Beat the heat at one of these four B.C. lakes
Water, water, everywhere, and no place more so than across southern B.C. this summer. As the Georgia Straight crisscrossed the province on a series of road trips beginning in June, one thing became abundantly clear: waterfront, particularly the sandy-beach variety, was in short supply, not simply because of wet-weather conditions but also because local demand often outstripped natural resources. The fact is, there are only so many swimming holes to go around.
In places such as Squamish, a Sea to Sky Corridor community that has experienced suburban-style expansion in recent years, long-time dipping spots such as Alice, Brohm, and Cat lakes have experienced an overflow of visitors like never before. Combine hot-weather quests for cool respite with above-average water levels in rivers like the Thompson south of Kamloops and lakes such as Okanagan between Vernon and Penticton, and beach lovers are faced with a predicament unmatched in previous years.
Driving to the Interior? Don’t count on finding relief at usually reliable beach stops such as the mill town of Canoe, east of Salmon Arm on the shores of Shuswap Lake. The nearby community of Sicamous, which styles itself as the houseboat capital of Canada, is still mopping up after lake waters flooded the town’s low-lying foreshore and turned boat-storage facilities into instant marinas as houseboats on trailers floated in waist-deep waters earlier this month.
As the B.C. Day long weekend ushered in the hottest month of summer, here’s a quartet of watering holes most likely to offer three-pronged refreshment in the last two weeks before Labour Day: warm waters, sandy beaches, and plenty of room to spread blankets and picnic baskets.
First up: Golden Ears Provincial Park’s South Beach on Alouette Lake in Maple Ridge. Ample parking matched by an equally impressive strand means quick access to long, often windswept Alouette Lake. Framed by forested slopes on both sides with snowcapped peaks in the far distance, Alouette’s clear waters never fail to satisfy. Shaded picnic tables dot the beach’s grassy backshore. Canoe and kayak rentals are available beside South Beach’s boat launch, site of a small dog-friendly zone. (The park’s North Beach day-use area allows on-leash canine companionship.) For a break from the heat, tour the shaded Spirea Universal Access Trail at the beach’s entrance. The best time to visit here is during the day, before lengthening shadows cast by nearby mountains diminish the sunlight. Budget a one-hour car ride from Vancouver.
Long before the creation of Boundary Bay Regional Park, Delta’s Centennial Beach Park lured visitors to Tsawwassen. That being said, the municipally owned beach (under lease to Metro Vancouver Parks since the 1980s) is still considered something of a hidden gem by locals such as Mayor Lois Jackson, who applauded planned upgrades to beach facilities, including a new concession stand and an expanded, wheelchair-accessible children’s playground.
What’s special about this beach? Swimming in the Pacific Ocean in B.C. can be a brisk affair at the best of times. Not so in summer in Boundary Bay, where a shallow, sandy-bottomed expanse warms up to bathtublike temperatures.
This is a DIY environment with enough accumulated driftwood to function as makeshift backrests, windbreaks, and, best of all for young folks, forts. For those who arrive with car-top boats, a short portage is required from the parking area to the shoreline; otherwise, search out the nearby ramp at the east end of 1A Avenue via 67th Street. (For an added treat, tour the nearby Boundary Bay Earthwise Organic Farm and Garden beside the beach on 3rd Avenue.) Best time to visit here is before or after afternoon rush hour; that can make the drive from Vancouver as short as 30 minutes.
For travellers headed inland on scenic Highway 99, relatively few spots suggest themselves for a cooling swim. Diminutive One Mile Lake Park in Pemberton is an exception. This roadside option includes a large dock with wheelchair-accessible change facilities and a children’s play area. As well, the Pemberton Canoe Association offers boat rentals. If time permits, follow the boardwalk that encircles the lake’s lily-pad-dotted surface.
Even better swimming awaits three hours farther north of Pemberton at Crown Lake in Marble Canyon Provincial Park, where the Sea to Sky Highway closes in on its northern junction with Highway 97 near Cache Creek. Paired with aptly named Turquoise Lake, Crown sits wedged between the Pavilion Mountain Range’s whitewashed, crenellated limestone peaks, the most recognizable of which is Coyote (also known as Chimney) Rock. Picnic tables line the park’s modest beach, from which a sandy bottom slopes gently out into warm waters.
Float on an air mattress or paddle a kayak or standup paddleboard to the opposite shore, where youthful divers scale the cliffs, then leap into Crown’s deep blue-green waters. A cooling breeze always wafts through Marble Canyon and moderates temperatures well below those scorching the nearby Fraser Canyon around Lillooet. This little slice of paradise is remarkable for its geological pedigree as part of an ancient Pacific island archipelago. Doff your aloha garb and dive in.
ACCESS: Golden Ears Provincial Park lies 50 kilometres east of Vancouver in Maple Ridge. For information on swimming, as well as canoe and kayak rentals at Alouette Lake, can be found here. Boundary Bay Regional Park’s Centennial Beach lies 40 kilometres south of Vancouver, in Tsawwassen. Directions are here. For information on Boundary Bay Earthwise Organic Farm and Garden, visit the farm's website. Marble Canyon Provincial Park lies 290 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. Details are here .