Ask anyone unfamiliar with Richmond and might hear the city described as a metropolis of tall towers and air-conditioned malls. But locals with a love for the great outdoors know there are also dozens of parks and nature spots to escape to here.

In the first of our Outdoor Escapes series covering the city’s great green spaces, we check out Iona Beach Regional Park for visitors, showing you it’s best features; things to see and do; and everything you need to know to have a great, heart-calming visit. We all know that switching off our devices and immersing ourselves in nature every once in a while is essential!

Iona Beach Regional Park - Photo: John LeeA swallow at Iona Beach Regional Park. | Photo: John Lee

Overview

With 20km of breezy shoreline, expansive views across the water and more birdlife than most of us see in a year, Iona became an official Metro Vancouver regional park in 1990. Since then, its rare coastal ecosystem has lured nature lovers from around the Lower Mainland and beyond.

Although it’s surprisingly close to Vancouver International Airport, you soon tune out the dull roar of the planes as the area’s dense flora—and ever-twittering feathered fauna—closes in. Once you’re here, it’s an easy park to explore: the terrain is mostly flat and, at 30 hectares, it’s a relatively compact area to explore.

Iona Jetty

Many visitors come here just for Iona Jetty, a 4km (8km round-trip) stone-built route jutting into the Strait of Georgia that’s popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. Wind shelters dot the exposed gravel walkway, and the cycle path here is also suitable for wheelchair users.

The Jetty is a great way to blow the cobwebs from your overburdened brain and immerse yourself in some amazing blue-sky panoramas. Keep in mind that it can be busy on summer weekends, so consider arriving off-peak for a little solitude.

Walking trails

If you’re a real nature nut, you’ll likely bypass the Jetty and plunge straight into the park’s winding trails. The short Bridal Path (yes, horses can also use it) is an easy 20-minute wander, combining grassy terrain and shoreline views. Alternatively, the North Arm Jetty route (6km there and back) feels like a million miles from any city and takes you to sandy beaches strewn with driftwood.

But just wandering around the wildflower-fringed, maze-like pathways alongside the park’s South Pond and North Pond areas is a guaranteed tranquility break. Not that you’ll be alone: Iona Beach Regional Park is teeming with a multitude of wildlife, which means your camera will be itching for some critter action.

Iona Beach Regional Park - Photo: John LeeA swallow at Iona Beach Regional Park. | Photo: John Lee

Birding Paradise

Iona is one of Metro Vancouver’s best bird-spotting destinations. And even if you don’t regard yourself as a bird fan, you won’t fail to be impressed by the multitudinous variety here, from yellow-headed blackbirds to bald eagles and from several varieties of swift to herons, ospreys and hummingbirds. Listen up: you’ll hear lots of calls you’ve likely never encountered before.

The park is also located on the Pacific Flyway, which means that an ever-changing array of visiting birds drop in here throughout the year. Depending on the season, that can include everything from snow geese to western sandpipers. Which means, of course, that you should plan to visit every couple of months!

Iona Beach Regional Park - Photo: John Lee
Bird houses along the shoreline—they blend in well. | Photo: John Lee

Other Wildlife

It’s not just feathered critters you need to look for here though. Butterflies are common, garter snakes can be spotted (they tend to avoid humans, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for them) and there are also a couple of types of turtles to be seen, particularly closer to the park’s sandy areas. Close to the water, beavers and river otters can sometimes be spotted as well.

Iona Beach Regional Park - Photo: John LeeA turtle at Iona Beach Regional Park. | Photo: John Lee

Need To Know:

Iona Beach Regional Park is open during daylight hours. Smoking is not permitted and you are not allowed to pick any plants while visiting. It is imperative that you do not disturb the wildlife—or allow your kids or dogs to do so. Not accessible by transit, the park’s entrance is easily accessed by car or flat-terrain bike ride at the end of Ferguson Road. The are also picnic tables and good washroom facilities here.