Best dive sites in BC local divers just can’t get enough of

Sun setting on Whytecliff Park Vancouver BC
Sun setting on Whytecliff Park Vancouver BC

Whytecliff Park

Whytecliff is popular among divers for good reason. This marine protected sanctuary for some of Howe Sound’s threatened creatures boasts a lot of life. Local divers that know Whytecliff well may scoff at this, but that is likely because the usual suspects go unnoticed after a few dives here. But the plentiful plumose anemones, dungeness, red rock, hermit, decorator crabs (among others), rock fish, gobies, sole, massive sun stars, sea cucumbers are nothing to turn your nose up at.

Whytecliff also is home to its share of surprises. Divers frequently encounter a friendly seal in the bay and secretive octopus either on the prowl or hidden away in a den. In the summer, it is not unusual for dogfish to make an appearance. More exotic creatures occasionally pop up here, as well, from a six gill sighting to a humboldt squid, from Pacific White-sided dolphins in the cut, to occasional curious sea lions, Whytecliff attracts marine life like it attracts divers.

The site is a diver’s dream with parking (though it can get busy in summer) and bathroom facilities, a rinse station and even a concession stand in the summer (which makes a mean yam fry poutine) and no boat traffic to fret about in the bay.

You can dive Whyte Islet from about 30 feet to, well… it slopes off into Howe Sound to whatever depth one would want. The topography on this side is what is particularly attractive with overhangs, lots of rock face, crevasses, old mooring cables and brief sandy stretches. Look over, under and in for a well-camoflaged octo on this wall.

The Right Wall/Plumose Gardens/Daymarker begins in the bay as a shallow wall approximately 20-30 feet deep and gentle slopes down into Howe Sound around the point. Stick to the shallow, protected area and enjoy a wall covered in starfish and other invertebrates or head out to the 50-60 foot mark before the Plumose Gardens and check out “the rockery” or the hangout of some local rockfish amongst boulders that make a good home for a variety of other life as well. Continue on to the Plumose Gardens and get the sensation of floating over clouds at depths from about 40-70 feet depending upon the tides.

The Cut is one of the favourite sites of experienced local divers. Enter to the right of Whytecliff bay in what looks like a slice take out of the park’s namesake cliffs. This dive offers immediate depth for those looking for it. The wall here along Howe Sound is essentially bottomless, plunging approximately 700-800 feet into North America’s southernmost fjord. This promotes growth of species that like high current areas like anemones and hydroids. It is not terribly unusual to spot puget sound king crab, squat lobsters or lingcod along this wall.

Whytecliff Park is also one of the closest sites to Vancouver proper, located in the scenic Horseshoe Bay area of West Vancouver.

Shot of Porteau Cove 2011

Porteau Cove

Another popular marine protected park that local divers frequent in great numbers is Porteau Cove. Like Whytecliff Park, Porteau Cove boasts several sites within a site; this large cove has plenty of variety to offer divers for repeat visits.

The most commonly visited sites here are the 3 yellow mooring buoys in the middle of the marine protected bay. You can enter the water at the stairs (at high tide) and swim along the sandy bottom after taking a compass heading to them if your air consumption is good and watch for crabs, tunicates, sea pens and occasionally a dogfish along the way. Alternatively, you can swim along the surface to the buoys and descend down the chains to the Granthall, a sunken barge; the Centennial, a sailboat hull; or the Leaning Tower of Porteau, several concrete pillars piled together as a home for octos, lingcod and other creatures. These dives range from about 35’- 55’ (11-17 metres) and are therefore excellent options for Open Water certified divers. Be sure to check out the jungle gym between the Granthall and Centennial – this is a convenient place to practice your buoyancy skills.

The Nakaya is another potential dive at Porteau. This old minesweeper is in approximately 70’-100’ of water ( 21-30m) and is therefore an advanced dive. It is also a very lengthy surface swim. This crumbling wreck is marked by the furthest white buoy at Porteau and shouldn’t be attempted on large tidal exchanges due to strong currents hindering an already long swim. The wreck itself is decaying rapidly at this point with portions collapsing. This makes it an interesting site to dive, but under no circumstances should one try to enter any portion of this wreck as it is highly unstable. If you venture out this far, be sure to look for rather large lingcod, longhorn decorator crabs and the variety of nudibranchs that all make the Nakaya their home.

Porteau Cove is easy to find along Hwy 99.

Ansel Point

Ansel Point is a site with some diehard followers and those that avoid it like the plague. The dives here are undeniably some of the better ones available as shore dives in Howe Sound; however the entry is arguable the least agreeable – some claim that this is actually a boat dive. If you wish to check out Ansel Point be prepared for a long walk/hike down and up as well as a slippery entry point at low tide. If you’re still struggling with the shore entry at Whytecliff you should probably skip Ansel for now.

