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6 places to explore on a beachy border trip between Washington, British Columbia

By Gregory Scruggs, The Seattle Times
Published: September 16, 2023, 6:23am

SEATTLE — Aptly named Boundary Bay hugs the curious corner of our region where Washington and British Columbia meet and mingle. There are border crossings on both ends of this saltwater haven, where shallow depths and vast tidal swings generate warm waters that attract beachcombers and birders alike. Here are six points of interest to explore on foot, bike, car or kayak.

Peace Arch Historical State Park and Provincial Park: 123 Second St., Blaine; parks.wa.gov/562/Peace-Arch or bcparks.ca/peace-arch-park

Once you’ve dealt with border-crossing rigmarole, pull over instead of speeding off. This binational park allows visitors to freely cross the border as they admire the monuments and plaques commemorating U.S.-Canada relations — as long as they return to whichever side they started in. The Peace Arch itself missed out on its centennial celebration in 2021 due to pandemic border closures, but the stately structure in Blaine is worth pondering anytime.

File away these tidbits for your next Cascadia trivia night:

  • What does the Peace Arch commemorate? (Answer: The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.)
  • What two vessels are depicted on the Peace Arch? (Answer: The Mayflower and the S.S. Beaver.)

1001 Steps: 12500 Block of 15A Ave., Surrey, B.C.; surrey.ca/parks-recreation/parks/1001-steps

Escape the crowds in White Rock as you duck through a residential neighborhood of pricey waterfront real estate and down the exaggeratedly-named 1001 Steps. I lost the exact count but the zigzagging staircase is more like 200-and-some steps. A trail parallels the railroad tracks, then a tunnel takes you under them and out onto a quieter stretch of beach along Boundary Bay.

Crescent Beach: 3136 McBride Ave., Surrey, B.C.; crescentbeachpaddleshack.com

A smaller seaside resort flourished at Crescent Beach, just north of the White Rock beach resort town, with its own cluster of cottages, eateries and sandy respites. Reach the beach at Blackie Spit Park, a birding destination in fall and spring where you can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (CA$40-$50 for one hour).

Boundary Bay Dyke Trail: 13030 48 Ave., Surrey, B.C.; surrey.ca/parks-recreation/parks/mud-bay-park

The northern reaches of Boundary Bay are a wildlife refuge home to Canada’s most cherished bird sanctuary where annually more than 1.5 million bird species hailing from 20 countries take advantage of this stop along the Pacific Flyway. Conveniently, the dyke that keeps the bay from inundating farmers’ fields doubles as a multiuse gravel trail so you can ride parallel to this pristine stretch of coastline. The trail runs about 12 miles each way, with trailheads at Mud Bay Park and Centennial Beach.

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Centennial Beach and Secret Garden: 300 Boundary Bay Road, Delta, B.C.; delta.ca/parks-recreation/parks-trails/park-and-amenity-search/boundary-bay-regional-park. 399 67A St., Delta, B.C.; sunnytsawwassen.ca/secret-garden

Of all the places to dip your toes in the water along Boundary Bay, Centennial Beach in Boundary Bay Regional Park took my top prize. Only Tacoma’s Owen Beach can match the sharp architecture and clean, well-maintained facilities at this Metro Vancouver park.

The playground, built with funds raised by the local Lions Club chapter, already wins the family-friendly award. The enormous tangle of slides, rope climbs, swings and a zip line includes features like wheelchair-friendly ramps and a Braille learning area, making it the region’s first accessible design playground. It’s just steps from a generous expanse of sandy beach at high tide — and more shoreline than you can conceivably explore during low tide — as well as a cafe, bathrooms and changing facilities.

The park has a few miles of trail for some leg stretching, and a 10-minute walk out of the park will lead you to the Secret Garden of Boundary Bay, an easement between two housing developments that a retired roofer has lovingly turned into a horticultural gem of colorful flowers, quirky sculptures and an impressive monkey puzzle tree.

Point Roberts: 811 Marine Drive, Point Roberts, Whatcom County; whatcomcounty.us/3539/Lighthouse-Marine-Park. 1334 Gulf Road, Point Roberts, Whatcom County; kiniskisreef.com

Geography nerds should jump at a chance to visit this Washington exclave, a tiny peninsula cut off from the rest of the Evergreen State by a surveying error. It turns out, there was land south of the 49th parallel (the agreed-upon boundary between the U.S. and Canada) that didn’t connect to the rest of the continental U.S. There is a full-fledged border crossing here, and once you’re through it, the landscape shifts from suburban Vancouver — Tim Horton’s and all — to rural Whatcom County.

On a holiday weekend, I saw a trio of locals riding around the sleepy streets of this 4.9-square-mile headland on a motorized couch. Among Point Roberts’ other quirks, gas is sold in U.S. dollars per liter and businesses follow Canadian holiday schedules.

Bring your binoculars to Lighthouse Marine Park for land-based whale-watching, then retreat to local watering hole Kiniski’s Reef Tavern, a family-friendly dive bar that is owned by a former professional wrestler and has views out to the Georgia Strait.