Squamish Attracting Adventure-Seekers
The 2010 Olympic and Paralympics, and the highway upgrades that preceded the games, opened a lot of eyes to the wonders of Squamish as a place to discover. Before then, the town — situated halfway between Vancouver and Whistler along the Sea to Sky Highway — was considered by many as just a rest stop between the two better-known destinations. But that’s no longer true. The long-time home of the Squamish Nation (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw) at the northern end of Howe Sound, Squamish was mostly a logging and shipping town for decades after the arrival of Europeans and others in the late 1800s. Though commercial forestry continues on a smaller scale, the town’s transformation into a mecca for lovers of outdoor recreation began well before the last major industrial operation pulled up stakes in 2006. After the highway upgrades, more and more folks from the Vancouver area began to recognize Squamish’s potential as a place to live and play.
The first thing that captures visitors as they arrive in Squamish is the Stawamus Chief, the imposing, 700-metre (2,300-foot) granite monolith that stands sentinel over the town and northern end of Howe Sound. Mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing and wind sports are just some of the most popular activities that those who visit Squamish enjoy. You don’t need to be a hard-core athlete to explore the area, though. Opened in 2014, the Sea to Sky Gondola whisks visitors in eight-passenger cabins to a lodge 885 metres (2,800 feet) above sea level. During the 10-minute ride, you’ll glide past the surrounding mountains with views of Howe Sound and maybe even some hearty hikers who’ve made the trek to the top.
At the gondola’s top station, the Summit Lodge has a massive outdoor deck where you can appreciate the views of the town, the sound and the mountains. This is also where you can enjoy a hearty meal or hot beverage, or browse for souvenirs. You can also book a tour or learn more about Squamish Nation culture and legends. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, which starts from the viewing platform, is accessible to all, as are some of the trails near the lodge.
When conditions allow in winter, a world-class tube park next to the Wonderland Loop Trail is where the young and young at heart can whoosh down through the forest. Backcountry enthusiasts can also ski tour around some of the 1,300 hectares (more than 3,000 acres) of terrain around Sky Pilot Mountain, Skyline Ridge and Goat Mountain. Be aware that backcountry skiing in these areas should be approached only by those who are fully prepared for all sorts of winter conditions. The gondola is open daily from Dec. 1 to May 17, 2019. The Summit Lodge hosts several Christmas-themed and winter events, including daily Twilight Snowshoe and Fondue events that include a magical, guided snowshoe walk and scrumptious dinner.
For details or to check on conditions, visit seatoskygondola.com, or call 604-892-2550.
For more family-friendly fun, Squamish is home to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, featuring vintage and restored rail cars and the historic Royal Hudson locomotive. From Nov. 24 to Dec. 16, families can take a ride on the Polar Express, an hour-long train ride modeled after the popular Christmas movie — complete with hot chocolate, Christmas carols, story time and a visit to the North Pole Workshop and Gingerbread Village. Visit wcra.org.
Eleven kilometres south of Squamish in Britannia Beach is the Britannia Mine Museum, where you can pan for gold or take a trip on an underground mine train on the site of what was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire.
Located north of Squamish, Brackendale is billed as the “Winter Home of the Bald Eagle.” From late November to March, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of the majestic birds descend on Brackendale to dine on the abundant salmon that spawn in the Cheakamus and Squamish river systems. You can book an eagle-viewing float trip or visit the dike across from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. There, you can see eagles up close by telescope and chat with the interpretive guides stationed there on busy days to offer information about the eagles’ feeding habits and migration routes.
The Adventure Centre has information about all Squamish has to offer.