Point Roberts is a small community in the Northwest Cascades region of the state of Washington, a tiny piece of the U.S. where the only road in or out is through Canada. This rectangular near-exclave sits on the Tsawwassen Peninsula just below the 49th parallel.
Point Roberts looks at first glance to be a topographical error; a small peninsula which should otherwise be in Delta, a populous Vancouver suburb, is severed by the 49th parallel to form a geographic dead-end where a US community is only accessible overland from Canada.
As a US near-exclave, Point Roberts is effectively a gated community guarded by the US Department of Homeland Security. Sometimes visitors to Canada making a day trip to Point Roberts, but lacking a multiple entry visa to Canada, get stuck in Point Roberts. U.S. law enforcement has used the Point, perceived as almost part of Canada, to trap US fugitives hiding in Canada. Once lured onto US soil on a false pretense, the Feds swoop in on the hapless crook who now has nowhere to run except into the ocean or back to the border and into the arms of US Border Patrol.
The point's unusual border status attracted more than a few smugglers during the Prohibition era. In the 1950s and 1960s, a handful of well-known musicians performed live here to circumvent British Columbia's then-strict "blue laws", which restricted the sale of alcohol on Sunday. (The law was repealed in time for Expo '86.)
Before the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York City (and the US crackdowns on the border which followed) locals tended to take the ability to cross freely for granted. That has all changed; much property on the point is still owned by Vancouverites as cottage sites ― likely because Canadian land prices in the area have long been among the most prohibitive in the nation ― but border access has grown progressively more awkward.
With only about a thousand people, Point Roberts has close ties with its neighbor to the north, serving as a border-hop destination for Canadians in Greater Vancouver. It has an elementary school but no middle or high school; after third grade, students have to cross an international border four times a day to go to school in the United States. (Canadian students can go to school in Delta.)
The border was closed on 21 March 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and has not reopened to non-essential traffic. Many of the full-time residents have left. Many cottages also sit deserted, grass growing long after months of neglect. Point Roberts is not a ghost town yet, but the prospect looms ever larger.
If by land, Point Roberts is only accessible through the U.S. Border Station on Tyee Drive, which can be reached from 56th Street in (southern) Tsawwassen, Delta, British Columbia, Canada. For details, see Get in — By car section of the Northwest Cascades region article.
While no buses directly cross the border, a few TransLink public bus routes serve Diefenbaker Park in Delta, just a few blocks from the border crossing. From Bridgeport Skytrain station, Routes 601 and 602 run all day and drop off on the far side of the park, roughly a 10 minute walk away. Follow the edge of the park until you reach the washrooms; the checkpoint will be visible from there. Routes 603 and 604 also depart from Bridgeport on weekday afternoons, dropping you off on the side of the park closest to the border crossing, where the checkpoint itself will be visible just a couple hundred meters down the road (be aware that 603 and 604 only go as far as South Delta Exchange in the return direction, where you will have to get off and wait for a Route 601 bus).
- 1 Point Roberts Airpark (FAA LID: 1RL), 622 Marine Dr, ☏ , fax: . Small private local airport with 2,400 ft of grass runway. San Juan Airlines has two scheduled flights between Bellingham and Point Roberts on Tuesdays ($135 one way).
- 1 Point Roberts Marina, 713 Simundson Dr, ☏ , fax: . Marina with fuel, boat launch. Pier Restaurant at +1 360-945-7437 (945-PIER) with bar and grill, pizza, seafood, burgers, salads.
- 2 Westwind Marine, 721 Simundson Dr, ☏ . Boat repair service.
- Port of Bellingham Emergency Ferry, ☏ . Due to the border situation, the Port of Bellingham is temporarily running a ferry to Point Roberts Marina from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. It runs twice a day on Tuesdays and Fridays departing Point Roberts at 9AM and 4:30PM each day, arriving two hours later. Return journeys depart the Bellingham Cruise Terminal at 6:30AM and 2PM. Reservations must be made online. free.
- Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) Vanpool, ☏ . Convenient and relatively inexpensive local van service.
