SQUAMISH An Emerging Four-Season Destination
Located halfway between British Columbia’s two top destinations Vancouver and Whistler, Squamish has undergone an evolution of its own over the past two decades, becoming a popular base for outdoor activities. Once known as a forest-industry town and rest stop between the two better-known destinations, the community of 20,000 at the head of the fjord known as Howe Sound has become a mecca for rock climbers, wind sports enthusiasts, hikers, mountain bikers and those looking to be inspired by the spectacular scenery. Between 2011 and 2016, it was the fastest-growing community of more than 10,000 in B.C. It boasts Quest University Canada, a branch campus of Capilano University and Coast Mountain Academy, a university-preparatory school for grades 7-12.
You do not have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy a visit to Squamish. Opened in 2014, the Sea to Sky Gondola whisks guests in eight-passenger cabins 885 metres (2,800 feet) above its base two kilometres south of downtown Squamish. During the 10-minute ride up, take in the view of Howe Sound and pristine coastal rainforest as you float past the southwest face of the famed Stawamus Chief, a 700-metre (2,300-foot) granite monolith that attracts climbers from near and far. From the Summit Lodge, guests can take in the breathtaking views of the sound and the surrounding mountains while enjoying a hearty meal or a warm drink. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, which runs from the lodge to the Spirit Viewing Platform, is accessible to all, as are the 400-metre Spirit Trail and the 1.6-kilometre Panorama Trail, both of which start and finish at the lodge.
When there is enough snow — check before you go — gondola guests can whoosh down the groomed runs in the world-class tube park next to the Wonderland Loop Trail, or snowshoe through the snow-laden coastal forests (rentals available). Ski touring enthusiasts will enjoy starting their adventure from the Summit Lodge, where some 1,300 hectares (more than 3,000 acres) of terrain awaits. Be aware, though, that the terrain around Sky Pilot Mountain, Skyline Ridge and Goat Mountain is not for beginners and should be approached only by those fully prepared for all winter conditions.
For hiking enthusiasts, the Sea to Summit Trail (open in winter as conditions permit) offers an opportunity to trek 7.2 kilometres uphill to the Summit Lodge, where you can celebrate your successful ascent by grabbing a snack or drink, and then take the gondola down. The Sea to Sky Gondola is open daily from Nov. 24 to April 30.
For more information about the gondola including events, visit seatoskygondola.com, or call 604-892-2550.
The neighbourhood of Brackendale is known as the winter home of the bald eagle, and for good reason. From late November to March, hundreds of the majestic raptors descend on Brackendale to feast on the salmon that spawn in streams that empty into the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers. Guests can learn about eagle migration and feeding habits on a breathtaking float trip with a local guiding company; or if you only have a couple of hours, drop by the eagle-viewing dike across the Squamish River from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. Interpreters are available on busy days to offer information and a chance to view the eagles up close through a spotting scope.
The Stawamus Chief and nearby Smoke Bluffs make Squamish a year-round destination for climbers. Squamish is at sea level and enjoys more snow-free winter days than either Whistler or Pemberton, making it the place to enjoy mountain biking, hiking or trail running during the cooler months.
It is also home to the historic West Coast Railway Heritage Park, featuring vintage trains and myriad unique events (Visit wcra.org.). Eleven kilometres to the south, the world-class Britannia Mine Museum sits on the site of what was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire, offering guests a chance to ride a mine train deep into the old underground shafts.
Squamish’s newest family attraction is the Rope Runner Aerial Adventure Park, next to the Squamish Adventure Centre just off Highway 99 near the downtown turnoff. The 17-metre-high structure is the first of its kind in British Columbia, offering visitors a chance to defy gravity on an aerial playground. Visit roperunnerpark.com.
For more information on attractions and activities in and around Squamish, visit the Adventure Centre or tourismsquamish.com.