Squamish – Where Mountains Meet Fjord

Where Mountains Meet Fjord

By David Burke / Images By Joern Rohde

Mount Currie, Pemberton.
Not long ago, Squamish was one of British Columbia’s best-kept secrets as a tourist destination. For decades, the logging town at the north end of Howe Sound was mostly regarded as a stop-off along Highway 99 between Vancouver and Whistler. In recent years, however, Squamish has emerged as a thriving venue for all sorts of adventures — from tame to hardcore. One look at the geographic features that mark the community of 20,000 — the end of the spectacular Howe Sound fjord, the awe-inspiring granite monolith known as the Stawamus Chief and the distinctive peak of the 2,678-metre (8,787-foot) Mount Garibaldi, to name but three — and it’s easy to see why.

Forestry has seen a decline but remains an important part of the economy, which has diversified. In the 1980s, Squamish began marketing itself as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” because of the abundant outdoor activity opportunities, including whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and trail running.

Perhaps the seminal moment in Squamish’s emergence as a tourist destination was the opening of the Sea to Sky Gondola in 2014. The gondola ascends past the Chief and 335-metre (1,099-foot) Shannon Falls to a ridge below the summit of Mount Habrich. Visitors are whisked 885 metres (2,903 feet) to the Summit Lodge, from which they can enjoy stunning views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains, including nearby Sky Pilot and the more-distant peaks of the Tantalus Range. The attraction, however, is currently closed until further notice. Visit seatoskygondola.com for up-to-date information.

Pemberton, ranch, horses at sunset, winter.
Pemberton Winterfest, family fun. kids.
Shannon Falls

Shannon Falls Provincial Park and nearby Stawamus Chief Provincial Park are popular sightseeing and hiking attractions, both just off Highway 99 south of Squamish. “The Chief,” as it’s known locally, is a popular hiking destination. Hikers can trek to the top of the first, second or 702-metre (2,303-foot) third peak via a trail that begins next to the provincial park campground for spectacular views of the town, Howe Sound, and surrounding mountains. Those who want to make the climb are required to secure a free day pass at bcparks.ca.

The Squamish area is home to other world-class attractions, including the West Coast Railway Heritage Park, featuring vintage, meticulously restored railcars and the famed Royal Hudson steam locomotive. The park hosts numerous events throughout the year. wcra.ca

Eleven kilometres south of Squamish, in Britannia Beach, the Britannia Mine Museum was once the most productive copper mine in the British Empire. Now a National Historic Site, the museum recently added a significant new attraction: “Boom!,” a multi-sensory video and special-effects show that brings the 97-year-old, 20-storey Mill No. 3 building to life.

“Boom!” is now playing seven days a week, and reservations are recommended. It’s best to arrive 15 minutes before your reserved time, and with much more to see as well, visitors should allow at least 1.5 to 2 hours for their visit. britanniaminemuseum.ca

Squamish boasts some 200 kilometres of recreational trails, making it one of British Columbia’s most popular destinations for mountain bikers and trail runners. Its consistent summertime winds and water access also make it a popular destination for kiteboarding and windsurfing. Intermediate to expert rock climbers enjoy tackling the challenging routes on the Stawamus Chief or the variety of pitches found in nearby Smoke Bluffs Park. squamishaccess.ca

For information about events and activities, visit the Squamish Adventure Centre just off Highway 99 near downtown: phone 604-815-4994 (local) or 1-877-815-5084 (toll-free). exploresquamish.com

Britannia Mine Museum
Britannia Beach