Birders and photographers are in on the secret: the southwest corner of mainland British Columbia is the place to see migrating birds, ocean and mountain views, and a peat bog that’s ten times the size of Stanley Park. For five Fall days we cycle the dyke trails, greenways, and country roads of Tsawwassen, Delta, and White Rock, and now we know: this area is not just a transportation corridor to be endured as you rush north to Vancouver airport or east to Hope and beyond. Map
Traffic is brisk at Tsawwassen’s ferry terminal, the main gateway for traffic from Vancouver Island to the mainland. Whew – we survive the western end of Highway 17. Clutching Colleen MacDonald’s friendly cycling guidebook, Let’s Go Biking, we turn onto the Great Blue Heron Way, a multi-use trail along the Salish Sea shoreline on Tsawwassen First Nation land. We loop back through lands undergoing a massive build-out.
Tsawwassen claims to get three full days of sunshine for every one in Vancouver. Sunny skies could be part of the draw for the 2,800 new homes, the destination shopping mall, and the industrial park, where Amazon will be opening a “fulfilment centre” employing seven hundred people.
A White Rock
Yes, there really is a white rock in White Rock, a seaside resort town that’s a mostly-easy 50 km ride from Tsawwassen. Weighing 486 tonnes, you can’t miss the rock while strolling White Rock’s three-km oceanfront promenade, where locals and visitors gather to watch the sunset.
White Rock’s pier, the longest wooden pier in Canada, is a destination, too, and it has just re-opened after nine months of major repairs. On December 20, 2018, the pier was severely damaged ― severed in half by a windstorm.
To get to White Rock, we ride through a series of parks and nature trails in Delta and South Surrey. First up is the 20-km Boundary Bay Trail. More than three hundred species of birds and twenty types of raptors have been sighted on this aerial highway for migrating birds, and there’s a heritage airport to visit along the way.
Next is a lovely ride along the banks of the Nicomekl River, with stops at Elgin Heritage Park, Fieldstone Bakery, and Blackie Spit. We continue along the water south and east, then descend along the beaches of White Rock.
Riders on the storm
Sensible people would stay put on Friday, storm-watching from one of White Rock’s many oceanfront cafes, pubs, and restaurants. Us, we decide to ride, telling ourselves that a Strong Gale is not really that bad. (The Strong Gale is later upgraded to Storm, causing ferry cancellations and the closure of Stanley Park.)
It’s raining hard as we travel the Semiahmoo Heritage Trail, but this is the easiest part of the day. King George Boulevard presents some moments of terror, as we struggle not to be blown into the traffic lane by a gust of wind. Whew, we think, as we reach the Delta Watershed trails. No cars to worry about, but now it’s snap, crack ― alder trees are crashing around us. We stop half a dozen times to remove fallen branches or lift the bikes over toppled trees. Doug wants to visit woodsy Burns Bog, and we achieve that goal. When the mud puddles get too deep, we turn around and try a short cut via a shoulderless farm road with lawless drivers. Back on the Boundary Bay Trail, there are no cars and no trees, but now we are heading directly into the 90 km/h wind gusts with twenty kilometres to go.
It’s only a 53-km ride, but we are ready to take the rest of the day off. We are given a suite and welcome chocolates when we check into our hotel. The reason for this special treatment is not clear, but we take it. On which of our suite’s two televisions should we watch Jeopardy!?
Happy families are heading to their favourite u-pick pumpkin patch on Saturday. The wind has ceased, and it’s a gorgeous Fall day ― just right for cycling farm roads and dyke trails on a 38-km route called Ladner Loop-de-Doop! So much flat land, so many farms – it feels like Holland.
After enjoying Ladner Village and its Stir Coffee House, we detour to Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island (10km, return). Flashback to 1970: our two little toddlers are feeding the ducks here at the Sanctuary. Nearly fifty years later, feeding the ducks remains a popular activity; we seem to be the only visitors who don’t purchase a bag of seed. Do today’s children enjoy Make Way for Ducklings as much as our daughter did?
After Westham Island, we follow a pleasant out-and-back dyke trail to Brunswick Point, where the Fraser River meets the Salish Sea. Then it’s back to Tsawwassen centre to sleep before our return to Victoria. Smooth sailing ― BC Ferries has cleared the backlog caused by Friday’s twenty-five storm-related cancellations.
If you go
- Between Mud Bay Park and Elgin, we rode on King George Boulevard, a major arterial road in Surrey. Traffic-averse riders will not enjoy their fifteen minutes here. If there is a safer route, please let us know.
- Bicycle are not allowed on the Promenade in White Rock.
- Bog Greenway, which runs beside Burns Bog, has muddy sections. Bring galoshes or ride really fast through the mud puddles, if you go in the soggy season. Only a small portion of Burns Bog is accessible to the public; learn about the Bog and how to visit it here.