- Point Roberts Cab Company, 1800 Benson Road, ☏ . The only local taxi service in Point Roberts.
The line separating Point Roberts from Canada is the westernmost land border between Canada and the continental US. The westernmost spot is marked by a large monument honoring several UK soldiers from the 1800s. The monument is in a small park with a bench looking out over the Georgia Strait, the Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island.
- Roosevelt Drive (north, along the Canadian border). Always open. Along this unassuming lane, the "undefended international border" is concretely visible. A narrow trench and periodic metre-high obelisks mark the boundary. To the north, back yards and wood fences of suburban Tsawwassen homes crowd in. To the south, groves of trees reveal the pastoral spirit of Point Roberts. No forbidding wall or cleared no-man's-land mars the scene. Free.
- 1 Monument Park. This small park includes a monument marking the establishment of the border between Canada and the USA. There is also a short but steep walk to the beach. Free.
- 1 Point Roberts Golf & Country Club, 1350 Pelican Pl, ☏ . As of June 2021, closed due to COVID-19.
- There are many mountain bike trails that run through Point Roberts to the southeast corner of the peninsula. Ramps and jumps are set up for beginner to intermediate level mountain bike riders.
- 2 Lighthouse Marine Park, ☏ . Park on southwest corner of the peninsula with beach and public restrooms, 21 acres with unobstructed view over the Georgia Strait to the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island. Thirty camp sites with fire pit, picnic table and parking. Whales can be spotted from here at times. $22/night for camper.
- 3 Maple Beach. The largest public beach in Point Roberts. Free parking at the northern end of the beach. Free.
- 4 Lily Point Marine Park, 2315 APA Road (drive to the end of APA road where you will find the park entrance and parking). Lovely park with a few well-maintained tracks and beach access. This used to be the site of a salmon cannery. Free.
Before the border was closed due to COVID-19, Point Roberts' main business was selling gas in litres (at lower tax rates), dairy products and US postal services to Canadians. There was also strong demand for food and alcohol for visitors entering Point Roberts to access their cottages. Nonetheless, many basic amenities (such as a department store or a pharmacy) are absent.
As of 2021, fuel remains available but service has largely been reduced to card lock only. The last functional restaurant, the Saltwater Café, is sporadically closed or operating reduced hours. All but one bank has closed. Many businesses are operating at reduced capacity, facing economic hardship or out of operation after losing access to Vancouver ― the third-largest market in Canada. Many properties are for sale; it is uncertain which (if any) will reopen if the Canadians ever return.
- 1 International Marketplace, 480 Tyee Drive, ☏ . Full-service grocer, across the street from the US post office. The only place to buy food on Point Roberts, now that the restaurants are closed.
- 1 Saltwater Café, 1345 Gulf Road, ☏ . Th-Su 8AM-4PM.
- 2 The Shell Center, 423 Tyee Dr, ☏ . Breakfast, pizza, ice cream, coffee, wine and beer, gourmet sandwiches. Eat-in and takeout.
- 1 Maple Meadows Inn, 101 Goodman Rd, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Wi-fi, fridge, microwave, breakfast room service, deck/patio. $145 May 15-Oct 15; $125 Oct 15-May 15.
There is no doctor, dentist or pharmacist on Point Roberts.
Verizon is the only US carrier to place a cell site in the area. Other US carriers may not work, or may require an additional roaming add-on. Any plan with Canadian coverage (on any of Rogers, Telus/Bell, Freedom) will likely function in Point Roberts as it does in Canada. This may mean that US subscribers incur additional fees to roam onto the Canadian network, including paying roaming rates to call what should have been local numbers. Point Roberts is not a local call to any other exchange, Canada or US.
There is one local news site, the All Point Bulletin.
There is a post office at 1582 Gulf Rd (at Tyee Drive, across from the International Marketplace) which rents far more boxes to Canadian residents than to locals. Several "parcel shops" provide commercial mail receiving service for mail-order purchases. These agents are continuing to hold onto thousands of packages received since the beginning of COVID-19, as there is no way for Vancouverites to retrieve them.