When Vancouver beaches are busy, consider cooling off in a river

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Does English Bay Beach rub you the wrong way when you’re shoulder to shoulder on a packed patch of sand? E. Coli in Ambleside getting you down? Wreck Beach a little over exposed?

If the beach scene is bumming you out this summer, but you still want to cool off in a natural body of water, here’s a tip for your next dip: try a North Shore river.

Grant Lawrence prefers his swimming spots to be of the top-secret variety. Photo courtesy Grant Lawrence

Because of its steep and forested terrain, hundreds of beautiful creeks and rivers rush down the mountainside into Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm year round. Many of them offer gorgeous glimpses of the West Coast rainforest: sun-dappled cedar grottos, picturesque waterfalls, narrow, winding canyons and even some tube-friendly floats.

Many of my favourite childhood memories involved endless summer days exploring Rodgers Creek in West Vancouver. Like Rodgers, some of the creeks and rivers of the North Shore pool up beautifully in certain sections, creating supernatural swimming scenarios on a hot day after a long hike or a long time sitting in traffic on the Upper Levels Highway.

If you decide to hit up a North Shore waterway, be warned that, unlike many of those crowded Vancouver beaches, there are no lifeguards on duty at any river or lake in North or West Vancouver. And while the water volume is often low in the summer, creating idyllic situations, rivers can be unpredictable and dangerous. The swimming is often awesome, but it comes with hazards.

Since 1985, more than 30 people have died in Lynn Canyon Park, many of them from cliff jumping. Dozens of others have been seriously injured from doing the same. It seems like every year there is another story of a death or a rescue down in the canyon.

That said, there are plenty of other creeks, rivers and lakes on the North Shore that offer a much more family-friendly experience, but here’s the rub: while many of these oases are well known and easily accessible, many more are not. I don’t mean to be a drip, but — ahem — I’m not actually going to share any of their names or locations with you. That’s right, you’re going to have to discover them for yourself, just like I have.

Why? Unfortunately, in our social media-sharing culture, some North Shore sites have become so popular that they can’t handle the human onslaught. The lycra-clad hordes that line up to climb Deep Cove’s Quarry Rock trail every day means that the once-quiet village of Deep Cove now suffers from a severe parking shortage and daily traffic jams, so much so that the provincial government has stopped promoting Quarry Rock, even removing it from its Hello BC tourism website.

To find one of the North Shore’s many hidden freshwater gems, you might have to hike for up to an hour, or as little as five minutes. Obviously, the closer you are to a roadway or parking lot, the higher the potential for other people, which brings me to my next plea.

If you’re going to take the plunge, keep in mind that rivers are the pulsing veins of our planet. All of the rivers and creeks on the North Shore are vital habitats for wildlife above and below the surface. Anything that goes into the river makes its way to the ocean, so if you slather on sunscreen, make sure it’s ocean and river safe. That sheen your Coppertone leaves on the water surface? It’s akin to an oil slick.

One of my favourite river swims is just over the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge. It’s a beautiful site with a natural beach, but it can get crowded, messy, and abused. My son recently scooped a plastic bag out of the current. We used it to fill with trash before we left, including dozens of cigarette butts. Please enjoy these areas, but stay cool, and leave them better than you found them.

Side note: I’d love to recommend a river or creek in Vancouver, but sadly, according to our city’s website, “Vancouver once had a vast network of natural streams and creeks. As the city developed and grew, many streams were buried, filled in, or diverted. Presently, there are just two visible streams in Vancouver.”

The city is in the process of reversing some of this by “daylighting” buried streams, but none so far are appropriate for wallowing humans, so, see you on the North Shore, if you can find me.

Where is your favourite freshwater dip?