Squamish Is an Underrated Haven for Natural Beauty and Outdoor Experiences
Visit the Canadian destination for a UNESCO biosphere, 1,000-foot waterfall and plenty of adventure activities
Roughly halfway between Vancouver and Whistler lies Squamish, British Columbia’s underrated haven for natural beauty and outdoor experiences. With its wealth of recreational opportunities, walkable downtown, craft beer and coffee scenes, and public art installations, Squamish blends the best of both better-known destinations in an unpretentious, this-side-of-wild package.
One of Squamish’s most recognizable attractions is Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound, designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2021. Named for the Squamish First Nations word for “paddling up the sound,” it encompasses more than 500,000 acres of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. An estimated 721 native species live here, including bobcats, grizzly bears and wolverines, the latter of which are more ferocious than Hugh Jackman in any X-Men movie. You’ll also find plentiful and unique marine life, such as living glass sponge reefs, which scientists thought went extinct 40 million years ago.
The best time to visit Squamish is late spring to late fall, when temperatures are pleasant and you can sample the greatest variety of outdoor recreation. But winter lovers can choose from snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, tobogganing, snow tubing, via ferrata and floating down a half-frozen river to catch a glimpse of one of the largest overwintering populations of bald eagles.
How to Get to Squamish
Fly into Vancouver International Airport and rent a car for the scenic drive north along Highway 99, also called the Sea to Sky Corridor. The curving, coast-hugging road is open year-round, except when mudslides or avalanches prompt closures.
Along the journey, you can stop at more than a dozen points of interest. Interpretive kiosks shaped like cedar-bark hats guide you through cultural facts about the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations people.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park has campsites, plus a small rocky beach and a pier where you can snap photos set to the “soundtrack” of barking sea lions that cluster along its edge. Scuba divers can explore a manmade reef teeming with more than 100 marine species, as well as three sunken vessels, including the Nakaya, a WWII minesweeper located 90 feet under the surface. At Shannon Falls Provincial Park, take the half-mile trail to the third-highest waterfall in Canada. It’s a phenomenal sight, especially after a rain, when water gushes over the rock face and sprinkles your skin.
One of British Columbia’s most iconic attractions, the Sea to Sky Gondola, is an exhilarating 10-minute ride over the mountains to the Summit Lodge, nearly 3,000 feet above. Walk the suspension bridge over the forest, or appreciate panoramas of the mountains and fjord below from several viewing platforms.The summit has picturesque walking and hiking paths, ranging from easy to advanced, that are covered in a layer of snow even in the late spring. Or try the via ferrata, or “iron path,” clipping yourself onto a series of steel rungs and a fixed cable system to ascend granite cliffs carved out of the landscape during the last Ice Age.
Avid hikers and rock climbers should head for Stawamus Chief, the most famous rock face in Squamish. Stops along the peaks offer spectacular views of the district of Squamish and Howe Sound, as well as Mount Garibaldi. You can see the biosphere from the air with Sea to Sky Air’s new guided flightseeing tours. For a view from the water, book a boat tour with Canadian Coastal Sailing.
Hike or bike along the Sea to Sky Bird Trail, or walk the gently sloping paths within the Squamish River Estuary. Both are excellent for solo travelers or groups. For a guided experience that blends stunning scenery and indigenous culture, book a tour with Aboriginal Eco-Tours.
Arts, Culture and Shopping
After a morning of outdoor exploration, check out the Britannia Mine Museum National Historic Site. Near Britannia Beach, about seven miles south of Squamish, the museum tells the story of the copper mining history of the region. Hop on a mine train tour and visit the architectural wonder Mill No. 3 via BOOM!, a live-action, multi-sensory exhibit/attraction.
In downtown Squamish, take a self-guided tour of the city’s colorful murals. There are more than 30 of them, ranging in size from the side of a trash can to full building walls. The city center has a number of shops. Xoco Westcoast Chocolate sells handmade confections, including truffles like the Mezcal Sour and a chocolate grizzly bear that conceals a variety of treats in his hollow belly. At the nonprofit Pearl’s Value & Vintage, pick up secondhand clothing from brands like Patagonia and Ralph Lauren. All proceeds benefit survivors of gender-based violence and their children.
Where to Eat and Drink in Squamish
British Columbia’s farm-to-fork scene is strong. At Fergie’s Café, kick back along the Cheakamus River with hearty breakfast and lunch options like shakshuka and BBQ asado hash, made with smoked short ribs, roasted yams and tangy chimichurri. Originally a popular food truck, Locavore Bar & Grill has evolved into a sustainability-focused full-service restaurant with a menu of salads and sandwiches made from hyperlocal ingredients. Next-door sister restaurant Cloudburst Café is another excellent choice for breakfast, as they serve fair-trade, organic coffee.
One of BC’s original craft breweries, Howe Sound Brewing Co., has traditional pub favorites like beer-battered fish and chips, alongside a large selection of locally crafted beers and ciders. If you’re a follower of the Netflix series Virgin River, you’ll recognize the exterior of the Watershed Grill, which stands in for Jack’s Bar on the TV show. A locals’ hangout, it’s a good option for friendly service and dishes like the salmon burger and Creole jumbo prawns doused in tomato sauce and served with garlic toast. The Squamish Craft Tasting Trail highlights three breweries, three cideries and a distillery, plus a drinking shrub maker and a pair of coffee slingers that also sell mouthwatering doughnuts. Collect passport stamps to redeem for Squamish swag.
Where to Stay in Squamish
For a generously sized space abutting unspoiled forest, book a room at Executive Suites Hotel & Resort. Suites have full kitchens, dining areas, two bathrooms and are ideal for families. Howe Sound Inn & Brewing also offers accommodations in a cozy 20-room hotel. Or take the quiet route at Sunwolf Resort, where you can disconnect — there are no TVs or WiFi, although there is cell service — in a riverside cabin on a wooded five-acre property. Crash Hotel, which offers funky lodging in downtown Squamish, has rooms decorated with wall murals and snow sports paraphernalia, including snowboards and a chair lift. Because the hotel is located above the city’s most popular bar, avoid the rooms labeled “noise impacted.”
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