Vancouver’s beaches are our go-to place for most of our dose of fresh air in the city. Extending the trip around to Wreck Beach and returning via Pacific Spirit Park turns what is usually a casual beach wander into a more demanding endeavour. Hiking along the cobbles and shingle is great practice for trips to the west coast of Vancouver Island, and there’s always the chance to see eagles and herons. Spring-time has the added benefit of forest flowers, too.
We began at Jericho Beach Park, hiking along the path to Spanish Banks before following the shore around to Wreck Beach. From there we took the stairs up to NW Marine Drive, walked across the UBC campus (collected lunch, ice cream, and hot drinks along the way) before joining the Sword Fern trail in Pacific Spirit Park, following it north to Salish before turning east along Admiralty and closing the loop along the beach.
Free parking can be found on Fourth Avenue, and along much of NW Marine Drive. The abundance of parking spots means that a shorter trip can easily be made. (One option for groups with two cars is to make this a one-way trip all the way through to the UBC Botanical Gardens by leaving a car there.) Be sure to check the tide times as parts of the beach become difficult to traverse at the highest high tides.
The route was clear and obvious with no obstacles. The cliffs along the shore between Tower and Wreck beaches have seen quite a few slides in the wake of this winter’s atmospheric rivers. Most trees have been cut by park staff so it remains possible to walk the high-tide line. The stairs leading up to the Museum of Anthropology have been recently upgraded.
We saw (and heard) many birds today, with at least half-a-dozen bald eagles (including one feasting on a catch on the mudflats barely 100 m from the path), many herons feeding in the shallows, crows, gulls, American widgeon, mallards, a pair of ring-necked ducks, coots, a rufous hummingbird, a pileated woodpecker, robins, wrens, spotted towhees, dark-eyed juncoes, white-crowned sparrows, song sparrows, ravens, chickadees, and kinglets.
Many spring flowers and blossoms were evident, including salmonberry, osoberry, big-leaf maple, cherry blossom, Pacific bleeding heart, streambank spring beauty, palmate coltsfoot, red flowering currant, and skunk cabbage. On the UBC campus we saw white fawn lilies and Balkan anemones.
Distance: 17 km
Elevation gain: 160 m
Time: 6 h
- 🙂 Watching an eagle devour its prey on the beach, flanked by scavenging crows
- 🙂 Enjoying the scents of spring, including the cottonwoods and the sea.
- 🙂 A close encounter with a pair of crows gathering nesting material
- 🙂 Seeing the spring flowers beginning to bloom
- 🙂 Walking along the beach in warm sunshine
- 🙂 A feeling of wildness even so close to the city
- ☹️ Brrr! It was cold as we ate our lunch at UBC!
The boundary between a walk and a hike is not well defined, and really can only be decided by the walker or hiker. For instance, today’s journey is one that encompasses sections of beachfront and park that I have called walks before, but the length and variety of today’s wander felt sufficient to call it a hike (although, to be honest, I didn’t actually know how long the hike would be). In addition, I wanted to treat it like a “real” hike by wearing my boots and bringing a full day pack, in part just to get my feet used to hiking in those boots again and to see what adjustments I might need to make before the main hiking season gets under way.
We parked on Fourth Avenue just west of Jericho Beach Park and walked back to the meeting place to join our friends Dawn, Ashra, and Keith, beginning the walk by going past the pond and over the bridge. We stopped for a moment to check for wildlife – no sign of beavers, just some widgeon, mallard, and a few coots on the water. Further along the path we encountered the usual collection of feral rabbits, pausing for a quick photo-op, the oh-so-cute bunnies only too keen to venture close in search of handouts.
On we walked, passing the Jericho Sailing Centre, then the Locarno concession stand, enjoying the easy path over familiar ground. The tide was already out quite far and the expansive sand and mudflats were exposed for people to explore and for birds to feed. As we neared the next concession I noticed an eagle on a log down on the flats, a pair of crows hanging around much closer than normal. It was a juvenile, and it was feasting on something it had caught – whether fish or fowl I couldn’t tell – which explained the attendant crows. I walked down to the edge of the dry sand and crouched down to take a few photos before rejoining the others on the path.
The day was warm, the sun making an occasional appearance, and thoughts of sitting on the patio at the Jericho Sailing Centre crossed our minds, admiring the view with a cold beer in hand. Maybe on the way back? As we walked west we saw more eagles flying over the beach, at one point scattering a flock of seagulls into flight, and heard at least one more in the trees. Across the water, the clouds clung to the mountain tops but were high enough to see a fresh snow line in the trees. Pools of water out on the flats reflected the mountains.
We made good time to the end of the beach and walked up the road to investigate the ongoing construction that had closed the road, a handwritten sign attached to the blue steel fence stating it was closed to pedestrians and cyclists (“cyclistes”). That didn’t stop a pair of cyclists who’d ridden down NW Marine Drive from UBC and they enlisted the help of someone on our side of the fence to get their bike over while they scrambled around the end of the fence.