If you decide to brave the entry and exit, however, you will be rewarded with a wonderful wall. Ansel Point is largely a sheer wall, so it is a site that is appropriate for those that are very comfortable with their buoyancy in cold water conditions. Thankfully, the navigation at this site is simple: you can follow the wall to the left or to the right until your determined turn point. Either direction has plenty of wall to explore with critters like squat lobsters, golf ball crabs and the occasional seal to check out. There are a pair of wolf eels that are intermittently spotted under a large rock at approximately 75’ (22m) on the wall if you head to the right.

There is no designated parking here, but generally parking on the side of the cult de sac is not a problem.

Caulfield Cove

This protected bay was once a major shipping area for the North shore so all sorts of interesting artifacts may turn up. It is a relatively shallow dive, between approximately 10m-15m or 30-50 feet.

There is a fairly easy entry and some parking, but it’s limited, so we encourage carpooling if a larger group is heading out.

If you are looking for a change of scenery without driving all the way up Howe Sound, check out this site.

Woodlands

Woodlands is a shore dive located in Indian Arm and offers an alternative to the usual Howe Sound dives. This site is also another one which is appropriate for Open Water dives with dives in the 50’ range. Woodlands is a decent site for crabbing, if you have a license and a crab bag and you can stick to the shallow sandy areas if this is your goal. No matter what dive you decide to do here, please be aware that there is a lot of boat traffic in the area.

You can park near the entry to unload equipment but it is advised once gear is unloaded that you drive further up the road to find space for parking.

Grey Rocks

Another change of pace in Indian Arm, Grey Rocks (known to some as ‘Strathcona’) has a couple different dives to offer. There is a small (2/3 car) parking area and a dock at the entry point. The entry is a relatively easy, short walk into the water. You can descend right away and dive between the shore and the island with a single house on it not far off shore. This area doesn’t get much deeper than about 25’ (8-9m). It is full of eel grass and animals like gunnels, nudibranchs and snails take advantage of this. The sandy bottom also provides a good home for both dungeness and red rock crabs and this site provides ample opportunity to crab (if you have the appropriate fishing license).

If you’d like something with a little more depth to it, swim out to the Island and dive along it. Each side of the island is a little different and you do want to be wary of currents, particularly on the side farthest from shore, as they can be quite strong. Divers also need to be very aware of boat traffic. An SMB (surface marker buoy) and spool might be a good idea for ascents at this site.

VT 100

The wreck of the VT100 is located in about 50’-60’ of water (15-18m) in Indian Arm. The ship was largely burnt before it sunk so the wooden ribs are quite exposed making this an eerie and intriguing wreck to dive. The wreck is frequently home to octopus and a multitude of nudibranchs, including the stunning, but small opalescent nudibranch, so keep your eyes open.

The entry point to the VT100 isn’t terribly obvious from the road. It is a short, but somewhat steep goat trail to the shore. The wreck is an active 10 minute swim underwater from the entry. Some choose to drop down right away, follow the bottom out from shore to 55’, turn right and follow this contour until they encounter the ship. Others prefer to do more of a surface swim so as to have more bottom time on the wreck itself.

Parking is along the road and is fairly limited.

Please beware of boat traffic. Another sit where use of an SMB is probably a good idea, as is a compass.

Kelvin Grove

A local favourite with a little bit of controversy thrown in for flavour. This is a beautiful example of diving in Howe Sound with a fairly well protected bay to explore or sheer wall out around the corner to the right. The many crevasses make great dens for octos which are commonly seen here. If you keep a keen eye out, you may also find a decorated warbonnet in the smaller cracks. The wall also boasts large boot sponges and some cloud sponges at deeper recreational depths, 80’+ (24m+).

Kelvin Grove is located in a small park. One can park to drop off equipment at the end of the cul de sac by the gate to the park, but you must take your vehicle back up to the parking lot for the duration of the dive. Keep in mind that, at the moment, there is a 3 hour parking limit. This is enforced; therefore, two dives might be a bit rushed. It is best to be as considerate as possible whilst diving here so as not to bother the residents (and keep diving possible here in the future for others). Keep your voices down, especially after dark and please exercise modesty if changing in or out of exposure protection.
The walk to the water is perhaps a little longer than that at Whytecliff, but not by much. The entry is somewhat similar.

Lookout Point

This site is Whytecliff Park’s next door neighbour. If you continue along the road that takes you Whytecliff, the next bend of the road takes you to Lookout Point, distinguished by a flight of stairs down to the beach. Lookout offers a shallow, protected bay with a primarily sandy bottom interspersed with lots of rocks and boulders that make convenient hiding spots for a variety of animals. Head out to the wall around the left and you’ll be diving what eventually becomes “the cut” at Whytecliff. Feather stars are a common sight here as they seem to enjoy the high current in this area.
Parking is limited and is along the road, although one could park at Whytecliff and walk over.

