A Mecca for Outdoor Adventure
By David Burke / Images By Joern Rohde
The Sea to Sky Corridor community of Squamish has long been considered a unique place — first for millennia by the Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh in their language) people who still call it home, then by the first Europeans who arrived in the late 1800s for opportunities related to the area’s abundant natural resources, and more recently by lovers of mountain biking, hiking, wind sports and other outdoor pursuits.
One look around at the natural surroundings of the town of 20,000, and it’s easy to see why. The jaw-dropping Stawamus Chief, a granite monolith long considered sacred by the Squamish people; the picture-perfect peak of Mount Garibaldi (Nch'kay to the Squamish) to the north; and the northern end of the Howe Sound fjord — all these and more are at the town’s doorstep, beckoning locals and visitors alike to get out and explore.
Until fairly recently, Squamish as a place for outdoor pursuits was a locals’ secret. That began to change in the 1980s, when the community adopted “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” as a promotional slogan, owing to its growing reputation as a mecca for wind sports enthusiasts, climbers, mountain bikers and the like. As the forest industry — the community’s main economic driver from the late 19th century until the early 2000s — declined, the number of people coming to Squamish to enjoy its wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities has increased dramatically.
Squamish’s historic downtown has, in the past few years, expanded both in terms of population (with lots of new multi-family buildings) and offerings. The new, broad walkway along the Mamquam Blind Channel includes intriguing new shops and dining options.
In September 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Howe Sound as Canada’s 19th Biosphere Region in recognition of Squamish’s unique surroundings. Known to the Skwxwú7mesh people as Átl’ka7tsem, the fjord’s “rich Indigenous culture, biodiversity and distinct geography” led to the designation. The distinction serves as a starting point for discussions about ensuring that the region’s development is sustainable. "The designation of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound fills me with optimism, providing new momentum to continue our work together to create a sustainable future for the Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound region,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott.
A watershed moment in Squamish’s growth as a tourism destination occurred in 2014 with the opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola, which whisks guests 885 vertical metres (2,800 feet) to the Summit Lodge. The 10-minute ascent reveals stunning vistas of Howe Sound, the nearby Stawamus Chief, 335-metre (1,099-foot) Shannon Falls, and the surrounding Coast Mountains. Visitors can enjoy a hot drink or dine in style while taking in the views from the lodge, walk across the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, or stroll on some of the area’s well-marked hiking trails. The Summit Lodge is also popular as a wedding venue and hosts many other special events.
In Britannia Beach, 11 kilometres south of Squamish, the Britannia Mine Museum offers visitors a chance to pan for gold or take a trip on an underground mine train at what was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire. The award-winning, multimedia “Boom!” presentation, opened in 2019, offers a fun, 11-minute glimpse into the workings of the Britannia Mine’s historic Mill No. 3.
In the Terra Lab, guests can explore the history of human mineral exploration and extraction and learn about the latest research and practices that aim to reduce the impacts of humanity’s need for resources on the environment.
Brackendale, the northernmost of Squamish’s neighbourhoods, is known as the winter home of the bald eagle. From 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. Visit the dike across the Squamish River from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park to view eagles up close. Bring binoculars, as the program that previously put spotting scopes and volunteer interpreters on the dike on winter weekends is suspended because of COVID-19.
Those with a keen interest in the eagles can take a scenic, guided float trip to get great views of the majestic raptors in their natural surroundings.
The number and variety of Squamish-based craft breweries, distilleries, cider makers and the like continue to grow, and the community features an excellent selection of eateries from casual to upscale.
For more information about all Squamish has to offer, visit the Adventure Centre or exploresquamish.com.