Curiosity satisfied, we returned to the beach and walked along the cobbles above the high-tide line, soon passing below the new culvert under the road, a substantial concrete structure with a slope of rocks for erosion control. It was with some degree of irony that we noticed a small trickle of water right at the edge of the rocks… We passed the small picnic area on Marine Drive and picked up the short trail at its western end, which soon petered out at a tangle of washed out roots and logs where a signpost leaned over at a precarious angle, clinging to the remaining soil. We picked our way through the washout to return to the beach.
Some of the slopes we passed had slumped in the wake of the winter storms, and yet coltsfoot was quite happily growing out of the loose dirt, having somehow survived the slide. We walked and stumbled over the pebbles, going between or over the multitude of logs swept up onto the beach. It wasn’t the easiest walking but it was good practice for the boulder-hopping we’ll no doubt end up doing over the summer. As usual I couldn’t help but walk along as many of the logs as possible, trying not to slip off… A pair of crows was stripping bark from a Douglas fir log, shredded filaments for their nest, and I was surprised when they weren’t spooked by my presence while I stopped to get a few photos. One did the collection of bark while the other watched warily, alternately looking at me and scanning the sky for danger.
It didn’t take long for us to reach Tower Beach and the first of the WW2 searchlight towers, now much more colourful than when originally built with many layers of graffiti from the last 80 years. (Is it really that long ago already?) I had an idea of going up and down all the beach trails to get more elevation gain but I have to admit that when we reached the first one, I was quite happy to keep going along the beach, and instead watched other beachgoers huff and puff their way up..
We passed below more landslips, some of which had brought mature alder trees down onto the beach. To our surprise, most of these trees had already been trimmed by chainsaw, presumably for safety reasons – I guess the city wants to minimize the risk of one of these falling onto someone walking the beach. We dropped down the beach a little in search of tide pools and anything else of interest, including what appeared to be a small oval fish pond. I couldn’t see any fish in it today, just the tracks of some snails in the silt and sand. There wasn’t much else to find either, just some seaweed-covered rocks, a multitude of barnacles, and some patches where water had seeped through the sand, creating meanders and interesting tree-like patterns.
A bit further on and we came to the end of the cobbles, now finding ourselves on flat sand below large sandy cliffs with more signs of landslips, and indeed new signs warning people of the slide risk. I’ve looked at these slopes quite a few times and somehow never noticed the really obvious iron pan formed at the boundary between two different layers of sediment. My best guess is that it’s a layer of sand over clay or mud and the water percolates through the sand only to be stopped at the clay/mud layer, then seeping out and dripping down the layers below. The sun even made an appearance again to provide some welcome warmth.
We reached the sandy expanse of Wreck Beach and turned to go up the steps onto the UBC campus in search of refreshments. Those 300 or so steps are always a good workout! My challenge to myself is to make the climb without stopping and I only just made it today. We detoured via the Nitobe Gardens to admire the cherry blossoms before making our way to a familiar spot for some food – the same building that us UBC folk visit for afternoon coffee and ice cream. The wind picked up as we sat eating our lunch and I even pulled out my puffy jacket. Brrr! The sun was now well-hidden behind some ominous-looking clouds and we weren’t at all surprised when we felt rain drops. We ate our ice cream under the shelter outside Rain or Shine – a well-named establishment today! – before warming up with a hot drink from JJ Bean.
Thankfully the rain eased off and we continued our walk, heading over to Pacific Spirit Park to pick up the Sword Fern trail north towards the beach, then turning onto Admiralty to follow the cliffs above Spanish Banks. Back in the forest we could hear chickadees and kinglets, and admired the fresh bleeding heart just beginning to bloom. Spring is a good time to walk the cliff path – which we noted had seen some upgrades to deal with the muddiest sections and to keep walkers away from the crumbling cliffs – as the views are not yet blocked by the leaves on the trees. Plus it’s nice to walk among the fresh salmonberry, where a rufous hummingbird buzzed past our ears. And if you’re lucky – like we were today – you may spot a pileated woodpecker drumming on a tree trunk.
The trail eventually led us down to the beach again by Spanish Banks Creek and we followed the beachside path back towards the start. Alas, our earlier ideas of beer at the Jericho Sailing Centre had to be set aside as the weather was definitely not favourable to sitting on a patio drinking cold beer, a few rain drops were now beginning to fall. Plus we were all pretty tired having been on the move for much of the last five hours. We had another bunny encounter as we returned to Jericho Beach, one of which put a nose-print on the lens of my camera, before a quick stop at the pond to search for beavers and turtles. I’d walked here with Dawn a couple of days earlier and we had seen turtles sunning themselves on a log but without the sun we guessed they were not interested in hanging out. Or maybe they don’t like the rain?
And so within a few minutes we were back at the cars and parted ways. It had turned into a longer walk than any of us had really expected – it wasn’t until we got home that we realized it was 17 km! – but it had been really enjoyable with a nice mix of surroundings. Plus being able to get ice-cream and a hot drink was a definite bonus. We headed for home to warm up and crack open a well-earned beer!