An Emerging Tourism Mecca
Location, location, location: In the case of Squamish, being at the head of a fjord, at the base of one of the world’s largest granite monoliths and less than an hour from both Vancouver and Whistler, it proves its status as an ideally located emerging adventure tourism destination. For decades Squamish was mostly a forestry town, known mainly as a coffee stop between the two better known destinations; and even though it retains that vibe — forestry is still part of the local economy and its biggest summer festival, Squamish Days Loggers Sports, is celebrated with gusto — today’s Squamish is so much more than that and well worth a stop on travellers’ itineraries.
The town’s name — “Skwxwú7mesh” in the language of the Squamish people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years — means “mother of the wind,” from the brisk winds that blow on summer afternoons. Because of that, and its place at the northern end of Howe Sound, it is a destination for enthusiasts of sailing and other wind-and-water sports. By 2006, Squamish was already an emerging outdoor recreation destination, hosting many windsports, mountain biking, climbing and running events. The opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola in 2014 really put it on the tourism map, and in 2015, the New York Times named Squamish one of its “52 Places to Go” that year.
The gondola, which carries guests 885 metres (2,903 feet) to a ridge below the summit of Mount Habrich, affords spectacular views of the nearby Stawamus Chief, 335-metre (1,099-foot) Shannon Falls, Howe Sound and Sky Pilot Mountain. To the north is the distinctive peak of 2,678-metre (8,787-foot) Mount Garibaldi, and to the northwest, the glaciated crags of the Tantalus Range.
At the Summit Lodge, guests can enjoy drinks or a meal along with the stunning views from the large, sunny observation deck, walk the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge and stroll on the trails that emanate from the lodge. Punctuating the pathways is interpretive signage about the area’s fascinating geology and local Native legends.
The Sea to Sky Gondola hosts many events in the summer and fall, including the Mountain Music Series, with live performances on Friday evenings from June to September. Rise + Climb is a dedicated group hike on Saturdays in July and August, starting from the base area up the Sea to Summit Trail at 6:45, 7:15 and 7:45 a.m., or guests can ascend the forested, 7.5 km trail at their own pace. The gondola’s Mountainside Yoga Series takes place Monday to Friday from mid- June until the end of August. Groups or families with an interest in Native culture can book a Talking Trees Tour hosted by First Nations guides, who introduce guests to the natural and historical significance to local Native peoples of the forests and ocean around them. On a Via Ferrata Tour, Mountain Skills Academy and Adventure experts will guide visitors on an adrenaline-infused journey that includes a catwalk, bridges and a climbing route that uses iron rungs and a cable system bolted into solid granite.
For more information about the gondola, their hosted activities and events, visit seatoskygondola.com.
Squamish is the happening place in the summer and fall. The local Farmers’ Market takes place downtown, near the O’Siyam Pavilion, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through late October. Running and mountain biking events take full advantage of the community’s world-renowned trail network. The running calendar includes the Loop the Lakes Trail Race, the Be Fearless Trail Marathon, the Squamish 50 Trail Running Festival and the Sky Pilot Mountain Trail Race. Mountain bikers descend on Squamish for the Sp’akw’us 50 Marathon Mountain Bike Race in June and the final day of the seven-stage B.C. Bike Race in July. Wind and paddling sports take centre stage at the Kite Clash and Canadian National Freestyle Kiteboarding Championships, the Canadian Downwind Championships and the Squamish Wind Festival in July. The spirit and history of Squamish are celebrated at the Squamish Sikh Festival in June, the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival in August and the Brackendale Fall Fair in September.
The Stawamus Chief and nearby Smoke Bluffs make Squamish a magnet for rock climbers from around the world. In mid-July, the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy (formerly Squamish Mountain Festival) includes speakers, seminars and product demos focusing on climbing and mountain culture. A new summer outdoor attraction opened in Squamish in late 2017: Open May to October, Rope Runner Aerial Adventure Park, next to the Squamish Adventure Centre off Highway 99, is a 17-metre-high apparatus of steel, wood, ropes and wire, “where people of all ages can ‘run the ropes’ in a fun, and safe high-wire adventure.”
For information, visit roperunnerpark.com.
The Squamish area is home to two world-class museums. The West Coast Railway Heritage Park, which features vintage and restored railcars as well as the famed Royal Hudson steam locomotive, is hosting “Day Out with Thomas” (of Thomas the Tank Engine fame) on weekends in late May. Visit wcra.org for details. Eleven kilometres south of town, the Britannia Mine Museum offers a chance to pan for gold, learn about the fascinating field of metallurgy or venture deep into the shafts of what was once the top producing copper mine in the British Empire on a vintage mine train. For information, visit britanniaminemuseum.ca.
For details about Squamish offerings, stop by the Squamish Adventure Centre or visit exploresquamish.com.