One of my favourite places to ride my bike is on the country roads and dykes near the Fraser River in Ladner and Delta since the roads are flat, the scenery is beautiful and there is almost no traffic. In early spring, I also like to combine biking in Ladner with a trip to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island since it’s a great time to see lots of birds.
Unfortunately last weekend we had a mechanical issue with one of the bikes (a broken spoke) so we didn’t complete our planned itinerary, but we have done the trip before so I’ll tell you about last weekend’s trip, then tell you about how to complete the whole loop. Click on the map below to see the route in more detail (and to zoom in or toggle between map and Google Earth).
We parked in Ladner Lions Park in Ladner village. The lot always has spaces and there’s lots of room to unload the bikes. Then we biked a whole three blocks around the corner to Localz Urban Cafe to get a mid-morning banana bread snack and some wraps to go for lunch later. Ladner is a cute historic little village with small streets and lots of independent businesses.
After having our snack we got back on the bikes and headed west along River Road. There’s not much shoulder and this section sees the most traffic of the whole route so it’s good that this stretch doesn’t last long. After 4km we turned right onto Westham Island road and the bridge to the island. The Westham Island Bridge is a wooden decked bridge that is only one lane wide in the middle so you have to yield to on-coming traffic. Oh also, it’s over 100 years old!
Once you get on to the island you are truly in farm country. The island is dead flat and on a clear day you can see the mountains of the North Shore, the Olympic mountains in Washington state and over to the mountains on Vancouver Island. It’s 5km of easy pedalling with a good wide shoulder from the bridge to the Bird Sanctuary but there’s often a headwind to fight. There aren’t many roads on the island so just keep heading generally west and follow the signs to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary.
The Bird Sanctuary is a great place to go for a walk and take a break for lunch. There are a few kilometres of trails to walk with lots of places to stop and watch the birds including raised viewing platforms, lots of benches, blinds (where you sit inside a dark hut and look out through slits) and a 10m tall observation tower to climb. The whole place is surrounded by water (ponds, streams, marsh) since that’s why the birds like it.
On our visit we saw many kinds of ducks and waterfowl, Canada Geese, Black Crowned Night Herons, Great Blue Herons, Sandhill cranes, Bald Eagles, hawks, a Great Horned Owl and a tiny Saw-Whet Owl. I’m not a bird nerd and I didn’t know the names of most of the birds we saw. There are a few info boards near the viewing platforms with photos to help you understand the birds you are seeing. As well, there are often lots of serious birders around (you can spot them by their camo gear and super long lensed cameras with tripods). If you move slowly and speak quietly while you watch the birds, these birders will often help you find the hidden bird they are looking at and explain a bit more about it. That’s how we found both the owls we saw. Unfortunately I’m not a dedicated birder with a giant lens so you will only get some rather basic bird shots in this post.
After you’re finished at the bird sanctuary, get back on your bike and head back the way you came to the Westham Island bridge. Hopefully you will now enjoy a nice tailwind. Once over the bridge, turn right and head south on River Road. This section of road is very quiet because it soon comes to a dead end about 2.5km from the bridge. But it’s not a dead end for bikes! You can take your bike up onto the gravel track on the top of the dyke and follow the dyke it curves around to the south east as the river meets the ocean.
You bike along the top of the dyke for about 5 kilometres until you get to the most industrial portion of your trip: the entrance to Deltaport, the big coal port at Roberts Bank just north of the Tsawassen ferry terminal. This part isn’t that bike friendly as there are train tracks and a major road to cross. Use caution carrying your bike across the tracks or just ride alongside the tracks for a couple hundred meters to a level crossing. Once across the tracks you still have to navigate the port entrance roads, one of which is elevated. Cross these roads carefully and pick up the same dyke road on the other side.
After crossing the tracks, you will follow the dyke for about a kilometer to a Y junction where the dyke splits in two. Take the left branch and you will soon arrive at a small parking area on a paved road. Turn left onto 41b street. Follow this street straight north for about 4km back to river road, going up and over the railway tracks on an overpass and passing numerous farms and giant greenhouses. Once at River Road, turn right to retrace your route back to your car at Ladner Lions Park.
If You Go:
Admission at the Bird Sanctuary is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. They also sell bags of bird seed for $1 or you can bring your own. Feeding the birds is allowed and is lots of fun. There are bike racks at the Bird Sanctuary so bring your lock. Bring binoculars if you have them as they are great for getting a better look at some of the shier birds.
Dress warmly. The wind comes in off of the ocean on the dykes and in the Bird Sanctuary and it can be quite cold walking or biking. Don’t forget gloves and a toque or ear warmer.
The dyke roads are packed gravel so they can be navigated with most bikes. Super skinny road racing tires aren’t ideal but pretty much anything else will be just fine.
Need more adventure? Stop by nearby Deas Island Regional Park. We went for a quick 4km walk around the island after our ride and enjoyed the views of the Fraser River and Deas Slough.
Are you a bird nerd or just bird-curious? Have you been to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary? Let me know in the comments.