Squamish Top 6 Things to See and Do
Obviously if you’re like me and have not been to Squamish since before the 2010 Winter Olympics, things have changed. A lot.
But for those of you looking for more background, Squamish is the first real town north of Vancouver and West Vancouver. You truly feel past the point of sane commuting. (I hear stories of people doing Squamish-Vancouver commutes, but this induces the same scepticism that I have when I hear stories of people bending spoons with their mind powers.)
The Sea-to-Sky Highway (#99) is well named as the scenery up to Squamish is stunning as you wind your way through West Vancouver, past Lions Bay and Britannia Beach.
Squamish is geographically interesting because it’s where the Pacific Ocean via Howe Sound literally ends. This makes Squamish the start of what BC residents call “the interior,” which is a massive amount of territory. Looming 700 metres over Squamish is The Chief, a granite mountain face that due to its size, colour and proximity to Squamish, gives us slightly paranoid people the sense of being watched. Normally rocks don’t give me a sense of being alive, but the Chief does, maybe that’s why it’s classified as a monolith. (Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick would have been happy.)
Outdoor activities are the rage in Squamish due to this mix of geography. Strap on your wind surfing gear for a morning blast in the harbour and then you can strap on your rock climbing gear and actually climb The Chief. Both ideas scare me out of my shorts.
The tourist information booth is a really nifty place on the east side of the highway north of downtown called the Squamish Adventure Centre. It has a play area for kids, information, gift shop, bike rentals, cafe and is very airy and bright. Compared to Whistler‘s info centre, its positively a 4 star experience.
The main street of downtown Squamish is not Main Street even though I found such a street name. Cleveland Avenue is the main drag. If you head west from Highway 99 and follow the street into town, you will find the features one associates with small towns. Small shops, motels that seem a bit rustic and a curious absence of a pharmacy. (The Shopper’s Drug Mart was closer to the Highway.) There’s even angled street parking which I haven’t seen since a drive through the Prairies many years ago. The downtown is either about to undergo a Renaissance or is going to disappear. I discovered about 4 km north of town a Walmart, London Drugs and a other standard mall fare. However, there was in one of these new malls a non operating, relatively newly built movie theatre complex. So … which part of the town was doing the best?
My second reason — apart from replacing a toothbrush — for heading through downtown Squamish was to find the harbour. From the highway I could see the odd looking mixture of wind surfing sails and large ocean going vessels. At the end of Cleveland Ave, I turned left and then a quick right and started to follow the road toward the water. There was rough industrial roadway and then a sign that said “beach access.” In the end we found a large gravel parking lot and a number of vehicles that were unloading and off-loading all sorts of sporting gear. With a picture-perfect foreground of families playing on a low tide beach throwing sticks to dogs, there was a background of railway cars and ocean-going freighters.
Squamish has such awesome waterfront potential that it’s crazy. Can the transition to this come in time to invigorate downtown Squamish? I hope so.
For those not totally keen on mountain biking or killer hikes these are Squamish’s top 6 features and things to do:
- Shannon Falls. Just before you reach Squamish, off Highway 99, is a park with a 335 metre high waterfall that is simply stunning. More information here.
- Strawamus Chief. Access to the Chief is through Stawamus Chief Provincial Park which is just north of Shannon Falls. If you are feeling strong enough you can hike up the Chief without special gear. Rock climbers can be seen doing their thing. Apparently the granite surface is good for climbing. For more information www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/stawamus/
- West Coast Railway Heritage Park. Touted as Western Canada’s largest collection of heritage railway cars and related material. Apparently it all started in 1958 when the steam engine was finishing its run, a group of railway enthusiasts started preserving artefacts.
- Technically not Squamish, but only about 10 km north, is the Brackendale Eagle Reserve and Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, which I’ve been dying to see for years. From mid-November to mid-February, eagle viewing is possible with a peak from mid-December to mid-January. Public viewing is best enjoyed from outside the park boundaries. The number of birds count in the 1000s all come to enjoy the salmon run. www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/brackendale_eagles
- Another non-Squamish must-see is the Britannia Mine Museum. Long time residents of BC who’ve driven the Sea-to-Sky will remember the rusting mine built into a mountain side and the documentaries on toxic chemicals being left to flow into Howe Sound. Over the period surrounding the 2010 Winter Olympics, the entire of Britannia Beach and its mine were rescued and turned into a museum. Another one of the when-the-heck-do-I-get-time-for-this items. britanniaminemuseum.ca
- Obviously you have to go to Whistler and see what the big deal is. When I went there, I witnessed and passively participated in a number of impossible things.
With children in tow, I had to stick with safe bets, but I can recommend the Timberwolf Restaurant that is attached to the Best Western Mountain Retreat. I had a sirloin steak with prawns that had actual flavour! The staff were all pleasant and great with the kids.
So I managed to do half of this list. Next time!