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Exploring the Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

The boathouse and marina can be seen at the start of the Stanley Park Seawall.

The boathouse and marina can be seen at the start of the Stanley Park Seawall.

Stanley Park and the Seawall

Stanley Park is one of Vancouver's jewels. It's a 400-hectare park located on a peninsula near the downtown area of Vancouver. The park contains dense coastal rainforest as well as open areas. The open sections contain beautiful plant displays and provide the opportunity for many enjoyable recreational activities.

A seawall travels around the perimeter of Stanley Park. On top of the seawall is an 8.8 km paved path that is open to walkers, runners, cyclists, inline skaters, and wheelchairs. The path is a popular place for people who want to exercise and for those who want to stroll while enjoying the view, the items on or near the seawall, and nature. The path continues beyond the park at each end and is 28 km long in total. The entire route is known as the Seaside Greenway. It has many entrance and exit points, so people can travel along the section of their choice.

I often walk along the seawall and always enjoy my visits. There is a lot to see and photograph beside the path. It’s a wonderful area to explore. With the exception of the first photo, all of the photographs in this article were taken by me.

Attractions in Stanley Park

A visit to Stanley Park is enjoyable at any time of year. Trails travel through the forest and are interesting to explore, though they are more isolated than the sea wall path. The park contains Lost Lagoon, which is located in a popular and easily reached area, and Beaver Lake, which is at the end of a forest trail. Both are good places to see wildlife.

Attractions in the open areas of the park include a lovely rose garden in summer, other cultivated plants, a miniature train ride, an outdoor theatre, and a display of First Nations totem poles. The park also contains sculptures, restaurants, viewpoints, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

The seawall in the park is a big attraction for people. The wall is made of stone and was built to prevent erosion of the foreshore. The path on the top of the wall has one lane for pedestrians and wheelchairs and another for bicycles and inline skaters.

On the east side of the park, a seawall traveller will see the busy activity in Burrard Inlet against an attractive mountain backdrop. They'll also find rocky beaches with interesting seashore life. On the west side they'll see the calmer scenery in the Strait of Georgia, which separates mainland British Columbia from Vancouver Island. In addition, they'll discover a series of sandy beaches.

A Canada goose on the beach beside the seawall

A Canada goose on the beach beside the seawall

Construction of the seawall began in 1917. James Cunningham is most strongly associated with its creation. He was a master stonemason who worked for the Park Board. Cunningham not only oversaw the wall's creation but also did much of the construction himself. He died in 1963. The seawall was finished in 1980.

Three totem poles in Stanley Park

Three totem poles in Stanley Park

The Seawall From East to North: The Boathouse to the Cannon

I walk in a counterclockwise direction in Stanley Park, from east to west. I'll describe my favourite highlights of the journey, but there are many other things to see. There are lots of benches along the route, which enables people to rest during their walk.

One of the first photo-worthy sights on the journey is the marina and a building known as the boathouse, which is the home of the Vancouver Rowing Club. Very soon after these landmarks is an information centre that sells refreshments and has washrooms. This area is also the start of the horse-drawn carriage rides around the park.

As the traveller continues along the seawall, they'll see the site of the First Nations Totem poles. They can cross the road and view the poles now or wait until they see them again as they loop around the park. The poles are colourful and very photogenic. The First Nations centre next to the poles has a store that sells souvenirs and refreshments and also has washrooms.

The next highlight is the nine o'clock gun. This is a twelve-pound cannon that fires a black powder at 9 pm every evening. The cannon is controlled electronically. It's a popular landmark in the park. The firing of the cannon can be seen in the video below.

"Girl in a Wetsuit" to Lions Gate Bridge

The Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture is the next noticeable landmark that is seen during a seawall walk. The girl is often known as the little mermaid, since she's sitting on a rock emerging from the water. The fins on her feet do make her look a bit like a mermaid. Her creation is said to have been inspired by the Little Mermaid sculpture in Copenhagen, which is based on the story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The Vancouver girl was created by Elek Imredy and placed on her rock in 1972.

After the sculpture, the seawall path passes by a children's water playground. On the other side of the path is a short tunnel that contains washrooms and leads to a concession stand and the cultivated area of the park. This area provides a way for people to get back to the start of the seawall if they've had enough walking.

The seawall travels under the Lions Gate Bridge, which travels over Burrard Inlet. This is a good place to see cormorants, which like to perch on the bridge supports. A telephoto lens is needed to get a good photo of the birds.

The Seawall from North to West: Siwash Rock to Third Beach

Soon after a traveller has passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, they'll notice a difference in the scenery. The water becomes more open and the mountains disappear. Instead of a treed bank beside the trail that can be easily climbed to reach the road (Stanley Park Drive), there are steep, impassable cliffs. At this point, if people want to leave the path they must continue to the beach area ahead or turn backwards. It may be comforting to know that the path is wide enough for an emergency vehicle if one is needed. In addition, the route is popular and other people will likely soon appear. The route is flat and easy, but it's nice to know that help should be available if a problem develops.

