Wreck Beach: A Different Kind of Trip

Heading down Trail 3 to Tower Beach

Heading down Trail 3 to Tower Beach

UBC is the only university I know of that has a nude beach. Imagine yourself, on a mid summer day, clambering down the wooden stairs to Wreck Beach, through pristine forest, coming out to a scene in the spirit of the free love atmosphere of the 60’s. There are volleyball nudes, beer hugging nudes, sunbathing nudes, ice cream selling nudes and even magic mushroom and pot selling nudes. They come in all types.

If you return at the end of summer, Wreck Beach transforms completely. A wilder, undeveloped and more pristine beach: the nudists disappear, and the beach is reclaimed by quacking seagulls. On a beautiful sunny fall day, the first after several weeks of seemingly continuous rain, Maya and I headed down to Wreck Beach for a half day hike. Most visitors to the beach go down the main trail, spend time at the beach, and return the same way, but there is much more to Wreck Beach than this. It turns out you can follow the beach for a long way in either direction, from Acadia Beach to the booming grounds and beyond.

View of the north shore from Tower Beach

View of the North Shore Mountains from Tower Beach

We chose to start our walk on Trail 3, which used to be my favourite trail down to the beach, until a few years ago when a fancy wooden staircase was built there. What was wrong with the old trail? Who knows. A large tree has fallen over the trail, high enough to easily walk under it, now a decomposing part of the scenery. At the bottom of the trail, at Tower Beach, await two huge concrete towers, now lavishly decorated with colourful graffiti, relics from World War II. Behind them lies an army of oil tankers waiting to refuel and the sheer North Shore Mountains.

Wreck Beach on a sunny fall day

Wreck Beach on a sunny fall day

From there we followed the beach on rocks and pebbles, with short sections of trail in the forest and some clambering over and under trees. I love the way the pebbles become shiny jewels when they are wet, and the sound of the pebbles bumping one another when the water recedes. Some time later we started seeing some people, which signaled that we were getting closer to the main beach. We passed a few groups of aging hippies, butt naked, playing guitar and surrounded by metal foil constructions that focus the weak fall sun. Turns out not everyone has given up on the beach for this season (yet).

Sometimes looking down can be interesting: Wreck Beach

Sometimes looking down can be interesting: Wreck Beach

Continuing south from the main beach, past Trail 6, there is a slightly rougher trail, mostly in the forest, and Oasis Beach, also known as the gay beach. This section can be muddy at times, but that’s part of the fun. The next, and final official trail, Trail 7, has an ominous old sign at the bottom of it, which states that the trail is closed from there to Wreck Beach.

A perfect bench for watching the sunset

A perfect bench for watching the sunset

From there and a smaller and less distinct trail continues south. In the beginning we walked along the water, on soggy patches of reeds. It is amazing that such a wild coastline and forest still exist, so close to the city, and in full view of the Vancouver International Airport. We later joined up with the trail again in the forest. The many fallen leaves rustled as we walked past, and made it difficult to follow the trail at times. A hummingbird fluttered past, while I took photos of an interesting tree – there is lots to see, just keep your eyes wide open.

Sunset from the trail by the booming grounds

Sunset from the trail by the booming grounds

The end of this stretch is marked by a large and comfy bench constructed of branches, logs and other pieces of wood. We watched the beginning of the sunset, and I promised myself to come back some day and explore the coast line south. We hiked up a small trail, which contours for a while and then heads more steeply up to a viewpoint on SW Marine Drive. To get through to the parking lot we had to climb over a small fence – this trail is closed. There were about a dozen cars at the top, with passengers who were watching the sunset from the comfort of their vehicles, not even bothering to get out. We walked back home, completing a beautiful and varied hiking loop straight from our apartment on UBC. It’s worthwhile exploring close to home, not just in faraway lands and on high mountains.

Sticker on a car at the parking lot when we re-emerged out of the forest

A sticker we found on a car at the parking lot when we re-emerged out of the forest

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2 Responses to Wreck Beach: A Different Kind of Trip

  1. Thanks for the update through fresh young eyes. You are so correct in that Wreck Beach is much more than just the Trail 6 section of Wreck Beach in so many ways. A bone of contention for us has always been that people see Wreck as only that section below Trail 6 when each area of the 7.8 km. long beach is officially a part of Wreck Beach. Acadia, Trail 3 or Towers, Trail 4, The Oasis and Booming Ground Creek Trail are all part of the continuum of Wreck Beach. So those monikers are for sections of Wreck Beach and it is not a part of UBC nor will it ever belong to UBC. It is currently under the stewardship of Metro Vancouver Parks. That stewardship of Crown lands was handed over by the provincial government when all the levels of jurisdiction were systematically trying to destroy the beach in one way or another through bulldozing, burying and widescale logging of the forested backdrop that makes Wreck so special. If you check out the map on our website, you will see that Wreck is linear and includes its 144 acres of forests behind the foreshore, as well as the various sections of Wreck to which you refer in your write up. One other thing, just because we get naked does not make us hippies but it does make us naturists who choose to live in harmony with nature, as nature intended, by divesting ourselves of clothes and fighting like hell to keep Wreck unpaved, undeveloped, and unspoiled. Judy Williams, Chair, Wreck Beach Preservation Society

  2. Gili says:

    Judy, thanks so much for the information on Wreck beach’s history and the link to the Wreck Beach Preservation Society website. Yes, I’m aware that Wreck Beach is part of the Pacific Spirit Regional Park. I did not mean to claim it as part of UBC literally, but surely in some ways it is indeed part of campus, both by proximity, popularity amongst students, staff and faculty and by public regard. I hope that Wreck Beach (in its entirety) will be protected from further development forever, but give me a call if you need help blocking the bulldozers.

    A few months ago I headed down to Wreck midweek and was very surprised to see a bulldozer down there, digging feverishly. Turns out they were digging tanks for permanent outhouses, now completed. I liked the lawlessness and undeveloped character of the beach before, but there is no doubt in my mind that in some places the stench and perhaps pollution was becoming a real problem, and its still unclear to me if this is the solution, but we shall see. I hope that there was at least a public consultation process before it was done. I was glad to see that the site of the old outhouses can barely be recognized as such.

    By the way, when I referred to “hippies”, it was meant as a compliment with utmost respect and not in any other way, and I hope you understood it this way.

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