap the shoreline? “I’m a dog lover, so it’s pretty sweet to work a beach where they’re welcome. Thankfully, I’ve never had to rescue one. They can pretty much take care of themselves,” she said. “One of the biggest rewards of working this location is that the owners are very respectful and pick up after their animals.” Beyond simply being dog-friendly, the sandy bottom and sharp drop-off offer some of the best swimming of any strand west of Kitsilano Beach.
Another Fido-friendly option can be found at the north end of Main Street, in CRAB Park at Portside. The off-leash area there provides quick access to the water. Simply called Portside when it was created in 1987, the acronym CRAB—Create a Real Available Beach—was formally added to the name in recognition of efforts that began in the early 1980s by a neighbourhood park committee to create a beach in the Downtown Eastside. As with Spanish Banks, marine activity and sweeping views of the North Shore are a major part of this beach’s appeal.
Farther afield, sanctioned dog beaches are scarce. Reached by phone, Metro Vancouver Regional Parks’ West Area operations supervisor Tom McComb couldn’t identify one park in his sector—including Boundary Bay, Deas Island in Delta, and Iona Beach in Richmond (where a new dog-management plan placed the entire foreshore off-limits in January)—that featured off-leash waterfront. Instead, McComb, a dog owner himself, pointed to the City of Richmond’s McDonald Beach Park, next to Iona on Sea Island, as “a great beach for dogs”. On the banks of the Fraser River’s North Arm, adjacent to YVR’s third runway, McDonald’s expansive off-leash zone has long been a destination for dogs owners, many of whom journey here from the far reaches of Metro Vancouver. Few other places offer such a variety of eye-catching sights. As tugboats muscle their way along the Fraser, long-haul jumbo jets glide past in the sky above. On clear days, Mount Baker puts in an appearance on the southeastern horizon.
In Metro Vancouver Regional Parks’ East Area office, McComb’s counterpart, Roger Bean, proudly talked up Derby Reach Regional Park in Fort Langley. “Because we listen to our users, we have what we consider one of the best off-leash dog areas of all regional parks,” he remarked by phone. “There are actually four different fenced off-leash compounds: a grassy one for small dogs, one with manicured grass and picnic tables, one with long grass on a perimeter trail for owners who like to get some exercise themselves while jogging with their pets, and one manicured with rough and mowed grass that has beach access on the Fraser River.” Care to spend the night? The park’s forested riverside campground sits beside the dog area. (Note: unlike ocean beaches, Fraser River sites are both silty and muddy; extra towels for doggy dry-offs are recommended.)
Nexen Beach at the head of Howe Sound invites travellers to explore Squamish’s downtown waterfront. A former industrial site, Nexen is a centrepiece in the town’s long-range redevelopment plans. Broad, sandy, and shallow, this saltwater destination is largely the preserve of windsurfers and dog owners. A stiff breeze frequently plays across the sound that not only softens the sun’s intensity but also makes the sheltered side of a massive driftwood log desirable when you’re spreading out a picnic blanket. In addition to being a hidden jewel for dog-loving day trippers, Nexen Beach is Kilometre 0 on the Sea to Sky Trail. Bring along a bike to explore this tranquil section of Squamish’s waterfront that leads inland along the Mamquam Blind Channel, a route dotted with rusting evidence of the former logging town’s past. Nexen also offers one of the most spellbinding sights of any beach: Shannon Falls’ tumbling whitewater. So close, and so doggone pretty.