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The 10 Best Adventures in Canada’s Outdoor Recreation Capital

Loading up a Beaver Board, a stand up paddleboard brand made in Squamish.

Loading up a Beaver Board, a stand up paddleboard brand made in Squamish.

There are a few places in the world that a return-flight should almost always be cancelled, and the stay extended. Squamish, British Columbia is one of them. I recently had the opportunity to learn all about what the outdoor paradise has to offer during a media event for the Chevy Colorado.

Squamish’s catchphrase, “Sea to Sky,” sums up the small and anything but sleepy town tucked away into the Tantalus Mountain Range. There’s an endless supply of things to do and places to explore, but it’s best to start with the classics.

1. Hike up The Chief

The summit from The Chief after a long hike up the back. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

The summit from The Chief after a long hike up the back. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

The Stawamus Chief is the world’s second largest granite monolith, and towers above the town of Squamish like a solemn reminder that it was here first, and isn’t going anywhere—except for that section that broke off recently. The hike up the backside of The Chief would makes a stairmaster look like a child’s toy. Standing at 2,297 feet above sea level, the trail starts not too many feet from the sea itself. Park at the Sea to Sky Gondola, and head towards the back of the parking lot, sticking to the left. Try to get going before the afternoon, though, this hike becomes busy after locals get out of work around 5 p.m.

2. Ride the Sea to Sky Gondola

There’s no shame in skipping the hike to the top of The Chief, the popular Sea to Sky Gondola takes tourists to the top without any of the work, and all of the view. Tickets range from $11.95 to 35.95 depending on time of purchase and the age of the rider. There are three viewing platforms, but all provide amazing views of the Howe Sound below, and you can often catch a glimpse of the kiteboarders or climbers taking on The Chief.

3. Walk to Shannon Falls

A quick jaunt to Shannon Falls is worth making your way through the throngs of tourists. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

A quick jaunt to Shannon Falls is worth making your way through the throngs of tourists. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

While you’re near The Chief and the Sea to Sky Gondola, Shannon Falls is a quick detour from either activity. There is a small path at the beginning of the hike up the backside of The Chief that leads to Shannon Falls, a wonderfully tourist-laden but nonetheless beautiful feature of Squamish. The waters come from Mount Sky Pilot and Mount Habrich. If you aren’t already on a trail, Shannon Falls is easily accessed from the Sea to Sky Highway, and is an effortless five minute walk to the viewing area. The falls are the biggest attraction between Vancouver and Whistler, so the area is almost always busy, but worth a quick detour.

4. Drive the Sea to Sky Highway

Any traveler driving from Vancouver will have to take the Sea to Sky Highway, and it is worth the time. About and hour and a half of spectacular views and winding turns separates Vancouver from Squamish. The highway has come a long way from what is was before its major makeover for the 2010 Olympics, the views are the same, though. The highways cuts along the Howe Sound through beautiful fjords, and unveils new mountain peaks with every turn.

5. Kayak the Squamish River

Whether you’re looking for whitewater kayaking with some intense rapids to maneuver or just want to float down a river while you pick up your jaw at the sight of the the massive mountains that surround you, the Squamish River has mostly everything you would want out of a kayaking trip. The float through the fjords is led by a gentle current that requires little to no paddling, but provides amazing views that you cannot get from anywhere else in town. On a clear day, some of the more pointed peaks surrounding Squamish become visible, and if you’re lucky a sea lion will pop its head out of the water to visit.

6. Climb any and everything

Julie Ellison takes on the Smoke Bluffs. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

Julie Ellison takes on the Smoke Bluffs. Image by Chelsea Hohn.

Before Squamish was an outdoor enthusiast’s dream land, it was infested with dirtbag climbers, and for the most part, it still is. The Chief was what originally drew climbers, a 10-15 pitch climb with cracks, slabs, and the occasional bolted route. But The Chief isn’t all there is to offer, the Smoke Bluffs and many other surrounding areas offer up thousands of routes to try. Hire a guide to take you out if you’re unfamiliar with the area—or strike up a conversation with a local, chances are they or someone they know would be willing to take you out to their favorite wall.

7. Kiteboard Howe Sound

Right where the Squamish River meets the Howe Sound, from high above it looks like dozens of tiny dots are flying just above the water. These dots are kiteboarders and windsurfers, taking advantage of this particular location. Squamish offers mostly sunny days with consistent winds which means it gets some of the most high performance sailing days in North America. Starting to see a pattern? Squamish has the best of all worlds. Whether you want to try it out for yourself or just watch, it’s an entertaining ride.

8. Stand up paddleboard just about anywhere

The calm water that surrounds Squamish makes for the perfect opportunity to try stand up paddleboarding. The sport requires a good amount of balance, but not a ton of strength to start out with. There’s enough water around to be choosy about where you go. Alice Lake, Brohm Lake, and Cat Lake all offer more stable situations to get used to paddling, and the Squamish River is a decently calm but often challenging spot to get on a board—not to mention the ocean that’s nearby if you’re really up for a challenge.

9. Mountain bike just about anywhere, too

The mountain biking trails in Squamish bring travellers from far away to traverse the berms and flattops of the backcountry. Legendary trails like Half Nelson and Full Nelson have been restored and cleaned to perfection, and with rental companies ready to provide you with bikes. Hit Half Nelson (one of the better-known trails in the area), then on your way down cut over to Pseudo Tsuga, another short singletrack trail worthy of your time.

10. Get a beer at Howe Sound Brewing Company

After you’ve exhausted yourself doing all the activities Squamish has to offer, you’ll most likely deserve a beer or two. Howe Sound Brewing Company is the best place in town, making almost everything from scratch and brewing everything locally. Ask for one of their nitro beers on tap, sit back and enjoy the views from the main room.

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