Whiskey Cove

Whiskey Cove is another of Indian Arm’s dive sites. It is an excellent choice for Open Water divers as the appropriate depths are between 30’-50’ (10-15m) and there is a sloping, sandy bottom. Keep an eye out for various crabs and nudibranchs.

The entry is gentle and the surface swim is minimal. This is a great site for an easy day of diving. Boat traffic is a small concern, however.

Copper Cove

The last cove before you hit Horseshoe Bay Copper Cove offers some interesting dives. You can explore the middle of this shallow, sandy bay and keep you eyes open for the striped nudibranchs that seem to always make this site home or a variety of cephalopods. Stubby squid, opal squid and octopus have all been spotted here. Take a second look at what might at first appear to be just some red seaweed. Alternatively, poke around along the shallow wall (30’ or 10m) along the right to try to find some octos and watch the greenlings in the meantime. Or head to the left and follow the sloping bottom to a series of small walls around 80’-90’ (24m-27m). These walls usually have a variety of life on them, including sea urchins and tunicates.

Take some precautions due to possible boat traffic. Parking is along the street. You can drop your gear off by the stairs and move your cars up the road prior to the dive. This is a heavily residential area with some rather accommodating neighbours. Please be polite and keep things to a dull roar when packing up after dark. The surface swim is whatever you want to make it. The entry is not that long, but at low tide exercise caution as the rocks are very slippery/unstable.

Furry Creek

A nice little site about 5 minutes north along the Sea to Sky from Porteau Cove. Parking is in a cul de sac in a residential area. Please be considerate. The entry is fairly easy and short and there is virtually no surface swim. Head along the wall to the right of the entry point and it may bring to mind, in topography, Ansel Point. Similarly, keep an eye out for longhorn decorator crabs, golf ball crabs and squat lobsters.

Britannia Beach

Another dive in Howe Sound that is appropriate for Open Water divers. Britannia Beach is literally in Squamish, BC. This site is good between 50’-60’ (15m-18m). Explore the odd combination of wreck on top of wreck and everything living inside of these ships.

There is ample parking and for your surface interval, if you dry off, you can wander across the street and grab a coffee. The entry is short, but a little precarious – watch your step.

Buntzen Lake

An hour long gear rinse, anyone? Buntzen lake is an interesting little freshwater dive in our own backyard. There are lots of old trees and random debris in worth checking out in the 40’-100’ (12-30m) range. This site is a fairly steep, sloping drop-off, with plenty of silt to stir up, so make sure you’re comfortable with your buoyancy. There is, obviously, lots of parking available, but the park gets very busy on summer weekends. The entry is very flat and easy. We don’t do much lake diving in this area, but it is a nice change of pace.

Lighthouse Park

Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver is a very nice dive for those not afraid to work for it. There is ample parking, but to get to the site is a long walk. It should not be attempted in full gear in hot temperatures. Wait to put your suit on until you get to the entry point.

The dive itself is quite exposed, so there can be current to contend with. Check tide tables when planning this dive and opt for slack or very small exchanges. Like other high current sites this contributes to an abundance of life. This is one of the only shore sites in Howe Sound where one may see clusters of giant acorn barnacles. Aside from the life here, the rock formations are interesting in and of themselves. One enters in a bit of a crevasse which is typical of the formations found underwater.

Bowen Island

Bowen Island has multiple dives off of its shores. Many of these are easy and enjoyable from a boat, but several can be accessed from shore including Mannion Bay, near Snug Cove on the Island. This is a short drive from the ferry terminal. Do be aware of boat traffic in the area once you are in the water; it is probably wise to carry a surface marker buoy that you can deploy from your safety or deco stop(s). This bay offers dives in approximately 50-60ft/15-18m, so enjoy long bottom times exploring the bottom. Reportedly there are plenty of the small red octopus to be found for divers paying close attention as well as the usual bottom dwellers: sole, crabs, sea cucumbers, et cetera.

Keats Island – Eastbourne

If you want to mix things up a bit, a day trip to one of the islands in Howe Sound might be a quick, fairly inexpensive way to go. Keats Island offers a dive off the beach just west of Eastbourne dock, one of two government docks on the island. Swim out to the exposed pinnacle off the beach and explore the shallows around it checking the eelgrass and algae for various small fish including lumpsuckers, blennies and gunnels. Or swim around the outside of the pinnacle and find a large, long wall with lots of crevasses for octos, wolf eels and rockfish to hide in. There are plenty of chimney, boot and other sponges to investigate.

