There aren’t many places in the world where you can swim between two countries with such ease as at Boundary Bay in Boundary Bay Regional Park, south of Tsawwassen in Greater Vancouver. A metal-scaffolded tower marks the place where the 49th parallel slices across the sandy beach. In summer, when the bay is a bathtub of sun-warmed seawater, you can make like a dolphin as you skip back and forth between Canada and the United States. When you’re ready to dry off, stroll the beach and experience the same thrill.
Visitors can’t venture far into the United States. From the town of Point Roberts, Washington State’s portion of the beach—known locally as Maple Beach—peters out to rock and cobblestone as it nears an escarpment. Although there is public access to Maple Beach, almost the entire beach is privately owned. In summer, many swimmers gather near the border tower. The swimming is better here, especially at high tide when the bay fills to a greater depth than elsewhere. In 1792, the Spanish explorer Galiano named this Ensenada del Engaño, Mistake Bay, since he made the mistake of thinking there was a way inland from the end of the bay.
When a low tide drains Boundary Bay, its sandy bottom is as mottled as the moon. Little pools of seawater are trapped in sandy depressions and reflect the sky in an endless array of mirrors. Walk out and explore the expanse but be sure to keep an eye on the shoreline where you may have left your picnic basket. It’s easy to lose track of your spot unless you have a landmark such as a large umbrella or a distinctive piece of driftwood.
The temptation is to stroll far out at low tide into the middle of the bay, where some of the most interesting wildlife features are revealed, either in the pools, beneath the sand, or on the shoreline. Thousands of birds—dunlin and sandpipers, herons and brants—follow the twice-daily rise and fall of the ocean as it rinses the bay. You can walk so far out into Boundary Bay that the vapour rising off the sand obscures the horizon and you feel very remote from land indeed. If you are here later in the day, sit back and watch the setting sun colour Mount Baker’s snow cone to the southeast, the most visible landmark on the horizon. Plan to be here in the days leading up to and immediately following the full moon, to watch it rise from behind the semi-dormant volcano. After dark, Boundary Bay Park is a great place to count stars. Although the park remains open throughout the night, if you plan to linger, make sure that you leave your vehicle outside the nearby park gates that close at dusk.
Windsurfers flock to Boundary Bay, where the best time to catch the breeze is following a storm blowing from the south. Located on the east side of the isthmus to the ferry terminal, the winds can blow just as hard across its surface as out by the BC Ferries jetty. A good place to launch is the vehicle-accessible ramp at the east end of 1A Avenue via 67th Street, several blocks south of the park’s main entrance.
If it were summer year-round, Boundary Bay Regional Park might lose some of its seasonal appeal to migratory birds. The bay is one of the most important stops on the Pacific Flyway. Each spring and fall, more than 250,000 birds pass through the area—between 20,000 and 30,000 brant geese alone. Together with the sight of the annual salmon migration in the nearby Fraser River, this north-south passage is one of the most stimulating natural events in the region. Throughout the year, the Friends of Boundary Bay run numerous natural-history interpretive programs in the vicinity of the bay and nearby Burns Bog. For more information and a brochure, telephone (604) 940-1540.
A dike trail follows the perimeter of the bay from Boundary Bay Park east to Mud Bay. There are many good viewpoints for birding along the way. Drive to the south end of 64th or 72nd Avenue from Ladner Trunk Road, and walk up onto the dike from here. This is the Boundary Bay Regional Trail, all 12 miles (20 km) of which is public park. In winter, watch for snowy owls—they are often seen sitting motionless on fenceposts. Or a pair of oval-faced barn owls may fly overhead. There’s always magic at work on the shoreline and in the skies above Boundary Bay.
Boundary Bay Regional Park is located in Tsawwassen, Delta, in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia. To reach Boundary Bay, follow Hwy 17 south from Hwy 99 in Delta and head in the direction of the BC Ferries terminal. Turn left at 56th Street (also called Point Roberts Road) where signs point to Tsawwassen’s town centre. Drive into Tsawwassen, turn left on 12th Avenue and continue to Boundary Bay Road, which leads south around the bay to the park entrance. Beach amenities, including changing facilities, showers, and restrooms, are located here.