One of the first landmarks to be seen on this stretch of the seawall is Siwash Rock. The rock is a sea stack (a large rock outcrop) that was formed thirty-two million years ago. It's located between the Lions Gate Bridge and Third Beach and is very close to the seawall. I always find it awe-inspiring to look at the rock and think about its age.

The scenery changes again as the traveller enters English Bay and Third Beach appears. This is a favourite spot for people to stop and relax. Third Beach is the first in a series of sandy beaches.

A view of Siwash Rock while looking back on the travelling route

A view of Siwash Rock while looking back on the travelling route

Beaches in Stanley Park

There are three sandy beaches on the west side of Stanley Park—Third Beach, Second Beach, and English Bay Beach (or First Beach). Technically, only Third Beach is in Stanley Park. The other two are close to the park boundary, however.

Third Beach is my favourite one because it has Stanley Park as a backdrop. Steps lead up to the Ferguson Point Tearoom and Restaurant, and washrooms are available.

Second Beach is very much a family area. In addition to the beach and ocean swimming, the area has a big outdoor swimming pool and a large grassy area with lots of play equipment for children. The area contains a concession stand as well as washrooms.

The city of Vancouver provides a free wireless Internet connection for everyone in around 550 locations. One of these locations is by the concession stand at Second Beach. Coffee shops, libraries, community centres, hotels, and shopping malls in the city often provide free Internet access as well.

English Bay Beach is very popular. It's next to a grassy area and apartment blocks and is the site of an annual fireworks show. The water contains a diving raft and a slide. A cafe, a concession stand, and washrooms are located close to the beach. A lifeguard is present at all three Stanley Park Seawall beaches during the summer.

Getting to the Seawall From Downtown Vancouver

One of my favourite walking routes to Stanley Park is along Robson Street, which ends at Lost Lagoon. Robson Street is a tourist attraction in its own right and is lined with many interesting shops. Lost Lagoon is an attractive body of fresh water in Stanley Park. It's popular with bird watchers and has a nature house on its perimeter. There are signposts by the lagoon that indicate the direction to the seawall.

Another very pleasant route to the park is beside Burrard Inlet. If you turn right when leaving the Waterfront SkyTrain station, you'll have two choices for reaching Stanley Park. (SkyTrain is a light rapid transit system.) To get to the park, you can stay on the sidewalk, which gives glimpses of the inlet, or you can go down to the walking and cycling path beside the inlet.

The walking path is continuous with the Stanley Park Seawall, which is in turn continuous with the rest of the Seaside Greenway. You can go for a short walk or a very long one once you're on the path.

The journey from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park is about a twenty minute walk at a fairly brisk pace. If you stay on the Burrard Inlet path, the journey will be a bit longer. Buses travel to the park, and there are pay parking lots in the park for cars.

The grass beside English Bay Beach and a tree growing on top of an apartment block

The grass beside English Bay Beach and a tree growing on top of an apartment block

Exploring Vancouver

The Vancouver area has a good public transit system, which is helpful for people who can't or don't want to drive. SkyTrain travels through Vancouver and the surrounding communities. The area also has a large bus network. Greater Vancouver's transit system is run by an organization called TransLink. The organization's website has a trip planner and information about fares.

Vancouver has other interesting attractions besides Stanley Park. The park is my favourite place to visit in the city, though. One nice thing about the seawall is that it can be explored for either a short time or for a long time. In addition, people can travel slowly with lots of rests or they can move at a faster pace. The path is a great place to exercise and to have fun as well.

Stanley Park is a worthy place for visitors to Vancouver to visit at any time of year and for the residents of the city and nearby communities to explore. The seawall is especially interesting. I always see something new when I travel along the Stanley Park Seawall.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where are the wheelchair accessible entrances and exits in Stanley Park?

Answer: Many parts of the seawall path are good places for travellers to access the path, including wheelchair travellers. People enter and leave the path wherever they wish, with a few exceptions. In the northern section, a rocky cliff borders the trail, preventing anyone new from entering or leaving it. In some other areas, there is a steep grassy slope beside the trail that might be awkward for a wheelchair to navigate, though there are paths on the slope in some places.

The flattest areas beside the path are found near the start of the trail in either direction. People are supposed to travel along the route in a counterclockwise direction (from east to west), however. The road that travels beside the path and around the park is called Stanley Park Drive. Travelling along this road gives access to parking lots. One on the eastern side of the park near the park entrance could be a suitable choice for wheelchairs.

The lot that gives access to an information booth and horse-drawn carriage rides would probably be a good place for wheelchair access. It’s called the Information Booth Parking Lot and can be accessed via a road travelling left from Stanley Park Drive. A crosswalk in the parking lot area enables people to cross Stanley Park Drive and access the seawall path. There’s a map showing the location of the parking lot and other good locations for wheelchairs at

© 2013 Linda Crampton