Pavilion Lake

A fresh water dive definitely worth doing. Pavilion Lake is home to some true world wonders. Many refer to the tiny, colonial organisms and the structures that they create as “freshwater coral” which is more or less what they appear to be; however, this is a misnomer. The stromatolites that can be seen as shallow as approximately 15’- 20’ (5m-7m) are a prehistoric form of life and probably one of the earliest on the planet. Like the old story goes, science had assumed such creatures had been extinct for millions, or even billions of years… until some were found in the ocean off Australia’s coast… and then some more were found, surprisingly in fresh water, right here in BC. The primitiveness of these organisms represents what is expected to be present if life is found elsewhere in our solar system and that’s why NASA is currently studying the formations in Pavilion Lake.

The entry is relatively easy, there is no surface swim necessary and there is a campsite about 5 minutes down the highway. Why not explore possibly the most unique dive site BC has to offer?

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast has so many incredible, noteworthy dive sites it is difficult to do them justice all in a single write-up. But we’ll try… Whether you’re diving out of Gibsons (I hear rumours of Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers in the shallows) or Sechelt or further up the coast, there is excellent diving to be had. There are many sites reachable both by boat and by shore.
A favourite shore site in Sechelt is Tuwanek. This site offers a variety of dives, from a shallow, sandy-bottomed area that is a decent spot for skills, drills, classes and practice to the dives on the two islands that frame the bay. Wolf eels are commonly found on the right island and both islands offer enough hiding spots for regular octopus sightings. There is parking along the street, but usually is not a problem and the entry is one of the easiest you’ll find. Cooper’s Green is another popular spot that is a colourful dive site accessible to all levels of diver. Also found in Sechelt Inlet, this site in Halfmoon Bay bottoms out between 50-60ft/15-18m. The site is protected from current and typically free of wave action. There are lots of sun stars amongst the seaweed, and plenty of opportunity to spot an octopus or two.
The best known boat dive in the area is likely the Chaudiere. This is the first of several wrecks put down as artificial reefs by the ARSBC. The ship is on its side, which adds an additional element of interest to this wreck. The depth of the wreck (approximately 70’- 140’/21m-40m) makes it an advanced dive. For those that are wreck certified and have the proper equipment wreck penetration is a possibility. Because of the orientation of the wreck it is recommended that one has plenty of experience because it can be quite disorienting.

Another popular boat dive is the Skookumchuck Narrows. This is usually done as a drift dive on near slack. A thorough understanding of the tidal activity in the area is necessary for diving this site. It is worthwhile, however. Divers are rewarded greatly with sponges, anemones, and at technical depths, fans of gorgonian coral.

Nanaimo

A ferry ride over to Vancouver Island presents us with too many dive sites to name. Again, this region has world class shore and boat diving. Both the marine life and the wreck diving is readily accessible and well worth the day trip. You may want to check out one of the artificial reefs sunk in the Departure Bay area. There is the Saskatchewan, a former Canadian Navy Destroyer; the Cape Breton, a Destroyer Escort and the Rivtow Lion, a former tug sunk a little shallower than the rest for maximum bottom time or more novice explorers. All 3 wrecks are boat dives, a very short ride from the marina.
Local shore dives in the area are plentiful, but perhaps most noteworthy is Madrona Point in Parksville. This site offers several different wall dives, a relatively easy entry (though it can be slippery) and usually is home to wolf eels and octos. The viz on this side of the Georgia Straight is usually better than in Vancouver, so underwater photographers may have a bit more luck catching good shots of these impressive animals at a site like Madrona.

Victoria

Hop on a different ferry to the south end of Vancouver Island to dive Victoria. Whether you’re doing the outer waters or Saanich Inlet, there marine life is healthy and abundant within minutes of the city. Shore diving in Victoria is epitomized by the Ogen Point Breakwater, which offers several different sites depending upon how far you and your buddy wish to carry your gear. This site is suitable for new divers with shallower depths, but seasoned divers will not be disappointed as there is never any lack of things to see. Beware of the lion’s mane jellyfish mid-summer – they tend to come out in full force. There’s tons of parking and evening a nearby cafe to grab some postdive snacks.
Boat diving is in no short supply, either. Again, check out what Saanich Inlet has to offer or head to the outside and dive with sea lions at Race Rocks. This is a drift dive that is fun in and of itself, but the marine mammals that will join you in the fun make it unforgettable. If wrecks are your thing there are plenty around, but you’ll probably want to start with the GB Church a sunken coastal freighter.

Howe Sound Boat Dives

Despite a wide selection of dive sites available, Vancouver shore diving can sometimes seem a little monotonous (or just plain strenuous); fortunately Howe Sound provides numerous boat diving sites that mix things up significantly. Whether you want to explore a deep sponge reef, visit the outer islands and maybe encounter a basket star or hang out nearby at Bowen Island and track down the resident wolf eels you can do so with relative ease and minimal expense.

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