If you’ve ever driven the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) between Vancouver and Whistler you have passed Porteau Cove Provincial Park, located directly on the Howe Sound. This beautiful inlet is the most southerly fjord in North America and the park is wedged between Brunswick Mountain and the sound, boasting tremendous views in all directions. With a picturesque, rocky beach and impressive pier looming high above the water, Porteau Cove is a popular place for families, campers and sunset lovers and is open year round. As a provincial park it is run by Sea to Sky Parks out of Mount Seymour, who generally keep it in impeccable condition.
9 Reasons You Should Visit Porteau Cove Provincial Park
1. To Wander Porteau Cove Beach
The beach is definitely more rocky than sandy, so lying around on it isn’t necessarily the way to go, but the views are stupendous. Plus, the huge swathes of driftwood are perfect for exploring or setting up your own bit of private beach.
2. To Take a Break When Driving the Sea to Sky Highway
As gorgeous as the British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Highway is, the constant curves and changing speeds can be tiring for a driver. It is also hard to truly enjoy the views when you have to concentrate on the road, which is why so many people stop in at Porteau Cove to stretch their legs, use the facilities and maybe settle in at one of the picnic areas for lunch. The day-use area and parking lot is open to the public until 10 pm so even on those long summer evenings you should be able to stop in for a break.
3. To Stay at Popular Porteau Cove Camping
With a phenomenal location and wonderful views, it is not surprising that the Porteau Cove campground is in high demand. It is one of the best of the Squamish Campgrounds in the area and many of Porteau Cove campsites have direct views of Howe Sound. Campsites 1-11 (except for 6 and 8) have northwest beach access while 13-22 have southwest beach access. 32-43 also have beach access but are closer to the road. Then most of the Porteau Cove walk-in sites have northwest access as well. There are flush toilets. Porteau Cove campground is known for its raccoons so always keep an eye on your food (and other belongings) and keep a clean site at all times. As the park is open year round you can try out some winter camping as well.
The park fills up quickly in good weather. Porteau Cove Camping reservations can be made for dates between March 24 and October 9 and the rest of the time the sites work on a first come, first served basis.
4. To Enjoy Scuba Diving Right from the Shore
Somewhat surprisingly, the Porteau Cove park features a pair of sunken vessels and a bunch of artificial reefs, making it an outstanding scuba diving destination. Over the years, these underwater havens have attracted a fantastic variety of sub-tidal marine life. It also has clear water and great visibility due to the low temperatures and lack of bacteria. Diving depths range from 6-18 metres (roughly 20-60 ft). The diving area is clearly marked by buoys but the currents can be strong due to the changing tides and occasional strong winds. Going inside the vessels is not recommended unless you have specific training in that area. Steps lead down from the main parking lot to the water’s edge and from March 1 to November 12 there is an outdoor shower available in the day-use area.
5. To Stretch Your Legs on the Short Porteau Cove Hike
While there are plenty of strenuous hikes to impressive overlooks in the nearby mountains, if you are looking for something short and relaxing you should check out the easy Porteau Cove lookout trail. The trail starts next to the walk-in campsites and is only about 300 metres with very little slope to a nice lookout over the cove and sound. Its west-facing location makes it an excellent place to watch the sunset or, if that isn’t exciting enough for you, there is also a cliff-jumping spot just behind the lookout.
6. To Spot Local Wildlife
While on the Porteau Cove hike keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of wildlife, including seals, porpoises, otters, mink and a whole range of different birds. From spring to fall you might spot orcas, grey whales and humpback whales. Also, salmon spawn in the park estuary, but only every two years (for some reason).
7. To Try Your Hand at Porteau Cove Kayaking and Other Watersports
Not surprisingly, Porteau Cove is a great place for water activities. Canoeing, kayaking, boating, windsurfing and paddleboarding are all very popular. Or even just regular swimming (although be aware that there are no lifeguards). Water shoes make it easier to get in and out on the rocky bottom. There are two paved boat launches and you can rent just about anything you need in Squamish.
8. To Wake Up to an Ocean View from one of the Porteau Cove Cabins
Maybe camping isn’t really your thing and rather than roughing it in a tent you’d prefer the comforts of a cabin. Good news, Porteau Cove has that covered as well. The two Olympic Legacy cabins were built for use as kiosks and park showcases at Simon Fraser University during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Now they are in Porteau Cove, where you can stay in them year-round. Each cabin features a bedroom, loft, kitchen, deck, heat, wifi and holds up to 4 people. They book up quickly but you can call 604-986-9371 for reservations ($189-259).
9. To Stay Up Late for Porteau Cove Stargazing and to See the Northern Lights
Being far enough from major urban centres, Porteau Cove is a fabulous stargazing location and between October and March there is a very good chance you will see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). There is a large viewing deck overlooking Howe Sound that offers phenomenal sky views, which is particularly popular during special meteorological and lunar events. You can plan ahead for your night time visit by checking out the Porteau Cove Clear Sky Chart.
Are Dogs Allowed at Porteau Cove?
Dogs are allowed but not in buildings or on the beach and they must be kept on a leash at all times.
How to Get to Porteau Cove Provincial Park
From Vancouver, follow the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) north from West Vancouver. Porteau Cove is about 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver and roughly 20 minutes north of Horsheshoe Bay ferry terminal. It is about 20 kilometres south of Squamish. If staying in Squamish, Porteau Cove makes for a great day trip.
There is a reasonably-sized parking area at Porteau Cove to handle the large numbers of day-trippers. Be sure to park only in designated areas, however, as due to the number of people ignoring “no parking” signs, blocking emergency access and even parking along the highway, vehicles are now regularly being towed for flaunting the rules.
Other Recommended Stops Along the Sea to Sky Highway
If you want to hit all the highlights along the Sea to Sky we would recommend getting an early start to prepare for a big day of big views, big hikes and a few terrific lakes thrown in for good measure. Here are some of the other stops we’d recommend:
Cliff jumping at Lions Bay
Browning Lake (day-use area and a variety of trails to viewpoints)
Shannon Falls (easy lookout stroll or 2.5-hr hike to the Upper Falls)
Brandywine Falls (a 10-min walk just off the highway)
Whistler Train Wreck (easy 30-min return hike)
Great Hikes Near Porteau Cove
If you have the time to do some hiking there are some amazing options around Porteau Cove which you can find in our 22 Best Squamish Hikes. In an area full of outstanding viewpoints, Tunnel Bluffs still manages to stand out as one of the best. On a clear, sunny day it is absolutely worth a few hours of time and effort to get to this standout spot. You could also use Tunnel Bluffs as your warmup hike before tackling the epic Stawamus Chief hike.
Located a bit farther north near Squamish, “The Chief” is a tricky, strenuous hike involving ladders, chains and nearly 800 metres of elevation gain but you get to enjoy stunning views from three different peaks. A truly classic coastal hike. Closer to Vancouver, the Eagle Bluffs hike on Cypress Mountain was the most impressive of many good choices in North Vancouver. If you are up for a day trip, there are a few great Bowen Island hike options or you can just spend some time hanging out in terrific Snug Cove.
Then, if you happen to be on a longer road trip, the East Sooke Coast Trail on Vancouver Island is a phenomenal coastal route. Further inland, hiking in Kelowna lacks a standout option but offers plenty of variety. Finally, if you have the time to make it into Alberta, the Canmore and Banff area features several of the best day hikes we’ve ever done.
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