Vancouver International Airport Public Observation Deck and Plane Spotting

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In contrary to many U.S. airports, Vancouver International Airport has a public observation deck. It is open for everyone and is post-security, meaning you don’t need a boarding pass to enjoy the views from the observation deck. The observation deck is located inside the main terminal building and is completely enclosed. This makes it great to view planes during every season of the year, no matter if sunshine or rain. The big downside is for aviation geeks, who might want to take pictures of the airplanes and operations on the Tarmac.

As a photographer, you have to fight the reflections in the glass panels. Well, nothing is perfect. The observation deck is a pretty neat spot and great if you have some time to kill. Especially if you only flying on a domestic flight. The domestic terminal is not that great compared with the international terminal, which is an art piece.

Main Terminal Building

The main terminal building is divided into Domestic Terminal and International Terminal. YVR is also one of the few Canadian Airports which have a US Border Preclearance Facility. The advantage of this is, that you are doing your “immigration” already in Canada and when you arrive in the United States, it is like a domestic flight. No passport check or customs to go through. This allows for shorter connection times. The Vancouver International Airport won many awards and recognition. I have been to Vancouver International Airport before, but that was almost ten years ago.

How to get to the Observation Deck

When you are inside the main terminal building, which most flights depart from, start walking south. As a passenger who has to check-in for an international flight, you are at the very northern end of the terminal building and have the longest way to the observation deck. You will see signs hanging from the ceiling directing you the right way to the observation deck. It took me just a little bit over 10 minutes of walking after I checked in for my international flight to get to the observation deck. To get upstairs to the observation deck, you can use stairs, escalator or elevator. Whatever works best for you.

Observation Deck

Up on top, you will find quite a lot of tables and chairs set up. It’s a great spot to hang out and watch planes. The best part is, that everything you need is within range. There are restaurants and shops just down from the observation deck. Restrooms are close by too and you don’t need to worry about that. Please don’t attract any attention as you are still inside an airport and “suspicious activity” could lead to some unwanted interaction with security forces.

Plane Spotting outside of the Main Terminal Building

If you are serious about plane spotting, there are more options for you. Depending on what you are looking for, as Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is one of a few airports which has a designated floatplane terminal.

Floatplanes and South Terminal

The floatplanes take off and land from the south fork of the Frasier River. It’s pretty cool to watch them start and land. Harbour Air maintains a separate dock and terminal at the Flying Beaver Bar and Grill, all other floatplanes have to cross the road you are driving on to get there, to get to the terminal. It’s pretty cool to see. Make sure you park only in designated areas. There is short term parking available just across the street from Flying Beaver Bar and Grill. There is also a small viewing platform at the South Terminal.

Larry Berg Flight Path Park

This park has a unique feature, which is not obvious right away. The park’s layout features a miniature version of the runways of YVR with the main terminal building. It’s easier to see if you look on it from the top, for example on Google Maps. This spot is best for watching planes landing on 26R. Watch out for the parking limit at this location and there are no facilities at this location.

McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Parking Lot

Yes, there is an outlet shopping center right before you get to the airport. Park inside the shopping center parking lot, just before the employee lot. The best way is to enter via Grauer Road. This spot is perfect for planes approaching 26R. It’s just a short walk to the shopping center for food and restrooms.

Planes coming in over your head while approaching runway 26R
Planes coming in over your head while approaching runway 26R

Ferguson Road

Ferguson Road runs north of the airport and parallel to the two main runways at YVR. Drive along the road and find a good spot to pull out. Make sure you are out of the way and not blocking the road or driveways. Two good spots along the road are right after the road turns from north-south bound to east-west bound at the north-eastern end of the airport. Pull out here and you have a good sight of planes approaching 26R. Another good spot, with a good overview of the whole 26R runway, is the artificial hill just west of the new Canada Post Pacific Processing Center. You will see already a path leading up, follow it to the southern end of the hill. From here you have a good view of the whole 26R runway and the International and Domestic Terminal Building. This is where you get a good few of the big boys of the sky. Unfortunately no facilities around here.

View from hill along Ferguson Road

Iona Beach Park

Last but not least is Iona Beach Park. You get there if you keep going on Ferguson Road. The road will dead-end at Iona Beach Park. There is no entrance fee for the park and it offers plenty of parking. To get good shots of planes you need a good telephoto lens as you are quite a bit away from the runways. This spot is great for planes approaching runway 12 and planes landing and taking off from 26R/8L

View from Iona Beach Regional Park

Which is your favorite spot for plane spotting or do you know another spot?



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