Formed during the last Ice Age, it separates the City of Vancouver and the rest of the low-lying Burrard Peninsula (to the south) from the slopes of the North Shore Mountains, home to the communities of West Vancouver and the City and District of North Vancouver.
The inlet runs almost directly east from the Strait of Georgia to Port Moody and is urbanized on most of its shores. About two-thirds of the way east from the sea, a secondary, much steeper-sided glacial fjord, Indian Arm, extends straight north from the main inlet, between Belcarra and Deep Cove in North Vancouver, then on into mountainous wilderness. (Indian River, a small dock at the north end of the arm, can be reached by a washed out logging road from Squamish.)
Protected from the open ocean, the calm waters of Burrard Inlet form Vancouver's primary port area, an excellent one for large oceangoing ships. While some of the shoreline is residential and commercial, much is port-industrial, including railyards, terminals for container and bulk cargo ships, grain elevators, and (towards the eastern end) oil refineries. Freighters waiting to load or discharge cargoes in the inlet often anchor in English Bay, which lies south of the mouth of the inlet and is separated from it by Vancouver's downtown peninsula and Stanley Park.