Relaxed Paddle up Widgeon Creek in Pitt Meadows
Our favourite day paddle in Metro Vancouver is near Pitt Meadows, from Grant Narrows Park up Widgeon Creek. Jerry, a long-standing BCMT director, first paddled it almost 50 years ago in a Grade 10 outdoor recreation class. The teacher grouped the students into pairs, placing a big but unskilled paddler in the back of each double canoe and a totally clueless paddler in front. With teen hormones raging and girls to impress, the boys were more concerned with looking cool than getting anywhere. Most of them paddled around in zig-zags and crazy loops with frequent collisions between canoes as we tried unsuccessfully to master the J-stroke. Laughter was the order of the day.
In the years since then, the population of Metro Vancouver has more than doubled, but Widgeon Creek somehow still provides the wild escape Jerry remembers fondly from that first trip. For our most recent paddle, we head back with our youngest son, at the end of October. The area can be overcrowded in summer, so we choose to visit in the shoulder season. We also choose a day when the tides will be moderately high. On a previous trip we had to wade upriver at low tide pulling our canoe behind. There’s really no definitive tide reference but the note at the end of this article offers guidance.
We park at the Grant Narrows launch site which has reopened after a several year closure. Strangely, there is no public toilet here (and its clear in the bushes how problematic that can be). The big boat dock and on-site canoe rental service that were here for decades are both gone. Instead, we’ve booked a canoe rental from Pitt Lake 4 Canoe Rental. From a location off-site, they operate a year-round service delivering rented canoes and kayaks to the launch ramp. The four-person canoe they bring for our early morning start is in good condition
Our youngest son is a veteran of two Bowron Lakes trips and teaches canoeing in the summer. He, not Dad, takes the alpha seat steering from the back of the canoe. After launching, he guides us powerfully and skillfully across Pitt River and up Widgeon Creek. We pass herons, migrating waterfowl and muddy paths along the riverbank indicating the presence of a muskrat or otter. A series of beautiful views unfold around us as we meander quietly up the creek. Although there are other beached canoes at the start and end of the paddle, we see few people on our trip.
The 5-km paddle from Grant Narrows to the Widgeon Creek campground takes a little over an hour. We pull our canoe up the beach and hike the 2.9-km trail to the waterfall. We’re sure to make enough noise to warn bears of our approach and glad we brought pepper spray when we see a bear warning sign. At the waterfall, we have a pleasant lunch in the fresh autumn air with the roar of rushing water all around. Our entire outing takes a relaxed 5 or 6 hours.
The trip confirms Widgeon Creek as our favourite family day paddle in Metro Vancouver. Like a green oasis, it feels surprisingly wild and remote, continuing to enthrall with its gorgeous scenery, excellent bird viewing and, of course, laughter with family and friends.
Another family favourite is Pitt Lake, one of the largest tidal lakes in the world. A few years ago, we took a group up the lake to Osprey Creek for an overnight trip. Osprey Creek’s sandy beach feels remarkably like the west coast of Vancouver Island with tides going in and out and a sunset view to the west. With enough time, one could do a 44-km loop through all the campsites around the perimeter of the lake. If you visit, be sure to check out the lake entrance on a marine chart. Follow the boat channel much further into the lake than you might think. Wind-over-tide conditions on the shallow sand bar have proven fatal to other paddlers.
How To Predict Pitt Lake Tidal Currents
(email from Fred Stephenson in Westcoast Paddler)
Water levels (and the resulting currents) in the Pitt River are more complicated than those in the strait of Georgia because they are influenced by both the tides and the flow/discharge of the Fraser River. Guidelines:
- The HWs in the Pitt River typically occur 1-2 hours after HW at Point Atkinson.
- The LLWs (the lower of the two low waters in a day) typically occur 3-4 hours after LLW at Point Atkinson.
- The daily range of tide is 1.5 metres or less (i.e. 1/3 or less the range of the tides in the Strait of Georgia) and the height is strongly influenced by the discharge rate in the Fraser River (the greater the discharge, the higher the water levels).
- When the current is flowing north (into Pitt Lake) the maximum rates will occur at about the time of HW at Point Atkinson. The period of northerly current flow will be from APPROXIMATELY 1-2 hours before HW at Point Atkinson until 2-3 hours after HW at Point Atkinson.
- Maximum currents in the Pitt River will usually be 2.0 knots or less, but currents of 2-3 knots are possible.
With this information as a starting point, your own experiences over time will enable you to develop guidelines which are better than what I have provided here (i.e. variations based on weather conditions, time of year etc.)
If you have any questions about the information I’ve provided, or find it to be dramatically different from what you observe, please let us know.
Manager, Geomatics Engineering / Canadian Hydrographic Service / Canada Fisheries & Oceans