Walking the seawall perimeter of Stanley Park in Vancouver, you will
All right, if you have better willpower than I do.
“Virtually” walking the seawall on this page gives a glimpse of how Stanley Park offers "7-top reasons," but also why it may provide the most outstanding urban walk in the world.
Start at the northeast corner of the park closest to the major hotels and hostels and walk counter clockwise.
Renowned for its natural areas, Stanley Park instead shows its “civilized” English face during the first portion of your seawall walk.
Moreover, you experience great views toward the city center and Vancouver’s densely populated West End residential district.
You also pass houseboats and many small boats.
In spite of the proximity to downtown, you never leave nature or the sights, sounds, and smells of the sea.
The park features the cultures of those who came before. First nations people lived on this beautiful land as late as the 1920’s and many remain buried here.
You see these totems from the seawall.
Walking along the northern side of the park, you spot Lions Gate Bridge ahead, with the North Shore Mountains on your right. Vancouver’s nearly pristine water supply comes from these mountains in areas not open to the public.
Directly below Lions Gate Bridge, you reach the very narrow entrance to Burrard Inlet, a fjord extending inland from Georgia Strait.
You can almost touch cruise ships and other vessels when they pass so close by.
Prime viewing times come after cruise ships leave Vancouver Harbour for Alaska during late afternoons from May through September. Near Coal Harbour, you can actually see the docks that ships use and then track their progress toward Lions Gate, as you walk.
Earlier in your walk, another prime ship viewing spot came at Brockton Point Lighthouse as you turned west from Coal Harbour onto the Burrard Inlet portion of the seawall.
Traveling to or from berths on the much busier Vancouver side of the harbor, ships veer quite close to the lighthouse, as the photo shows.
I love this walk rain or shine, day or evening, high or low tide.
At low tide, steps from the seawall lead down to tide pools for exploration.
Even at high tide you find plenty of sand for relaxation adjacent to the seawall, including 3 popular beaches.
The first of these beaches at Lumberman’s Arch, popular mostly with families with small children, features the cool-looking showers above. (Shower photo courtesy of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation)
In a country where people of Chinese, Indo, and Japanese descent were denied the right to vote until 1947 (1948 for the Japanese), Stanley Park has always welcomed everyone. In 1889, Lord Stanley, the Governor General of Canada whose name became the park’s, dedicated it to “the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colors, creeds, and customs, for all time.”
Despite economic and other concerns, the people of Vancouver remain deeply committed to this park.
As you approach and go beyond the Lions Gate Bridge, the scenery becomes quite rugged; though the path stays flat and totally wheelchair accessible, as do many trails in other areas of the park.
On one side are cliffs that periodically release mud and rocks onto the path, and on the other, the wide Georgia Strait, the name for this portion of the Inside Passage, with Vancouver Island in the distance.
Large ships anchor offshore waiting their time at Vancouver docks. These turn with the tide.
I love this portion of the seawall most of all.
Because the day remained somewhat cool, fewer people used Third Beach (above).
Although everyone uses and enjoys them, Third, Kitsilano, and Spanish Banks beaches are the “in” beaches for young adults and teens in Vancouver. All offer warmer water during summer than most California beaches.
Speaking of warm, the mild Vancouver climate marks the northern limit of palm trees surviving outdoors in the western hemisphere. You will not find many, but the one in the first photo overlooks the seawall at Third Beach.
There are many fun places to relax along the seawall, such as Third Beach. On warmer days be sure to bring a towel.
I highly recommend walking the seawall on a first visit to the park, which gives a better experience of its natural setting.
The walking path nearly always puts you next to the water, but where there is room, there are also separate paths for bicyclists and rollerbladers, sometimes away from the water.
For safety, the park asks that you bike or roller blade COUNTER-CLOCKWISE around the seawall. In places, you cannot safely pass. Walkers can hike in either direction.
You can also drive around the park in a counter-clockwise direction, but will appreciate its sublime beauty far more if you frequently get out at viewpoints and walk portions of the seawall for better views.
Several “upscale” dining options exist in the park, including the Ferguson Point Teahouse adjacent to Third Beach shown above.
Views from the seawall become more placid on the southern side of the park. No mountains rise up before you. Sailboats and kayaks take the place of cruise ships.
Nevertheless, the south side provides easiest access to the bulk of the beautiful forested areas of the park, often just steps away. Larger than Central Park, Stanley Park features some 150,000 mostly evergreen trees.
Although what became the park was logged during the 19th Century, trees were so plentiful that loggers did not do a very thorough job. You still find isolated old growth gems like the cedar shown above.
On the southern side, you also gain access to the heated Second Beach pool, which appears smaller in the photos than it really is.
Once past Second Beach, the park again becomes English in feeling, with meticulously tended lawn bowling pitches (above), beautiful gardens, and other pleasures.
You may be asking, “Love it, but just how long is the seawall?”
Officially, the seawall runs 5 and ½ miles or 8.8 kilometers.
However, many people exit the seawall near Second Beach, and take paths along Lost Lagoon, in order to reach their starting point at Coal Harbour. This, I estimate, brings the actual walk to less than 6 miles.
With the splendid scenery and lack of hills, time passes quickly, but you can call a taxi from the Teahouse, Lumberman’s Point, etc., if you would rather not do the entire walk in one morning or afternoon.
Above: Along Lost Lagoon near this spot my father, whose health was deteriorating, and I set outside and enjoyed nature together for the last time, a passion he and my mother passed on to their children. We thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful park.
Can you see the large fountain in the distance near the main Georgia Street entrance to the park?
Instead of returning to the starting point, you can continue along the seawall to the park boundary and then take the connecting path along English Bay (as seen in the photo above where the trees are) to the tiny ferries that bring you either to the Granville Island Market or to the great views from the beach and huge heated salt water pool (my favorite) at Kitsilano Beach. Use the Maritime Museum dock to access Kitsilano Beach by ferry.
You can also use Burrard Bridge, the first one reached, to reach “Kits Beach" easily.
Above: View of English Bay and the Vancouver city center and West End, as well as the North Shore Mountains, from Kitsilano Beach.
(Kitsilano Beach photo courtesy of Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation)
Small game and birds are plentiful. I have even seen what looks like a lodge of the beloved national rodent appropriately in Beaver Lake inland from the seawall.
Warn your children not to approach raccoons, which may bite.
Summers are sublimely wonderful, but you can enjoy this walk all seasons. Surprisingly, Vancouver's legendary winter rains seldom come down heavily. I enjoy walking then.
Above: You pass this lovely Rhododendron Garden shown here during early May on the way back to Coal Harbour.
With some 8 million park visitors per year, parking can be problem on warm weekends and holidays.
Enjoy your seawall walk in Stanley Park!
Stanley Park home page
(Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation)
Park map (pdf. file)
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