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Here are some stunning spots for a staycation picnic on Vancouver's North Shore

In this the summer of pandemic “local” is in
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Kew Beach Park in West Vancouver is very tricky to find. Photo: Michael McCarthy

In this the summer of pandemic, going to Greece is out and “local” is in.

Around the province, communities are divided between those that want tourism, and those without medical facilities that plead for people to stay away. For folks on the North Shore, there is a third option. We can enjoy “staycations” right here at home in places we have never visited before. It’s easy if you just know where to go. To save you some time, I have spent the last 30 years exploring our wilderburb and it’s amazing what you can discover in just a few decades, especially using Google Maps.

What the heck is a “wilderburb?” According to American historian Lincoln Bramwell, it’s those rare and special places where the wilderness and suburbia interconnect. No finer example in the world can be found than the North Shore, where the mountains meet the sea amidst a paradise of forests, beaches, coves, cliffs, ponds and lakes. The trouble is that many of the best known are busy and many others are hard to find. Let me share a few with you.

One day I was at Gleneagles Golf Course wondering whether I wished to embarrass myself by playing a round of golf, when I noticed a family emerging from the woods behind the 7th hole carrying what looked to be picnic supplies. There is a tall wire screen just to the right of the tee box, and a paved path starts after the screen to the right. Take the path and walk 100 yards to where a small sign says Larsen Creek. The trail descends steeply down beside the creek. There are rough steps down the trail nicely edged with wire mesh to stop any slips and falls. It’s only a five-minute walk. There is a small sandy beach and the view is terrific. Passage Island can be seen in the distance. You’d never know Larsen beach was there. It’s totally hidden.

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West Vancouver's Cypress Canyon offers a cool respite on a hot summer's day. Photo: Michael McCarthy

At that time we were carrying a baby around, so many of the trails and hikes I’d heard about, like the Grouse Grind, were out of consideration. I don’t like climbing steep mountain trails at the best of times. Even back then, attractions like Cates Park and Ambleside were quite busy, so I pulled out a map from the car and started to study it carefully. These days you simply type in Google Maps on your phone or computer and zoom in as close as you want. Google Street View brings you up close enough to read street signs. Voila!

Seen from the sea on a kayak, there are literally dozens of beaches along the Shore, some private and many public. Whytecliff is well known, but try finding a parking place in summer. Quarry Rock, when I first went, was a secret and now it has security guards stopping the hordes, and Deep Cove suffers from “overtourism.” Then there is the challenge of finding a picnic table or place to eat, because what’s the point of a walk without a snack? Don’t forget to bring a sandwich and a water bottle.

We were sitting on a picnic blanket at Panorama Park (Deep Cove) one time, munching on peanut butter sandwiches, when we learned a very valuable lesson. A family arrived and proceeded to set up shop. Table cloth. Check. Wicker basket. Check. Wine glasses. Fine food. Knives and forks. Hey, if you are going to have a picnic, why not do it right?

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West Vancouver's Whytecliff Park offers a stunning view of the Sunshine Coast. Photo: Michael McCarthy

As a travel writer I’ve enjoyed the luxury of visiting literally hundreds of destinations in many countries and writing about “off the beaten track” gems, and seen some change and grow, sometimes not for the better. Joffre Lakes, east of Pemberton, now gets over 100,000 people a year. Yikes! When I wrote about Pemberton for a major newspaper chain, half of the folks I met said “you’re going to ruin our village,” and those in tourism said they were thrilled to be put on the map. The secret lies in the writing, especially in the “where to stay, what to do” category.

Most of the secret beaches and picnic places I have found and shared have very little parking. No one is going to want to drive a long way and find no place to park. I usually advise friends to ride a bike, or park elsewhere and walk to the destination. Most have viewpoints and are accessible to children and the elderly. Mother Nature’s Stairmaster, a.k.a. The Grind, is overrun by grinder’s seeking to escape the pandemic through rugged exercise. Why not a place of peace and relaxation instead, with a nice wicker basket of fine food prepared at home or picked up at the local deli?

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Capilano Canyon is wilderness in the heart of the city. Photo: Michael McCarthy

The late great artist Gordon Smith lived in a lovely little cottage on a laneway just next to Lighthouse Park, where the parking lot fills up before noon. My family visited him at the cottage once, and after dinner he pointed out a little path leading down to the ocean far below, accessible only by a set of stairs and a steep walk down the hill. It led to a spectacular series of cliffs where you could sit and watch the sun go down and see eagles flying by. There was a sign on the lane and space for two cars to park. He was too old to walk it, he said, but encouraged us to go. There are literally dozens of such gems hidden around the North Shore, and you don’t need to drive all the way to Whistler to enjoy them. Stay home this summer and explore your own back yard. Our own wilderburb is truly a piece of paradise.

Michael McCarthy has been exploring the North Shore for 30 years. He climbed the Grouse Grind before it had a name or stairs. His travel books about his many global adventures can be found at local shops, on Amazon or at transformative-travel.ca.

This article appeared in the Explore the Shore feature in the July 15, 2020 edition of the North Shore News. 

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Whyte Lake, formerly a water supply for West Vancouver, is a great place for a walk in the woods. photo Michael McCarthy

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