The 5 best summer swimming holes in Vancouver
Dozens of idyllic swimming spots are only a dog paddle away. Here are five must-visit summer dips
July 27, 2016
Nothing says summer in Canada like a refreshing swim—preferably after launching oneself off a dock or cliff face into the water. While the window of opportunity to experience this balmy slice of summer activity closes quickly in much of the country, we’ve been geologically blessed with near-unending sources of fresh, highly swimmable water in beautiful settings nationwide. B.C., famous for its natural bounty of things to do and see, is no different; clean swimming holes—usually river- or glacier-fed—are many in and around the Lower Mainland. Also (due to the mountainous terrain of the North Shore), cliffs that adrenaline-seeking hotshots can fling themselves off of are almost as numerous. So grab your friends, load up the car with snacks and supplies and hit the road. There are gorgeous, refreshing lakes, rivers and ponds all around—but they won’t come to you.
The “mystery” of Mystery Lake is how this tranquil little gem is not more well-known. Found at the end of a 30-to-45-minute hike that follows a casual ascent over rocks, roots and boardwalks through a varied series of trails, the lake is a picturesque spot to spend a few hours swimming (with some good spots for diving on the opposite shore), relaxing, and having lunch. With tons of room to tan and lay about, and trails heading off in different directions from the lake, don’t be surprised if you decide to cancel later plans to hang out and explore the area a bit.
You’re gonna have to work for this one. While it’s quite close to a residential area in North Vancouver and popular with locals, it isn’t advertised (or even necessarily welcoming to the public). It’s a relatively short journey to Pool 99 after parking your vehicle, but getting there involves jumping a fairly high (usually locked) gate, heading down a steep trail, and you may have to pass through another (non-private) fenced area once down below. The fence-hopping and sleuthing is worth the effort though; after passing Pool 88—which has a jumpable cliff itself, but keep your eyes on the real prize—you’ll reach Pool 99, a chilly but pretty pool with very swimmable water and cliffs ranging from 10 to 70 (!) feet in height.
Located in an area of the Capilano Canyon rarely visited by tourists, Granny’s Cove is an almost-hidden piece of Pacific Northwest paradise along the river. It’s also one of the premiere destinations for cliff-jumping in the city, with multiple cliffs ranging up to 60-feet high. The water is deep, clean and invigoratingly cool. The shock of hitting cold water after a cliff jump is entirely part of the process, though, so take a deep breath and take the leap. The only real drawback is the climb back up the hill afterwards, and it doesn’t get any easier as the day goes on (and the sun hits full bore). The cliffs aren’t the only draw, however; the secluded refuge has plenty of areas along the rocks and shore to sunbathe, have a picnic, watch others plummet into the water, and hang out with friends and dogs.
Jug Island Beach
While highly worthwhile, Jug Island Beach’s name is a bit misleading. While there is an Isle of Jug—the beach itself faces it—getting to the island requires you to swim (or kayak or boat) across a natural channel between the two. Altogether quite different from most of Vancouver’s other beaches, Jug Island Beach is a sheltered pebble inlet that provides great swimming opportunities, at the end of a moderately easy hike through the thick, lush forest of Belcarra Regional Park, in the village municipality of Belcarra. Reaching out into Indian Arm, the hike and its subsequent reward—the beach and island—offers spectacular views and a great, secluded beach perfect for a leisurely paddle or some beach combing in either direction outwards from the inlet. Jug Island itself is reachable by a decent swimmer, so some further exploring is an option as well. The hike is quite doable for dogs and children, and it takes about 45 minutes each way. Belcarra Regional Park also has a day-use area and all the requisite amenities.
Whyte Lake, a quiet oasis located in the hills of West Vancouver overlooking Horseshoe Bay, will leave you wondering how you haven’t been before. The hike, an affair gentle enough in length for most, cuts through classic West Coast old-growth forest. At times, the lake itself can present a unique challenge to more casual swimmers used to, say, Kits Beach for a few reasons. The water level of the lake fluctuates (supposedly due to beavers damming the outflow) and this can cause the dock to sometimes become submerged, and logs and trees are often found floating near the shore—probably from the beavers again, those pesky (but lovable) buggers. There’s plenty of wildlife to be seen if you’re lucky, and the dock—and the area around it—is perfect for a post-dip hang or beverage. Whyte Lake can sometimes get a bit crowded on weekends, so either arrive early or plan your trip midweek.
Photo credits: Mystery Lake: Jaden Nyberg | Pool 99: Jason Hargrove | Granny’s Cove: Guilhem Vellut | Jug Island Beach: Michael Tedesco | Whyte Lake: Kyle Pearce