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 (Sk’wxú7mesh in their language) people who still call it home, second by the first Europeans who arrived in the late 1800s for opportunities related to the area’s abundant natural resources, and most 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, 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 — 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 during 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. In subsequent years, 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.
Suffice it to say that Squamish is now regarded as far more than just a rest stop along Highway 99 between the better-known destinations of Vancouver and Whistler.
Squamish still benefits from both shipping and forestry — the latter on a much smaller scale than in the past. Over the past couple of decades, it has been one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada, thanks in part to an influx of people from the Vancouver area who recognize its obvious assets as a place to live, work and play. Upgrades to the Sea to Sky Highway that preceded the 2010 Winter Olympics shortened the commute to the city, and the arrival of new employers such as craft breweries and mountain bike-based businesses has increased the local job base.
In 2014, the opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola, just south of the town centre along Highway 99, gave Squamish a significant tourism draw, allowing visitors to enjoy the stunning scenery from on high while giving adventure-seekers more ready access to nearby backcountry areas.
Unfortunately, an act of vandalism in September 2020 forced the gondola to shut down the lift that had transported guests 885 vertical metres (2,800 feet) to the Summit Lodge and the popular Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge. It is expected to reopen in the spring of 2021; in the meantime, the Basecamp Café, guest services desk and gift shop remain open, as do nearby connector trails to the Stawamus Chief and Shannon Falls. Visit seatoskygondola.com.
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 museum’s newest attraction, the multimedia “Boom!” presentation, opened in 2019, offering a fun, 11-minute-long glimpse into the workings of the Britannia Mine’s historic Mill No. 3. Visit britanniaminemuseum.ca.
Brackendale, the northernmost of Squamish’s neighbourhoods, is known 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. Visit the dike across the Squamish River from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park to view eagles up close — bring binoculars, as COVID-related restrictions mean that the spotting scope and interpreters’ program that are usually in place are not available this season.
Those with a keen interest in the eagles can take a scenic, guided float trip — with all the necessary precautions in place to ensure guests’ safety — on the Cheakamus and Squamish rivers to get great views of the majestic raptors in their natural surroundings. Visit squamish-rafting.com.
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. Depending on when you go, some COVID-related restrictions may apply.
For more information about all Squamish has to offer, visit the Adventure Centre or exploresquamish.com.